Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 19, 2009
BASEBALL: Twice As Nice

The baseball writers for once got both Cy Young Awards right. One thing that jumps out as a sign of the times: neither 15-game-winner Tim Lincecum nor 16-game-winner Zack Greinke (both of whom were "supported" by weak offensive teams) had so much as 25 decisions.

Looking at Greinke's ERA+ of 205, tied for the 31st best league/park adjusted ERA of all time with Addie Joss' 1908, I was reminded to go back and look at how many of the 35 pitchers to post an ERA+ of 200 or better did it more than once. Here's that list, by number of seasons being twice as good as the league:

5-Pedro Martinez
4-Walter Johnson
3-Roger Clemens
2-Christy Mathewson
2-Greg Maddux

A short list indeed, and one that rather eloquently makes the case for the top 3 names on that list being on any short list of the greatest pitchers the game has known. Surprisingly, Lefty Grove did it only once, Sandy Koufax never did. So yes, just by ERA relative to the league and park (leaving aside, obviously, the difference in workload), Greinke was better this year than Koufax ever was. Think about that one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:19 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

'leaving aside the difference in workload'. That is a huge caveat, Crank.

Posted by: feeblemind at November 19, 2009 3:48 PM

Two of the times Pedro had an era+ over 200 he didn't win the Cy. I don't have a problem with 2003 (Halladay pitched 80 more innings than Pedro that year), but 2002 was a travesty. Zito pitched only 30 more innings, had an era+ of 158 (compared to Pedro's era+ of 202), and had 57 less strikeouts in his extra 30 innings. Essentially, Zito was given extra credit for being worse than a league-average pitcher in those extra 30 innings (and for the three extra wins, which as we know are a poor way to measure performance).

Posted by: Paul H. at November 19, 2009 4:30 PM

What's also interesting to me is that the top five come from just two eras, the 1910's and then late 90's to early 00's, with no one in between.

Also, Koufax was close twice, with a 190 and a 187.

Posted by: magrooder at November 19, 2009 4:39 PM

It would have been pretty difficult for Koufax to get to 200, given that he was pitching in the league's best pitcher's park in one of the alltime greatest pitching eras. There's only so much room under the bar.

Posted by: Jerry at November 19, 2009 6:43 PM

I think I would like to see the ERA's for hurlers for the first 7 innings only. No one goes the distance very often now so their starts are always with a fresh arm on 4 days rest. Todays pitching is a committee approach and being a starter is not what is was in the past. It is apples and oranges.

Posted by: John Gorman at November 19, 2009 7:18 PM

Starting isn't what it once was but pitchers back in the day also faced pitchers rather than DHs, banjo-hitting middle-infielders, there were no PEDs and very, very few hitters worked the count the way entire line-ups do nowadays.

Posted by: jim at November 20, 2009 12:16 PM

Jim, there were PED's, don't kid yourself. Players took amphetimines like candy beginning in the 60's and 70's, and continuing through to the current testing regime. In fact, home run rates didn't immediately go down when the steroids testing began, but they did when amphetimines testing was implemented. Not only that, but why is it presumed that players in the 70's (when steroids were legal) and 80's did not use steroids? Granted weight training wasn't as common then, but there were plenty of players who did.

Posted by: Paul H. at November 20, 2009 1:53 PM

Amphetamines are child's play compared to the designer steroids of the late 90s-current day. Also the combinations of diet, weight-training, super-PEDs (not across the board but in enough instances to be relevant), the influx of foreign players and the general change towards hitting that is taken these days makes for a huge change in starts. It is just harder to get through a line-up now than, in general, it has ever been.

Take a guy like Willie Bloomquist. Total journeyman player. He's 31 and just appeared in a career high 125 games this year. Played every position but catcher and pitcher at some point. Hit .265/.308/.355 with 4 HRs, 8 3Bs, 25 SBs and 28 RBIs. 30 years ago that guy would be playing 162 games/year as the starting SS for a decent team. Now, he's a nice addtition to a crappy ballclub.

What Pedro did in the late 90s-early '00s was beyond ridiculous. Whether or not guys go 9 nowadays is irrelevant. It makes no sense to have guys pitch 9 when there are late-inning alternatives that are specialized (LOOGYs, flame throwers, submariners, etc.) to get certain guys out. Rarely does a pitcher get through the 7th without throwing 100 usually hard-earned pitches these days. 30 years ago and beyond the same was not true.

Put a guy like Greinke or 1999 Pedro back in the 50s? They wouldn't get touched.

Posted by: jim at November 20, 2009 5:03 PM

Baseball may have changed but ERA pitching statistics haven't. They are still based on a 9 inning game. Pitching 6 and 1/3 to 7 and 2/3 innings is easier than pitching 9. Stick around 1 or 2 more innings and watch the ERA's grow! ERA's get far too much importance now. 15 wins with 2 shutouts and 4 CG's with a poor or run of the mill team is pretty paltry when compared to Carleton's 26 and 10 with a Phillies team that really stunk! Cy Young awards should go to Cy Young type pitchers not weak sisters who throw their gloves on the bench when the game still is on the line and expect others to finish their work!

Posted by: Bob K. at November 22, 2009 11:24 AM
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