Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My Top 60 Starters, 1-10

10. Eddie Plank (.594 NW%, 127 ARA, +52, +115)
9. Warren Spahn (.584, 120, +46, +119)
8. Lefty Grove (.650, 143, +66, +120)
7. Greg Maddux (.599, 131, +60, +124)
6. Tom Seaver (.611, 130, +62, +128)
5. Christy Mathewson (.635, 131, +62, +128)
4. Roger Clemens (.654, 141, +78, +145)
3. Pete Alexander (.643, 135, +78, +150)
2. Walter Johnson (.619, 141, +96, +179)
1. Cy Young (.621, 130, +93, +195)

PLANK: I believe that I have ranked Plank higher then most other rankings have, and so it deserves a bit of an explanation. The Sporting News ranked him 18th among pitchers who would be eligible for my list; Bill James ranked him 17th in career value for pitchers in 1985 and 34th in his rankings in 2001. He is 25th in Adjusted Pitching Wins as of the 2005 Palmer/Gillette Encyclopedia, and 33rd in Pitching Wins. So why is he tenth here?

Because I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be, at least with respect to the way I have ranked everyone else. The good justifications for dropping Plank that I can accept are based on looking at the definition of “top” in a different way or making a better attempt at isolating pitching from fielding support.

Plank’s NW-NL record is 309-211, which is good for 106 WCR. The only pitcher ranked below him on this list with more WCR is Randy Johnson. Plank can be seen as an earlier-day Spahn; a left-hander who never had the dominant seasons of some of the other greats, but was good for a long time. He had 14 seasons of >=5 WAR. Cy Young had 17, Mathewson 11, Alexander 15, Johnson 17…he was good for as long as his contemporaries were, but not as brilliant. Plank’s top 5 seasons only sum to +44 WAR, which is thirtieth among pitchers I have looked at; only Spahn ranks lower among the top ten. So he’s not going to blow anyone away on peak value, especially when you consider the era in which he pitched.

The more interesting thing on its face is why my WAA for Plank differs so much from Palmer’s. Palmer has him at +29, using earned runs CORRECTION: Greg Spira, an associate editor of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, wrote to point out that Pete charges half of unearned runs to the pitcher. Shows what I get for not reading the glossary and assuming the methodology was the same as in some of his earlier works. Using earned runs instead of all runs, I get Plank down to +32. Plank allowed a smaller share of unearned runs then the league average during his time (75% of Plank’s runs were earned, 72% for the league), but that is a far cry from today when 90% of runs are earned. So I’m sure some will argue that using RA instead of ERA overvalues old-time pitchers, and there is some truth to that. But I think that using ERA is a band-aid, a poor substitute for attempting to estimate defense dependence in other ways.

GROVE: Grove suffers because of a shorter career then others, due partly to his stint in Baltimore, for which I do not credit him. You can see that in terms of WAA, he ranks fifth, and the higher baseline helps him. Either way, he’s the top southpaw of all-time in my book.

SEAVER & MATHEWSON: Bill James linked these two in the first Historical Abstract and was right on. I decided to go with Mathewson, but the fact that Seaver pitched sixty years later could make it very easy to justify him in front.

CLEMENS: Can he catch Alexander? He’s got him in rates and WAA, and he picked up four WAR last year, but that was pitching brilliantly. If he stays on the half season plan, it’ll be tough.

YOUNG: I am tempted to move Young down because of the fact that a lot of his value (97 WAR) is in the nineteenth century, and this is a post-1900 list, with the exception of guys like Young who pitched a significant amount after the turn of the century. Of course, that’s only about half of his value; you could make two top twenty pitchers out of him.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Season in Three Acts

The Buckeyes’ 2007 season is best viewed in three pieces. A solid non-conference campaign, albeit against weak competition, that did nothing to dash the high hopes for the team; a disastrous (by OSU standards at least) conference campaign that saw the Buckeyes need to win their final game of the season to even finish sixth and earn a tournament berth; and an awesome tournament campaign, that saw Ohio sweep through the Big Ten Tournament in four (including a win over that state up north and two from perennial diamond rival Minnesota) exciting games, then give a good effort in the NCAAs, losing in the ninth to Lousiana-Lafayette, beating LeMoyne, and finally falling to Texas A&M.

