May 28, 2003
Reader Mail (300 Win Edition)
As I suspected it might, my entry from Tuesday about the 300-Win Club generated a ton of emails.
(For those of you that missed the entry, click on the following link to check it out: Reexamining 300)
Obviously I can't respond to all of the emails here (well, I could, but that would take up a lot of space...), so what I have done is pick a couple of emails that I think represent some of the main points that were found throughout the emails.
(Thanks to everyone who sent me an email, including you Heidi)
Here we go...
Our first email comes to us from "Matt":
It's tough to figure out where to rank active players in terms of All-Time status, but with Clemens saying that this will be his last season, where do you think he stands in terms of the greatest pitchers ever - or maybe to make it a little easier, in terms of the greatest pitchers after WWII?
After WWII, I would rank him about even with Tom Seaver, a notch or two ahead of Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, and perhaps Steve Carlton and Warren Spahn. The next group includes guys like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine. Putting Johnson and Glavine in the right spot is tough since they are still pitching, and the same goes for Pedro Martinez. If Pedro can pitch another 7-10 years at his current level without getting hurt, he might be the Greatest Ever by the time he's done. But while speculation is fun, its still just speculation.
Hey, enjoy your summer. Get a job with the Twins yet?
First and foremost, no, I don't have a job with the Twins yet. Thanks for rubbing it in! To Terry Ryan or anyone in the Twins front office - I will work for free. Seriously, drop me an email and I'll start tomorrow.
Regarding where Roger Clemens ranks among the all-time great pitchers, I actually covered that topic a while ago (August to be exact), when I ranked my top 20 hitters and top 20 pitchers of all-time. For those of you that weren't around back then, here are the links:
So, to answer Matt's question: I think Roger Clemens is the best post-WWII pitcher in the history of baseball and I would still rank him #3 all-time, just because it is very difficult for someone to jump over the amazing duo of Johnson and Grove. That said, I do think that a very good case could be made for Clemens being the greatest pitcher of all-time, I'm just not ready to make it - yet.
The other interesting thing Matt brings up in his email is his statement that, "If Pedro can pitch another 7-10 years at his current level without getting hurt, he might be the Greatest Ever by the time he's done."
First of all, I have more chance of the Twins emailing me about a possible job than Pedro Martinez has not "getting hurt" for "another 7-10 years." It's just not going to happen. Heck, he's hurt right now.
Here's what I said about Pedro in my entry on Tuesday:
"Other than [Mike Mussina], the next guy on the list under 35 is Pedro Martinez, with 156 wins. I love Pedro and he might just be the greatest pitcher in baseball history when all is said and done, but he has almost no shot at getting 144 more wins."
If Pedro Martinez somehow managed to pitch even 7 years "at his current level without getting hurt," he would be the greatest pitcher of all-time and I don't think it would be particularly close.
Here's what Pedro's career stats look like, right now:
G GS IP ERA W L Win% SO BB H
335 268 1953 2.63 156 65 .706 2282 524 1451
First of all, those numbers are ridiculous.
I am not exactly sure how to figure what 7 years "at his current level without getting hurt" would be, since his actual "current level" involves him being on the disabled list. For the sake of simplicity and my sanity, let's just say that his current level is the average season he has had since joining the Red Sox in 1998.
He has played a total of 5 seasons with them (prior to this year) and, if you figure out the straight average season of those 5 years, it looks like this:
GS IP ERA W L SO BB H
28 196 2.27 18 5 250 40 140
Of course, this is far from perfect. First of all, one of those 5 seasons (2001) was an injury-filled one and Pedro pitched only 116 innings, which brings his "average" way down. Secondly, his K rate appears to be slowly sliding downward from where it was when he first joined the Sox, although it is still very good.
