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
Brandon Webb 2007
Johan Santana 2006
Orel Hershiser 1989
Bret Saberhagen 1989
Mike Scott 1986
Dwight Gooden 1985
Dave Stieb 1984
Sandy Koufax 1966
Dean Chance 1964
Warren Spahn 1947
Howie Pollet 1946
Hal Newhouser 1945
Dizzy Trout 1944
Lefty Gomez 1934
Carl Hubbell 1933
Red Faber 1922
Hippo Vaughn 1918
Eddie Cicotte 1917
Christy Mathewson 1908
Ed Walsh 1907
Joe McGinnity 1904
Kid Nichols 1897
John Clarkson 1889
Silver King 1888
Old Hoss Radbourn 1884
Guy Hecker 1884
Jim Devlin 1877

2 thoughts on “Quality and Quantity”

  1. What’s remarkable about Hershiser is that he managed to accomplish the feat while pitching with a sore arm. He pitched in pain all year long, then had to have surgery in Spring of 1990.

  2. I like your pitching analysis. ERA is very valuable to understand how well a pitcher has performed. Wins and losses deeands too much on the quality of the team. Comparing ERAs from differrent eras is not very valid but winning the ERA title certainly means a lot because that pitcher out performed others at that specific time.

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