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Friday, February 07, 2014

Newhouser is best Tigers’ pitcher ever, but several right-handers are bunched together after that

Only dust and a no plaque
That reads, “Here Lies Poor Old Jack”

The history of Tiger pitching is so multifaceted that you see a different name atop almost every career leaderboard, depending on the stat. Today, though, most analysts would agree that two new metrics are by far the most meaningful for pitchers: ERA+ and WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

ERA+ adjusts for the disparities among different baseball milieus over time by calculating how a pitcher’s earned run average compares to his peers. Preventing runs is clearly the key job of any pitcher, and ERA does a pretty good job of measuring that skill, particularly when adjusted for the era. An ERA+ of 100 is league average. This handy measuring stick yields this interesting leaderboard: Newhouser 130, Verlander 127, Bridges 126, Trout 125 (stats with Detroit only) — a ranking that conforms pretty closely both to the well-informed and intuitive judgments of longtime Tiger fans. (FYI — Jim Bunning and Frank Lary come in at 116, McLain at 110, Morris at 108, Lolich at 105, and Dauss and Mullin are just above league average at 102)

If you then employ career WAR to add in the missing key factor of longevity, here’s the fascinating result, according to Baseball Reference.com’s WAR figures: Newhouser 59.0, Bridges 52.5, Lolich 47.5, Trout 45.2, Verlander 40.7, Morris 39.7, Dauss 35.2, Mullin 35.1. These rankings seem just about right to me: I’ve already pegged Prince Hal as the best Tiger hurler ever and Lolich as clearly the second-best lefty. Among other starters, Bridges and Trout are usually considered neck-and-neck behind Newhouser, and our two most best metrics bear that out. But they also say that Verlander is on pace, barring injury, to catch and surpass each of them.

...Measuring by ERA+, Verlander is already at least the equal of Bridges and Trout. In his eight full seasons, Verlander has been about a three-win player on average. If he continues to have roughly that kind of value, by the end of 2015 he’ll pass Trout in career WAR, in 2016 he’ll surpass Lolich, and by the time the 2017 season is done, he’ll be right there with Bridges.

At that point, if his health holds up and his skills don’t significantly erode, you could put Verlander’s name in ink as the all-time No. 1 Tiger right-handed starter, and he might then start an exciting stretch drive to challenge Newhouser as the best Detroit pitcher ever. That’s all a bit premature, however. Today, Bridges still edges out Trout and JV. But Tommy and Dizzy have a thoroughbred breathing down their necks.

Repoz Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:02 AM | 43 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, tigers

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   1. AROM Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:45 AM (#4653160)
In his eight full seasons, Verlander has been about a three-win player on average.


Can't be right, since he's got 40.7 WAR in that time. If he keeps up at a 5 win pace he's 4 years away from Newhouser.
   2. SG Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:51 AM (#4653163)
Maybe he's looking at wins above average despite talking about WAR?
   3. AROM Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:56 AM (#4653168)
Newhouser had the 2 MVP seasons during the last 2 years of WW2, but his 1946 season (26-9, 1.94 ERA, 275 strikeouts) might be his best.

You could say that the league quality took a bit of time to recover to pre-war levels. Many of the returning vets may have needed some time to readjust. Ted Williams (342/497/667) did not. Joe DiMaggio (290/367/511) may not have been 100% of himself but having even a diminished Joe meant a tougher league for the pitchers. Hank Greenberg led the league in HR and RBI in 1946, though Newhouser didn't have to face him. Hal was still an ace-level (but not quite MVP level) pitcher from 1947-1949.

After that, it's probably just a case of the workload getting to him. He's just one of many pitchers through history to pitch a ton in his 20's and find his arm shredded around 30.
   4. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:57 AM (#4653169)
EDIT: Forget it, should have refreshed :)
   5. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:20 PM (#4653182)
If Hal Newhouser is the best pitcher the Tigers can dig up after 113 years, that doesn't say much for the Tigers. Of the original 16 franchises, only the Pirates and the Reds can't come up with anything better, and their top pitchers didn't have the advantage of playing against a bunch of 4-F's, teenagers, and Social Security beneficiaries.
   6. AROM Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:42 PM (#4653203)
For the Yankees, their top starter Ford is only barely better. He beats Hal by 170 innings and 3 points of ERA+, but most of his W-L advantage is the lineup he had supporting him. I'm only counting years actually pitching in a Yankee uniform, so Clemens is not in the discussion.

If I don't restrict to starters, Rivera is the best Yankee pitcher of all time.

