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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Posnanski: At WAR with Pedro

The W.A.N.D. (The Whiff Always Negates Defeat)

Somebody asked me this question on Twitter: If I could have any pitcher from any time pitch one game… who would I choose?

I immediately typed: Pedro. 1999… Any baseball pitching question can be answered, somehow, by: Pedro, 1999. I would actually like to answer ALL questions that way. When I go fill up gas, and the little pump screen asks: “Cash or Credit” I’d love to be able to type in: Pedro, 1999.

Anyway, the choice lit up the Twitter lines with the expected objections…

Am I the only one who gets kind of annoyed when people put some sort of finality stamp at the end of their opinions? You know what I mean by finality stamp — someone will not just say “Sandy Koufax in 1965 was quite sprightly.” No, they will say something like “Koufax. 1965. End of story.” Or: “Gibson. 1968. The end.” Or: “Carlton. 1972. Period.” Or: “Old Hoss. 1884. Goodbye.”

What are these emphatic termination words supposed to achieve? I mean YOU put those words there, right? I didn’t miss some mediator coming in and ending declaring your viewpoint supreme, did I? It’s not like you pulled Marshall McLuhan out of nowhere to confirm your opinion … YOU confirmed your opinion. How does that mean anything? Is this like the Internet equivalent of taking off your shoe and clomping it on the table like a gavel? Stop doing that. It’s stupid. Period. End of story. Goodbye.

Anyway there was one alternative to Pedro 1999 suggestion that I found interesting for a completely different reason.

The suggestion: Pedro in 2000…

Baseball Reference WAR values the 2000 season more because Pedro Martinez gave up fewer runs and fewer hits… Fangraphs WAR… deals with the three things that Fangraphs believes a pitcher can control: Strikeouts, walks and home runs… Fangraphs thinks 1999 was a clearly better season…

right now I lean just a touch more to the Fangraphs side. I think Pedro pitched a little bit better in 1999 than he was in 2000… [Tom] Tango, when looking at Baseball Reference WAR, at Fangraphs WAR will split the difference.

This would make Pedro’s 1999 and 2000 seasons almost EXACTLY EVEN.

Which, if you think about it, is a good way to end this. Period.

The District Attorney Posted: March 27, 2014 at 04:55 PM | 35 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: boston, history, joe posnanski, pedro martinez, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Nasty Nate Posted: March 27, 2014 at 05:19 PM (#4677983)
The peak of his peak continued into 2001 before injury. At the end of May he was sitting at 7-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 121 K's in 81 innings.
   2. OCF Posted: March 27, 2014 at 05:27 PM (#4677990)
RA+ Pythagorean equivalent record, based on one equivalent decision for each 9 IP, is pretty simple minded, but I've been using it.

That system likes Pedro 2000 at 21-3 a lot better than Pedro 1999 at 19-4.

As for that two-year record of 40-7: Actually, it rounds to 41-7. But in a ranking I did, it came in second for post-WWII pitchers behind Gibson '68-'69 at 51-18. Of course, you could rank that any way you wanted to. Gibson had many more innings, but in those extra innings he was the equivalent of 10-11. Now, 10-11 has significant value above replacement - but not above average.

If you move to 3-year and 4-year records, Pedro is clearly on top: 61-13 for three year record and 82-19 for four year record. Koufax does come in second on the four year list (but note that I have not counted the pitcher's own hitting - if you do, that always weighs against Koufax.) For Koufax, I get a 4-year equivalent record of 94-38. So for all of Koufax's extra innings over those four years, he netted 12-19, which is sub-replacement.

Oh, and returning to the two year list: I have Maddux '94-'95 at 38-8. Which is only a little behind Pedro, and that's with both years being strike-shortened.
   3. Sunday silence Posted: March 27, 2014 at 05:36 PM (#4677998)
what if you could take one batter for one AB who would it be? Dale Long that week he 7 HR? or what if you coudl have one batter for one AB vs one pitcher for one game? E.g. Ewell Blackwell vs Dale Long And you could have like one fielder for one game to play that one AB? Who would it be? Tommy Agee?
   4. Alex meets the threshold for granular review Posted: March 27, 2014 at 05:42 PM (#4678001)
what if you could take one batter for one AB who would it be?


