Twenty-one Aces who dealt Triple Sevens

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:

 

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.

7-WAR seasons by age

 

Yeah, but … that age-30 spike looks like a small-sample fluke when you see the normal curve on the chart of
5-WAR years:

Pitchers 5-WAR years by age

 

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.

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47 Comments on "Twenty-one Aces who dealt Triple Sevens"

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Hartvig
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The fact that Justin Verlander still has enough energy to put up a 7 WAR season while having Kate Upton as a girlfriend can only mean that in reality he is actually Superman.

Brandon
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Actually Upton declared herself a free agent on Letterman the other night.
Somehow I doubt JV will have trouble finding a new GF.

Hartvig
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Which means he’ll either focus all that frustration into one of the greatest seasons in history or he’ll go to piece’s like a paper kite in a tornado.

If I had Kate Upton for a girlfriend and she left me I would be looking for the nearest tallest building that I could find that was close to a rail line so I could jump off it in front of an oncoming train preferably while shooting myself on the way down…

But that’s just me.

MikeD
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Perhaps he’s just looking to be Detroit’s Derek Jeter, who has long taken comfort knowing that one when model leaves, another is knocking on the door.

Jonas Gumby
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I saw that too. I think Atlanta traded Heyward for her to complete the trifecta.

bstar
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Nice. I too thought of BJ and Justin when I saw the “Upton” in the comment.

Of course, that ruins the whole “Up, Up, and a Hey” in the Braves outfield (but that was mildly stomach-turning anyway). Plus I doubt Kate’s dWAR is going to match Heyward’s in right (but who cares now?)

Tim Pea
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Was Frank Tanana the oldest player ever to get his first ML hit? Did he play the most seasons until he got his first hit? Sorry if this has been covered before and I missed it.

James Gentile
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Wow, those graphs are excellent! If anyone ever doubts a pitcher’s peak is age 25-28, the proof is right there.

Nice work.

David
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The post says only Clemens had two separate 3-year streaks. Didn’t Grove do it too?

David
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4 and 3 for Grove.

Brooklyn Mick
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Pedro’s 6.9 WAR in 1998 kept him from being on the list twice.

1997 – 8.7
1998 – 6.9
1999 – 9.5
2000 – 11.4

That 9.1 four year average is pretty slick.

Phil
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Gooden averaged 7.0+ from ’84-86, thanks to his huge ’85 season. I guess that’s not all that uncommon, though.

Brooklyn Mick
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John, let me be the first to tip my cap to the wonderfully symmetrical analogy to the old riverboat. Great find! If Verlander does it this year, Twenty-Two Aces Dealing Triple-7’s won’t have the same ring to it, but I’m sure you won’t be complaining. 🙂

mosc
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Answer honestly guys, how well do you think some of these old time pitchers would do against a modern hitter? I think having Cy Young face the 2012 Giants, he’s not going to have a good day very often. The velocity is just not there to keep guys honest. The pool of players for old time baseball was pretty small, today’s game is international. I sometimes think Cy Young pitched in something more similar to the Nippon league than today’s MLB. That said, I think the defense behind the old time pitchers was atrocious by modern standards. Today’s athletes have… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
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I have to disagree somewhat – while of course Cy Young wouldn’t post the insane career Wins/IP/Complete Games/ GS totals, I think he could’ve been as good as all but a handful of modern pitchers. As for his alleged lack of a great fastball – do you know _why_ he was called “Cy”? It was short for “Cylone”, which is supposedly to be what the backstop looked like in a minor league game, after he turned it into splinters. More to the point, he was in the Top-10 in K’s 17 of 18 years from 1891-1908. Granted, he was no… Read more »
MikeD
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The level of competition is much higher today that it was 100 years ago. It’s higher than it was 45 years ago, although marginally so. I’m convinced a team of all-stars today would easily beat a team of All-Stars from 1903, although that’s a very different statement than saying I don’t believe the truly great stars from back then were truly great. They were. Taking it more recently, I’m not convinced a team of allstars from today would necesarilly beat the the team of allstars from the late ’60s/early 70s. Aaron, Robinson, Clemente, Seaver, Koufax, Gibson, Bench, etc. would be… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
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This would be a reasonable All-Star team for 1903: SP – Christy Mathewson SP – Cy Young SP – Rube Waddell SP – Joe McGinnity SP – Eddie Plank Relievers as specialists didn’t exist then, but any one of at least a dozen top starters probably would’ve done well, such as Sam Leever, Deacon Phillippe or Noodles Hahn. C – Johnny Kling, Roger Bresnahan (Yeah,I know that he mostly played OF that year),Lou Criger? 1B – Frank Chance? 2B – Lajoie SS – Honus Wagner, Bill Dahlen, Fred Parent, Bobby Wallace 3B – Bill Bradley, Jimmy Collins LF – Jimmy… Read more »
Paul E
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Mike D. …et al:
Men of merit exist in every generation, but, men in general prefer the meritorious of their own generation….

I think I would take a ’60’s outfield of Aaron, Mantle, and Mays over Reggie Jackson, Bobby Bonds, and Stargell? That being said, those 1960’s middle infielders didn’t exactly drive the ball…..(Larry’s Lintz and Bowa come to mind)

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
#32/MikeD – Very thoughtful and nuanced response. You said a lot of what I wanted to say in #32 above, but better. Isn’t it so totally and incredibly predictable how the players of the then-current generation get dowgraded by the players of previous generations (“Only three players on current team X could’ve started on my old team Y”). Funny how almost everyone acknowledges that the NFL is considrably better than 40/60/75 years ago, but retired MLB players inevitably insist that their era had the best players… Bill James commented on this at length in the NBLHA.
Chuck Hildebrandt
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Word nerd comment: thank you for saying these pitchers “reeled off” three straight 7+ WAR years, and not “ripped off” three straight 7+ WAR years as so many people say. Major pet peeve on the latter.

PP
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But reel off implies something done without apparent effort. 3 straight 7+ WAR = lots of effort?

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