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.

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