Looking at the team statistics, OSU was third in W% at .613 (Minnesota led at .659), third in EW% at .573 (tsun led at .707), and fourth in PW% at .565 (tsun led at .701). Looking at the other conference teams, the only one that significantly deviated from the expected W%s was Purdue, actually .407 but with an EW% of .495 and a PW% of .581.

The big problem for OSU this season was a poor offense. Pitching injuries which I will discuss later were a big culprit as well, but the Buckeye attack was fairly average. Even adjusting for the 3% pitcher benefit that Bill Davis Stadium provides, the Bucks only averaged 6.2 R/G versus the average of 6.1, ranking fifth out of the ten squads. OSU did hit .316 versus an average of .308, and draw .109 walks/at bat versus an average of .104, both good for fourth in the conference. But power was lacking, as the Buckeyes’ ISO was just .089 against an average of .114, ninth in the conference. Power has been the Achilles’ heel of OSU for a couple years now, but never as starkly as in 2007.

The bad news for the Bucks going forward is that the top three hitters in terms of RAA are all gone. Junior CF Matt Angle was +20, hitting 366/458/454, pacing the team with 58 RC and a 9.4 RG; he was drafted by the Orioles in the seventh round and signed, joining Jedidiah Stephen in the organization. Senior 2B/SS/DH Jason Zoeller was +14 and popped 9 of the team’s 21 homers. Junior C Eric Fryer was not as good as he had been his first two seasons, but he was still plenty good enough to be drafted in the tenth round by the Brewers after a 322/407/448, +10 season.

Looking at the rest of the Buckeye offense, sophomore 1B Justin Miller continued to improve, emerging as an above average (+3 RAA) hitter, albeit a low secondary average for a first baseman. He may return to his original position of catcher next year in Fryer’s absence. At third, junior Tony Kennedy stepped in, hitting for little power but posting a .397 OBA and +5 runs. True freshman Brian DeLucia earned more time as the year progressed, and although he was average in 47 PA, showed good promise with the leather. I expect him to earn the job outright in ’08.

The middle infield situation was clouded all year, when finally a freshman double play combination emerged. Zoeller started the year at second with true freshman Cory Rupert at short. But Rupert’s hitting was very poor early, and his fielding not great either, so Zoeller moved to short and fellow true freshman Cory Kovanda was installed at second. Eventually, though, Zoeller’s defense was untenable (Zoeller was not great at second base, let alone short), and so he was shifted to DH and Rupert came back in. Neither Rupert or Kovanda hit well, but both seemed to be getting more comfortable at the end of the season, and were solid in the field then too. Rupert hit 257/283/303, -10 in 113 PA while Kovanda hit 289/352/325, -8 in 121 PA.

Left field was manned by sophomore JB Shuck most of the time, and he rapped out enough singles for a 342/397/401, +5 line marred by a terrible slump at the end of the season. Senior Jacob Howell often served as DH due to his continuing hamstring problems, hitting 322/371/429, +2 despite having limited use of his excellent speed. That left a spot for freshman Ryan Dew in RF, and after a hot start he tailed off to 269/354/338, -5.

OSU pitching and defense was fourth in the Big Ten with 5.27 park adjusted RA/G, versus the 6.09 average, despite serious injury problems on the staff. Senior Dan DeLucia, the ace for the past two years, was 2-0 in three starts before requiring Tommy John surgery; he will receive a medical redshirt and pitch for the Bucks in 2008. Junior Cory Luebke stepped up big as the staff ace, going 9-1 with a 3.54 RA, 3.19 eRA, 7.5 KG, and +33 RAA, enough to be Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. He was signed by San Diego as a third round pick.

