By In Stuff

Pitcher v. Pitcher

So, this guy wrote in with a complaint about Curt Schilling. I should say: I’m a Curt Schilling Hall of Fame guy. I think he’s a Hall of Famer, and I don’t think it’s an especially difficult call. I mean, no, he didn’t have the perfect career. He’s not one of the 10 best pitchers ever. But I think he’s one of the 25 best, and I think he’s pretty comfortably in that group.

The big knock against him, in my mind, is that he was wildly inconsistent until his mid 30s. He did not really appear on the scene until he was 25 — when he led the league in WHIP and posted a 2.35 ERA. Then he wasn’t especially good again until he was 29 or so. He had some good years and some injuries and then, at 34, suddenly, he was awesome, this monster, a truly great pitcher for four seasons. Those four years, 2001-2004 — with offense still exploding — match up pretty well to Tom Seaver’s best four consecutive seasons or just about anyone else’s, save a Koufax or a Pedro.

Then there was a sputter, one more good season, and it was over.

Even with those inconsistencies, I see a guy who had a very high peak from 2001 to 2004 — he went 74-28 with a 150 ERA+ and 30.1 WAR — and I see a guy with some Hall of Fame career numbers. Here’s two of them: Schilling had 3,116 strikeouts, and he had a .597 winning percentage. That has been a winning Hall of Fame combination in years past. Every single eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame, and every non-eligible pitcher other than Schilling (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz) seems a virtual lock to make the Hall.

Some of the 3,000-strikeout pitchers took a while to get inducted — Bert Blyleven the most prominent of those, but Don Sutton took five years. I think the reason it took longer for those guys is the theory that they were not great pitchers but were instead COMPILERS with sluggish winning percentages. I don’t think it’s true in either case, but that’s what many people thought. Anyway, That’s not Schilling’s problem. He has a lifetime 60-percent win-loss percentage, which means something to some people. And It shouldn’t hurt that Schilling has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher (any pitcher) with 1,000 strikeouts.

So, yes, I think Schilling is pretty clearly a Hall of Famer based just on his regular season work. I mean you are talking about a guy with a higher Baseball Reference WAR than Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal or Dennis Eckersley.

Then, on top of all that, you throw in his extraordinary postseason work — 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in the postseason, 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the World Series, a couple of the most famous postseason games ever pitched — and in my mind that should make him a slam dunk.  But, I also realize, the majority of people disagree. Almost nobody sees him as a slam dunk Hall of Famer. Even Schilling devotee Michael Schur is not certain of his place in the Hall of Fame. Thing is, I think the main reason many people don’t see Schilling as a slam dunk Hall of Famer is his lack of a Cy Young Award and his relatively low win total (216). Neither of those things bothers me at all. He was Cy Young worthy in 2001, 2002 and 2004 and got beat out by all-time seasons from Randy Johnson (twice) and Johan Santana. He had four or five other seasons that might have won a Cy Young Award in a down year.
As for pitcher wins … I think it has always been a fundamentally flawed statistic, and it becomes more flawed ever year.

* * *
But I was telling you about this guy who wrote in. I can’t find his exact words — he might have sent them via email, via tweet, via Facebook post, via Instagram, via comment,  can’t keep up with these crazy new technologies — but he basically said this: “Sure Schilling has all those strikeouts because he spent most of his career striking out pitchers in the National League. I’ll bet half his strikeouts are of pitchers.”

Well, obviously half of Schilling’s strikeouts were not pitchers — this is one of those great overstatements baseball sometimes sparks, such as someone saying that Roberto Clemente had such a great arm he saved 100 runs a year. Still, it is true that Schilling whiffed 269 pitchers in his career, which — if you are geared toward a certain conclusion — means he struck out fewer than 3,000 fully trained hitters in his career. His non-pitcher strikeout total is 2,847. So there you go. Schilling DID NOT strike out 3,000 non-pitchers.

In case you are wondering … of the 16 pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts, six of them needed pitcher strikeouts to achieve they mark. They are: Bob Gibson (2,649 non-p strikeouts; 468 p strikeouts); John Smoltz (2,701 non-p; 383 p); Curt Schilling (2,847 non-p, 269 p); Ferguson Jenkins (2,897 non-p, 295 p); Greg Maddux (2,952 non-p, 419 p) and Pedro Martinez (2,983 non-p, 171 p). The data isn’t available on Walter Johnson, though it’s fair to wonder if 509-plus of his 3,509 strikeouts were of pitchers.

