Monday, July 23, 2012

Do the Braves have the best All-Time Rotation?

Recently, I was thinking about how awesome historical Braves pitchers have been and I began to wonder if they have the best 5-man rotation with their historic franchise players. That is, are the 5 best pitchers in Braves history better than the 5 best in any other franchise? Given that our top 5 are either Hall of Famers or soon-to-be Hall of Famers, I figured that we were definitely in the discussion.

So, I compiled a list of the top 5 franchise pitchers for each team and their stats while with that franchise. The pitchers chosen were those who accumulated the most WAR with the given franchise to account for both awesomeness and longevity. For instance, I didn't want the Blue Jays to get credit for more than just 2 years from Roger Clemens. For the sake of comparison, I used only pitchers that played the majority of their careers after 1900 and only used their stats while they were with the team. After compiling all the data from Baseball Reference, I chose the following several teams   for whom cases could be made. So with that, lets actually see where the Braves rank. 

Greg Maddux 63.7 11 2526.2 2.63 163 1.051
Warren Spahn 85.6 20 5046 3.05 120 1.189
Phil Niekro 85.1 20 4619.1 3.20 120 1..227
John Smoltz 63.2 20 3395 3.26 127 1.17
Tom Glavine 55 16 3344.2 3.37 123 1.29
352.6 87 18930.5

Phillies WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Steve Carlton 60.5 14 3614.1 3.02 123 1.198
Grover Cleveland Alexander 58.2 7 2492 2.12 143 1.066
Robin Roberts 65 14 3739.1 3.46 114 1.171
Curt Schilling 35.1 9 1659.1 3.35 126 1.12
Jim Bunning 29.6 4 1191.2 2.48 141 1.039
248.4 48 9081.4

Roger Clemens  77.7 13 2776 3.06 144 1.158
Pedro Martinez 51.9 7 1383.2 2.52 190 0.978
Cy Young 63.2 8 2728.1 2.00 147 0.97
Lefty Grove 42.5 8 1539.2 3.34 143 1.321
Lius Tiant 34.1 8 1774.2 3.36 118 1.201
269.4 44 10200.7

Brooklyn/LA Dodgers WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Dazzy Vance 59.8 11 2706.2 3.15 130 1.209
Don Drysdale 57.4 14 3432 2.95 121 1.148
Sandy Koufax 50.3 12 2324.1 2.76 131 1.106
Don Sutton 46.6 15 3729 3.07 111 1.117
Nap Rucker 45.5 10 2375.1 2.42 118 1.175
259.6 62 14566.4

Athletics WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Eddie Plank 69.5 14 3860.2 2.39 120 1.127
Lefty Grove 61.2 9 2401 2.88 151 1.278
Eddie Rommel 46.2 13 2556.1 3.54 121 1.351
Rube Waddell 44.5 6 2961.1 1.97 135 1.102
Tim Hudson 40.5 6 1240.2 3.30 136 1.222
261.9 48 13018.6

White Sox WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Red Faber 61.9 20 4086.2 3.15 119 1.302
Ted Lyons 60.7 21 4158.2 3.67 118 1.348
Ed Walsh 59.6 14 2946.1 1.81 146 0.995
Wilbur Wood 49.1 12 2524.2 3.18 114 1.232
Eddie Cicotte 47.2 9 2322.1 2.25 123 1.154
278.5 76 16036.8

Twins/Senators WAR Years IP ERA ERA+ WHIP
Walter Johnson 144.7 21 5914.1 2.17 147 1.061
Bert Blyleven 46.3 11 2566.2 3.28 119 1.186
Brad Radke 42.6 12 2451 4.22 113 1.260
Johan Santana 34 8 2019.1 3.22 141 1.128
Camilo Pascual 30.8 13 2930.2 3.66 106 1.295
298.4 65 15880.6

Christy Mathewson 91.1 17 4788.2 2.12 136 1.058
Carl Hubbell 65.3 16 3590.1 2.98 130 1.166
Juan Marichal 58.9 14 3507 2.89 123 1.101
Gaylord Perry 34.6 10 2294.1 2.96 119 1.152
Joe McGinnity 31.7 7 2151.1 2.38 118 1.116
281.6 64 16330.5

As you can see, determining the top all-time rotation is a very subjective process. It all comes down to what you value the most. The Giants have the lowest rotational ERA with every pitcher posting a sub-3.00 clip, but I hesitate to call them the best because ERA by itself can be misleading. ERA must be understood in the context of the run environment of each pitcher's day. A pitcher can benefit tremendously from pitching in an offensively poor era or in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. ERA+ adjusts for those factors, and is set to a scale where the average ERA+ is 100 and an ERA+ of 125 is 25% better than average, etc.

