Since 1901, twenty-one pitchers have reeled off at least three straight years of 7+ rWAR. One pitcher has a chance to crash the list in 2013.
The 7-WAR “triples,” arranged by age:
- 20-22: Bob Feller
- 21-23: Frank Tanana
- 22-24: Noodles Hahn, Walter Johnson
- 23-25: W. Johnson, Hal Newhouser, Robin Roberts
- 24-26: W. Johnson, Roberts
- 25-27: Rube Waddell, W. Johnson, Roberts
- 26-28: Waddell, Christy Mathewson, W. Johnson
- 27-29: Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens
- 28-30: Mathewson, Alexander, Koufax, Greg Maddux
- 29-31: Mathewson, Ed Walsh, Wilbur Wood, Maddux
- 30-32: Joe McGinnity, Lefty Grove
- 31-33: McGinnity, Grove
- 32-34: Bob Gibson
- 33-35: Jim Bunning, Gaylord Perry, Clemens
- 34-36: None
- 35-37: Grove, Randy Johnson
- 36-38: R. Johnson
- 37-39: None
- 38-40: Phil Niekro
Walter Johnson had the longest such streak, seven years from age 22-28; Christy Mathewson had six straight from 26-31. Lefty Grove and Roger Clemens had two separate 3-year streaks of 7+ WAR, with Grove’s stretching from 30-33 and 35-37. (In between was Grove’s first year with Boston, a dreadful injury-racked year that must have given the Fenway brass fits, in light of the simultaneous decline of Max Bishop, acquired in the same trade.)
The pitcher poised to join them — if any pitcher can be “poised” for a 7-WAR year — is Justin Verlander, who turned 30 on Wednesday.
For age 28-29 combined, Verlander’s 15.9 WAR ranks 8th since 1901. If he does log 7+ WAR this year, he’ll be at least 10th-best for age 28-30 and 9th for age 29-30.
Granted, it’s one hell of an “if.” The past 10 MLB seasons averaged just two 7-WAR pitchers; Verlander was the only one to do it last year.
Just two other active pitchers logged 7+ WAR for two straight years, and both fell well short of the triple: Tim Lincecum (2008-09, but 3.0 WAR in 2010), and Roy Halladay (2010-11, but 0.7 WAR in 2012). Halladay and Johan Santana are the only actives with a 6-WAR triple.
The long view brings a surprise: Since 1901, more 7-WAR seasons happened at 30 than any other age but 27.
Yeah, but … that age-30 spike looks like a small-sample fluke when you see the normal curve on the chart of
But the fan in me still thinks J.V. can do it!
Some notes on those 7-WAR-at-30 pitchers:
- 15 of 29 who are Hall-eligible have been elected.
- John Hiller was the only reliever, with 7.9 WAR in 1973 when he set the Saves record. It was also the relief WAR record, now #2 (with Goose on top).
- Togie Pittinger came from way-outta-nowhere; the other 30 guys had at least 22 career WAR.
- There’s that 30-year-old rookie Curt Davis again!
- In years when an MVP or Cy Young Award was given, 5 out of 6 who led their league in WAR/pitch won the Award. No others won the Award.
- My favorite? Wilbur and Sandy are tempting, but at the end of the day, I have to ride The Big Train. In a war-shortened 128-game season, Johnson tossed 326 innings and finished all 29 of his starts, averaging 10.24 IP (thanks to games like this and this), as well as all 10 relief outings. He had a 2.41 ERA in his 13 losses, 0.71 in his 23 wins.