1985 – Bob’s pitcher study

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

 

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