The Top 50 Pitchers Since 1950

Who are the best starting pitchers of the past 60+ years? One way to answer that question is using RE24, the measure of how much a pitcher reduces his opponent’s’ run expectancy with each batter faced.

Starting from each of the 24 base-out states (ranging from nobody on, nobody out to to bases loaded, two out), there is an expected number of runs a team will score in the remainder of that inning, based on average hitters facing average pitchers. With the result of each plate appearance, a pitcher is credited with the resulting change in run expectancy (which can be positive or negative) less any runs allowed.

RE24, then, tells you how many runs a pitcher saved or cost his team relative to the average pitcher in the same base-out situations. Over the course of a career, the batters each pitcher faces will collectively approximate an average batter, allowing some reasonable basis for comparing different pitchers (with the possibly large caveat that RE24 does not adjust for park factors, team defense or other factors).

After the jump, the top 50 since 1950.

I’m using the metric RE24/9 to show the number of runs per 9 innings that a pitcher was better than the average pitcher in the base-out states that the pitcher faced. To qualify, a pitcher must have compiled 2000 IP since 1950. Only seasons since 1950 are counted (the data back to 1950 are mostly complete, with some data back to 1945, and scant data prior to that). Of the 220 qualifying pitchers, these are the top 50 in RE24/9.

1Pedro Martinez2827.11.7190.8742191000.6872.93154617.072.4210.040.761.0544.15
2Roger Clemens4916.21.4130.9053541840.6583.12143687.662.898.550.661.1732.96
3Johan Santana2025.21.3430.965139780.6413.20136747.672.528.830.981.1323.51
4Randy Johnson4135.11.1530.8973031660.6463.29135717.283.2610.610.891.1713.26
5Whitey Ford3170.11.1161.1372361060.6902.75133827.853.085.550.651.2151.80
6Roy Halladay2749.11.1110.8672031050.6593.38131768.661.946.930.771.1783.58
7Curt Schilling3261.01.0900.8552161460.5973.46127778.271.968.600.961.1374.38
8Hoyt Wilhelm2254.11.0490.9161431220.5402.52147677.023.116.430.601.1252.07
9Mike Mussina3562.21.0430.8332701530.6383.68123818.741.987.110.951.1923.58
10Sandy Koufax2324.11.0360.857165870.6552.76131706.793.169.280.791.1062.93
11Roy Oswalt2245.11.0270.9781631020.6153.36127858.822.087.420.791.2113.56
12Greg Maddux5008.10.9950.8093552270.6103.16132758.491.806.060.631.1433.37
13Bret Saberhagen2562.20.9770.8661671170.5883.34126818.611.656.020.771.1413.64
14Jim Palmer3948.00.9721.0662681520.6382.86125827.632.995.040.691.1801.69
