Jim Hunter, dominance and WHIP
I don't know if this is my longest list, but it's close. I did something similar awhile back with hitters when the topic was Vlad Guerrero''s HOF bona fides. There, I calculated a "sustained dominance" statistic by looking only at those seasons where a hitter was in the top 10 in the OPS+ standings, and awarded 10 points for first, 9 for second, etc., and completely ignored all of their other seasons. That statistic, or my new one for pitchers, isn't a great way to capture a player's overall value, but it gives a pretty good look, I think, at how dominant a player really was, and for how long.
For hitters I used the very simple formula above, and it works because all great hitters come to bat more or less the same number of times in a season, and a player needs 502 appearances in any event to qualify for the top 10. But with pitchers, where only 162 innings are needed to qualify for a top 10, there may be other pitchers who are pitching twice as many innings as others. So the formula for pitchers is the same 10, 9, 8, ..., using ERA+ instead of OPS+, but then multiplying that by the number of innings pitched. Logically, I think this works. Coming in first in ERA+ with 175 innings is roughly half as dominant as coming in first with 350 innings. Since this created absurdly large numbers I normalized all the results so that the top score was about 100.
For my universe of pitchers I started with Hunter and then (from memory, so I may very well have left some people out - tell me if someone with a meaningful score is missing) added every starting pitcher whose career meaningfully overlapped with Hunter's. So there are pitchers whose careers ended in the late 60's and others whose careers started in the mid-70's, as well as several who started before Hunter and were still going when he retired and various other overlaps.
Herewith the list:
G. Perry 51.06
P. Niekro 44.22
J. Perry 26.41
L. Jackson 19.27
R. Jones 14.07
J. Niekro 9.60
D. Wilson 8.34
K. Forsch 5.70
A. Jackson 5.17
B. Forsch 5.11
E. Wilson 2.35
You'll note that the first nine are HOFers, and I think in a slightly revised order these are the nine best pitchers from this era. I don't know how meaningful that is, but it serves as a sort of reality check in any event. I think that a solid HOF case can be made for every pitcher with a score north of 40 - the top 9 plus Ryan, McDowell and Tiant. Below that the only other HOFers are Sutton and Jenkins (not terribly dominant, but very, very good for a very, very long time), Eckersley (this stat captures only his years as a starter), and Hunter (you'll find him right below Joe Horlen and right above Sonny Siebert) and Morris (below a few names I'm willing to bet some of you have never heard before). Of the non-HOFers below 40, I don't think a good HOF case could be made for any of them.
And note that Hunter does beat Koosman and Pappas and a few others who I think were better pitchers than Hunter. The reason this happens, and if this comports with your view of what the HOF should be then this is a feature not a bug, is that this method ignores bad seasons. When Hunter was at his best he was better than Pappas and Koosman at their best and he gets points for that. When Hunter was at his worst he was worse than Pappas and Koosman at their worst, but there's no offset for that here. He still loses to Blue - there's no reasonable way to get Hunter past Blue on any list.
And a thought occurred to me in creating this list that I haven't mentioned or seen mentioned. One of the less bad arguments for Hunter's greatness is that his WHIP was very low. Leaving aside that this is mostly due to pitching in Oakland, a low WHIP is generally a good thing and generally an indicator of a great pitcher. But, and it was the relatively low ranking of Fergie Jenkins - another low WHIP pitcher - that brought it into focus, when an inordinate percentage of the hits a pitcher allows are home runs, WHIP does a really poor job of capturing the pitcher's value. I won't go back and check this for every pitcher on the list (hold your applause), but a sample:
Hunter: WHIP of 1.13; HR=12.6% of hits allowed
Koosman: 1.26, 8.0%
Tiant: 1.20, 11.3%
McDowell: 1.31, 8.4%
Blue: 1.23, 8.9%
Hunter's WHIP is 6% better than Tiant's and up to 15% better than McDowell's. But if we adjust their WHIP's for their HR allowed - (walks + hits + 3*HR)/Innings - we get this:
Hunter is still the lowest in the group but his 6%-15% margin is now 1%-3%. If you compare him to the great pitchers his lead disappears entirely (just a small sample):
Palmer: WHIP 1.18 - adjusted WHIP 1.41 (down 4% to Hunter - then up 4% on Hunter)
Perry: WHIP 1.18 - adjusted WHIP 1.40 (same thing)
Gibson: 1.19 - 1.39 (down 5%, then up 5%)
Constructive criticism of the list and the methodology are, as always, welcome. Telling me that the results are screwy without explaining why and how you know that will be met with the derision it deserves.
Official defender of Ron Santo
Official defender of Bert Blyleven
Official defender of Bill Mazeroski
Jim Rice sucks
Jack Morris sucks and blows simultaneously.