   7. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:46 PM (#4653205)
If Hal Newhouser is the best pitcher the Tigers can dig up after 113 years, that doesn't say much for the Tigers. Of the original 16 franchises, only the Pirates and the Reds can't come up with anything better, and their top pitchers didn't have the advantage of playing against a bunch of 4-F's, teenagers, and Social Security beneficiaries.


OTOH, the Tigers can come up with a lot of pitchers better than the best the Pirates or Reds have to offer, with or without war advantages.

   8. AROM Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:48 PM (#4653208)
Other original AL teams:

Red Sox: Clemens/Cy Young (almost the exact record pitching for the team)
Orioles: Palmer (easy choice)
White Sox: You'd have to go way back, Red Faber or Ted Lyons.
Indians: Feller, another easy one
Twins/Senators: Walter Johnson, easiest choice of all
A's: Lefty Grove. WAR says Eddie Plank, but Grove is close and wins easy on peak.
   9. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:48 PM (#4653209)
Well, Ford missed two full seasons to the military (I wonder why Newhouser didn't), after having clearly established he was ready for the Big Show in his rookie season.
   10. Blackadder Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:57 PM (#4653218)
WAR really docks Ford pretty heavily relative to ERA+/IP, basically because of league adjustments and defensive support. If WAR is right about Ford he's honestly a pretty marginal Hall of Famer.
   11. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:58 PM (#4653221)
Well, Ford missed two full seasons to the military (I wonder why Newhouser didn't)

his Wiki says: "Newhouser was 4-F due to a leaky heart valve; he attempted to join the service anyway but was turned down several times"
   12. AROM Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:59 PM (#4653222)
NL:

Braves: Spahn (Nichols leads in WAR, Spahn gets WW2 credit)
Cubs: Jenkins
Cincy: ??? I might even pick Rijo here. Pretty sad.
LA: Koufax (Drydsale and Vance slightly ahead in career WAR)
Philly: Carlton (Roberts close)
Pit: ??? Babe Adams?
Giants: Matty
Cards: Gibson
   13. DL from MN Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:05 PM (#4653227)
Speaking of war - WWII makes a big difference here. Newhouser pitched through the soft war years and dominated. Tommy Bridges missed 1944 and nearly all of 1945 serving his country. Give Bridges two more years and discount what Newhouser did due to quality of competition and it gets a lot closer.
   14. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:10 PM (#4653233)
How many expansion era teams beat the Reds and Pirates?

Royals (Saberhagen), Astros (Oswalt), Diamondbacks (Johnson), Mariners (Johnson), Mets (Seaver), Jays (Stieb), Expos (Rogers), Angels (Finley) seem like they all beat them.

Rangers (Rogers?), Brewers (Higuera), Rays (Price), Marlins (Willis?), Rockies (Jimenez, Cook?) are the only ones the Reds/Pirates likely eclipse.
   15. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:13 PM (#4653237)
I'd take Billy Pierce or Ed Walsh for the White Sox pick.
   16. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:21 PM (#4653242)
I would give the Greatest Pirate Pitcher nod to Bob Friend. Almost the same WAR as Adams, not quite the peak but pitching in the 1950s and 1960s was a lot more difficult than pitching in the 1900s and 1910s, I think, in terms of quality of competition.
   17. Traderdave Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:35 PM (#4653250)
He didn't come up with the Reds, but Eppa Rixey put up almost 3000 innings of 118 ERA+ for the Reds.
   18. AndrewJ Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:38 PM (#4653253)
Philly: Carlton (Roberts close)

Alexander, if we're talking peak value.
   19. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:57 PM (#4653270)
Rixey was an excellent pitcher for the Reds.

Paul Derringer is sort of a DIPS test case. In 1936 Derringer was 2nd in the league in K/BB and 8th in fewest homers per 9, and finished with a 95 ERA+. Even after the Reds actually got good Derringer kept giving up a high BABIP for some reason. On Fangraphs, Derringer's WAR is higher than Faber and Bret Saberhagen (and of course Whitey Ford).