15Tom Seaver4783.00.9671.0273112050.6032.86127797.472.626.850.721.1212.62
16John Smoltz3473.00.9460.8402131550.5793.33125767.972.627.990.751.1763.05
17Tim Hudson2813.20.9280.8452051110.6493.44124808.392.716.070.701.2332.24
18Kevin Brown3256.10.9210.8472111440.5943.28127798.512.496.630.571.2222.66
19Billy Pierce3069.20.9041.0322011540.5663.18122838.182.955.450.781.2371.85
20Jimmy Key2591.20.8990.9491861170.6143.51122868.752.325.340.881.2302.30
21Ron Guidry2392.00.8971.104170910.6513.29119858.272.386.690.851.1842.81
22Kevin Appier2595.10.8800.9921691370.5523.74121838.413.246.920.801.2942.14
23David Cone2898.20.8620.9221941260.6063.46121827.783.538.290.801.2562.35
24Bob Gibson3884.10.8460.9832511740.5912.91127777.603.107.220.601.1882.33
25Warren Spahn4253.10.8271.0512982040.5943.10117838.322.414.490.781.1931.86
26CC Sabathia2775.10.8150.8552051150.6413.60121828.382.707.750.831.2322.86
27Dave Stieb2895.10.7890.9021761370.5623.44122818.
28Don Drysdale3432.00.7711.0972091660.5572.95121858.092.246.520.731.1482.91
29Tom Glavine4413.10.7390.9923052030.6003.54118888.773.065.320.731.3141.74
30Cliff Lee2075.10.7310.823139860.6183.51119868.741.967.600.941.1893.88
31Andy Messersmith2230.10.7110.900130990.5682.86121786.943.356.560.701.1431.96
32Andy Pettitte3316.00.7010.8972561530.6263.85117889.362.806.640.781.3512.37
33Dennis Eckersley3285.20.7010.9001971710.5353.50116848.432.026.580.951.1613.25
34Early Wynn3132.20.6880.9122171500.5913.35114857.893.615.420.761.2781.50
35Chris Carpenter2219.10.6661.043144940.6053.76116898.942.546.880.891.2762.71
36Bert Blyleven4970.00.6540.9772872500.5343.31118868.392.396.700.781.1982.80
37Mark Buehrle2882.20.6540.8961861420.5673.84117919.462.
38Juan Marichal3507.00.6480.8302431420.6312.89123808.091.825.910.821.1013.25
39Bartolo Colon2583.20.6091.1081891280.5963.94113919.042.796.791.071.3152.43
40Steve Rogers2837.20.6020.8061581520.5103.17116858.312.785.140.481.2321.85
41Al Leiter2391.00.5921.1491621320.5513.80112898.104.387.430.751.3861.70
42Brad Radke2451.00.5770.9191481390.5164.22113929.711.635.391.201.2603.30
43Dan Haren2046.10.5641.1381291110.5383.74112898.801.877.641.091.1864.08
44Luis Tiant3486.10.5641.0052291720.5713.30114887.942.856.240.891.1992.19
45Bob Lemon2015.10.5630.982150940.6153.34115888.443.663.970.631.3451.08
46Chuck Finley3197.10.5611.0332001730.5363.85115918.643.757.350.861.3771.96
47Tom Gordon2108.00.5510.8241381260.5233.96113818.
48Dwight Gooden2800.20.5480.9411941120.6343.51111868.243.077.370.671.2562.40
49Robin Roberts4315.10.5470.9832642210.5443.40113898.771.604.541.001.1522.84
50John Candelaria2525.20.5340.9291771220.5923.33114928.552.115.960.871.1842.83

