Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera had the three highest career pitching WAR numbers among all pitchers who were active in the majors during 2013.  (As usual in my posts, WAR here is Wins Above Replacement in the baseball-reference.com version).  Halladay, Pettitte and Rivera have all announced their retirements, leaving Tim Hudson as the current leader in career WAR among pitchers expected to be active in 2014.

The triple retirement of the top three active career WAR leaders after 2013 matches what happened in 2009, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz were the top three active leaders in career pitching WAR and none of the three pitched again in the majors after that 2009 season.  Those post-2009 retirements left Pettitte as the active leader in career pitching WAR as of the beginning of the 2010 season, but Roy Halladay passed Andy for the top of the active list by the end of 2010 season.  Indeed, Halladay has been the active career WAR leader as of the end of each of the last four seasons.

Below is a list of the top active pitching WAR leaders, as of the end of each season, going back to 1900.  A pitcher makes the list below for a particular season if he had the most career pitching WAR, as of the end of that season, among all pitchers whose final season in the majors was that season or any season thereafter.  So for example, although Bert Blyleven did not pitch in the majors in 1991 (he had arm surgery in April that year), he did pitch in 1992, so I treat him as still in the “active” category as of the end of the 1991 season.

For those interested in how I did the Play Index search to produce the list below: As an example, in looking for the active leader as of the end of 1978, I set the Pitching Season Finder to find the highest cumulative WAR totals for all seasons from 1876 through 1978, and added a limiting criteria restricting the search to pitchers whose final season in the majors was equal to or greater than 1978.  That form of search was conducted separately for each year from 2013 going back to 1900.

With all that as introduction, here’s the list I came up with of the active pitchers who led the majors in WAR as of the end of each season.  As mentioned, Roy Halladay has been the active leader after each of the last four seasons.

2010-2013 Roy Halladay
2009 Randy Johnson
2008 Greg Maddux
1994-2007 Roger Clemens
1993 Nolan Ryan
1988-1992 Bert Blyleven
1987 Phil Niekro
1983-1986 and 1977-1981 Tom Seaver
1982 and 1976 Gaylord Perry
1970-1975 Bob Gibson
1968-1969 Don Drysdale
1967 Jim Bunning
1966 Robin Roberts
1957-1965 Warren Spahn
1948-1956 Bob Feller
1947 Red Ruffing
1944-1946 Ted Lyons
1942-1943 Carl Hubbell
1934-1941 Lefty Grove
1931-1933 Red Faber
1928-1930 Pete Alexander
1917-1927 Walter Johnson
1912-1916 Christy Mathewson
1901-1911 Cy Young
1900 Kid Nichols

Who will have his name newly inscribed to this list last at the end of the 2014 season?  Right now, Tim Hudson, who’ll be pitching for the Giants this season (across the bay from where his MLB career began), is just 1.0 career WAR ahead of Mark Buehrle and C.C. Sabathia for the top career WARs among those poised to pitch in 2014.  Any of those three could easily end up as the 2014 leader in this category at the end of the season — Hudson’s 1 WAR head start is small.  No one else is within reach.  Roy Oswalt was next on the 2013 active WAR list, but he’s retired, too.  And I’m not betting on Bartolo Colon producing 11 more pitching WAR for the Mets this season than Tim Hudson achieves for San Francisco.  That would take a “Walter Johnson in his prime”  season from Bartolo, which is as likely as my winning the Mega Millions grand prize.   Don’t ask me which one of those I’d prefer to happen.

Most Career Pitching WAR, Pitchers Active During the 2013 Season:
1. Roy Halladay 65.6
2. Andy Pettitte 61.0
3. Mariano Rivera 56.6
4. Tim Hudson 55.4
T5. Mark Buehrle and C.C. Sabathia 54.4
7. Roy Oswalt 50.0
8. Bartolo Colon 44.6
9. Cliff Lee 42.6
10. Justin Verlander 40.7

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