John Paciorek.
   5. Shredder Posted: March 27, 2014 at 05:47 PM (#4678004)
The problem with questions like these is that they basically get down to "who had the better peak", maybe with a little "who was the most clutch" mixed in. But why not 1997 Pedro, who set career highs in innings pitched and complete games that year? I'm thinking if I have one guy to win one game, I want to be pretty sure I can get him through all nine innings. He was still pretty darn good that year.

Also, while I'm checking it out, why does BRef (and maybe baseball stats in general) not consider a complete game a "game finished"? Is "Games Finished" only a stat noted for relievers?
   6. Flynn Posted: March 27, 2014 at 05:49 PM (#4678006)
The 1.32 DIPS ERA is what gets me every time about the 1999 season.
   7. An Athletic in Powderhorn™ Posted: March 27, 2014 at 05:56 PM (#4678009)
Is "Games Finished" only a stat noted for relievers?
For some reason B-Ref does not clarify, but I'm 98% sure that it is. As for why, I assume it's to differentiate games finished as a reliever from complete games.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:02 PM (#4678010)
The problem with questions like these is that they basically get down to "who had the better peak", maybe with a little "who was the most clutch" mixed in.

Why is that a problem? That's just what the question is.
   9. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:12 PM (#4678014)
Pos: Both of these seasons were smack in the middle of the Selig Era, when home runs flew like confetti

"Selig Era," eh? Someone hasn't gotten his copy of the history book about who gets to wear the white hats and who wears the black hats.
   10. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:19 PM (#4678016)
All time "win-one-game" position players
C Piazza 1997
1B Gehrig 1927
2B Hornsby 1924
SS Ripken 1991
3B Rosen 1953
LF Ruth 1921
CF Cobb 1917
RF Sosa 2001
DH Martinez 1995

batting order to be determined, but would it really matter?

Note: I don't agree with a lot of these choices--they just happen to represent the best single-season WAR for a player playing 70% of games at that position
   11. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:25 PM (#4678019)
what if you could take one batter for one AB who would it be?


I hate to state the obvious and anyone can throw out random names that had otherworldly peaks for short periods, but really the answer to this question has to be Ted Williams. The guy was simply the best at identifying and capitalising on any pitches he deemed hittable...for 20 years. If your ultimate goal is to not make an out, he is your guy.
   12. Canker Soriano Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:26 PM (#4678020)
I think your "Gehrig 1921" is probably in error.

If you're taking one pitcher for one game, and you can pick the game, it would be tough to pick against Kerry Wood's game in 1998. The Astros might as well have come to the plate without bats, for all the good they did.
   13. BDC Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:32 PM (#4678023)
That list in #10 is a very interesting illustration of the principle that career and peak are usually proxies for each other. Everybody but Sosa and Rosen is a reasonable candidate for greatest all-time career at his position – or at least was when he retired, and for a while afterward. Al Rosen offers the only huge discrepancy on the list between peak and career.

Not a splendid defensive team, though between scoring 19 runs a game and having Pedro 1999, Gagne 2003, and Eckersley 1990 on the mound, I guess they'd do OK.
   14. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:33 PM (#4678024)
I think your "Gehrig 1921" is probably in error.