The column labeled boLI stands for base-out leverage index, which is a measure of how much leverage was associated with each plate appearance. What is meant by leverage? Essentially, this is a measure of how much variability there is in the run expectancies that could result from a given PA. Without getting too technical, from a base-out state with m baserunners and n outs, a PA can obviously only result in base-out states with a maximum of m+1 baserunners and a minimum of n outs. A weighted average of the differences (absolute values) in run expectancies between the current base-out state and each of the possible subsequent states (with the weights corresponding to the empirical probability for each transition) yields the boLI for that plate appearance.

Intuitively, boLIs are higher with more runners on base and lower if fewer. Thus, the pitchers with lower boLI numbers are those better at keeping men off base, while pitchers with higher numbers are less adept at this. By dividing boLI into RE24, RE24 is normalized (or “de-leveraged”) by showing how well pitchers did relative only to the range of outcomes possible from their base-out states. If I’ve confused the heck out of you, this explanation may be easier to grasp.

Ranking by RE24boLI/9 (boLI divided into RE24/9), those same fifty pitchers look like this.

1Pedro Martinez2827.11.7191.9662191000.6872.93154617.072.4210.040.761.0544.15
2Roger Clemens4916.21.4131.5613541840.6583.12143687.662.898.550.661.1732.96
3Johan Santana2025.21.3431.392139780.6413.2136747.672.528.830.981.1323.51
4Randy Johnson4135.11.1531.2853031660.6463.29135717.283.2610.610.891.1713.26
5Roy Halladay2749.11.1111.2812031050.6593.38131768.661.946.930.771.1783.58
6Curt Schilling32611.091.2752161460.5973.46127778.271.968.60.961.1374.38
7Mike Mussina3562.21.0431.2532701530.6383.68123818.741.987.110.951.1923.58
8Greg Maddux5008.10.9951.2293552270.613.16132758.491.86.060.631.1433.37
9Sandy Koufax2324.11.0361.208165870.6552.76131706.793.169.280.791.1062.93
10Hoyt Wilhelm2254.11.0491.1461431220.542.52147677.023.116.430.61.1252.07
11Bret Saberhagen2562.20.9771.1281671170.5883.34126818.611.656.020.771.1413.64
12John Smoltz34730.9461.1262131550.5793.33125767.972.627.990.751.1763.05
13Tim Hudson2813.20.9281.0992051110.6493.44124808.392.716.070.71.2332.24
14Kevin Brown3256.10.9211.0872111440.5943.28127798.512.496.630.571.2222.66
15Roy Oswalt2245.11.0271.051631020.6153.36127858.822.087.420.791.2113.56
16Whitey Ford3170.11.1160.9822361060.692.75133827.853.085.550.651.2151.8
17CC Sabathia2775.10.8150.9542051150.6413.6121828.382.77.750.831.2322.86
18Jimmy Key2591.20.8990.9461861170.6143.51122868.752.325.340.881.232.3
19Tom Seaver47830.9670.9423112050.6032.86127797.472.626.850.721.1212.62
20David Cone2898.20.8620.9351941260.6063.46121827.783.538.290.81.2562.35
21Jim Palmer39480.9720.9112681520.6382.86125827.632.995.040.691.181.69
22Cliff Lee2075.10.7310.888139860.6183.51119868.741.967.60.941.1893.88
23Kevin Appier2595.10.880.8871691370.5523.74121838.413.246.920.81.2942.14
24Billy Pierce3069.20.9040.8762011540.5663.18122838.182.955.450.781.2371.85
25Dave Stieb2895.10.7890.8751761370.5623.441228183.
26Bob Gibson3884.10.8460.8612511740.5912.91127777.
27Ron Guidry23920.8970.813170910.6513.29119858.272.386.690.851.1842.81
28Andy Messersmith2230.10.7110.79130990.5682.86121786.943.356.560.71.1431.96
29Warren Spahn4253.10.8270.7872982040.5943.1117838.322.414.490.781.1931.86
30Andy Pettitte33160.7010.7822561530.6263.85117889.362.86.640.781.3512.37
31Juan Marichal35070.6480.7812431420.6312.89123808.091.825.910.821.1013.25
32Dennis Eckersley3285.20.7010.7791971710.5353.5116848.432.026.580.951.1613.25
33Early Wynn3132.20.6880.7552171500.5913.35114857.893.615.420.761.2781.5
34Steve Rogers2837.20.6020.7471581520.513.17116858.312.785.140.481.2321.85
35Tom Glavine4413.10.7390.7453052030.63.54118888.773.065.320.731.3141.74
36Mark Buehrle2882.20.6540.731861420.5673.84117919.462.
37Don Drysdale34320.7710.7032091660.5572.95121858.092.246.520.731.1482.91
38Bert Blyleven49700.6540.672872500.5343.31118868.392.396.70.781.1982.8
39Tom Gordon21080.5510.6681381260.5233.96113818.
40Chris Carpenter2219.10.6660.638144940.6053.76116898.942.546.880.891.2762.71
41Brad Radke24510.5770.6281481390.5164.22113929.711.635.391.21.263.3
42Dwight Gooden2800.20.5480.5821941120.6343.51111868.243.077.370.671.2562.4
43John Candelaria2525.20.5340.5751771220.5923.33114928.552.115.960.871.1842.83
44Bob Lemon2015.10.5630.573150940.6153.34115888.443.663.970.631.3451.08
45Luis Tiant3486.10.5640.5612291720.5713.3114887.942.856.240.891.1992.19
46Robin Roberts4315.10.5470.5562642210.5443.4113898.771.64.5411.1522.84
47Bartolo Colon2583.20.6090.551891280.5963.94113919.042.796.791.071.3152.43
48Chuck Finley3197.10.5610.5432001730.5363.85115918.643.757.350.861.3771.96
49Al Leiter23910.5920.5151621320.5513.8112898.14.387.430.751.3861.7
50Dan Haren2046.10.5640.4961291110.5383.74112898.81.877.641.091.1864.08

