June 2, 2003

Reader Mail (Strike Edition)

I spent a couple of entries last week talking about the 300 Win Club and I also discussed the wins various pitchers lost because of the strike in 1994/1995.

Since then, I have received a ton of good emails on those subjects, including one particularly good one regarding other "lost stats" from the 94/95 strike. The email was from my good buddy Vinay, who is not only a member of both of my Diamond-Mind leagues, but also contributed a great email to my entry about Trevor Hoffman several months ago:

Hi Aaron-

I liked your blog entry today. I think if Maddux had had the opportunity to pitch full seasons in 1994 and '95, we wouldn't be so quick to concede that Pedro had the greatest peak ever.

That said, you left out the guy who, in my opinion, was most hurt by the strike: David Cone. Here's what he did in those two seasons:

Year    W-L   GS      IP    ERA   BB   SO

1994 16-5 23 171.7 2.94 54 132
1995 18-8 30 229.3 3.57 88 191

Now, let's project those out to full seasons:

Year    W-L   GS      IP    ERA   BB   SO

1994 23-7 33 246.3 2.94 77 189
1995 20-9 34 260.0 3.57 100 216

So he gets nine more wins, which puts him over 200 for his career, and gets two more 20-win seasons and another 200-K season. And his Cy Young award from 1994 is no longer tainted. Of course, his arm might've fallen off too, so that's a reminder that this is all hypothetical.

Anyway, I think David Cone lost more of his HOF chances to the '94-'95 strike than any other pitcher. And if you add in a second hypothetical (quitting after 1999), his rate stats look even better, and it gets really tough to keep him out (although he'd drop below 200 wins then, even with the hypothetical strike wins).

And, to end the suspense, the non-pitcher whose HOF chances were hurt most by that strike was probably Matt Williams. He'd have a 50-HR year, and possibly a 60-HR season (a few years before any of the other recent guys reached that level) and 400 career HR (though that's not really that impressive now), and possibly an MVP award (he finished second to Bagwell, who was having an amazing year himself, but got hurt just before the strike). I think Williams would stand out as the top 3B of the '90s, and would be a reasonable HOF dark horse.

What do you think?


Great email. First of all, regarding Greg Maddux's peak versus Pedro Martinez's peak, my gut reaction is that Maddux's 2-year stint in 94/95 might be close to as good a 2-year stint as Pedro in 1999/2000, but, as I said a few days ago, I don't think anyone could match what Pedro has done over 5-6 seasons.

Last week I compared Pedro's best 6-year stretch to Sandy Koufax's highly-touted 6-year stretch. Now, let's add Maddux's best 6-year stretch to the comparison:

(ERA+ is "adjusted ERA+" and "Rnk" is how their innings pitched ranked in their league that season)

Koufax          Martinez        Maddux

ERA+ Rnk ERA+ Rnk ERA+ Rnk
190 1 285 8 273 1
187 14 245 9 259 1
161 3 221 4 191 3
160 1 196 20 191 8
143 28 189 60 171 1
124 4 160 6 162 2

You know what? It's a whole lot closer than I thought it would be. I think Pedro gets the edge in preventing runs, but Maddux was much more of a "workhorse" than Pedro was. Maddux led the NL in innings pitched 3 times during that 6 year span, was 2nd once, 3rd once and 8th once. Meanwhile, Pedro never led his league in any of those 6 seasons and pitched just 116 innings in one of them.

I think it's pretty obvious that I have short-changed Maddux in this discussion and, in a way, I think that is sort of the story of Greg Maddux's career. When he's done playing, he is going to go down as one of the top 5-10 pitchers in baseball history, but he has pitched in the same era as Roger Clemens (and Pedro Martinez), so his greatness might end up being overshadowed.

For those of you wondering, when I ranked my top 20 pitchers of all-time back in August, I had Clemens #3, Maddux #6 and Martinez #10. I also had Randy Johnson #14, which brings me back to something I often say, which is that we are amazingly lucky to be witnessing four of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, all pitching at the same time.

Vinay's points about David Cone and Matt Williams are particularly interesting now, because, since he sent me the email just a couple days ago, Cone has retired from baseball and Matt Williams was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks.

Regarding David Cone, I absolutely did not realize how awesome he was in 1994 and 1995. That said, even if he is credited with the 9 or 10 games he would have won had the strike not happened, I still don't think it is enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. That's not to say he doesn't deserve to be a Hall of Famer (I am not quite sure about that and would have to look at it more in-depth before I had an official opinion), just that, with guys like Bert Blyleven stuck outside the Hall of Fame's gates with 287 wins, what chance does David Cone have with slightly over 200?

This is yet another example of why 300 wins being the "magic number" for pitchers is far too high a number, but I've spent too much time talking about that as it is.