thanks--edited to correct
   15. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:35 PM (#4678026)
Personally, I'd take Mantle's 57 over Cobb, and maybe Joe Morgan's 75 over Rajah. And there HAS to be some way to get Teddy Ballgame in there
   16. Rennie's Tenet Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:36 PM (#4678029)
Just to toss this in because he might not get mentioned among the bigger stars, but coming down the stretch in 1986 Mike Scott was about as good as anyone has been.
   17. Perry Posted: March 27, 2014 at 06:51 PM (#4678033)
Eric Davis's 1st half of 1987 projects out to 321/413/694, 59 HR, 164 R, 148 RBI, 72 SB, 6 CS.
   18. 'Spos Posted: March 27, 2014 at 07:06 PM (#4678038)
Mike Scott seconded. I didn't think anything could top that series.
   19. cardsfanboy Posted: March 27, 2014 at 11:53 PM (#4678052)
If we are allowed to pick a portion of a season for a player to go with.... Bob Gibson's 1968 from June 6th to July 30th... 11 gs, 99ip(not kidding) 3 runs, 3 earned runs, .390 ops against, 11-0 record, 0.27 era.... Of course most any great season is going to have a stretch like that (I'm not seeing anything special about Mike Scott though) Gooden's September in 1985 is more or less what people should strive for...
   20. GregD Posted: March 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM (#4678054)
(I'm not seeing anything special about Mike Scott though)
People are talking about the postseason. 2 games, 18 innings, 1 run, 19 strikeouts, 1 walk. Obviously it doesn't measure up to 11 games of Gibson, but it was pretty amazing to watch at the time. I remember thinking of Mathewson and the three-shutout series, but Scott was in context probably more impressive.
   21. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: March 28, 2014 at 12:07 AM (#4678055)
I'm very excited to see where Pedro places in Pos's top 50.
   22. Russlan is fond of Dillon Gee Posted: March 28, 2014 at 01:25 AM (#4678066)
I've always found Cobb's 1909 season to be pretty amazing. He won the traditional Triple Crown and and the saber triple crown (ba/obp/slg) and just for fun he lead the league in runs, hits and stolen bases (fantasy triple crown?).

I don't really know how anyone could be better than Barry Bonds was from 2001 and 2004. I can understand why someone might pick Ruth ahead of him because of the idea that he hit more home runs than other teams combined but that will never happen again. I just can't imagine Ruth being any better than Barry if you could magically bring him from that ERA into the modern one.
   23. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: March 28, 2014 at 01:30 AM (#4678068)
I just can't imagine Ruth being any better than Barry if you could magically bring him from that ERA into the modern one.


Except that if Ruth hadn't been among the best hitters in history he'd have had a decent shot of being a hall of fame quality pitcher as well.
   24. valuearbitrageur Posted: March 28, 2014 at 02:07 AM (#4678070)
what if you could take one batter for one AB who would it be


If Paciorek isn't available, second best is pretty obvious...

Eddie Gaedel
   25. cardsfanboy Posted: March 28, 2014 at 02:23 AM (#4678074)
People are talking about the postseason. 2 games, 18 innings, 1 run, 19 strikeouts, 1 walk. Obviously it doesn't measure up to 11 games of Gibson, but it was pretty amazing to watch at the time. I remember thinking of Mathewson and the three-shutout series, but Scott was in context probably more impressive.


thank you....for some reason I was thinking they were talking about his September or a stretch run.... Yes I agree...that is a nice performance.
   26. cardsfanboy Posted: March 28, 2014 at 02:29 AM (#4678075)
Except that if Ruth hadn't been among the best hitters in history he'd have had a decent shot of being a hall of fame quality pitcher as well.


Ruth literally redefined the game. There is no way to really compare any player in history or the future ever to Ruth. He absolutely wins the award for best player in the history of the game all time....and there is absolutely no chance that anyone will ever take over that title....
   27. PreservedFish Posted: March 28, 2014 at 02:43 AM (#4678076)
and there is absolutely no chance that anyone will ever take over that title....


I don't think that's true. No, we'll never again have a two-way player like Ruth, but a guy could win a dozen MVPs and a dozen WS rings and become widely recognized as the best player ever. It's possible. Most sports have had good "best ever" claimants in the last 20 years or so ... Jordan/LeBron, Peyton, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Gretzky ... it's a bit tougher for baseball because of the weight of its tradition, and also the fact that overt athleticism is not as immediately valuable.
   28. Mom makes botox doctors furious Posted: March 28, 2014 at 02:57 AM (#4678078)
"but a guy could win a dozen MVPs and a dozen WS rings and become widely recognized as the best player ever"


That will be Bryce Harper... : )
   29. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: March 28, 2014 at 03:02 AM (#4678079)
[10] How is Sosa 2001 ahead of Bonds 2001? Just move Ruth to right field. If you demand that more games be in right field than left, just make it 1923, which WAR says is a better season anyway.
   30. AndrewJ Posted: March 28, 2014 at 07:31 AM (#4678087)
Pedro's 2000 season had he pitched in Dodger Stadium in 1968 (h/t BB-Ref): 19-5, 0.95 ERA, 284 K, 24 BB, 96 H in 217 IP.
   31. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: March 28, 2014 at 07:57 AM (#4678095)
For a single season, I'd be pretty tempted to take Gooden in 1985.