I don’t think any of this means very much … it’s just fun baseball talk. Pitchers are hitters, at least in the National League, and their strikeouts count as much as any other. But it did get me to do a little research on the greatest strikeout pitchers and how many of their strikeouts were of pitchers. I found a few cool things, which I’ll pass along.

First off, there are 55 pitchers in my study — they are the 55 pitchers with 2,000-plus strikeouts who Baseball Reference offered complete information. Unfortunately, this does not include older pitchers like Bob Feller, Lefty Grove, Pete Alexander, Bobo Newsom and so on. My suspicion is that they had a higher percentage of pitcher strikeouts than my group of 55 for the obvious reason that there was no designated hitter in those days. Anyway. we have 55 pitchers.

Of Curt Schilling’s 3,116 strikeouts, 8.6 percent were of pitchers. That is almost exactly the average of all the pitchers in the study (8.8 percent). But, the study — as mentioned — is skewed by the DH. If you look only at pitchers who (1) Spent most of their career in the National League and/or (2) Pitched much of their career before the DH came into place — their strikeout totals are 11 percent pitchers.

The guy who most took advantage of pitching to pitchers? No question: Steve Carlton. In his amazing career, Carlton struck out 663 pitchers — almost 200 more than the next in line (Bob Gibson with 468). Man oh man oh man did Lefty love facing those pitchers. Non-pitchers hit .250/.316/.376 against him with 409 homers. Compare that with some contemporaries:

Steve Carlton: .250/.316/.376, 409 homers
Tom Seaver: .233/.292/.354, 372 homers
Nolan Ryan: .208/.313/.304, 319 homers
Gaylord Perry: .250/.301/.362, 393 homers
Don Sutton: .242/.293/.366, 466 homers
Phil Niekro: .251/.317/.374, 470 homers
Bert Blyleven: .249./.303/.370, 429 homers

The lines are fairly comparable — Ryan, obviously, is an outlier — but you might say that Carlton has the worst line of this bunch of great pitchers. But look at those same pitchers when facing other pitchers:

Carlton: .105/.151/.139 with 663 Ks in 1,291 ABs.
Seaver: .108/.147/.160 with 448 Ks in 1,061 ABs.
Ryan: .102/.155/.137 with 370 Ks in 708 ABs.
Perry: .139/.168/.179 with 343 Ks in 886 ABs.
Sutton: .128/.145/.159 with 450 Ks in 1,095 ABs.
Niekro: .156/.178/.205 with 332 Ks in 1,233 ABs.
Blyleven: .168/..202/.215 with 57 Ks in 368 ABs.

Oh, yeah, Lefty buckled down against those pitchers. Only Ryan and Seaver could match him when it came to facing down the opposing pitcher, and neither of them faced nearly as many pitchers as Carlton. Of course, getting out the opposing pitcher is an artfom too. Carlton was just especially good at that part of his job.

Then, there’s Jack Morris. I must admit: I’m surprised, considering how many people have been looking for positive statistical nuggets for Jack — so much so that they keep repeating the chestnut about Morris pitching to the score even though it has been proven again and again that he did not — that I’ve never read this before:

Jack Morris is the only pitcher with 2,000-plus strikeouts who did not face a single pitcher in his career.

Well, hey, it’s interesting. His timing was precise — he started a bit after the designated hitter came into play, he ended shortly before interleague play began, and he spent his entire career in the American League.

What’s particularly fascinating about this is that, on this very blog, I did a rather detailed breakdown of Jack Morris vs. Rick Reuschel. It seemed to me, no matter how you broke down the statistics, Reuschel was the better pitcher. The point was Reuschel got no Hall of Fame consideration whatsoever while Morris has been gaining tremendous Hall of Fame steam (I have predicted Morris will get in this year, but I think I’m going to go back on that prediction. I think I underestimated some of the paralysis by analysis of this year’s ballot. More on my new Hall of Fame predictions coming soon).

But one thing I did not consider: Rick Reuschel, perhaps even more than Steve Carlton, took advantage of facing pitchers. And Jack Morris never faced a single one.