Bob Friend is similar.
   20. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:23 PM (#4653289)
From my dice-baseball days I remember Wilbur Cooper as the best Pirate starter (and that was 40 years ago and nobody's displaced him, or Adams, or Friend). Cooper was consistently very good over a long career, and is still the only guy to win 200 or more for Pittsburgh. Friend pitched about a season's worth more innings for the club while winning 11 fewer, and exactly ties Cooper on the Pirates WAR leaderboard, a tiny bit behind Adams.
   21. Dolf Lucky Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:28 PM (#4653294)
My votes for Reds top pitcher: Bucky Walters or Dolf Luque (natch). The point about the weak Cincy pitching history still stands.
   22. Traderdave Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:34 PM (#4653298)
Who needs pitching when you have a factory producing toolsy outfielders?
   23. DL from MN Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:05 PM (#4653323)
Off the top of my head I'd give Cincy's best to Bucky Walters.
   24. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:08 PM (#4653327)
Red Sox: Clemens/Cy Young (almost the exact record pitching for the team)

By W/L record. Clemens has a hefty lead in WAR/WAA though. But if you are going solely by W/L I would think Pedro has a decent shout. Same win differential, at a much higher W%.
Player         W   L   W-L W%
Cy Young       192 112 +80 63.2
Roger Clemens  192 111 
+81 63.4
Pedro Martinez 117 37  
+80 76 


Edit: BTW, by the way, I am probably the only person annoyed by this: But it bugs me that bred gives W-L% as e.g. .632. If you put percentage in the name, either give actual percentages, or call it win rate or something...
   25. WahooSam Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:17 PM (#4653330)
I am guessing Dave Stieb and Steve Rogers for the Canadian teams
   26. Mike Emeigh Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:18 PM (#4653331)
Even after the Reds actually got good Derringer kept giving up a high BABIP for some reason.


with a good defense behind him, too - as Chris Jaffe noted in his book, Bill McKechnie placed a premium on defense.

-- MWE
   27. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:32 PM (#4653338)
I think you can make a case for Halladay for the Jays. Though I'm really not sure who I pick between him and Stieb.

Halladay 148-76 (.661%), 2046 IP, 48.5 WAR, 133 ERA+
Stieb 175-134 (.566%), 2873 IP, 57.4 WAR, 123 ERA+

I probably would lean towards Stieb now that I think about it based on innings...but it's close.

   28. alilisd Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:00 PM (#4653358)
Tommy Bridges missed 1944 and nearly all of 1945 serving his country.


He did? He was 37 in 1944, what was he doing?
   29. AROM Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:08 PM (#4653365)
That 1940 Reds team had one of the best defenses ever, and did it with a lineup that few people would recognize today. Only C Ernie Lombardi is a name commonly known.

Runs allowed: 528, league avg 678, 2nd place 621

DER: .730, league .701, 2nd place .714

Errors: 117, league 174, 2nd place 139

Lonnie Frey had the best fielding stats of the bunch, +25 runs. That was his career best but he was consistently very good at second. Missed 2 years due to WW2 towards the back end of his prime, finished with 39 WAR. Definitely a HOVG career.
   30. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 04:32 PM (#4653379)
Frey, Billy Werber, and Eddie Joost have the distinction of living almost 300 years combined. But I only know that because our local SABR chapter president, Paul Rogers, collaborated with Werber on an (excellent) memoir. Harry Craft is another 1940 Red with Texas connections (he was later the first manager of the Houston NL Colts, and IIRC one of the Cubs' "College of Coaches.")
   31. bjhanke Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:50 PM (#4653501)
That the Tigers never had a better pitcher is the main reason that Ty Cobb never won a World Series. The best Tiger pitcher in the years that Cobb got into a Series was George Mullin. You can win a pennant with offense alone, but not a WS. If your best hurler is Mullin, you've got a problem.

The Reds of 1939-40 won because 1) all four of their infielders, none of whom is a Hall of Famer but all of whom had solid gold gloves, all had their career peaks right at the same time, led by 1B Frank McCormick, and 2) Bill McKechnie, for some reason, thought that Ernie Lombardi's defense was good enough, giving the Reds one real serious bat in the lineup. Since Bill was an absolute glove freak, this decision is probably the least-typical of Bill's entire career. But it did work. The Cincy outfields of 1939 and 1940 may have been the worst ever to get into a Series, and almost certainly the worst to ever win one. Only Ival Goodman, in 1939, had anything like a decent offensive season. The scoring was up to the four infielders and Lombardi. - Brock Hanke
   32. God Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:03 PM (#4653505)
This should be the next Hall of Merit voting project.

I'm going to go compare them at BB-Ref right now, but I must admit on first glance I was surprised that anyone would pick Jenkins over Brown for the Cubs.

EDIT: WAR says Jenkins, 53 to 45. I'm not sure I completely buy it. It's 2,329 innings of 153 ERA+ for Brown versus 2,673 innings of 119 ERA+ for Jenkins. You've gotta take Brown unless there's some serious timelining.
   33. God Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:14 PM (#4653510)
He did? He was 37 in 1944, what was he doing?