But okay, the "average" is good enough for our purposes. So, let's credit Pedro will 7 of those average seasons, on top of what his current career numbers are. His "new" career totals look like this:
G GS IP ERA W L Win% SO BB H
531 464 3325 2.47 282 100 .738 4032 804 2431
Remember how I talked on Tuesday about how amazingly hard it is for a pitcher to win 300 career games? Look at Pedro's "new" stats. I credited him with 7 more seasons of 196 innings and a 2.27 ERA per season and he still only comes out to 282 career wins! If that isn't reason enough for "300" no longer being the "magic number" for pitchers, I don't know what is.
Anyway, here is how Pedro's new numbers would stack up on the all-time lists:
(I only counted pitchers after 1900 and, for any "rate" stats, only pitchers with 1,500+ career innings)
3,325 IP - #64 all-time
2.47 ERA - #20 all-time
4,032 Ks - #3 all-time
282 Wins - #20 all-time
.738 Win% - #1 all-time
10.9 K/9 - #2 all-time
6.6 H/9 - #2 all-time
8.8 H+BB/9 - #1 all-time
5.0 SO/BB - #1 all-time
Pretty impresive stuff. Plus, he would be far and away the leader in perhaps the most important category, career adjusted ERA+. Which would mean, compared to the leagues and enviroments he pitched in, he was better than anyone in history.
Of course, while this is a lot fun, it's never going to happen. Right now Pedro is struggling to start 7 more games, let alone 7 more full, injury-free seasons. I suspect that, whenever he's done playing, Pedro's real numbers will be impressive enough to force him into any discussion of the greatest pitcher of all-time, despite what is going to be a very "short" career compared to guys like Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove, and contemporaries like Clemens and Maddux.
I also suspect that, like baseball arguments often do, the "is Pedro the greatest pitcher ever" debate will come down to "peak" versus "longevity." If you're a fan of peak, it simply does not get any better than Pedro Martinez.
People (including myself) like to talk about the greatness of Sandy Koufax's magnificient 6-year run. Guess what? Pedro has been having "Koufax in his prime" seasons his entire career.
Here are Koufax and Martinez's top adjusted ERA+ seasons during their best 6-year stretch, along with where their innings pitched ranked in their league that year:
(Koufax's stretch is from 1961-1966 and Pedro's is from 1997-2002)
ERA+ Rnk ERA+ Rnk
190 1 285 8
187 14 245 9
161 3 221 4
160 1 196 20
143 28 189 60
124 4 160 6
Look, I'm as big a Sandy Koufax fan as you'll find, but if those two 6-year periods are comparable, I'm Rob Neyer. Pedro Martinez is Sandy Koufax - if Koufax was better and right-handed.
The thing that makes Pedro so great is that, in addition to what is probably the greatest 6-year stretch in baseball history, he also has the following numbers prior to 1997:
G GS IP ERA W L Win% SO BB H
154 89 671 3.39 48 31 .608 665 239 544
In other words, that is Pedro before he was "good." Plus, what he's done so far this season (60 IP, 2.83 ERA, 62/17 K/BB ratio) isn't too shabby either.
Let me try to phrase this in a way that makes at least a little bit of sense: I think that Pedro Martinez is the greatest pitcher of all-time. However, when actually trying to figure out the "greatest pitcher of all-time," it is actually figuring who the most valuable pitcher of all-time is. Because of that, Pedro Martinez loses points as a result of his lack of durability.
In other words, if you go back in time and give Pedro some sort of potion that will keep injuries away, I think there is no doubt that he is the single greatest pitcher in baseball history. But there are guys that are close, and most of those guys have so many more innings pitched and games won than Pedro that it makes it difficult to justify ranking him ahead of them.
You make everyone healthy and Pedro is the best of the best. Does that make any sense?
If we were to add "7-10 more healthy years" onto Pedro's career, it becomes incredibly easy to see who the greatest and most valuable pitcher in the sport's history is. Of course, adding a half-dozen healthy years to players' careers opens up a gigantic can of worms, but it sure is fun...
Our second email comes to us from "Bill":
ESPN didn't even pick the best young pitchers [in their "who is the most likely to get 300 wins" poll].
