all Time Top Ten: Pitchers

This is the last post before I eventually overhaul this site and turn it into a more colorful site dedicated to baseball cards.  But I imagine I’ll still publish posts related to statistics.  Here are the top ten pitchers of all time as I see it.

1. Walter Johnson 1907-1927 417-279 WL, 3509 SO, 2.17 ERA, 147ERA+, 1.061 WHIP

Unlike other positions would really have to use more advanced statistis and “massage” the numbers to get a sense of where pitchers really rank in history.  Much like Babe Ruth though, no matter how you slice or dice it Walter Johnson always comes out on top. Speaking of Johnson and Ruth I saw a video once, where Walter Johnson was pitching batting practice to Ruth in an exhibition in the 1940s.  Ruth looked like Ruth after his playing days:  Fat, old, etc.  Johnson, who was eight years older, looked trim, in shape,  like he really could have stepped back out on the mound and pitched a few to Dimaggio or Williams without being embarrassed.

2. Tom Seaver 1967-1986 311-205 WL, 3640SO. 2.86ERA,127 ERA+, 1.121 WHIP

I guess I should explain this one.  Most people would probably put Lefty Grove here, and maybe Seaver a little lower on the list.  But you know in life time WAR they’re pretty close, Grove has a slight edge,  and Seaver played a lot more recently so I like to give a little more credit for that.  But i compare Seaver to his contemporaries.. Seaver vs. Carlton.. Seaver vs. Palmer.. Seaver vs. Ryan, Seaver vs. Perry.   And Tom Seaver comes out on top every time..by a clear margin.  And keep in mind the last ten years of his career Seaver was overweight.. and for whatever reason clearly not the same pitcher.. and his statistics suffered relative to some others on the list because of that.  This ranking is based on early 70s Tom Seaver.

3. Lefty Grove 1925-1931  300-141 WL, 2266 SO. 3.06 ERA, 148 ERA+. 1.278 WHIP

Statistics are a funny thing.  I was going to talk about this when I got to Cy Young, but Grove is just as good.  How do we measure the ability of pitchers through eras? One of the judgements we use is velocity, and if you go by anecdotes and what statistics are available Lefty Grove was one of the fastest in history.  His speed was legendary.  So Was Walter Johnson.  So was Cy Young.  But what if they were really in the low 90s?  And maybe people just THOUGHT they were fast.  old timers who claimed to have seen Cy Young and Feller just KNEW Young was faster.  Later those who saw both Feller and Nolan Ryan KNEW Feller was faster.  Heck if you go by anecdotes Steve Dalkowski was probably the fastest man in history at around 105-110 mph.  Nolan Ryan held the record for years at 100.9 MPH, which was clocked in the mid 70s.  But he almost certainly threw faster at some point.  Today’s fastest pitchers regularly hit over 100.  What this leads me to is that ultimately you have to judge what they accomplish on the field.  And Grove, despite a mediocre-seeming ERA and strikeout total was the best of the day.  He led the league in ERA nine times and in strikeouts seven times.  He might have led more often but Connie Mack didn’t want to bring him to the majors too early for fear another team would grab him.  There are three men in baseball history who have higher ERA+ ratings.  Jim Devlin, who was 19th century and doesn’t count, Mariano Rivera who was exclusively a relief pitcher, and doesn’t count (for this purpose), and Pedro Martinez.  He’s another story I’ll get to later. On the other hand Grove has a WHIP of 1.278, that’s not real good, though he did lead the league five times.  You just have to take it for granted that for the same reason players like Babe Herman and Lefty O Doul weren’t HOF caliber just because they had great hitting seasons in those days that Lefty Grove was MUCH MUCH better than his somewhat modest stats would indicate.

4. Pete Alexander 1911-1930 373-208 WL, 2198 SO. 3.56 ERA, 136 ERA+. 1.121 WHIP

If not for WWI and alcoholism may have had statistics rivaling Walter Johnson.  Had another 45 wins in the minors.

5. Greg Maddux 1986-2008 355-227 WL, 3371 SO, 3.16 ERA, 132 ERA+,  1.143 WHIP

Well if not for steroids I might rank Clemens higher than Maddux.  Plus I saw Maddux pitch, not so much Roger Clemens.  Maddux absolutely lived off the outside corner.  I mean he packed a lunch, headed there, and just pitched a tent in a little 2 inch by 2 inch window just off the strike zone low and away..  once he lost his ability to nail that precise spot every single pitch he became far less effective.  He also hung around a couple seasons too long… hurting his lifetime totals.  His two best years were 1994 and 1995..  unfortunately he lost 13 or 14 starts due to work stoppages but still posted some amazing totals:

1994-95    53G   20 CG  6SHO   411.6 IP 297H   54 BB  73 ER     35-8 W-L   337 SO   1.60 ERA      WHIP  0.853

That’s just sick.  It’s amazing he only had 6 shutouts those two years.  He was also considered the best defensive pitcher in the majors his entire career.

6. Roger Clemens 1984-2007 354-184 W-L, 4672 SO, 3.12 ERA, 143 ERA+, 1.173 WHIP

I dunno.. it’s all subjective really.  I never got the sense watching Clemens that he was doing anything other than throwing with good velocity, with decent control.. but he just seemed to win, win, win.  Seven Cy Young awards.. hard to argue with that.

I’m going to go ahead and end it here.  I’m kind of tired of this.  Time to move on to new things.