Vinay is absolutely right about Cone's Hall of Fame chances being hurt more than any other pitcher because of the strike, simply because the closer a player is to being a "marginal" candidate, the more impact missed games are going to have. In other words, the 10 games Greg Maddux probably lost because of the strike isn't going to change whether or not he is a Hall of Famer, but 10 wins can definitely have a big impact on someone like Cone's credentials.

Similar to Cone, Matt Williams is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, so the games he missed in 1994 and 1995 are very important for his career. In 1994, Williams was making a very serious run at the then all-time single-season homer record of 61. He had 43 homers at the time of the strike, at which point the Giants had played 115 games. If you project his numbers over a full-season, it comes out to 60.5 homers.

I think it is unlikely that Williams would have broken Roger Maris' homer record in 1994, but he was right on pace and he "only" needed to hit 18 homers in 47 games to tie the record, so it is certainly possible that he would have done it. More than likely, Williams would have ended up with something like 55 homers and, as Vinay points out, probably the National League MVP. Whether the award would have been deserved or not is another issue entirely, but Jeff Bagwell was the MVP in 1994 and he got injured just before the strike happened and likely would have missed the rest of the season, opening the door for Williams (or someone else) to win the award, had the rest of the schedule been played.

Williams ended up finishing 2nd to Bagwell in the MVP voting. Looking at the other performances from 1994, it seems to me that there were at least two other players (along with Bagwell) having better seasons than Williams at the time of the strike.

Player       PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    OPS+

Williams 483 .267 .319 .607 140
Bonds 474 .312 .426 .647 182
Piazza 441 .319 .370 .541 141

Bagwell hit .368/.451/.750 with a 213 OPS+ and was by far the best player in the National League in 1994, but he likely would have ended the season with only 110 games played, so I don't think he would have been a serious candidate for MVP.

If I had a vote in 1994 and those were the final statistics for each player's 1994 season, I would have voted Matt Williams third, behind Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza.

Bonds was a much better offensive player than Williams in 1994. They played for the same team and in the same home ballpark, and Bonds slugged 40 points higher, while getting on base nearly 35% more often, which is extremely significant. Williams played a more important defensive position (third base) and played it very well, but Bonds won the Gold Glove as a left fielder in 1994, so he was valuable defensively too.

Meanwhile, Piazza had a higher OPS+ than Matt Williams and got on base at a much higher clip. He slugged about 60 points less than Williams, but he did all that while playing catcher, which is huge.

Other MVP candidates in 1994, had Bagwell not won, included Tony Gwynn (.394/.454/.568) and, of course, Greg Maddux (16-6 with a 1.56 ERA).

Incidentally, imagine if Matt Williams had hit 61 or 62 homers in 1994 and tied or broken Maris' record. How much would that have taken away from the McGwire/Sosa show in 1998? I'd have to guess it would have almost completely wiped away it's prestige, especially considering the lack of fanfare Bonds received when he broke McGwire's record in 2001.

Remember yesterday, when I asked if it was okay to call Joe Morgan an idiot because he continues to act as if Billy Beane wrote Moneyball and he continues to bash Beane and the A's every chance he gets because of it? Well, the real author of Moneyball, Michael Lewis, appearanced at a Barnes and Nobles in Boston last night and fellow blogger Jeremy Wahlman was in attendance. Jeremy emailed me after he got home to say that he told Lewis about Joe Morgan believing Beane wrote the book. He also wrote a blog entry about it...

According to Jeremy:

"I was the first person in America to inform Mr. Lewis that Joe Morgan, for all of his baseball knowledge, lacks the reading comprehension skills to discern between the subject and author of the book. The comment cracked up both Lewis and the crowd."

The way things are going, pretty soon everyone in the entire universe will know that Joe Morgan incorrectly thinks Billy Beane wrote the book. Except Joe Morgan, of course. Joe can't be bothered with such useless information apparently, he's probably too busy being an "insider" and pondering the value of "productive outs" and such.

By the way, Jeremy also has an interesting note about a supposed plan of the A's prior to the 2002 season that would have been extraordinarily interesting, to say the least. Go check it out:

Jeremy Wahlman's "Something's Always Wrong"

Today's picks:

Milwaukee (Kinney) -100 over New York (Bacsik)

Seattle (Moyer) +110 over Philadelphia (Millwood)

Oakland (Mulder) -150 over Florida (Penny)

New York (Pettitte) -160 over Cincinnati (Haynes)

Texas (Valdes) +180 over Atlanta (Ortiz)

Chicago (Loaiza) +105 over Arizona (Batista)

San Francisco (Moss) -150 over Minnesota (Mays)

Total to date: + $1,490

W/L record: 110-106 (1-2 yesterday for just -80, thanks to a +200 on Shawn Chacon against the Giants)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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