Look: Reuschel struck out 2,015 batters in his career. But 359 of them — an overwhelming 17.8 percent — were pitchers. That’s the highest percentage in my little study.

Reuschel against non-pitchers: 13,829 PAs, .274/.324/.388 with 1,656 strikeouts, 900 walks, 218 homers.

Morris against non-pitchers: 16,120 PAs, .247/.313/.380 with 2,478 strikeouts, 1,390 walks, 389 homers.

Hmm. That looks like Morris was a bit better than Reuschel, doesn’t it? But … Reuschel faced 1,059 pitchers in his career. And those guys hit .130/.165/.157 and Reuschel struck out 359 of them and walked just 35. He allowed only three homers in those 1,059 plate appearances.

Of course, saying that we have a new factor to consider in Morris vs. Reuschel does not make Morris a Hall of Famer. In truth, you could make a pretty compelling argument that shows that this year’s ballot addition David Wells is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Morris. Wells has a higher WAR (49.4 to 39.3), a better ERA+ (108 to 105), a higher winning percentage (.604 to .577), a much better strikeout to walk ratio (3.06 to 1.78), and even a better postseason record (10-5, 3.17 ERA vs. 7-4, 3.80 ERA). This is the big problem with Morris — there are MANY pitchers almost no one wants in the Hall of Fame who have a compelling argument against him.

But, again, I’m surprised that the many Morris fans out there wouldn’t make a bigger deal of the “never faced a pitcher” thing.

As for Schilling … I don’t believe he took any special advantage of facing pitchers. I will tell you about another pitcher who did love facing pitcher: Greg Maddux. In addition to striking out 419 pitchers in 1,451 plate appearances, he allowed exactly one pitcher to homer off him in his long career. One. Who was that pitcher? Well, it happened in 2004, when Maddux — for reasons not entirely clear — went gopher-ball crazy. Maybe it was Wrigley Field plus age. He gave up 35 homers for the Cubs that year — up to that point he had never even given up 25 homers in a season. Eight different players — including Wily Mo Pena — hit multiple homers off Maddux that year. And the pitcher who homered? Jason Jennings. He hit a two run homer off Maddux on May 8, 2004 to tie the score. Jennings and the Rockies eventually won the game 4-3.

Pitcher home runs allowed for some random great pitchers:

Greg Maddux: 1 in 1,250 at-bats
Bert Blyleven: 1 in 368 at-bats
Bob Gibson: 2 in 1,029 at-bats
Nolan Ryan: 2 in 708 at-bats
Jim Palmer: 2 in 339 at-bats
Sandy Koufax: 3 in 603 at-bats
Tom Glavine: 4 in 1,152 at-bats
Steve Carlton: 5 in 1,291 at-bats
Tom Seaver: 8 in 1,061 at-bats.
Fergie Jenkins: 9 in 727 at-bats
Phil Niekro: 12 in 1,233 at-bats.

Well, anyway, I found it interesting.

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47 Responses to Pitcher v. Pitcher

  1. I love stuff like this. Fascinating baseball minutiae.

  2. Toar Winter says:

    Hey! I think I was just misquoted by Joe Pa! My original tweet:

    How many times did Schilling K the pitcher in all those NL starts? I bet like 20-25% of his Ks are the 9-hole.

    Intentional hyperbole, I admit. I started at 10-15% and jacked it to get you interested (although his 429 Ks against the 9-hole is 14%). I admit, I don’t like Schilling for reasons somewhere between his bluster and role in defeating the Yanks a couple times, and I see him as a bulldog pitcher that really goes after inferior hitters. His postseason numbers are strong, small sample size of course, but they (or the accompanying narrative) probably get him in at some point.

    Glad ‘some guy’ at least got you thinking about things, and provided a small AHA! moment to the Morris debate. I hope we can have similar dialogue when Pettitte comes of age and his numbers are scrutinized to the extent Morris’s have been. Now THAT guy’s a post-season stud….

    Peace and Happy New Year, Joe.

    • Baseball Fan says:

      Maybe you didnt see that Curt Schilling was in the NL West at the same time as Barry Bonds when he was batting 370, 73 HR’s etc. Career vs Bonds…19 walks 80 at bats 13 k’s remember Bonds would strikeout something like 40-50 times a year… Career 260 batter vs. Schilling that is just one super star.

      If anything Schilling relished the times he got to face the superstars!

