I decided to take a look at the pitchers on this year’s ballot. I’m not saying it is THE way to look at them, just A way. It’s a convoluted methodology, fraught with possible errors in judgment on my part, but it’s what I did. Let me use Mike Cuellar as my guinea pig to walk thru the method.

Instead of using Cuellar’s ERA+ of 109, I used ERC+ of 112. Plugging this number in to the Pythagorean formula, Cuellar’s expect winning percentage is .556. To figure Decisions, I took his 2808 innings and divided by 8.9. Doing the math, Cuellar should have had a 176-140 record. Here are the pertinent numbers for the ten pitchers I looked at (I ignored relievers and less than stellar starters like Coleman and Lonborg). Columns are ERA+, ERC+, Innings, Expected Wins and Losses:

109 112 2808.0 176-140 Mike Cuellar 134

104 102 2867.1 164-158 Ken Holtzman 90

104 114 3449.1 219-169 Jim Hunter 174

112 114 3262.2 207-159 Larry Jackson 165

104 107 3638.1 218-191 Mickey Lolich 143

113 111 2492.1 155-125 Sam McDowell 116

106 105 2730.0 161-146 Dave McNally 99

121 129 2230.1 157-094 Andy Messersmith 161

103 107 2930.2 176-154 Camilo Pascual 116

114 111 2684.0 166-135 Wilbur Wood 123

No one strikes me as being an obvious HOF. Hunter seems to be the best overall, but a case can be made for Messersmith in a very short career. So I decided to take a look at peak. My definition of peak for this study is the 7 best consecutive seasons. Well, that’s not entirely true. I looked at 5 consecutive, 5 best and 7 best as well, but the results weren’t that significantly different, except for Wilbur Wood, no matter what definition of peak I used for him. I’m comparing starters. Do I count Wood’s 4 good years as a starter? Or use that crappy fifth year as well? (I’ll list Wood twice, once using 5 years as a starter and once with using 4 years as a starter). The columns for best 7 consecutive seasons are ERC+, Innings, Expected Wins and Losses:

128 1773.1 124-76 Cuellar 125

114 1828.1 116-89 Holtzman 93

130 2032.2 143-85 Hunter 148

123 1772.0 120-79 Jackson 113

115 1989.1 127-96 Lolich 103

121 1736.0 116-79 McDowell 106

115 1828.0 117-88 McNally 96

134 1754.2 127-71 Messersmith 137

127 1593.1 111-69 Pascual 110

123 1790.2 121-80 Wood (4 years as a starter, 3 as a reliever) 114

116 1923.0 124-92 Wood (5 years as a starter, 2 as a reliever) 103

Looking just at peak (as I defined it), Hunter is clearly the best, with Messersmith a relatively close second. (For 7 years, Hunter averaged 290 innings and 20 expected wins.) Just for the sake of argument, let me add the two charts together, sort of a JAWS7 sort of thing. I’ll just give the Expected Wins and Losses:

300-216 Cuellar 258

280-247 Holtzman 182

362-254 Hunter 321

327-238 Jackson 278

345-287 Lolich 246

271-204 McDowell 222

278-234 McNally 195

284-165 Messersmith 299

287-223 Pascual 226

287-215 Wood 236 (4 years as a starter, 3 as a reliever)

In case you haven’t figured it out, the number behind the names are Fibonacci Points. I’m not saying that everyone should be voting for Hunter, but perhaps you’ll understand why I rate him as high as I do, especially adding in his post season success and a subjective fame element. He wasn’t the best career-wise of his generation – Seaver was – and probably not even in the Top 5, when one includes Carlton, Sutton, Ryan, Niekro, Perry, Palmer, Jenkins, maybe not Top 10. But on a peak basis, he’s in the hunt for Top 5.

As an aside, I also looked at the starting pitchers who are coming in pre-1989. Only two are of note: J.R. Richard, who only had 4 1/2 seasons of note, and Luis Tiant, who comes in in ’88. Tiant is a hard guy to rate/rank in terms of 7 best consecutive, since his best doesn’t include ’68, his best season. How does one rate peak if one doesn’t include his best year? But using 1972-1978, Tiant’s record would be 347-237 with 316 Fibonacci Points, just a little behind Hunter’s 321.

For fun, I looked at 12 guys who are of approximately the same generation as Hunter, looking at ERC+ instead of ERA+. I’ll list them by Fibonacci points. First, on a career basis. The columns are ERA+, ERC+, Innings, Expected Wins and Losses, Fibonacci Points after the name:

127 135 4782.2 347-190 Tom Seaver 381

111 122 5386.0 362-243 Nolan Ryan 336

108 121 5282.1 353-241 Don Sutton 322

117 120 5350.1 355-246 Gaylord Perry 319

115 126 4500.2 310-195 Fergie Jenkins 305

117 120 4970.0 330-229 Bert Blyleven 296

115 115 5217.1 334-252 Steve Carlton 272

116 111 5404.1 335-272 Phil Niekro 248

125 122 3948.0 265-178 Jim Palmer 246

111 106 4710.1 280-249 Tommy John 179

110 111 3839.1 238-193 Jerry Koosman 176

104 114 3449.1 219-169 Jim Hunter 174

There seems to be a definite line drawn between Palmer and John. It looks like, using this methodology, that somewhere between 200 and 220 is where the HOF line is, career stats-wise. Let me take a look at their 7 best consecutive seasons. It’s not always obvious which are the 7 best. Do I use the 122 ERC+ in 200 innings season or the 120 ERC+ in 225 innings season? But really, it doesn’t make that big a difference. Also, like Tiant, a pitcher’s best season might not be included in the 7 best consecutive years. Carlton’s ’72 season is such a case. He was so mediocre in ’73 thru ’75 that ’76 thru ’82 were his best. I also did not adjust the numbers in either of the two strike years that often came into play. Again, the list is in order of Fibonacci Points. Columns are ERC+, Innings, Expected Wins and Losses, Fibonacci Points after the name:

158 1931.1 155-62 Seaver 204

142 2146.0 161-80 Jenkins 189

136 2233.2 163-88 Perry 181

141 1832.2 137-69 Sutton 159

134 1979.2 143-80 Blyleven 155

132 2002.1 143-82 Palmer 152

130 2032.2 143-85 Hunter 149

136 1823.2 133-72 Carlton 147

122 2040.2 137-92 Niekro 127

117 1958.2 127-93 Ryan 107

119 1573.1 104-73 Koosman 92

113 1544.0 097-76 John 75

A couple of the guys are lower peak-wise because of a glitch in the parameters. Niekro never really had a peak, he just pitched at a fairly consistent rate for years and years. Ryan I may have messed up completely. His 7 peak years’ ERC+ is lower than his career ERC+, which seems kind of silly. The years he pitched the most innings were not his best ERC+ years. I probably could find a stretch where is ERC+ was 10, maybe 15 points higher, but in 500 to 700 fewer innings. I didn’t check (I don’t really care – it’s a lot of work) to see what years had the best Fibonacci Points, but it’s not going to jump up dramatically, I’d guess.

Just to continue the thought, here are the 12 in order of Fibonacci Points, adding the two lists together:

584 Seaver

499 Perry

493 Jenkins

480 Sutton

450 Blyleven

443 Ryan

419 Carlton

397 Palmer

374 Niekro

321 Hunter

268 Koosman

254 John