Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 6, 2011
BASEBALL: Quality and Quantity
One of my longstanding hobbyhorses in baseball analysis is two related points: (1) durability/quantity of playing time matters and (2) because baseball is played in seasons, it matters to study how much a player contributed by season. For example, one of my points of disagreement with Bill James' argument in his first Historical Abstract for Lefty Grove over Walter Johnson as the best pitcher in MLB history is the failure to adjust for the fact that Johnson was frequently at or around the league lead in innings; Grove carried a less demanding workload by the standards of his own time, and won two of his ERA titles late in his career (with the Red Sox) as effectively a Sunday pitcher, starting less than 24 games a year.
How often have pitchers been the best in the league (by ERA+, ERA adjusted for park and league) and led the league in innings in the same year? It's rarer than you might think - there are plenty of guys like Roy Halladay who have led the league in both, but never in the same year. Most likely because those last few innings can sometimes bring diminishing returns.
What's even more impressive is pulling the feat multiple times. As it turns out, only two pitchers have done it more than twice: Greg Maddux (four years running from 1992-95, including tying Denny Neagle for the league lead in innings in 1995) and Grover Alexander in 1915-16 and 1920 (interrupted by his service in World War I, which cost him most of 1918. I discussed the monumental nature of Alexander's peak and workload in this 2003 essay. Maddux got his just a bit cheaply (1994-95 were strike-shortened schedules, in which he led the league with just under 210 innings pitched each year), but it's still a staggering achievement when you consider how far he stood above the league.
Five other pitchers have managed the feat twice. One is Walter Johnson, who led the league in innings five times and ERA+ six times, and synced the two in 1913 (when he had a 1.14 ERA and 259 ERA+) and 1915. The others were Randy Johnson in 1999 & 2002, Roger Clemens in 1991 & 1997 (the latter an IP tie with Pat Hentgen), Steve Carlton in 1972 & 1980, and Bucky Walters in 1939-40. The rest to do it once are below the fold
Justin Verlander 2011
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:05 PM | Baseball 2011 | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)