posted on May, 3 2006 @ 01:14 AM
I just finished a fairly lengthy research job, looking up the greatest 3-year periods, and 5-year periods, of Adjusted ERAs for four great pitchers
from the past and four great pitchers who are active but nearing the end of the line.
The first four pitchers, in order of birth, are Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove and Sandy Koufax. The four greats who are nearing the ends of
their careers--well, at least three of them are--are Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez.
I have already made it clear I don't think Dead Ball Era pitchers' stats count for much, and BtB has made it clear he agrees, but I'm including Young
and Johnson here in case anyone is curious as to how they stack up in these departments. Remember that with Adjusted ERA, 100 is dead average, and
anything above 100 measures the percentage by which the pitcher was better than his contemporaries for that year, with adjustments made for the extent
to which the pitcher was helped or harmed by his home park that year.
I will put up three lists for these pitchers: (1) Best five-year peak periods, in order; (2) best three-year peak periods, in order; and (3) best
career Adjusted ERA's, in order, including the through-2005 figures of active pitchers:
Best Five-Year Peak Periods
1. Pedro Martinez, 1127
2. Greg Maddux, 1076
3. Walter Johnson, 1001
4. Lefty Grove, 869--two times
5. Randy Johnson, 865
6. Sandy Koufax, 841
7. Roger Clemens, 834
8. Cy Young, 811
Best Three-Year Peak Periods
1. Pedro Martinez, 719
2. Greg Maddux, 703
3. Walter Johnson, 671
4. Lefty Grove, 563
5. Randy Johnson, 551
6. Roger Clemens, 550
7. Sandy Koufax, 537
8. Cy Young, 527.
Career Adjusted ERA
1. Pedro Martinez, 166
2. Lefty Grove, 148
3. Walter Johnson, 146
4. Roger Clemens, 143
5. Randy Johnson, 142
6. Greg Maddux, 138
7. Cy Young, 138
8. Sandy Koufax, 131
I am not surprised that Clemens is half-way between Grove and Maddux. I am not surprised that Big Unit is right below Clemens. And I am not
surprised at how poorly Koufax rates against these other all-time greats, because I know how hugely Dodger Stadium helped him.
I AM, however, surprised at the degree to which Maddux blows away Grove and all the others, except Pedro, in both of the peak value measurements.
Since I don't consider Walter Johnson's stats legit--and for 2 reasons, at that--and since the above list includes ALL of the Live Ball Era pitchers
who rank ahead of Maddux, it's obvious Maddux is one of the very greatest pitchers of all time.
As I think I said once before, I believe many of us--including me--have not given Maddux his due because the all-time greats he's competed with
include Clemens and Randy Johnson, two guys we love to watch blow away huge numbers of batters. Maddux looks like a putt-putt next to them, but his
numbers don't lie. The ONLY pitcher in baseball history with a 3-year OR 5-year run to match (actually, exceed) his best is Pedro.
Koufax, with his legendary five-year run to end his career, isn't even close. Grove gets lots of points for having had 2 completely different 5-year
periods adding up to 869 (1928-1932 and 1935-1939), and he's ahead of Unit, Koufax and Clemens, but he's WELL behind Maddux, both on the 3-year peak
and on the 5-year peak.
Many of us sitemembers are old enough to remember Maddux's great seasons of the 1990's. He was terrific, all right, but did ANY of us think he was,
at that time, putting up the greatest run of seasons in baseball history? And when we watched Pedro's incredible run from 1997-2003, did we know we
were watching the ONLY person EVER to have a better run of seasons than Greg Maddux had?
I sure as hell didn't.
In terms of total career value, Maddux is clearly behind at least Grove and Clemens. Grove requires no further comment. As to Clemens, he has THREE
more ERA titles (7 to 4), several more Cy Young Awards, and a significantly better W-L record than Maddux... despite having pitched on some fairly bad
teams. I do not believe that my PRESENT perception of Clemens as superior is shaped by Clemens' fast ball, but rather by Clemens' larger total of
wins, excellent seasons, and, most of all, by his having won 2 more ERA titles than ALL of the pitchers in the history of baseball except Grove.
Clemens should, however, be at or near the end of the line. Maddux may have 2 to 5 full seasons left in his arm. (Both he and Pedro pitch Wednesday
night, I believe.) Given that Maddux's best seasons were well better than those of Clemens, Clemens' career needs to be significantly better
in order for him to be deemed the superior pitcher, I think.
At this point in time, I believe that is the case. I also believe he has an edge in postseason pitching over Maddux, though that is debatable.
(Remind me, some other time, to write a post about Grove and Game 4 of the 1929 Series, b.t.w. The 1929 Series was almost certainly the greatest
5-game Series ever, and Game 4 was the pivotal game.)
However, after looking up these Adjusted ERA stats for all of these pitchers, and seeing the clear, vast edge Maddux has over Clemens in best peak
period (three-year AND five-year), it's a lot fuzzier to me as to whether Clemens or Maddux is the greatest right-hander of all-time. Pedro obviously
can render the whole discussion moot in a few more years, but for now, I think I've been treating a gray area as being a lot more black-and-white than
it really is.
I still rate Clemens ahead of Maddux for the greatest right-hander of all-time. But it is now CLEAR in my mind that I should rate Maddux #2, and I am
looking forward to how I shall rate those 2 and Pedro when all 3 are retired.