Looking at ERA+, the Red Sox come out #1 by far. Their 3rd lowest ERA+, Clemens, is higher than anyone's on the Phillies, Dodgers, or Giants. And they had Pedro Martinez, who's first 6 years with the Red Sox might have been the best 6-year stretch by any pitcher in baseball history. The problem with the Red Sox, however, is that their best pitchers were with them for only short amounts of time. Almost every one of their pitchers spent parts of their prime on other teams. Their pitchers have pitched the fewest years (44) and second fewest IP of any of the above teams. If ranking the rotations by ERA+, without having done the math, it appears an absurdly close race between each other team above for second place.

If you want to place an emphasis on greatness and longevity with a team, I think the Braves are the clear #1, accumulating more than 50 WAR greater than the next best team (Twins). Spahn, Niekro and Smoltz each pitched 20 years with an ERA+ of 120 or greater, suggesting, at the very least, extreme reliability and consistency outside of their peak years. The really impressive thing about this rotation is that each pitcher spent the entirety (except for 1 Maddux-year) of their quite-lengthy primes with the Braves. And if longevity is a major determinant in the rankings, then I think 2nd place is close between the Giants, White Sox, and Dodgers. You could make an argument for the Twins here, but the majority of their strength comes from just 1 pitcher - Walter Johnson. As transcendent as he was, he remains an outlier on an otherwise below average (amongst the above lists) staff.

Of course, there are other ways to rank pitching rotations and evaluate pitchers careers. One very common way is to only look at each pitcher's prime, his top 6-8 consecutive years while on the team, to bracket out rocky rookie seasons and sub-par, often injury-riddled, career twilights. The pitchers to make the cut would definitely change - for example, I'm sure Catfish Hunter would make it for the A's. Of course, that method would emphasize strength of prime over length of prime, and little credit would be given to pitchers who managed to stay great for a decade or more. Its hard almost impossible to predict who would come out on top in that method. Greg Maddux and Warran Spahn had amazing primes. But then again, so did Clemens and Martinez, and Carlton and Alexander, and Koufax and Vance, and Grove, Plank and Waddell, and Mathewson, Hubbell, Marichal and Perry. Let's not forget Walter Johnson.

Whichever method you choose, I think the Braves stack up against the best of the best. Ranking and arguing about ranking players is always fun.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Andruw Jones: A Boy in the Hall?

Unless he pulls a Sandusky, Andruw Jones belongs in the Hall of Fame once his career is over. 

Based on his offensive numbers alone, Jones is only a borderline case.  His career slashline of .256/.339/.489 is nothing to gasp at, but these numbers are quite comparable to HOFer Andre Dawson's career slashline .279/.323/.482.

Jones has also shown very solid power his entire career, accumulating 431 homers, including a 50+ homerun season (which only 25 other players have ever done), and a stretch where he hit 30 or more homeruns 7 out of 8 years. He became the youngest player ever (at 19) to hit a homerun in the World Series. In his next plate appearance, he became the youngest player ever to 2 homeruns in the World Series and only the second player ever to do it in his first two plate appearances there.

As a centerfielder, a position that is traditionally characterized by defense,  he ranks among the very top in terms of power production. Only two centerfielders, Mickey Mantle (536) and Willie Mays (660) rank ahead of Jones in home runs. His homerun total has recently surpassed another legendary centerfielder, Duke Snider (407), of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Even then, if offense was the only factor, Jones probably doesn't deserve to make it to the Hall. But it was on defense where Jones really stood out.

Jones was by far the best defensive player that I have ever watched. From 1998 till 2007, he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, which is tied for second-most behind Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, who both have 12. Now, Gold Gloves can be as much a popularity contest as a recognition of defensive achievement, but in Andruw's case each was deserved. No one read the ball off the bat better, taking off to where the ball would be seemingly before contact was even made. He had spectacular range - he could get to almost every bloop hit by playing fairly shallow, and seemingly teleport himself to deep center to shut down extra base hits. He had a terrific arm, repeatedly gunning down runners at 3rd and Home until opponents wisened up and stopped challenging him.

The stats back up the observations too. Granted each defensive metric has problems, over time they provide a pretty decent measurement of defensive value. According to Fangraphs, Andruw Jones's fielding value ranks second of ANY position player in the history of baseball, just behind Brooks Robinson. According  to Baseball-Reference, Jones's defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR), was also 2nd of all-time as of February 2012.

His defensive value is compounded by the fact that he played centerfield, which, along with shortstop, is considered the among the two most important defensive positions. Ozzie Smith made it to the Hall for being the best defensive shortstop of all time. Brooks Robinson made it for being the "Human Vacuum Cleaner" at 3rd. Both players were offensively mediocre at best. In the same vein, being the best defensive centerfielder of all-time should be enough to get Andruw into the Hall, with his offensive numbers being the icing on the cake.

Just for fun, lets take a look at Jones's overall productivity compared to other clear HOFers.

It won't surprise me if Jones doesn't make it though. His offensive numbers paled in comparison to the offensive explosion that swept baseball during the years of Jones's prime. And his precipitous fall off since his 2006 campaign when he was only 29 may cause many voters to write him off. Nevertheless, he is still somewhat productive at 35, and with a few more decent years, could garner enough support to be elected in to the Hall. Only time will tell.