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Baseball: Best "Peak Periods"--both 3-year and 5-year--for 4 current greats & 4 past greats

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posted on May, 3 2006 @ 01:14 AM
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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.

BHN




posted on May, 3 2006 @ 03:34 PM
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Originally posted by BaseballHistoryNut

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.



BHN


I knew he was better than most but not that good. i started watching baseball in 1998 during the Yankees/Padres world series. I'd heard of Greg Maddux, but when i watched him throw a 90mph fastball i didn't get what all the fuss was about. Then in 2000 it dawned on me that he might not throw hard but he put the ball where he wanted it when he wanted it, and i realized that having a 100mph fastball was intimidating but if you don't know where it'll end up it's almost a detriment. However if you throw an 88mph fastball and have late movement like Maddux does it will fool the batters just the same.

I was suprised to see that Clemens was ranked below say The Big Unit, Maddux and Martinez. Clemens clearly has the edge in post season since the Braves implode in the Division series every year. I've tried to figure out why that is and have yet to come up with an answer.



posted on May, 3 2006 @ 05:44 PM
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Dear BtB (and anyone else who wants to pitch in),

As you look at the above numbers, you have to wonder what in the hell Boston was thinking of, letting Pedro go.

You also have to wonder what in the hell Bill James was thinking, ranking Koufax ahead of Maddux, since Maddux's phenomenal five-year run--FAR better than that of Koufax--had already happened, along with a lot of other good or very good years by Maddux, when James wrote his big book. The info in that book is current through the year 2000 on pitchers.

BirdstheBest, what is your reaction to these data?

First, are you as surprised as I was, late last night, to find out how totally Maddux's best peak years dominate those of everyone but Pedro?

Second, after taking into account the fact Grove had two five-year runs his 869 total, in wholly separate years and with wholly separate pitching methods, do you think these PHENOMENAL 3-year and 5-year peak periods of Maddux (and, later, Pedro) should be taken into account in assessing the CAREER values of the pitchers in question? (Or do you think, as I do, that "peak" ratings should be separate from "career" ratings?)

Third, if so, do you feel Maddux should be rated ahead of Clemens?

Fourth, if so, do you feel Maddux should be rated ahead of Grove?

Here are my answers:

(1) Yes, obviously, I was shocked. I knew how utterly incredible Pedro was, but I had no clue Maddux's peak was THAT dominant.

(2) NO, I do not think best "peak periods" should be considered in assessing a player's "career value." Neither did Bill James, until he published his last and biggest book.

(3) NO, even if you include "peak value"--whether 3-year, 5-year or both--I think Maddux PROBABLY still should not rate ahead of Clemens. Clemens still has THREE more ERA titles, many more wins, and a big 5-point edge in Career Adjusted ERA, which is about a 12% difference. But after coming up with these numbers last night, I now think the difference between Maddux and Clemens is a lot closer than I had begun to realize. I think strong, credible arguments can be made for Maddux as the better pitcher, and I think Maddux could overtake Clemens as MY pick for the greatest righty in a couple of years--until Pedro's career finishes up.

(4) NO. Grove is still the #1 career pitcher, and by a handy margin. He has an enormous edge on Maddux in Career Adjusted ERA--over 24%--and won over twice as many ERA titles, as well as racking up a much better W-L %, and in tougher home parks.


BUT: It's now very obvious, isn't it, that Pedro and Maddux are the two greatest peak value pitchers of all time? Nobody has ever approached--or, I'm fairly sure, ever will approach--Grove's 3-year run of 79-15, but I think Adjusted ERA is a bigger number, don't you? And while Grove bests Clemens, Randy Johnson and Koufax in that department, Maddux's best 3-year and 5-year Adjusted ERA's blow his away.

I'm genuinely interested to hear your reflections on these Adjusted ERA stats, BtB.