Sophomore JB Shuck lost some of his form from his freshman season, as he did at the plate, but took his turn each weekend and put up a 5.58 RA and +5 RAA, although his 6.56 eRA was scary. As a freshman he benefited from a low percentage of hits on BIP; in 2007, he was hit for 32.5%. An injury to projected #4 starter, sophomore Josh Barerra, kept OSU from ever establishing a stable rotation. Barerra was 4-1, +2 in 8 games and 5 starts in his shortened campaign. A variety of freshman were used as starters: Theron Minium (1-2, 13 G, 5 GS, 7.88, -6); Eric Best (3-1, 20 G, 4 GS, 4.97, +5); and Josh Edgin (2-2, 19 G, 7 GS, 6.55, -2). Eventually, would-be relievers, junior Rory Meister (4-7, 22 G, 5 GS, 3 SV, 5.80, +1) and sophomore Jake Hale (4-3, 26 G, 4 GS, 4.64, +11) got starts. By tournament time, Hale had reestablished himself in his 2006 rotation slot, while Meister was back to being the closer. Senior Trey Fausnaugh also was a key reliever, appearing in 16 games with a 6.95 RA and -2 RAA.

What was incredible about OSU pitching was the degree to which it was left-handed dominated. DeLucia, Luebke, Shuck, Barerra, Minium, Best, and Edgin are all southpaws. OSU lefties were 25-11 in 363 innings for +36 RAA; but the righties were just 13-13 in 160 innings for -1 RAA.

While it is way too early to make a prognosis for 2008, my early impression is that the 2003 Dodgers will be the most comparable team of recent major league memory. Losing the top three hitters from the team will be a difficult pill to swallow, and while youngsters like Dew, Kovanda, and Rupert figure to improve, it’s difficult to see a lot of power. On the other hand, even after losing Luebke, the pitching should be deep and outstanding. Without formally studying the matter, it has been my observation that freshman pitchers often make huge steps forward with experience under their belt. But it won’t take many to fill out a great staff; if Best can maintain his form, and just one of Minium, Edgin, and Barerra can be a solid starter, then you have a pretty good three-fourths of the rotation plus a lefty and righty relief ace. I think it all points towards a sub-par .500 type season, but Bob Todd has surprised before and I still think the program is in excellent shape, although it would be nice to find some pop.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Top 60 Starters, 11-20

20. Don Sutton (.543 NW%, 111 ARA, +29 WAA, +102 WAR)
19. Nolan Ryan (.530, 110, +27, +102)
18. Carl Hubbell (.600, 141, +47, +97)
17. Randy Johnson (.661, 130, +46, +99)
16. Jim Palmer (.559, 127, +46, +101)
15. Bob Gibson (.583, 127, +47, +101)
14. Phil Niekro (.552, 111, +32, +107)
13. Steve Carlton (.568, 113, +35, +107)
12. Bert Blyleven (.537, 118, +42, +111)
11. Gaylord Perry (.542, 114, +38, +112)

SUTTON & RYAN: They are very close, almost identical, in terms of value. I went with Ryan because his style certainly relied less on his defense. But it is amazing how big the disconnect in public opinion is, when in fact there is a good case to be made that they are equals. I’m not saying it’s puzzling that Ryan gets more ink, but it’s my impression that 90% of fans would be incredulous if you claimed these two belonged in the same league.

JOHNSON: Johnson could easily be ahead of Palmer, given the Ryan-type style issues, and the quality of Palmer’s teams. Perhaps with a career rejuvenation back in Arizona, he could move up…he only averaged about three WAR in two years in New York.

BLYLEVEN: I think enough has probably been written about him in the blogosphere, don’t you?

Seeing Niekro, Blyleven, and Perry ahead of Hubbell, Gibson, and Palmer may seem strange to a lot of people, but it again is a consequence of looking at career value above replacement. I’m running out of comments to make, because everybody already knows about these guys, and rating them highly doesn’t need any justification. We are also starting to get into the area where there are big gaps in WAR that make it tougher for me to just stick one pitcher in front of another because I feel like it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My Top 60 Starters, 21-30

30. Mike Mussina (.622 NW%, 126 ARA, +37 WAA, +82 WAR)
29. Curt Schilling (.606, 130, +40, +83)
28. Ed Walsh (.602, 137, +44, +86)
27. Miner Brown (.605, 131, +44, +88)
26. Tom Glavine (.583, 119, +35, +93)
25. Whitey Ford (.646, 131, +42, +86)
24. Bob Feller (.601, 122, +38, +91)
23. Pedro Martinez (.680, 157, +53, +89)
22. Robin Roberts (.551, 114, +32, +97)
21. Fergie Jenkins (.557, 117, +36, +98)

MUSSINA: As we start hitting active pitchers, we have to be careful about jumping the gun, although as I’ve mentioned previously, the low baseline used here makes it hard for pitchers to lose too much ground.

