Left-Wing Leadership

For the 2012 season, Baseball-reference.com’s formula for pitching Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) makes Tampa’s David Price the pitcher with the most bWAR among all left-handed pitchers in the majors, by a small margin over Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Matt Harrison of the Rangers (Harrison’s 6.2 pitching bWAR was the highest season total ever for a lefty pitching for the Rangers franchise, breaking Jon Matlack’s record from 1978).  Over the past five seasons, the bWAR formula has produced six different major league season leaders in the category of most pitching bWAR among lefty pitchers:

2012 David Price
2011 Cliff Lee
2010 Clayton Kershaw
2009 tie, C.C. Sabathia and John Lester
2008 Johan Santana

Over major league history, there have been several eras of this kind of extended multi-year diversity when looking at the top bWAR lefty in the majors each season, but there have also been periods of dominance by a single pitcher.  A full table of each season’s top lefty by pitching bWAR, going back to 1901, is after the jump, along with some notes on the list.  

You can play around with the table below, but first I’ll offer a few highlights and comments:

The following guys led the  majors in pitching bWAR among lefties in at least three different seasons, from and including 1901:

Lefty Grove, 10 seasons
Steve Carlton, 6 seasons
Randy Johnson, 6 seasons
Rube Waddell, 4 seasons
Warren Spahn, 4 seasons
Johan Santana, 3 seasons
Frank Viola, 3 seasons
Sandy Koufax, 3 seasons
Hal Newhouser, 3 seasons
Nap Rucker, 3 seasons
Wilbur Cooper, 3 seasons

The Athletics franchise has had the major league leader in pitching bWAR among lefties in 14 different seasons. The Red Sox are the only other franchise in double-figures in this category over the period 1901-2012, having had 10 major league leaders in bWAR by a lefty since 1901. Each of these two franchises, the A’s and Red Sox, had the benefit of Lefty Grove on their roster for a significant number of years. All 16 “original” franchises, the ones that date back to the early 20th century or before, have had a pitcher lead the combined AL and NL in lefty pitching bWAR in at least one season since 1901. The Orioles/Browns franchise trail the 16 original franchises, with just one, single pitcher appearance on this list, Carl Weilman all the way back in 1915,and even that appearance has an ambiguous status. For 1915 the baseball-reference Play Index lists Eddie Plank, not Weilman, as the lefty with the most pitching bWAR in the majors. But Plank played the 1915 season, during which he turned 40 years old, in the Federal League, not the AL or NL. Was the Federal League really the equivalent of a major league that season? I’m not convinced the Feds had the depth of talent to be truly considered a major league in 1915, but it’s an open question, so I’ve listed both Plank and Weilman in the table below. Including Weilman allows the Orioles/Browns franchise to avoid being completely shut out of the list. Of the fourteen franchises that began play in or after 1961, five (Toronto, Texas, Nats/Expos, Colorado and Houston) have no pitchers appearing in the table below, having never had a pitcher top the majors in season pitching bWAR among lefties.

The youngest player to win the lefty pitching bWAR major league race was Babe Ruth in 1916, a few months younger at that point than Mike McCormick was for the Giants in 1960.  The oldest player listed in the table below is Eddie Plank in his 1915 season. If you prefer not to count that Federal League season, the oldest player-season leading the majors in lefty pitcher bWAR since 1901 would be Lefty Grove’s 1939 season — Grove was born in March of 1900, making it easy to remember his age in any particular season (easy for us, that is; I assume it would have been easy for him regardless).

The highest season pitching bWAR of all by a lefty since 1901 came in Steve Carlton’s 1972 season, 11.7 bWAR. Wilbur Wood had a 10.3 pitching bWAR that same season, tied with Koufax’s 1963 for the sixth highest bWAR season by a lefty since 1901, but Wood’s season doesn’t make the table of champions below because it came in the same year as Carlton’s performance.   Wood does make the table for the preceding year, 1971, when Wilbur had a pitching bWAR almost as high as Carlton’s much more famous 1972.   Wood perhaps could have used a better first name for marketing purposes than that of the pig in Charlotte’s Web and the Alan Young character in Mr. Ed.

The lowest season pitching bWAR that was enough to lead the majors among lefties has been 4.5 bWAR, which was sufficient for Billy Pierce to lead all lefties in 1958 and for Johnny Vander Meer to lead all lefties in 1942. As with any list of tops-in-the-league by year, whether a player makes the list can depend on the luck of having a pretty good season in a year in which no one else happens to do any better. That 4.5 bWAR that got Vander Meer on the list below as the top lefty of 1942 would only have been good for the ninth-best bWAR by a lefty in 1988 or 1949. In 57 seasons since 1901, a 4.5 bWAR would have been no better than fifth-best in the majors by a lefty.

One further observation on the table below: in the few years where there was a tie for the most lefty pitcher bWAR, I’ve included both guys in the table (as I also did for 1915).  That’s why there are a few more rows in the table than there are years since 1901.  And one question for readers to consider:  What would an award for most lefty pitching bWAR for the season best be called?

Lastly, note that this post is a revised version of one I initially posted here briefly but withdrew when several commenters quickly caught the fact that that it included results of a flawed Play Index search that led to the inclusion of a number of righty pitchers from the mid-20th century era. Thank you to kds and nsb for quickly catching my mistake, allowing me to quickly pull the post and re-do the table.  The table  should be correctly limited to just lefties now.