And, combining the two measures, here are our 50 pitchers, ordered by the sum of their rankings in the previous two lists.

1Pedro Martinez2827.1112191000.6872.93154617.072.4210.040.761.0544.15
2Roger Clemens4916.2223541840.6583.12143687.662.898.550.661.1732.96
3Johan Santana2025.233139780.6413.20136747.672.528.830.981.1323.51
4Randy Johnson4135.1443031660.6463.29135717.283.2610.610.891.1713.26
5Roy Halladay2749.1652031050.6593.38131768.661.946.930.771.1783.58
6Curt Schilling3261.0762161460.5973.46127778.271.968.600.961.1374.38
7Mike Mussina3562.2972701530.6383.68123818.741.987.110.951.1923.58
8Hoyt Wilhelm2254.18101431220.5402.52147677.023.116.430.601.1252.07
9Sandy Koufax2324.1109165870.6552.76131706.793.169.280.791.1062.93
10Greg Maddux5008.11283552270.6103.16132758.491.806.060.631.1433.37
11Whitey Ford3170.15162361060.6902.75133827.853.085.550.651.2151.80
12Bret Saberhagen2562.213111671170.5883.34126818.611.656.020.771.1413.64
13Roy Oswalt2245.111151631020.6153.36127858.822.087.420.791.2113.56
14John Smoltz3473.016122131550.5793.33125767.972.627.990.751.1763.05
15Tim Hudson2813.217132051110.6493.44124808.392.716.070.701.2332.24
16Kevin Brown3256.118142111440.5943.28127798.512.496.630.571.2222.66
17Tom Seaver4783.015193112050.6032.86127797.472.626.850.721.1212.62
18Jim Palmer3948.014212681520.6382.86125827.632.995.040.691.1801.69
19Jimmy Key2591.220181861170.6143.51122868.752.325.340.881.2302.30
20Billy Pierce3069.219242011540.5663.18122838.182.955.450.781.2371.85
21David Cone2898.223201941260.6063.46121827.783.538.290.801.2562.35
22CC Sabathia2775.126172051150.6413.60121828.382.707.750.831.2322.86
23Kevin Appier2595.122231691370.5523.74121838.413.246.920.801.2942.14
24Ron Guidry2392.02127170910.6513.29119858.272.386.690.851.1842.81
25Bob Gibson3884.124262511740.5912.91127777.603.107.220.601.1882.33
26Dave Stieb2895.127251761370.5623.44122818.
27Cliff Lee2075.13022139860.6183.51119868.741.967.600.941.1893.88
28Warren Spahn4253.125292982040.5943.10117838.322.414.490.781.1931.86
29Andy Messersmith2230.13128130990.5682.86121786.943.356.560.701.1431.96
30Andy Pettitte3316.032302561530.6263.85117889.362.806.640.781.3512.37
31Tom Glavine4413.129353052030.6003.54118888.773.065.320.731.3141.74
32Don Drysdale3432.028372091660.5572.95121858.092.246.520.731.1482.91
33Dennis Eckersley3285.233321971710.5353.50116848.432.026.580.951.1613.25
34Early Wynn3132.234332171500.5913.35114857.893.615.420.761.2781.50
35Juan Marichal3507.038312431420.6312.89123808.091.825.910.821.1013.25
36Mark Buehrle2882.237361861420.5673.84117919.462.
37Bert Blyleven4970.036382872500.5343.31118868.392.396.700.781.1982.80
38Steve Rogers2837.240341581520.5103.17116858.312.785.140.481.2321.85
39Chris Carpenter2219.13540144940.6053.76116898.942.546.880.891.2762.71
40Brad Radke2451.042411481390.5164.22113929.711.635.391.201.2603.30
41Bartolo Colon2583.239471891280.5963.94113919.042.796.791.071.3152.43
42Tom Gordon2108.047391381260.5233.96113818.
43Luis Tiant3486.144452291720.5713.30114887.942.856.240.891.1992.19
44Bob Lemon2015.14544150940.6153.34115888.443.663.970.631.3451.08
45Al Leiter2391.041491621320.5513.80112898.104.387.430.751.3861.70
46Dwight Gooden2800.248421941120.6343.51111868.243.077.370.671.2562.40
47Dan Haren2046.143501291110.5383.74112898.801.877.641.091.1864.08
48John Candelaria2525.250431771220.5923.33114928.552.115.960.871.1842.83
49Chuck Finley3197.146482001730.5363.85115918.643.757.350.861.3771.96
50Robin Roberts4315.149462642210.5443.40113898.771.604.541.001.1522.84

