Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 5, 2010
BASEBALL: The Unit Has Landed

Randy Johnson has announced his retirement. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, of course, but how good really was Johnson? Below the fold, I run some quick numbers. These are career stats - Johnson's prime from 1993-2002 stacks up even more impressively against the prime of any other lefthanded pitcher with a long career - and some of the calculations are a little rough, but you should get the idea: Johnson was probably the second-best lefthanded pitcher ever (behind Lefty Grove) and has a case for #1, depending how one weighs adjustments for different eras of the game.

Guide to the numbers below - ERA+, as regular readers know, is the park-adjusted league ERA divided by the pitcher's ERA, so it's a % of how far better than league-average a pitcher's ERA was. An ERA+ of 200 means an ERA half the league. The sample below compares Johnson to the other 28 lefthanded pitchers since 1871 to throw 3,000 or more career innings (so: no Koufax) with an ERA+ of 100 or better, of which Johnson's ERA+ of 136 places him second only to Lefty Grove.

QI or Quality Innings is ERA+ times IP - basically a quick method for combining quality and quantity.

LgERA is the park-adjusted baseline used to compute ERA+

BIP% is a rough calculation of balls in play that became hits, the part of the pitcher's game that depends upon defense (also luck, but luck evens out pretty well over this many innings).

For BB/9, I combined walks with hit batsmen (Johnson put a lot of guys on base that way).

dERA is a measurement of defense-independent ERA based on Voros McCracken's DIPS formula designed to compute what a defense-independent ERA should have been (based on a pitcher's HR, BB, K and HBP allowed, assuming an average defense), although given the uneven availability of intentional walk data I left out Voros' adjustments for IBB.

dERA+ is dERA divided by LgERA, to quickly adjust for differing playing conditions.

QdI is the Quality Innings formula again, except using dERA+

As you will see, when you rank the lefties all-time by QI, the race goes to the longest-distance runners (Spahn and Carlton), but ranked by QdI, Johnson - with his massive K numbers making him less dependent on his defense - pulls to #1.

1Randy Johnson1364135.335624053031660.6463.294.477.280.893.6710.610.2912.71165683114
2Steve Carlton1155217.335999933292440.5743.223.708.060.713.257.130.2793.26114593287
3Lefty Grove1483940.675832193001410.6803.064.538.790.372.815.180.2843.39134526871
4Warren Spahn1185243.676187533632450.5973.093.658.290.742.534.430.2583.6799520637
5Tom Glavine1184413.335207733052030.6003.544.188.760.733.195.320.2803.67114502827
6Tommy John1104710.335181372882310.5553.343.679.140.582.594.290.2843.63101476302
7Jim Kaat1074530.334847462832370.5443.453.699.180.782.394.890.2823.53105473593
8Jamie Moyer1053908.674104102581950.5704.224.439.331.132.895.390.2843.75118461901
9Frank Tanana1064188.334439632402360.5043.663.888.730.962.975.960.2773.56109456125
10David Wells1083439.003714122391570.6044.134.469.511.072.105.760.2933.38132453780
11Eppa Rixey1154494.675168872662510.5153.153.629.280.182.322.700.2813.7297437109
12Jerry Koosman1103839.334223272222090.5153.363.708.520.682.975.990.2823.41108416094
13Carl Hubbell1303590.334667432531540.6222.983.878.680.571.954.200.2673.44113404574
14Mickey Lolich1053638.333820252171910.5323.443.618.330.862.957.010.2803.26111403151
15Chuck Finley1153197.333676932001730.5363.854.438.640.863.967.350.2973.51126403147
16Kenny Rogers1083302.673566882191560.5844.274.619.420.923.555.360.2923.86119394223
17Eddie Plank1224495.675484713261940.6272.352.877.920.082.544.500.2673.2987391329
18Earl Whitehill1003564.673564672181850.5414.364.369.890.483.873.410.2934.21104369302
19Herb Pennock1063571.673785972401620.5973.603.829.830.322.403.090.2943.73102365758
20Curt Simmons1113348.333716651931830.5133.543.938.910.693.004.560.2763.76104349890
21Billy Pierce1193306.673934932111690.5553.273.898.140.773.295.440.2613.70105348188
22Vida Blue1083343.333610802091610.5653.273.537.910.713.255.850.2633.5599332401
23Larry French1143152.003593281971710.5353.443.929.640.472.463.390.2853.75105329888
24Whitey Ford1333170.334216542361060.6902.753.667.850.653.165.550.2613.56103325521
25Claude Osteen1043460.333598751961950.5013.303.439.030.652.564.190.2783.6993322234
26Wilbur Cooper1163480.004036802161780.5482.893.358.830.272.463.240.2743.6891316670
27Rube Marquard1033306.673405872011770.5323.083.178.800.292.444.340.2833.4293306462
28Tom Zachary1063126.333313911861910.4933.733.9510.310.342.752.070.2944.1096301541
29Doc White1133041.003436331891560.5482.392.708.120.102.344.100.3763.2882250377

Note also that by plain old wins and losses, Johnson clocks in at 137 games over .500, second only to Grove (+159), followed by Eddie Plank (+132), Whitey Ford (+130), Warren Spahn (+118) and Tom Glavine (+102).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:39 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

This is a pretty amazing chart. We all knew Randy was great, but not this great. Yankees fans did not get to see Prime Randy (except in 2001 world series), and that's too bad. Tanana at number 9, eh? Who knew? I always thought Whitey Ford would place higher. And Tommy John and Jim Kaat deserve serious HOF consideration.

Posted by: steve at January 5, 2010 7:21 PM

I think of Randy Johnson as Sandy Koufax if he'd been healthy enough for a 20 year career. The numbers pretty much back it up (he fell to 'just above average power pitcher' status a few years ago). The numbers that Johnson, Maddux & Pedro put up against the steroid addle freaks of the 90's is mind boggling. If no steroids, what would their ERA's have been?

One can only imagine.

Posted by: RW at January 5, 2010 8:51 PM

I wonder if these great pitchers (Maddux, Roger, Randy and Pedro) would have had the same ERAs even without the steroid hitters. The batters could not hit these guys, so did the big muscles even matter when they pitched?

Posted by: steve at January 5, 2010 9:07 PM

The batters could not hit these guys, so did the big muscles even matter when they pitched?

Anabolic steroids don't just make you "big" and strong, but they increase overall muscle, including fast twitch muscle fiber. YES, steroids make bat speed even quicker as well as giving extra 'rebound' time from fatigue. Exhibit A: Ben Johnson.

People in the majors are able to hit a baseball. Steroids help them do it better. Go look at skinny Bonds versus juiced Bonds.

I thought we were past the "do steroids help batters" argument?

Posted by: RW at January 6, 2010 9:09 AM
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