      Curt Schilling 80 21 4 1 8 21 19 13 1 1 0 .263 .410 .638 1.048

  3. Unknown says:

    I love it as well, especially the nugget about Morris never facing a pitcher. That might be a “record” on par with Cy Young’s career wins when looking at unbreakable records.

  4. Bryan says:

    Wily Mo Pena!! Or, as he was called during his short stint in Boston, “Wily Mo Strikeout or Wily Mo Popout?”

  5. TDIGUY says:

    One more thing–Koufax and Seaver faced pitchers who could hit. You had Drysdale and Spahn and Burdette and many others. Wasn’t quite the auto-out it is today. Of course you also had Bob Buhl, but I bet 1950s pitchers were generally better hitters than 80s pitchers.

    • KHAZAD says:

      This is way overstated. Were pitchers marginally better then? Yes, but only marginally. In 1955 pitchers OPS’d .444, an OPS+ of 23. They struck out 23.9% of the time compared to 10.4% for position players. They had about 31% of the sacrifice bunts in 7% of the plate appearances.

      Pitchers have ALWAYS sucked as hitters, and 1950’s pitchers got to face them more often.

    • LargeBill says:

      It is not so much that pitchers “sucked” as hitters. Rather pitchers, who usually were good hitters growing up, don’t practice hitting as much as everyday players. So much of hitting is timing and batting every fifth day and not getting much work in the cages results in poor timing.

    • Rob Smith says:

      No, pitchers can’t hit because hitting is not a requirement of the job. A left fielder or a first baseman can be wonderful fielders and base runners, but if they can’t hit, they don’t make it to the bigs. Not so with pitchers.

  6. Phil says:

    Four+ years ago I compared Schilling and Kevin Brown while discussing Shilling’s post-season performance. If Carl Mays, Ed Lopat, and Kevin Brown aren’t HOFers, then I don’t see how Schilling is. My article pre-dates WAR, but I tried to keep it relatively sabermetrics-free for wider consumption — only ERA+ makes an appearance.

  7. Phil says:

    And while I certainly respect Joe’s opinion, I don’t think there’s any way Curt Schilling is “comfortably” one of the 25 best of all time. How can he crack this list?

    Young, Cy
    Johnson, Walter
    Nichols, Kid
    Clemens, Roger
    Alexander, Pete
    Maddux, Greg
    Grove, Lefty
    Mathewson, Christy
    Clarkson, John
    Johnson, Randy
    Keefe, Tim
    Seaver, Tom
    Spahn, Warren
    Perry, Gaylord
    Martinez, Pedro
    Niekro, Phil
    Carlton, Steve
    Blyleven, Bert
    Plank, Eddie
    Gibson, Bob
    Rusie, Amos
    Radbourn, Old Hoss
    Hubbell, Carl
    Glavine, Tom
    Mullane, Tony

    Those are my Top 25 pitchers, using Negative Binomial distribution and ERA+ to neutralize win-loss records. Or how about this list?

    Ryan, Nolan
    Brown, Mordecai
    Palmer, Jim
    Lyons, Ted
    Rixey, Eppa
    Faber, Red
    Jenkins, Fergie
    Feller, Bob
    Mussina, Mike
    Roberts, Robin
    Newhouser, Hal
    Brown, Kevin
    Welch, Mickey
    Walsh, Ed
    Ford, Whitey
    Galvin, Pud
    Halladay, Roy

    Those are numbers 26 through 42, all above Schilling at #43. I just can’t see him as a Hall of Famer — but maybe January 9th will prove me wrong.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Ted Lyons, Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina along with all those dead ball era pitchers (and some that I’d have to look up to see what era they even played in) are way out of bounds in any Top 25 list.

    • Joe, you sling the phrase “in the top 25” or “top 50” or “top 100” around far too easily! One of these days you should probably sit down and try to determine the top 25, 50 or 100 at each position and let’s see if you still determine that weak candidates like Curt Schilling are still HOF worthy. I hope PHIL starts writing baseball articles can so I can stop reading your drivel.

  8. Jumbles says:

    Interesting as always. But here’s a question for you: why on earth would anyone care about strikeouts after the fact? I understand using strikeouts as a player evaluation tool; they tell you something about dominance and seem to have pretty good predictive power.