Finally, here are some other notable pitchers and their rankings (out of 220) in both RE24 and RE24boLI.

Player RE24/9 RE24 Rk RE24 boLI/9 RE24 boLI Rk IP
Don Sutton 0.512 55 0.696 38 5282.1
Gaylord Perry 0.518 53 0.633 43 5350.0
Nolan Ryan 0.471 58 0.636 42 5386.0
Fergie Jenkins 0.517 54 0.590 46 4500.2
Jon Matlack 0.498 56 0.601 45 2363.0
Jim Bunning 0.527 52 0.520 58 3760.1
David Wells 0.464 61 0.561 52 3439.0
Steve Carlton 0.475 57 0.523 57 5217.2
Orel Hershiser 0.434 68 0.565 50 3130.1
Dean Chance 0.469 59 0.515 59 2147.1
Freddy Garcia 0.530 51 0.452 70 2264.0
Mark Gubicza 0.436 67 0.541 56 2223.1
Frank Viola 0.463 62 0.458 67 2836.1
Vida Blue 0.440 63 0.434 74 3343.1
Rick Reuschel 0.405 73 0.462 64 3548.1
Jerry Koosman 0.406 72 0.425 76 3839.1
Milt Pappas 0.412 71 0.412 77 3186.0
Frank Lary 0.433 69 0.404 81 2162.1
Mel Stottlemyre 0.437 65 0.368 86 2661.1
John Lackey 0.350 79 0.410 78 2065.1
Catfish Hunter 0.387 74 0.373 85 3449.1
Tommy John 0.344 81 0.354 89 4710.1
Jack Morris 0.284 94 0.352 90 3824.0
Phil Niekro 0.310 90 0.290 107 5404.0
Kenny Rogers 0.234 108 0.321 97 3302.2
Johnny Podres 0.321 89 0.223 118 2265.0
Mike Flanagan 0.226 111 0.222 119 2770.0
A.J. Burnett 0.243 103 0.198 127 2353.2
Frank Tanana 0.254 100 0.173 135 4188.1
Harvey Haddix 0.214 116 0.189 133 2235.0
Lew Burdette 0.169 133 0.224 117 3067.1
Mickey Lolich 0.201 121 0.179 134 3638.1
Fernando Valenzuela 0.187 127 0.169 139 2930.0
Scott McGregor 0.174 132 0.172 136 2140.2
Wilbur Wood 0.186 128 0.165 140 2684.0
Charlie Hough 0.163 134 0.133 148 3801.1
Dave Stewart 0.123 146 0.075 159 2629.2
Jim Kaat 0.055 161 0.097 153 4530.1
Jerry Reuss -0.027 176 0.084 154 3669.2
Rick Sutcliffe 0.008 173 0.073 160 2697.2
Tim Wakefield 0.053 164 0.030 171 3226.1
Jim Clancy -0.092 189 0.020 172 2517.1
Ryan Dempster -0.044 181 -0.128 190 2387.0
Livan Hernandez -0.117 197 -0.214 207 3189.0