David Price6.4201226TBRAL
Cliff Lee8.3201132PHINL
Clayton Kershaw5.4201022DodgersNL
Jon Lester5.9200925BOSAL
CC Sabathia5.9200928NYYAL
Johan Santana6.9200829NYMNL
CC Sabathia6200726CLEAL
Johan Santana7.3200627Sens/TwinsAL
Dontrelle Willis7200523FLANL
Johan Santana8.4200425Sens/TwinsAL
Darrell May5.7200331KCRAL
Randy Johnson10.4200238ARINL
Randy Johnson9.8200137ARINL
Randy Johnson7.8200036ARINL
Randy Johnson8.8199935ARINL
Kenny Rogers7.2199833A'sAL
Andy Pettitte8199725NYYAL
Denny Neagle5.8199627PITNL
Randy Johnson8.3199531SEAAL
Randy Johnson5.2199430SEAAL
Mark Langston8.2199332AngelsAL
Sid Fernandez5.9199229NYMNL
Frank Viola5.9199232BOSAL
Tom Glavine8.2199125BravesNL
Chuck Finley7.5199027AngelsAL
Bruce Hurst6.3198931SDPNL
Frank Viola7.4198828Sens/TwinsAL
Frank Viola7.8198727Sens/TwinsAL
Teddy Higuera9.1198628MILAL
John Tudor7.8198531STLNL
Willie Hernandez4.6198429DETAL
Steve Carlton5.1198338PHINL
Steve Carlton5.2198237PHINL
Steve Carlton5.4198136PHINL
Steve Carlton9.9198035PHINL
Jerry Koosman6.9197936Sens/TwinsAL
Ron Guidry9.3197827NYYAL
Frank Tanana8197723AngelsAL
Vida Blue7.3197626A'sAL
Jim Kaat7.4197536CHWAL
Jon Matlack8.8197424NYMNL
John Hiller7.9197330DETAL
Steve Carlton11.7197227PHINL
Wilbur Wood11.5197129CHWAL
Sam McDowell8197027CLEAL
Steve Carlton6.8196924STLNL
Jerry Koosman6.2196825NYMNL
Jim Merritt6.2196723Sens/TwinsAL
Sandy Koufax10196630DodgersNL
Sam McDowell7.9196522CLEAL
Sandy Koufax7196428DodgersNL
Sandy Koufax10.3196327DodgersNL
Hank Aguirre7.2196231DETAL
Jack Kralick5.8196126Sens/TwinsAL
Mike McCormick4.8196021GiantsNL
Warren Spahn5.1195938BravesNL
Billy Pierce4.5195831CHWAL
Johnny Podres5.5195724DodgersNL
Herb Score7195623CLEAL
Billy Pierce6.7195528CHWAL
Johnny Antonelli7.2195424GiantsNL
Warren Spahn8.5195332BravesNL
Bobby Shantz8.7195226A'sAL
Warren Spahn7.4195130BravesNL
Mel Parnell5.4195028BOSAL
Mel Parnell7.6194927BOSAL
Harry Brecheen8.6194833STLNL
Warren Spahn9.1194726BravesNL
Hal Newhouser9.1194625DETAL
Hal Newhouser10.5194524DETAL
Hal Newhouser7.4194423DETAL
Max Lanier4.6194328STLNL
Johnny Vander Meer4.5194227CINNL
Thornton Lee8194134CHWAL
Larry French4.9194032CHCNL
Lefty Grove6.8193939BOSAL
Thornton Lee5.2193831CHWAL
Lefty Grove9.4193737BOSAL
Lefty Grove10.7193636BOSAL
Lefty Grove9.1193535BOSAL
Lefty Gomez7.9193425NYYAL
Carl Hubbell8.5193330GiantsNL
Lefty Grove8.6193232A'sAL
Lefty Grove9.5193131A'sAL
Lefty Grove9193030A'sAL
Lefty Grove6.6192929A'sAL
Lefty Grove6.5192828A'sAL
Jesse Petty6.2192732DodgersNL
Lefty Grove6.9192626A'sAL
Herb Pennock6.2192531NYYAL
Herb Pennock7.5192430NYYAL
Eppa Rixey5.8192332CINNL
Wilbur Cooper6.1192230PITNL
George Mogridge6.4192132Sens/TwinsAL
Wilbur Cooper5.8192028PITNL
Hippo Vaughn6.9191931CHCNL
Hippo Vaughn7.4191830CHCNL
Wilbur Cooper6.7191725PITNL
Babe Ruth8.3191621BOSAL
Eddie Plank6191539SLMFL
Carl Weilman*5191525Browns/O'sAL
Dutch Leonard9191422BOSAL
Reb Russell8.5191324CHWAL
Nap Rucker7.9191227DodgersNL
Vean Gregg8.8191126CLEAL
Nap Rucker6.9191025DodgersNL
Nap Rucker7.5190924DodgersNL
Eddie Plank6.8190832A'sAL
Ed Karger6.5190724STLNL
Doc White5.9190627CHWAL
Rube Waddell8.9190528A'sAL
Rube Waddell10190427A'sAL
Rube Waddell8.4190326A'sAL
Rube Waddell9.4190225A'sAL
Noodles Hahn7.6190122CINNL

5 thoughts on “Left-Wing Leadership

  1. 1
  2. 3
    kds says:

    Bob Feller and Robin Roberts were both Northsiders. i haven’t checked all the others.

    Running 5 year totals, (or 3 year), might be a better way to show dominance, rather than each year, which is subject to the issues mentioned with Wilbur Wood.

  3. 4
    no statistician but says:

    Hold on, birtelcom.

    I haven’t checked the whole list, but besides Feller and Roberts, Dizzy Dean, Bill Lee, Mort Cooper, Spud Chandler, Early Wynn, the Franks Lary and Sullivan were all righties.

    Hope you can make some edits.

  4. 5
    birtelcom says:

    You are of course absolutely right about the messed up table; i will pull the post until I can get it corrected.

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