    But in evaluating a career that’s over…who cares? A pitcher’s job is to prevent runs from scoring. If Schilling had done that just as well but struck out no one his entire career, what does it matter? I really don’t see how it could be part of a reasonable HOF evaluation. After all, we rarely count K’s against hitters if they’re getting results, and some of the best hitters are the most prolific strikeout machines. So why give credit to the pitchers?

    • Mark Daniel says:

      This is a good question. I think in general, if two pitchers have similar stats but one has 3000 Ks and the other only 2000, then sabermetrics determines the one with higher K rate to be the better pitcher. It’s because Ks are outs virtually 100% of the time, but non-Ks can be outs or hits or errors or walks or HBPs. With the two pitchers I described, the lower K guy is not “truly” as good a pitcher because he got more outs on balls in play because of luck or good fielders or being in a pitcher’s park and things like that. Thus, advanced stats are not always about what actually happened, it’s about what would have happened once everything was evened out by park and fielding and with BABIP. In the case of Schilling vs. Brown, Schilling had 700+ more Ks, and as might be expected, he had a lower WHIP (1.137 vs. 1.222). So how did they end up with similar ERA+? It looks like the difference might be HRs allowed. Brown allowed 208, Schilling 347. Some of that might be due to park effect, but that’s how their numbers even out. Regardless, Schilling’s fielding independent pitching (FIP) is lower than Brown’s (3.23 vs 3.33). This edge, albeit small, favors Schilling, and is probably mostly due to Schilling’s higher strikeout rate.
      The importance of strikeouts, thus, is in determining this so-called “true” value, which is somewhat different than what actually happened on the field.

  9. “Those are my Top 25 pitchers, using Negative Binomial distribution and ERA+ to neutralize win-loss records.”

    What exactly is the relationship between the figures? How are they weighted? I think I’m reading this as it being a negative binomial distribution OF ERA+, but I could be wrong / this pepsi is secretly full of tasteless alcohol.

    Can I see a chart or have a more in-depth explanation of the statistics you’re using? My statistics learning did not venture far beyond linear regression and stopped somewhere before Chi-squared testing (which my roommate believes is the key to betting on football).

  10. Unknown says:

    No Koufax on that list of top 25?

    • Phil says:

      I have Koufax as #97 — it’s a career assessment, and his was just too short. I do have him in the Top 20 for careers through age 30, for what it’s worth. And if one looks at 5 or 6 or 7 peak years, he’d be easily Top 10 (I would think: haven’t crunched those numbers).

    • Evan says:

      No offense, but there’s probably something wrong with your metric if you have Koufax at #97. I mean, who’s 96?

    • Phil says:

      No offense taken — as I said, it’s a career measure, and Koufax’s 162-90 “neutral” record (176 Fibonacci points) isn’t as good as Johan Santana’s 147-70 (177 Fib), Lefty Gomez’s 182-109 (187 Fib), or even Roy Oswalt’s 167-92 (183 Fib). I think it’s because ERA+ is emphatically less kind to those in low-run environments — though Walter Johnson is still #2 all-time to Cy Young — and the Fibonacci method of comparing win-loss records sees value in additional .500 seasons (actually, any season above .414 has incremental value). If Koufax is more realistically a 180-72 pitcher (a percentage more like Pedro Martinez’s 229-90), then he’s Top 50 easily. Again, it’s a career measure: and 162-90 isn’t an all-time “great” career record no matter how you slice it. If I were measuring peak five years instead, I’m sure Koufax would be Top 10.

    • Phil says:

      If just winning percentage of the “neutral” records is used for ranking, then Koufax is #23: 162-90 at .6429 — just percentage points above Greg Maddux’s 374-208 at .6426. But with over twice as many innings pitched and decisions earned, there should be no argument that Maddux had the better career. Was he a “better pitcher” than Koufax? Maybe not for a World Series, or a season, or half a decade: but I can say with confidence that over a whole career, Mad Dog was indeed better. And that’s what my method is trying to assess.

