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Comparing pitchers from different eras (derived from Koufax vs. Kershaw thread)

daltexdaltex Posts: 3,486 ✭✭✭✭✭

Tl;dr: existing pitcher metrics are unsatisfactory.

In the sports memorabilia forum, there is a thread asking whether Kershaw or Koufax is the best Dodger pitcher of all time, though IMO, a very strong case can be made for Dazzy Vance being better than Koufax (still much worse than Kershaw). Anyway, one of the arguments for Koufax' superiority is that he had more complete games in both 1965 and 1966 than Kershaw has so far had in his entire career.

Obviously it is impossible to compare pitchers of different eras using traditional stats. For example, which season was best of Dutch Leonard's 1914, Lefty Grove's 1936, Bob Gibson's 1968, and Pedro Martinez' 2000? And yes, I know that three of the four are Red Sox. All four great seasons, but two are much better than the other two, and using traditional stats won't tell you which.

But while advanced stats do a pretty good job with hitting, and are horrible (but better than gold gloves) when it comes to fielding, pitching has changed so much that advanced stats can't keep up. Some try to solve this by only considering the "modern" (post 1920) era, refusing to evaluate guys like Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and most of Walter Johnson. Baseball Reference uses something called WAR7Adj which scales each season to a maximum 250 IP which has the effect of reducing, say, John Clarkson from 11th to 29th. This is, of course, not satisfactory because a) it's a pretty arbitrary cutoff, and b) Clarkson really did pitch 623 innings in 1885 (68 complete games! with a 53-16 record and a 1.85 ERA) and it's just not fair to normalize it to, say, Chief Bender's 1910. Both players are then left with a 5.1 (Clarkson 5.17) adjusted WAR. It's probably not right to equate the two seasons, but by how much should Clarkson's season be considered better?

Charlie Radbourne had 108 wins in 1883-4. During that time, Providence only played 220 games. Clearly, baseball was a very different game then. Today (last year) there were only 45 pitchers to even pitch 162 innings, that is the minimum to even qualify for the ERA title. None even came close to the "normalized" 250 innings. Does that mean that in the near future we'll need to recalculate WAR7Adj to reflect the much greater number of innings pitched in the 1980s (109 seasons of 250 or more)?

1884 is a fun year. Only 62 players stepped on the mound in the National League, including some guy who may have been named pitched to five batters, all of whom reached base. 42 pitched more than 9 innings. 8 teams, but Boston and Cleveland used only five pitchers each.

So, how many, or which, of the 19th century pitchers deserve the HoF?

I don't know the answers here. I hope I've at least brought up the question of how to fairly compare not only Koufax to Kershaw, but also Dazzy Vance and even Nap Rucker or Bob Caruthers, neither of whom are under serious consideration for best Dodger pitcher of all time, but who should be considered best of his era. And of course this can, and should, be extended to other teams and the major leagues as a whole.

Comments

  • perkdogperkdog Posts: 29,461 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Just give me Greg Maddox and Randy Johnson and I'm happy

  • 1948_Swell_Robinson1948_Swell_Robinson Posts: 1,681 ✭✭✭✭

    We are at the point where comparing a pitcher from 2023 to 1913 is nearly impossible for the reasons you stated.

  • craig44craig44 Posts: 10,503 ✭✭✭✭✭

    i believe the only close to accurate way to compare players across eras is to arrive at how dominant player A was against his peers, then compare that level of dominance to how well player B compared to his peers. baseball has changed a ton in the last 150 years. likewise, try comparing players from the 1925 NFL to todays players. it is almost a completely different game.

    that is my methodology.

    George Brett, Roger Clemens and Tommy Brady.

  • coinkatcoinkat Posts: 22,764 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Great to see an effort to look at the seasons of various stars of the past- I welcome the tribute. There is only so much that fits into the space so it is a start which is better than nothing. The history of the game is simply to important to ignore.

    Discussing and comparing careers that are decades apart when the game was smaller and different is ambitious. And while it will produce disagreements, it will at least shine the spot light on some deserving players who may rarely get the look that matches their contribution to the development and progression of MLB.

    Experience the World through Numismatics...it's more than you can imagine.

  • 1948_Swell_Robinson1948_Swell_Robinson Posts: 1,681 ✭✭✭✭

    @craig44 said:
    i believe the only close to accurate way to compare players across eras is to arrive at how dominant player A was against his peers, then compare that level of dominance to how well player B compared to his peers. baseball has changed a ton in the last 150 years. likewise, try comparing players from the 1925 NFL to todays players. it is almost a completely different game.

    that is my methodology.

    That gets ya about 90% there. The fun comes filling in the extra variables. Sports talk wouldn't be fun without that.

  • daltexdaltex Posts: 3,486 ✭✭✭✭✭

    One thing which is perhaps not obvious without some extrapolation is how much more important pitching has become over time. Much more important today than it was in Clemens' day, much more important in Clemens' than in Perry's, much more important in Perry's than in Koufax', etc., etc., etc. And you can see that in the way pitchers were used.

    Again, look at the 1884 stats and you'll see pitcher wasn't that different from any other defensive position. 130 years later more than half an active roster was pitchers.

  • dallasactuarydallasactuary Posts: 4,113 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @daltex said:
    Again, look at the 1884 stats and you'll see pitcher wasn't that different from any other defensive position. 130 years later more than half an active roster was pitchers.

    I would argue that today's active rosters have too many pitchers on them. The "role" of the starting pitcher is to last 5 or 6 innings and then give way to a lesser pitcher, who gives way to a lesser pitcher, etc. Every roster has a handful of truly bad pitchers on it just so the best pitchers don't have to pitch as many innings as was common until fairly recently. The thinking seems to be that a team has to preserve their starting pitchers arms so that they are in "like new" condition when they become free agents and go pitch for some other team. There is no good reason why any team's starting five can't pitch 950-1000 innings, with the best pitching 250 and the worst 150. And if they did, each team could have 10-11 pitchers, get more innings out of their best pitchers, and have room for more bats on their roster.

    This is for you @thisistheshow - Jim Rice was actually a pretty good player.
  • daltexdaltex Posts: 3,486 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @dallasactuary said:

    @daltex said:
    Again, look at the 1884 stats and you'll see pitcher wasn't that different from any other defensive position. 130 years later more than half an active roster was pitchers.

    I would argue that today's active rosters have too many pitchers on them. The "role" of the starting pitcher is to last 5 or 6 innings and then give way to a lesser pitcher, who gives way to a lesser pitcher, etc. Every roster has a handful of truly bad pitchers on it just so the best pitchers don't have to pitch as many innings as was common until fairly recently. The thinking seems to be that a team has to preserve their starting pitchers arms so that they are in "like new" condition when they become free agents and go pitch for some other team. There is no good reason why any team's starting five can't pitch 950-1000 innings, with the best pitching 250 and the worst 150. And if they did, each team could have 10-11 pitchers, get more innings out of their best pitchers, and have room for more bats on their roster.

    I don't disagree on (any of) the numbers, but do with the reasoning. It's not unreasonable to think that, say on 25 August, the Braves might have thought that rather than have Spencer Strider face the Giants lineup a fourth time, a fading Spencer Strider no doubt who had already thrown 94 pitches, instead bring in a fresh Joe Jimenez (and a couple of batters early to save a "get up-sit down") for five batters and Rasiel Iglesias for the final four? And pitchers can throw harder these days than they could on, say, the 1980 Oakland A's who had 95 complete games.

    Bottom line is that pitching has steadily become more important over time. And there must be some reason why the Braves have found it worthwhile to give Collin McHugh 55 innings so far this year.

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