The Top 50 Pitchers Since 1950 — 35 Comments

  1. Bill James talks about pitching “families” in the NBJHBA, groups of hurlers with similar defining characteristics (e.g, the Robin Roberts ‘family,’ which includes Fergie Jenkins and Catfish Hunter—RH guys with “good fastballs and a strong commitment to strike zone,” lots of innings, high SO/BB ratio, lots of HRs).

    James is only concerned with his top 100 pitchers in the commentary, and he has to admit that some few defy this categorization and are one of a kind. Among the latter non-group is Whitey Ford, and it seems to me that your breakdown here supports that evaluation. His lines here look like nobody else’s, and the disparity of rankings—5th in the first chart and 16th in the second—while still placing him far higher than recent WAR based devaluations have—indicate in particular his uniqueness.

    What’s really surprising is how much better Ford shows up than the other starters from his own era, in the presence of Spahn and Pierce. It’s been suggested a couple of times at HHS in other posts that Pierce was as good as or better than Ford, and he did have a couple of excellent seasons, but any close analysis puts Billy a full measure behind Whitey. That being said, Ford was probably never the best pitcher in the league over a full season, but from 1953- 1965, 13 years, he was certainly the best pitcher in the AL year after year, even if he did pitch in Yankee Stadium with good fielding behind him.

    His WAR is hurt by Stengel’s 5 and 1/2 man rotation that kept his innings down, plus two years lost to the military. An interesting fact I stumbled across: among pitchers with 100 or more IPs in 1950, rookie Whitey’s 2/3 season of mixed starts and relief produced the lowest ERA, 2.83 to leader Early Wynn’s 3.20, and the highest ERA+, 153, to Ned Garver’s 146. Missing 1951 and 1952 in the service? Consider the latest ready-to-go-from-the-start player, Mike Trout. With the draft in place, we’d all be wondering now, instead of having confirmation, about how his career was going to progress.

        • During Ford’s tenure with the Yankees (1950-1967) he had the fourth highest W-L% (.606) in the ML vs. teams with a .500+ winning percentage and the fourth lowest ERA (2.83). That’s for pitchers with a minimum of 40 victories against .500+ teams.

          • RC:

            Who were those three other pitchers? Actually, I know that one was Koufax, who is kind of the anti-Ford, considering his cluelessness for so long, plus the huge numbers of innings he put up once he got on top of his game.

          • @5
            He was behind Ed Lopat (.667), Koufax (.651) and Marichal (.629) in W-L% and behind Wilhelm (2.63), Koufax (2.75) and Bob Veale (2.77) in ERA.

          • RC:

            When you consider the full careers of Lopat, Marichal, and Veale, not just the overlap with Whitey’s, their numbers drop below his. Wilhelm, of course, was mainly a reliever, starting only 50-some games, over half of them in 1959, and while he did excellently as a starter, I’m not sure he belongs in the discussion. That leaves only Koufax, really.

            In game four of the 1963 WS, Koufax won over Ford 2-1, a 3-base error by Joe Pepitone allowing Jim Gilliam to make it to third on a ground ball to the infield, from where he scored on a sac fly to break the 1-1 tie. The other runs were HRs by Frank Howard and Mickey Mantle. A classic pitcher’s duel.

          • Question:

            Has there every been a starting nine comprised entirely of free agents?

            If the New York (A) team actually trades Brett Gardner, and age once and for all catches up with Jeter – the Yanx will be 100% mercenary.