Kevin Millwood has 78 wins through age 27 (85 with his 7 this year) to edge Hudson. Javier Vazquez has 51 through age 25 (56 as of now), edging Wood, without any truly great seasons. Plus, there's always the chance he'll get traded to a much better franchise. Brett Myers (8 wins through age 22 so far, not that anyone with 8 wins should be thinking of 300), can match Clemens' pace with 8 more wins this season, which he shouldn't have any trouble exceeding. Jake Peavy has 10 and counting at age 22. Oliver Perez has 5 at age 21. Mark Buerhle has 39 through age 23, though he's falling rapidly off the pace this year (41 so far). Jon Garland has 22 through age 22 (24 so far this year).
But the real 300 game prospect among young pitchers right now would have to be CC Sabathia with 30 wins through age 21, 33 so far through age 22. He's already way ahead of the pace set by Maddux and Clemens, though he's going to need a good Indians team to develop behind him soon, or get traded to the Braves or somewhere similar like Maddux did (not to mention he'll have to stay healthy for 15 more years). Sabathia is also a highlight for what you need to get on pace: reach the majors early and get established without any major setbacks.
For what it's worth, most of today's real 300 win candidates are at another disadvantage, having lost a dozen or so starts to work stoppages in '94-'95. Clemens would already have 300, and the 6 or so wins it probably cost Glavine might mean the difference for him, especially if some mediocre Mets teams keep him from getting close enough to 300 by age 40 for him to be able to hook on somewhere for the final push. Of course, the last several 300 game winners lost at least as much time to the '72 and '81 strikes. In fact, Blyleven and John both lost enough wins (6-8) to potentially cost them shots at one final season to go after 300.
I chose Bill's email because it discusses two points (other young pitchers and time lost to the strike) that were touched on in numerous emails I received.
Figuring out how many wins various pitchers probably lost because of the strike in 94/95 is a lot easier than figuring out which young pitchers should also be in the 300-Win discussion with Prior, Mulder, Hudson, Zito and Wood, so I'll discuss that first...
I think Greg Maddux probably lost more wins than any other pitcher because of the strike, because he was the best pitcher on the planet in 1994 and 1995, by far.
Maddux won the Cy Young Award for the NL in 1994 and led the league in wins (16), ERA (1.56), innings (202), complete games (10) and ERA+ (273). His 1.56 ERA in 1994 is the 3rd lowest total in baseball since 1920, behind only Bob Gibson (1.12 in 1968) and Dwight Gooden (1.53 in 1985). And Maddux posted that 1.56 in an environment that had a 4.26 league-ERA, whereas Gibson posted his 1.12 in a 2.90 ERA league and Gooden put up his 1.53 in a league that had a 3.45 ERA.
Because of the huge difference between Maddux and the rest of baseball in 1994, his adjusted ERA+ of 273 is 4th best figure in major league history and the 2nd best since 1915. Any guesses for who is #1 all-time? Pedro, of course.
After his historic 1994 season was cut short, Maddux followed it up with another unbelievably good season in the shortened 1995 campaign. He again won the NL Cy Young Award and led the league in wins (19), ERA (1.63), winning percentage (.905), innings (210), ERA+ (259) and complete games (10).
Combined between the two strike-shortened seasons, Maddux put up the following numbers:
GS IP ERA W L Win% SO BB H
53 412 1.60 35 8 .814 337 54 297
Obviously, those are just crazy, video game-type numbers.
Maddux made 53 starts in 1994/95 and won 35 of them, which works out to a win in 66% of his total starts. Assuming he would have made 35 starts in each season if not for the strike (he made 36 in 1993 and 35 in 1996), that means Maddux missed 17 starts. If you figure he gets a win in 66% of those games, that means he lost about 11 wins.
11 wins doesn't sound like a whole lot, but it would mean Maddux had 287 wins right now, instead of 276. Which means he might have an outside chance of joining Clemens in the 300-Win Club this season.