SCHILLING: I’ve never been a particular fan of Schilling, but he’s got the credentials to be here. He’s always struck me as a self promoter (bloody sock), crybaby (Ben Davis’ bunt to breakup the perfect game), or a combination thereof (taking a bat to the Questec camera). But the man can pitch, and as MHS would want me to point out, his playoff performances have been unreal.

FORD & BROWN: These two are a pretty good match, stats-wise. They each pitched for dominant teams, and then all of their major measures match up pretty well, except the Chairman’s W-L record is more impressive. I give Ford a boost for pitching 146 World Series innings with a 2.71 ERA (although he was “only” 10-8), but Brown himself did some solid work in October (5-4).

FELLER: He is low here compared to other lists, because he is the great pitcher most hurt by my refusal to give WWII credit. If you conservatively give him sixteen more WAR, he’s in the top fifteen, at least.

MARTINEZ: There is no pitcher in history with a better ARA or NW%, although if he does pitch some more, he’ll likely decline in those categories (whether his standing on the all-time lists will decline is another matter). Some will claim that he is not durable enough, but his +89 WAR puts him in this class. I put him ahead of Glavine and Feller because of the (very slight) peak/WAA consideration (he is eighth all time in WAA, with only the top eight pitchers on my list ranking ahead of him), but it’s possible that he’ll work his way over them (and others) in WAR on his own. Or he could be almost done. Either way, he’s one of the greats.

ROBERTS & JENKINS: Bill James has written a few times about how they are a pretty good match for each other stylistically, and in the end, they had nearly equivalent value. They tower above the other pitcher that James put in that group (Catfish Hunter).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My Top 60 Starters, 31-40

40. Kevin Brown (.589 NW%, 122 ARA, +33 WAA, +78 WAR)
39. Stan Coveleski (.574, 126, +35, +78)
38. Juan Marichal (.614, 118, +30, +79)
37. Tommy John (.545, 107, +18, +83)
36. Ted Lyons (.559, 112, +25, +82)
35. John Smoltz (.557, 127, +36, +80)
34. Eppa Rixey (.514, 111, +22, +85)
33. Vic Willis (.529, 114, +26, +82)
32. Red Ruffing (.522, 111, +23, +83)
31. Red Faber (.552, 114, +27, +84)

BROWN: I don’t have any insight on this, but I assume he’ll be snubbed by the Hall voters, for a number of reasons. First, he’s not well-liked, by anybody. Second, he never got the credit he was due when he was pitching, at least I never thought that he did. Third, he is the least-impressive of a barrage of great pitchers who will hit the ballot within a few years of his doing so (Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, Clemens, Johnson, Schilling), with Mussina and Pedro probably not that far behind. I think they are all worthy of the Hall, but I think Brown may have to wait until he’s long gone and the numbers speak louder then the other factors.

MARCICHAL: I was surprised to see the Dominican Dandy so low; he certainly does better in the W-L measures then he does in runs allowed. Bill James originally rated him in front of Gibson, but came around in the second edition of the Historical Abstract. Still a unique pitcher and one I would have loved to have watched.

JOHN: The first of two eligible pitchers on the ballot but not in the Hall. John is a career value special, as nobody that follows has less then 20 WAA. John recently agitated that he should be in Cooperstown, and while I agree, he can take comfort in knowing that barring some new advance in sports medicine, his name will remain in the forefront longer then a lot of pitchers who were better then he was.

SMOLTZ: He gets no extra credit here for the higher leverage innings in his three years of closing, either; of course, I also compared those innings to the lower replacement level for starters (.390), so things even out a bit.

WILLIS: Willis, a fairly recent Veterans’ Committee pick, is often put down as a bad one but I just don’t see it. His win-loss isn’t very impressive, but +63 WCR isn’t horrible. But he does well in run-based metrics, and he had three 10 WAR seasons, more then contemporaries like Plank and McGinnity. I see this moer as a wrong righted then a grievous blow to the sanctity of the Hall of Fame.

Sunday, July 01, 2007