          • Just a glance at the famously mercenary 1997 Florida Marlins shows that most of their infield (Johnson, Conine, Castilla, Renteria) and the back of their rotation (Saunders, Rapp, Hernandez) and closer (Nen) were all home grown. Before looking I could only think of 4 of them (I didn’t realize Conine came in the expansion draft from KC)

          • And of course, Soriano is technically homegrown…

            But quite the shift. As much as the NYA team is perceived as just throwing money at free agents, they’ve been Drafted up the middle since, well:


            Russell Martin was perceived as a transition to a homegrown player.
            Montero. Romine. Sanchez.
            Didn’t happen. But before that, it was 1997 when the last FA Catcher squatted back there. That guy is now the manager.

            Second Base

            2005 – 2013 Cano
            2004 – 2004 FA Miguel Cairo
            2001 – 2003 Soriano
            …traded-for Knoblauch


            Jeter since 2006.
            FA Tony Fernandez in ’05.
            And the story is ugly for awhile before that.


            2010 – 2013 Gardner (when healthy)
            2006 – 2009 Melky
            1991 – 2005 Bernie
            1989 – 1992 Roberto Kelly
            …Claudell and Rickey

          • Greatest Yankee second baseman of all time?
            By WAR

            53.8 Willie Randolph
            48.3 Tony Lazzeri (w/a season’s worth of 3B)
            45.2 Rob Cano
            37.6 Joe Gordon
            26.3 Snuffy (1/2 season at 3B)
            14.6 Horace Clark
            14.3 Jimmy Williams
            13.1 Del Pratt
            12.5 Aaron Ward
            9.9 Steve Sax
            8.3 Bobby Richardson
            6.5 Knobs
            5.8 Billy Martin

            Gil McDougald had 40.6 WAR, and played
            599 2B
            508 3B
            284 SS

          • @20
            Hard to believe Clarke came in ahead of Richardson. Bobby had 7 AS selections to Clarke’s none.

  2. I ran a PI search for best OPS+ Against totals, 1948-2013, for all pitchers with at least 250 starts over that period (295 pitchers meet those citeria). The best numbers:
    61 Pedro Martinez
    68 Roger Clemens
    70 Sandy Koufax
    71 Randy Johnson
    72 Bob Rush
    74 Justin Verlander and Johan Santana
    75 Greg Maddux
    76 Roy Halladay and John Smoltz
    77 Nolan Ryan, Curt Schilling, Bob Gibson, Ned Garver

    Interesting to see Bob Rush in there.

    • Thanks for mentioning Rush. I had never heard of him.

      In his best 5-year stretch (1952-56), Rush had a 117 ERA+, good for 4th best in the NL (min. 1000 IP). His OPS was 2nd best, behind only Spahn. Not bad for pitching at Wrigley.

  3. Sorry but any measure that puts Tom Seaver as the 17th best pitcher just since 1950- not to mention Gibson at 25, Spahn at 28, Marichal at 25, Roberts at 50 and Carlton & Niekro out of the top 50 altogether- seems to be of pretty limited if not entirely questionable value. I sort of understand about Spahn since it leaves out a few of his best seasons but otherwise this just seems to punish guys for pitching thru the heart of the lineup a 4th or even 5th time.

    • Hartvig:

      What I think this approach does is to look at player evaluation from a particular and meaningful perspective that highlights an important element of play deep within the game. It isn’t a complete measure by any means, but it brings to light a useful supplemental way of reckoning performance. I agree that it’s crazy to rank Seaver, for instance, that low or Ford and Wilhelm that high, but it is a helpful corrective to moderate the flat, take-no-prisoners complacency of WAR-only-ness.

    • I agree with you, Hartvig. This was just presenting some numbers, with a provocative title to start some lively debated.

      If today’s starters were used like the guys you mentioned, or they were used like today’s starters, I suspect the numbers would look rather different.

      That is actually a good idea for a future post, using the Split-Finder, to see how much the pitchers from the 1950s to 1970s were hurt by staying in games late and, thus, how much today’s starters are helped in their rate stats.

    • What if you did:

      (RE24/9) X (IP) = ????

      would that number mean anything??