Using the same "method" to calculate how many wins Maddux likely lost in 1994 and 1995, here are wins lost by some other pitchers:
Obviously this is just a "quick and dirty" way to figure out the lost wins and I am sure there is a better way to do it, but I think this gives a good enough idea. At most, some of those guys probably lost half of a pretty good season's worth of wins. That's siginficant, but is it enough to seriously affect history or anyone's run at 300 wins? I really doubt it, although I suppose 8 or 9 more wins might mean Tom Glavine would hang around for another season at age 42 to try to get his 300th win or something.
By the way, if you add those 8 wins to Clemens' career, it means he would have won game #300 on September 3rd of last season, at Yankee Stadium - against...the Boston Red Sox! Funny how that works...
As for who the other young pitchers that should be talked about, along with the 5 ESPN.com's poll mentioned, I am not so sure they didn't do a very good job picking the 5 they did.
As Bill mentioned, some other possibilities are Kevin Millwood, C.C. Sabathia and Javier Vazquez. He also mentioned some other guys like Brett Myers, Oliver Perez, Jake Peavy, etc - but I think those guys are way too young and have way too few career wins to even discuss.
Of course, the same could be said about Mark Prior, whom I said I think has the best chance of any young pitcher to eventually reach 300 wins. But, unlike Prior, I don't think any of those guys are going to be the greatest pitcher of their generation. Plus, I never said I was always completely logical. Bill also mentioned Mark Buehrle, but with his miniscule K rate and struggles this year, I will be shocked if Mark Buehrle wins 150 career games, let alone 300.
Let's take a look at Millwood, Sabathia and Vazquez.
Pitcher W AGE
Zito 67 25
Prior 23 22
Mulder 72 25
Wood 58 26
Hudson 77 27
Now let's do the same for Millwood, Sabathia and Vazquez...
Pitcher W AGE
Millwood 97 28
Sabathia 40 22
Vazquez 67 26
Millwood is a year older than Hudson (in seasonal "age") and he would have 20 more wins. Vazquez is the same age as Wood and would have 9 more wins. So, in that respect, Bill is probably right that Vazquez and Millwood would have been better choices for the ESPN.com poll than Wood and Hudson.
On the other hand, I said the following about the 300-Win chances of Wood and Hudson:
I give Hudson and Wood almost zero chance. Hudson is already 27 years old and, while his 77 (projected) wins are good, they are also about 40 wins off the pace. Wood is also way off the pace and he has had injury problems in the past and just doesn't strike me as someone that is going to stay completely healthy for the next 12-15 years.
The "pace" that I am referring to is the year-by-year win totals of Clemens and Maddux, by age:
Pitcher 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Clemens 16 40 60 78 95 116 134 152 163
Maddux 26 45 60 75 95 115 131 150 165
While there is certainly no one way to reach a statistical achievement like 300 wins, I do think that the path of Clemens and Maddux is the best and, barring some sort of complete freak of nature like Randy Johnson (with a better knee), the only likely way to get to 300 wins.
Just as Hudson and Wood are way off the pace, so are Vazquez and Millwood. So, while they may be slightly ahead of Hudson and Wood in the race to 300, neither of them are going to get there or even get particularly close.
Sabathia, on the other hand, is actually ahead of Clemens and Maddux's pace. If he is credited for the 10 wins he is on pace for this season, that would give Sabathia 40 career wins through the age of 22. At 22, Clemens had 16 wins and Maddux had 26.
However, while Sabathia is "technically" one of the favorites for 300 wins among young pitchers, I don't think he has much more of a chance than Hudson, Wood, Millwood or Vazquez, which is to say he has almost zero chance.
Why not, if he is ahead of the pace?
Three main reasons:
1) His K rate is dropping steadily.
Year IP K K/9
2001 180 171 8.53
2002 210 149 6.39
2003 66 43 5.86
That is not the kind of pattern you want to see in a 22 year old pitcher, especially one that struck out nearly a batter per inning as a 20 year old rookie. It's possible that he has changed his style since 2001, it's possible he is injured, it's possible he has been abused - a lot of things are possible. Whatever the reason for the dropping K rate, it is not a good sign for his long-term prospects.