He ran the baseball teams at a couple of stateside Army bases.

It only takes a few seconds to look up any player's war record at Baseball in Wartime.
   34. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:02 PM (#4653516)
Brock: It may simply be that by the time McKechnie took over Lombardi was too popular in Cincinati to get rid of.

God: I think serious timelining between 1910 and 1970 is well justified, personally.
   35. God Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:25 PM (#4653534)
34 - I'm not opposed to the idea of timelining, but I don't see anyone ranking Walter Johnson 15th on the all-time pitchers list.

In the case of Brown vs. Jenkins, Three-Finger also gets a good amount of playoff credit if you're into that sort of thing.
   36. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:36 PM (#4653538)
Johnson might be around the bottom of the top ten for me--the trickiest thing about timelining is the massive innings guys like Johnson and Young racked up.
   37. DL from MN Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:56 PM (#4653546)
This should be the next Hall of Merit voting project.


We got all of 11 voters for the last MMP election.
   38. God Posted: February 08, 2014 at 12:09 AM (#4653548)
We got all of 11 voters for the last MMP election.


I bet there were a lot more interested lurkers, though (of which I am one).

I would have voted in those things, but I (and quite a few others, I'm sure) have been intimidated by all the regulations and required disclosures. I'm willing to spend an hour on Baseball-Reference researching a ballot, but more than that I can't really do. Since this would be a different project, you could relax the rules a little and make it possible for people like me, who don't have a "system" and haven't spent months studying the issue, to vote.
   39. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: February 08, 2014 at 10:32 AM (#4653608)
WAR says Jenkins, 53 to 45. I'm not sure I completely buy it. It's 2,329 innings of 153 ERA+ for Brown versus 2,673 innings of 119 ERA+ for Jenkins. You've gotta take Brown unless there's some serious timelining.


There's also a defense issue in there. I think the consensus at this point is that the gloves of Tinker, Evers, Chance, et. al. are responsible for a huge chunk of that 153 ERA+ on Brown.
   40. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: February 08, 2014 at 10:39 AM (#4653610)
You should also remember that the percentage of run prevention that was defense, as opposed to pitching, was a lot higher in 1910 than in 1970. In Brown's time, any pitcher that joined the Cubs saw his ERA drop by a run overnight.
   41. Lassus Posted: February 08, 2014 at 11:40 AM (#4653619)
Royals (Saberhagen), Astros (Oswalt), Diamondbacks (Johnson), Mariners (Johnson), Mets (Seaver), Jays (Stieb), Expos (Rogers), Angels (Finley) seem like they all beat them.

Does anyone here beat Seaver?
   42. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: February 08, 2014 at 12:00 PM (#4653625)
Does anyone here beat Seaver?


Of the expansion franchises, absolutely not. Hell, his Mets work is probably better than all but a handful of pre-expansion teams (Washington/Minn., NYG/SFG, Bos/Mil/Atl. for sure, plus Boston and St. Louis are probably ahead as well, with Cleveland in the mix if you're the war credit type.)

I did forget the Padres on my original list of expansion franchises. Their best (Peavy) is not as good as either the Reds or Pirates best.

   43. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 08, 2014 at 12:08 PM (#4653631)
There's also a defense issue in there. I think the consensus at this point is that the gloves of Tinker, Evers, Chance, et. al. are responsible for a huge chunk of that 153 ERA+ on Brown.


You should also remember that the percentage of run prevention that was defense, as opposed to pitching, was a lot higher in 1910 than in 1970. In Brown's time, any pitcher that joined the Cubs saw his ERA drop by a run overnight.

That's certainly a strong possibility if Defensive Efficiency is the best metric to measure that. Just looking at 1906-10, the Cubs' DE was higher than the NL average by .038, .028, .012, .023 and .020. By contrast, from 2009 through 2013, the gap between the NL leader and the NL average was .021, .028, .011, .014 and .021. Not that enormous a difference, but here's the key point: During those 5 earlier years, the Cubs led the NL 4 times and were but .004 behind Pittsburgh in the one year they didn't. Whereas in 2009-2013 there were 4 different leaders, with only the Reds being multiple winners in 2011 and 2013. So clearly a Cubs pitcher in the Tinker-Evers-Chance era had a big advantage over his contemporaries on other teams, whereas for a pitcher today to gain any sort of comparable advantage, he'd have to keep switching teams every year.

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