      Estimating this for Pedro, Rocket, Unit, and Mad Dog:

      -Clemens vaults well ahead of Martinez
      -Maddux is a bit ahead of Martinez
      -Randy Johnson is a little behind Martinez

  4. In addition to the problem of ignoring IP, another major problem is that when working with a raw runs-saved value like this, there’s a bias toward high offense eras. It’s easier to be farther below the average when the average is higher. Thus, the pitchers from the high offense ’90s and ’00s dominate the list far more than they should.

    It’s an interesting idea, but it seems like it needs a lot more work before it gets to a state where it produces a list of “The top 50 pitchers” that would pass the smell test.

  5. I did a study covering the same period (my lifetime). I titled it SMS, simple- minded s***. I took each individual start & subtracted runs allowed (no negatives #s). I then did a roto type scoring 30pts for 1st, 29 for 2nd…Both for quantitative and qualitative (pts/gs). For instance in ’50, Spahn led in both categories and therfore got 60pts for the year, second were R.Roberts and Preacher Roe wit 53 each….Just for laughs, my top 10…Clemens, Maddux, Seaver, Spahn, Blylevin, G.Perry, R.Johnson, Ryan, Carlton, Glavine.

      • Interesting thought.

        (IP – RA) / IP

        You might even make it:

        (IP – p*RA) / IP

        where p is a factor between 0 and 1 to reduce RA to a crude estimate of the number of innings in which runs are scored. For a SWAG, I’m going suggest p=0.75.

        The ratio would then be % of IP in which the pitcher didn’t allow any runs, something worth knowing, I think, in evaluating pitcher effectiveness.

  6. Raise your virtual hand if you’d take Johan Santana over Tom Seaver.

    Minor snark aside, interesting approach, although the fact that it is weighted very heavily with pitchers from the recent offensive explosion period is telling. It is probably not helpful in comparing pitchers from different eras.

  7. Doug, your post is linked to on both Tom Tango’s site and Baseball Think Factory. That provocative post title did indeed provoke some serious notice in the baseball blogosphere.

    • The commenters on BaseballThinkFactory take things too literally.

      Tango had it right with his comment that “That list was simply a list, and it should be treated as a list.”

      • I agree, Doug. Most of the criticism at BTF seems to go not to the substance of your post but to the inference the critics think they can make between the lists in your post and your title. If your title replaced “Pitchers” with “RE24/9s”, much of the criticism disappears, I think.

  8. Very interesting approach, Doug.

    I do wonder if RE24 “opportunities” are affected by the scoring context. The run expectancy for any given base/out situation was much lower in 1968 (MLB avg. 3.42 R/G) than it was in 2000 (5.14 R/G), so the same out recorded in 2000 is worth more RE24 than it was in 1968.

    Granted, that same out was also harder to obtain in 2000, but my gut still says it is easier for the same good pitcher to compile high RE24 in a high-scoring era than in a low-scoring era.

    To test my theory, I tallied all qualified pitcher-seasons with RE24/9 of at least 1.20, then adjusted for the number of teams each year. (So the tallies for 1950-60 were multiplied by 30/16, etc.)

    Then I totaled that adjusted tally for two periods — the low-scoring years 1963-76, and the high-scoring years 1994-2007. The results:

    — 1963-76: 177 seasons, about 13 per year
    — 1994-07: 277 seasons, about 20 per year

    A variation on this method: How many pitchers in each of those periods compiled 1,000 IP with at least 1.00 RE24/9?

    — 1963-76: 7 pitchers
    — 1994-07: 20 pitchers

    Even after adjust the earlier period upward to compensate for the difference in league size, it still comes out less than 10 pitchers, so a 2-to-1 edge for the high-run period.

    This bias could help explain why the top 7 on your list all spent a good chunk of their careers in the highest-scoring era of the study period.

    … Or have I misunderstood everything? Either way, let’s not allow my qualms to get in the way of appreciating Mike Mussina!

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