BHN



posted on May, 3 2006 @ 08:15 PM
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I don't know that you can compare win loss records with pitchers now. When some of the guys on the list played, they had 2 or maybe 3 starting pitchers but now it's a five man rotation so the older guys probably had twice as many appearances. The ERA stat is the only one that is probably relevant to today's pitchers, but with less starts that can skew the results too, maybe you just have to go with best pitchers in a given era and leave it at that.



posted on May, 3 2006 @ 09:03 PM
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You are undeniably CORRECT--as to the Dead Ball pitchers, Cy Young and Walter Johnson. The 2 or 3 guys in a rotation thing was pervasive in the "Dead Ball Era," when one could pitch both ends of a double-header, or 50 starts in a year, etc. That's one of the MANY reasons I think that era was nonsense for "pitchers."

But Grove, who was born in 1900 and pitched in the majors from 1925-1941, never pitched a day in that era. If he had, he'd likely have gone 47-5, year after year.

With the exception of one year, Grove never started over 33 games in one year, which means he basically was on a 5-man rotation. Or, at least, much closer to 5 than 4.

Cy Young once started 49, and had numerous other seasons in the 40's; Grover Cleveland Alexander had seasons where he started 45, 44, 42 and 40; Walter Johnson had seasons where he started 42 and 40. Of the other two top Dead Ball pitchers, Kid Nichols had a 9-year run where he started between 40 and 51 games EVERY year; Christy Mathewson had three between 42 and 46.

I have a lot more than that to say on the Dead Ball Era subject. Within the next four or five days, I will try to submit a post on why pitching records from that time don't mean diddly in the context of baseball as we know the game (with home runs, having to really pitch on every pitch, etc.).

Until I do that, take my word for two things:

(1) Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander are considered the 2 greatest Dead Ball pitchers by most serious students of baseball history, (probably including me); and

(2) Their stats went to hell when, at ages 32 and 33, respectively, they had to pitch with live balls. The falloff is very noticeable, and undeniable.

So yeah, I agree that their stats and their "pitching" every 3rd day mean nothing in the context of the game we know--especially when the unavailability of HR's meant they didn't even have to try for about 75% of their pitches. This fact was discussed in a lot of literature by the Dead Ball Era's greatest stars, as I'll note.

And in Walter Johnson's case, there's the added facts that:

(1) He pitched in a gargantuan ballpark, Washington's Griffith Stadium, where left field was as big as center field (over 400 ft. down the LF line!); and

(2) He had oustanding fielders selected NOT for their mostly negligible abilities to hit (except Rice and Goslin), but for their abilities to field. That park and his fielders were made for him to throw his fast ball in.

NONE of the above applies to Lefty Grove.

He was an early day version of Randy Johnson. He pitched in small parks--just imagine winning four ERA titles after age 35, as a lefty in Fenway, with your legendary fast ball GONE--and all of it with the wildly juiced-up balls of the 1930's. He had unnaturally long arms and a very difficult-to-perceive release point because of the nature of his arms-flapping motion.

Standing 6'3", with the long arms of a man 6'8" or more, and at least the fierceness-of-attitude of Clemens or Gibson (probably worse), he was enormously gifted and more intimidating than anyone except the young Bob Feller, who was fast enough to strike out 18 Yankees in one game, and wild enough to walk a still-record 208 hitters in one year.

The Adjusted ERA, however, is a pretty good stat... except to the extent it treats PRE-1920 seasons too seriously. And the exciting thing about these Adjusted ERA stats is that they show how special a time WE'RE living through. No, we don't get to see Grove, but we've got 100% of the other four top Live Ball Adjusted ERA starters of all time: Martinez, Clemens, the Big Unit and Maddux, in that order.

NO post-1919 long-time starter, other than Grove, is ahead of those four guys. Name whomever you want: Spahn, Koufax, Seaver, Carlton, Ford, Palmer, Robin Roberts, or whomever else: His Career Adjusted ERA is not as good as that of the Big Four veterans of our day. It's Grove and those four, which means we have 80% of them right before us.

And yeah, adjustments have been made for the fact these pitchers have gotten punished by all these cozy little retro parks of today, but Grove's Adjusted ERA gives him plenty of the same credit, after all his suffering in Shibe and Fenway Parks. That's another of the beauties of Adjusted ERA.