Randy Johnson was amazing in that stretch with the Astros. 4.3 WAR in 11 starts.

For an all time single season team, I'd put 1927 Ruth in RF, 1993, 2001, or 2002 Bonds in LF, 1941 Williams at DH, and 1975 Morgan at 2B.
   32. WahooSam Posted: March 28, 2014 at 09:21 AM (#4678113)
I think Scott also clinched the pennant with a no-hitter that year
   33. Tom Nawrocki Posted: March 28, 2014 at 10:27 AM (#4678165)
For a single season, I'd be pretty tempted to take Gooden in 1985.


Here's Gooden from August 10, 1984, through May 10, 1986:

38-6, 1.47 ERA, 51 starts, 398.2 IP, 429 K, 98 BB.

   34. Perry Posted: March 28, 2014 at 11:35 AM (#4678208)
thank you....for some reason I was thinking they were talking about his September or a stretch run.... Yes I agree...that is a nice performance.


That's what gave the Mets' game 6 series-clinching win over the Astros some extra excitement (as if the game itself weren't enough)... Scott was ready for game 7 and everyone assumed the Mets would never touch him, he'd looked so unhittable in his two earlier starts. Also, as mentioned, he'd pitched a no-hitter to clinch the division.
   35. Moeball Posted: March 28, 2014 at 04:50 PM (#4678420)
That's what gave the Mets' game 6 series-clinching win over the Astros some extra excitement (as if the game itself weren't enough)... Scott was ready for game 7 and everyone assumed the Mets would never touch him, he'd looked so unhittable in his two earlier starts.


It wasn't just outsiders assuming what would happen in Game 7 - several Mets players themselves admitted they wanted no part of Scott in Game 7 and therefore were willing to play forever in Game 6 to win. They actually viewed Game 6 as if it was Game 7 - win or go home.

Now that we have breakouts of situational splits on years gone by some interesting things jump out at me. For example, look at the lefty-rightly splits for Don Drysdale in 1957.

I mention this for the following reason - BITD, in our society that discouraged left-handedness, happiness was being a right-handed pitcher, especially one who might occasionally drop the arm down into a side-arm motion. Pitchers like this had a tendency to be death on right-handed batters, absolutely unhittable (like Drysdale in 1957). But these pitchers could frequently be hit pretty well by lefties. If you had a lineup full of lefties you could get 5 runs a game or more off of these pitchers, and no one would have thought of them as dominant HOFers. But at that time, they still faced a majority of righty batters, despite the fact that righties couldn't hit a lick off of them. As such, there really weren't enough lefties around to take advantage of the pitcher's weaknesses.

I just used Drysdale as the example here, but there were lots of pitchers back then that had the same kind of platoon splits. Had teams back then employed as many lefties or switch-hitters as you see today, these pitchers would have been regularly hammered* and we wouldn't think of them as the greats we do today.

*Actually, to hear all the stories about Whitey and Mickey and Billy back in the fifties, apparently Whitey was one pitcher who was regularly hammered back then, but that's a different tale.

So why do I bring this up? Here's why:

.150/.190/.216

Those are Pedro's numbers against lefties in 2000. In a high-scoring era, in a hitter's park, in a time where teams didn't send lineups full of righties out there against a dominating RHP - but instead made sure that more than half of the lineup was lefties to best take advantage of the platoon situation - Pedro dominated left-handed batters in a fashion I've never seen before or since. Heck, you hardly even see LHPs hold lefty batters to a .190 OBA. For a righty like Pedro to do this was just unthinkable.

That's why I go with 2000 as my definition of peak Pedro. He made pitching to juiced up left handed batters look like he was pitching to the opposing team's pitchers. Just unreal.

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