2) The Indians stink.
Quite simply, good pitchers on good teams win more games than good pitchers on bad teams. It is one of the reasons why judging a pitcher on his won-loss record is deceiving, but it is also something that can keep Sabathia from making a run at 300.
In his first year, Sabathia made 33 starts and posted a 4.39 ERA - 3% better than league-average. The Indians won 91 games and the AL Central, and Sabathia won 17 games.
In his second year, Sabathia made 33 starts and posted a 4.37 ERA - 3% better than league-average. The Indians won 74 games and finished 3rd in the AL Central, and Sabathia won 13 games.
This year, Sabathia is on pace to make 33 starts with a 2.73 ERA - approximately 30-40% better than league-average. The Indians are on pace to go 62-100 and finish 4th in the AL Central, and Sabathia is on pace for only 10 wins.
It's a very obvious pattern. Sabathia won 17 games in 2001 and then, despite preventing runs at the exact same rate and actually pitching nearly 20% more innings in 2002, he won only 13 games. And this year, despite being on pace for over 200 innings pitched, with by far the best ERA of his career, he is on pace for only 10 wins.
It all comes down to the quality of the team he plays on and, more specifically, the quality of the offense hitting for him. This year, the Indians are 25th in MLB in runs scored, 29th in on-base percentage, 25th in slugging percentage and 27th in OPS.
Of course, the Indians are admittedly "rebuilding" and I do expect them to have good teams in the near future. Will they have a good offense in place by next year? It certainly doesn't look that way. How about 2005? Maybe 2006? They'll be good at some point soon but, by that time, Sabathia will be in his mid-20s and all of those 200 inning/12-win seasons will have taken him completely out of the running for anything resembling 300 career wins. That is, if the 3rd thing doesn't ruin his chances first...
3) C.C. Sabathia is a very large human being.
Not only "large" like Randy Johnson, but "large" like University of California softball superstar Veronica Nelson (pictured below, after hitting a homer)
(Nelson finished the year with the following hitting line: .359/.665/.692, with 13 homers - and 0 doubles or triples - in 117 at bats, along with 107 walks in 66 games. And she did that in an environment where Cal's entire pitching-staff had a 1.25 ERA. Billy Beane is said to be intrigued by her 107/21 BB/K ratio...)
Anyway, back to C.C...
With the way Cleveland has worked him (lots of high pitch-counts already and he's only 22), he is going to have enough trouble keeping his left arm healthy. He's also going to have to worry about the nagging injuries that come with being a really big guy and simply being out of shape, as well as potential back or knee problems that may arise. ESPN.com lists him at 6'7" and 260 pounds. To steal a great Bill James line about Cecil Fielder: "Sabathia acknowledges a weight of 260, leaving unanswered the question of what he might weigh if he put his other foot on the scale."
I'm not saying he won't stay healthy, just that I wouldn't say his chances of staying healthy long enough to give him any sort of a serious chance at 300 wins is anything but remote.
So, here is my revised ranking of the most likely young pitchers for 300 career wins (keeping in mind I have said it is most likely that none of them will win 300):
1) Mark Prior
2) Barry Zito
3) Mark Mulder
4) C.C. Sabathia
5) Tim Hudson
6) Javier Vazquez
7) Kerry Wood
8) Kevin Millwood
By the way, for those of you who emailed me to express your amazement that I would rank Mark Prior ahead of Zito, Mulder and the rest...Prior won his 6th game of the season against the Pirates yesterday, giving him 12 career wins. So there! He's only 288 away!
Montreal (Ohka) +115 over Florida (Penny)
Houston (Redding) +180 over St. Louis (Morris)
Seattle (Meche) -105 over Minnesota (Radke)
Texas (Valdes) -120 over Hentgen (Baltimore)
Total to date: + $865
W/L record: 102-103 (1-3 yesterday for -205, dropping me below .500 and back under $1,000! This is why gambling is not good boys and girls...)
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****