And if you feel inclined to depreciate Grove's ranking because you don't think his contemporaries were nearly as good as those against whom our Big Four have competed... well, I won't agree with you, for a variety of reasons I'd be happy to print (starting with terrible starters on account of all the expansion), but you may well be right... and THAT would mean we are now watching the late stages of the careers of ALL FOUR OF THE GREATEST PITCHERS OF ALL TIME.

Even if you are with me and almost all experts about Grove, then as long as you agree with me and BtB about Dead Ball "pitching," Adjusted ERA makes it clear we have 80% of the 5 greatest pitchers ever. Isn't that fantastic?

Aren't we lucky? I know few people are as deeply fascinated by the game and its history as I am, but really, this is like having lived through the Beatles (which I also did). I am 53 years old, and my only foray into marriage--thank god--resulted in no children. But most of you are much younger than me. Someday, you who are baseball fans will tell your grandkids about the four incredible pitchers whose more-or-less simultaneous careers you got to experience.

If they're real baseball fans, your grandkids will listen with rapt attention.

BHN

[Edited on 5/4/06 by BaseballHistoryNut]



posted on May, 4 2006 @ 04:10 PM
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Dear BtB,

No responses to the four posed questions in this thread's 3rd post? Obviously you're entitled to blow them off (gee, thanks, BHN!), but I was genuinely interested in your reflections on those four subjects... especially on the big matter of whether "peak period value" should be a separate matter, or whether it should count in assessing a player's "career value."

I've already expressed my views on the subject, and it seems pretty obvious to me that Pedro and Maddux--in that order--are the two greatest "peak" pitchers of all time. It's wonderful that Grove had two wholly separate five-year periods adding up to 869, and those help make his case for career superiority... especially over the four below him. But I see no case for arguing that two 869's outdo what either Pedro or Maddux did in their phenomenal 5-year runs (in Pedro's case, actually an 8-year peak).

Also, while Grove's 79-15 run in 1929-1931 is breathtaking, and knocked the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees out of first for 3 years while Ruth still was awesome, I just don't believe that record--as dazzling as it looks--means as much as those outrageous Adjusted ERA's of Maddux and Pedro. Do you? And I'm quite sure almost all experts would agree with me.

So if I didn't make my position clear before, I'll make it now: Pedro is the greatest "peak value" pitcher in baseball history. Maddux is #2. And Koufax, the man of the legendary five-year run, is not only well behind Grove (which experts have said for 40 years), but well behind others, and light years behind Maddux and Pedro.

If you have the inclination and time, I would appreciate your reflections on those four questions. I promise to make no more than a brief 2-paragraph reply, at most. And I suspect I'll agree with at least most of what you have to say. I know I'll be interested in all of it.

BHN



posted on May, 6 2006 @ 11:55 PM
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After looking at the facts, I've come to the conclusion that I've vastly underestimated Maddux (althought I have a natural distrust of "the facts"). I knew he dominated 95, but winning 15 games in a row for 17 years is miraculous. Also, like said before, he's not a power pitcher, but a control specialist, which should add to his longevity and legacy. He also has had 15 gold gloves, which doesn't mean much being a pitcher, but it's one off from the record. I always despised the Braves for reasons that make no sense (vast conspiracies involving Ted Turner), they just always seem to make the playoffs and never do anything special (I know Maddux isn't on the Braves anymore).

Maddux has definetly put up legendary numbers, and I don't know if BtB is coming back here to comment on this or what, but I don't know a lot of things so I'm not worried about it. Maddux hasn't gotten the attention of Clemens or Pedro, but he ranks right up there, no doubt about it. Speaking of Pedro I hope he breaks down soon. Nothing against him but seeing him continue to pitch so well rips my heart out, as obviously the Red Sox screwed up big time. Also of no point at all, the last time I was at Fenway they kicked me out for smoking a cigarette. They can sell beer for 7.50 a cup but won't let us smoke a butt? Anyway yeah Maddux did great, and continues to do great, and yeah thats about it.




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