    • And this really gets into the “Who is a Hall of Famer”. Koufax was absolutely dominating, one knew when watching him that he was an all time great.
      While all of these stats are interesting to consider, I always enjoy the gut check on HoF votes. I mean, did anyone really think when watching Rafael Palmeiro — “Wow, he will be in the HoF when he retires!! “

    • Phil says:

      It was nagging at me, so today I took my top 200 or so and found their five-year peaks. Koufax is tied for #9 if sorted by winning percentage of “neutral” win-loss records:

      Maddux, Greg 1994-1998 98-21 .824
      Martinez, Pedro 1996-2000 100-25 .800
      Johnson, Randy 1998-2002 108-30 .783
      Johnson, Walter 1911-1915 165-47 .778
      Grove, Lefty 1928-1932 122-39 .758
      Brown, Kevin 1996-2000 93-30 .756
      Santana, Johan 2004-2008 92-33 .736
      Clemens, Roger 1986-1990 103-39 .725
      Newhouser, Hal 1944-1948 126-48 .724
      Koufax, Sandy 1962-1966 105-40 .724

      I gotta say, Kevin Brown’s looking better than Curt Schilling with every passing moment. . . .

    • Rob Smith says:

      Let’s not forget that Kevin Brown appeared on the Mitchell Report and Kirk Radomski alleged that he purchased PEDs from him. Joe consistently “forgets” to mention this little tidbit since he’s a steroid apologist. So, it’s not always about the numbers these days. The guy was dirty. That’s a big reason why he didn’t get HOF love from the voters.

    • Phil says:

      And let’s also not forget that George Mitchell was an employee of the Boston Red Sox, so conveniently no Beaneaters appeared on his special list. Shilling’s career trajectory indicates a late bloomer (with more of his career WAR value later: over 40% still remaining after his age 34 season), while Brown’s is more typical (less than 25% after age 34). That’s not proof, of course (viz. Dazzy Vance and Randy Johnson), but it should make circumspect voters wary.

    • Badfinger says:

      Only one of Schilling’s years that would count in his WAR7 was with Boston. 3 were with Arizona and 3 were with Philadelphia (including 1992). He also struck out 300 batters twice in Philly and threw almost 270 innings of .665 Opponent OPS ball in 1998. He didn’t just suddenly get good right in time for the Mitchell Report.

    • Chris says:

      @Rob Smith

      I like that we get to just declare guys dirty due to allegations or having their name show up in a report. No hard evidence needed. Only accusations.

  11. E Haines says:

    Hmmm…what could it have been that made Curt pitch so good? What oh what could it have been?

  12. Maddux may have loved facing pitchers, but it was, of all people, a pitcher who ended one of Maddux’s best streaks: In 1995, after not having allowed a walk in 51 innings, Maddux issued one to Joey Hamilton of the Padres.

  13. The pitchers who did not face designated hitters had 11% of their strikeouts against pitchers. I know it’s a little flawed but that seems exactly where it should be. 9 positions in the order, 11% of strikeouts against each one. Sure they wouldn’t have struck out the number 3 hitter as often as the 8 or 9 but I see no reason to say 11% of your strikeouts are against pitchers should be a strike against them. They can’t just let the pitcher on base because he is a lesser hitter?

  14. Rob Smith says:

    I feel honored that Joe used my previous comment about David Wells being a better HOF candidate than Jack Morris. Better career, better postseason career. How many of you are just shouting out “David Wells is an obvious HOFer”? Anybody? Bueller? Well, why in the hell is Jack Morris getting so much love when he’s not even as good as David friggin Wells?? What a joke.

  15. Nemo says:

    In my opinion this really isn’t a complete analysis until you compare to #9 hitters in the AL. It’s not fair to simply dismiss 1/9 of the order for NL pitchers but make no allowance for AL pitchers. If you wanted a fair, apples to apples comparison, you’d have to compare strikeout totals of 1-8 batters in the NL to strikeout totals of 1-8 batters in the AL.

  16. yoyodyne says:

    Carlton gave up 5 HRs to pitchers but hit 13 himself, for a net +8. That’d be a fun stat to run for all those guys!

    .201/223/259 for Lefty at the plate. 4 years his SLG was .317 or better, heck, that seems better than some leadoff guys I watched this year…

  17. brhalbleib says:

    But of course, Jack Morris did face pitchers in his career, it is just that we have to deal with a very small sample size:

    Against Tom Glavine: 0 for 2 with a walk

    So his numbers are .000/.333/.000 if I calculated the slashes correctly.

  18. Hank Cole says:

    Hah. About four years ago I did what I thoroughly acknowledge was a bad attempt to impersonate Joe Posnanski, in an email to a group of baseball fans (full disclosure: said fans are Red Sox fans who I would guess 90% hate Curt Schilling). Relevant portion is below:

    Excerpted below are the lines on two pitchers’ careers, although one of them is obviously doctored a bit. Pitcher A is an otherwise real career that has been altered in a material way. Pitcher B is an entirely real guy, warts (such as they are) and all:

    Pitcher A: 11 seasons, 164-94 win-loss, 9 saves, 2,316 strikeouts in 2,272 2/3 innings. 3.45 ERA versus league average of 4.60 (133 ERA+). 1.117 WHIP.
    Pitcher B: 12 seasons, 165-87 win-loss, 9 saves, 2,396 strikeouts in 2,324 1/3 innings. 2.76 ERA versus league average of 3.62 (131 ERA+). 1.106 WHIP.

    Pitcher A’s line is not a real-life line, so it doesn’t appear in Pitcher B’s most-similar comparables on baseball-reference, but their similarity score is 885, which would make Pitcher A tied for second-most-similar to Pitcher B. That’s pretty low for most-comparable scores, which highlights really how incomparable Pitcher B was.

    Pitcher B won three Cy Young awards (and got votes another time) and an MVP; Pitcher A never won the Cy but was runner-up three times (and got votes another time). (The closest he came to MVP was 10th.) Each of Pitcher A and Pitcher B had three 20-win seasons. Each made the All-Star team six times and played on teams that won three World Series.

    Pitcher A is Curt Schilling from the age of 30 on.

    Pitcher B is Sandy Koufax.

    • Phil says:

      Sure, I’ll take the bait and plays devil’s advocate . . .

      Pitcher C: 12 seasons, 162-99 win-loss, 0 saves, 1960 strikeouts in 2241 innings, 3.00 ERA against league average of 4.17 (139 ERA+), 1.166 WHIP. Two top-3 Cy Young finishes (and 5 top-6), 2 ERA titles, 2 WHIP titles, 1 K/BB title, 1 ShO title, 6-time All-Star, pitched for one WS winner and one WS loser, no-hitter in 1997.

      The strikeouts aren’t there, but neither are all the gopher balls: it’s Kevin Brown from ages 27-38 (1992-2003).

      All this is more proof that Koufax’s overall career isn’t what made him so great — it’s his phenomenal 5-year peak.

    • Hank Cole says:

      Wow, five days later and I’m still scratching this itch? My work must be boring….

      First, Kevin Brown was one heckuva pitcher during that stretch. Strange to think of it, but he was.

      Second, I won’t be heard to disparage Sandy Koufax at all, but the supremacy of his peak seems to me one of those things everyone “knows” more than something anyone’s actually shown. Five year peaks, as measured by ERA+.

      Pitcher A: 243, 291, 188, 202, 211
      Pitcher B: 143, 159, 186, 160, 190
      Pitcher C: 135, 184, 181, 188, 195
      Pitcher D: 130, 157, 140, 159, 148

      Okay, you can tell Pitcher A is Pedro, and you’d probably guess that Pitcher D, the worst of the remainder, is Schilling. But are you really sure which one’s Koufax and which is Randy Johnson? And if I added Mattie and Seaver and Rube Waddell’s peaks, do you really think you’d be able to spot Sandy out of the pack?

      Or take strikeouts:

      Pitcher A: 216, 306, 223, 382, 317
      Pitcher B: 302, 249, 287, 196, 232
      Pitcher C: 319, 300, 152, 168, 293
      Pitcher D: 305, 251, 313, 284, 163

      Are you really sure you can tell Sandy from Curt from Pedro from Rube? You might, if the number 382 jumps out, but it seems to me really hard to make the case that Koufax’s peak was markedly better than everyone else’s. Rather, it seems to me that he’s merely one of the greatest pitchers of all time whose career ended abruptly just as he was pitching at his best. (I fear the irony tags may not be visible around that “merely” there.)

  19. This is way overstated. Were pitchers marginally better then? Yes, but only marginally. In 1955 pitchers OPS’d .444, an OPS+ of 23. They struck out 23.9% of the time compared to 10.4% for position players. They had about 31% of the sacrifice bunts in 7% of the plate appearances.


  20. Jaly Can says:

    We’ve long been inspired by urban art and have finally created a collection that pays homage to this secret addiction of ours!

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