Has Koufax’s Second-Coming Already Arrived?

My first post on this blog talked about Roger Clemens and taking a look at his achievements from a historical perspective. Now, about a month later, I’m finally coming through on this promise and writing about pitchers, so here goes: 

Roger Clemens: 4916 2/3 IP, 354-184, 4672 Ks, 3.12 ERA, 7 Cy Young Awards, and an MVP  

Greg Maddux: 4814 1/3 IP, 347-214, 3273 Ks, 3.11 ERA, 4 Cy Youngs

Pedro Martinez: 2673 2/3 IP, 209-93, 3030 Ks, 2.80 ERA, 3 Cy Youngs

A quick glance at the numbers above, and it seems as though this post could write itself. Clemens is the most dominant pitcher of his generation. He pitched in the more offensively potent AL throughout his entire career, has put up unbelievable numbers, and is one of only two pitchers to win an MVP since 1985 (the other being Dennis Eckersley). But I want to investigate this topic a little bit more, with one caveat:

Let’s throw out the possibilty that Clemens, Maddux, and Martinez took steroids. As hard as that seems in light of the recent allegations involving Clemens, I’d rather just judge these players purely on performance. It’s difficult and unfair for us to be too judgemntal about the Performance Enhancing Drug accusations considering we neither fully understand the scope of steroids’ presence in baseball over the last two decades, nor do we know how much steroids can positively affect one’s performance on the diamond. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look.

My first question is, if you had one Hall of Fame vote which one of the three would you give it to? When looking at Clemens’ SEVEN Cy Youngs, his rare MVP award, and his strikeout totals (he ranks second all time!) the only question that arises is which cap he’s going to wear on his HOF plaque after he gets my all important vote. Throw in a couple of World Series rings and the famous 20 K game, and he’s the one, right?

You know where this is going. Check out his page on baseball-reference.com. He has some unbelievable seasons 1986, 1990-1992, 1997-1998, and 2005 stand out. So 7 out of the 20 years in which he pitched at least 140 innings were great (I’m using this cut off so that his first two and last two seasons don’t count), his highest ERA in any of these seven years was 2.65 and he averaged over 19 wins throughout those years. On the other hand, Clemens has 7 seasons over this span where his ERA was at least 3.60 – including 4 seasons where his ERA was over 4 – and he averaged 12.5 wins and about 10 losses per season over those seasons. With Clemens you got a lot of inconsistency, you didn’t know which Clemens would show up from year to year. Aside from that three year span in the early 90s, Clemens frequently went from a season or two with an ERA below 3 to one with an ERA above 4.

Let’s look at Maddux, after all he ranks second among these three pitchers with 4 Cy Youngs. Combine that with the lofty win total, and the surprisingly high 11th all-time ranking in Strikeouts, and he could very well garner my vote. Starting with 1992, his last season in Chicago and going all the way through to his second to last season with the Braves in 2002 you get one amazing season after another, in fact only ONE of those 11 years saw Maddux’s ERA climb above 3.00! Maddux also won a World Series during that time and was the Ace on one of the best teams of his era. He was the go-to-guy during the majority of the Braves 14 consecutive division titles. To add to this impressive resume, during the 16 seasons that make up the meat of his career, Maddux’s ERA was below 4 every year. While Clemens had some great seasons 20 years apart, Maddux’s stretch of great seasons was slightly shorter, but he managed to consistently perform during that smaller time frame.

Before artists start sculpting Maddux’s plaque, I’m going to look at Pedro’s stats. Obviously Pedro doesn’t have the longevity of Maddux or Clemens, and barring several years of a clean health slate (ok, so barring a miracle) his career will wind down within a few years after the last of the 52 million dollars he is owed through the end of this season comes his way. He is some 2,000+ innings behind the aformentioned workhorses, and based on nothing but my observation has little more than 600 Major League innings left. Nevertheless, he has amassed some impressive numbers, and more importantly some ridiculous campaigns. I would argue without much doubt that Pedro’s stretch from 1997-2003 was the most impressive seven year stretch (or any set of at least three consecutive seasons) since they lowered the mound prior to the 1969 season, and perhaps ever.  

His totals over these 7 seasons are 1408 IP, 118-36, 2.20 ERA, 1761 Ks. The average season over this span saw him accumulate a 17-5 record with 201 IP, 2.20 ERA, and about 252 Ks. Obviously the innings are a little bit low – the knock on Pedro, after all, was that he was never consistently healthy – but those ERA and Strikeout numbers are ridiculous. Now, consider the fact that the years 1997-2003 were probably the height of the Steroid Era. These were the seasons preceeding baseball’s testing program and in the middle of the HR craze. Throw in the fact that outside of his 1997 season, Pedro pitched in the AL. So, Martinez was putting up these seasons during what is quite possibly the greatest offensive era in the history of his sport, in the superior offensive league, and in perhaps the best offensive division in that league. This is reflected in a stat called Adjusted ERA+, which measures, by ratio, how much better a pitcher was in a given season than the average pitcher adjusted for the appropriate home ballpark. So, in Pedro’s case, compare the average pitcher’s ERA, adjust that for Fenway Park, and then divide that number by Pedro’s ERA. Pedro is the all-time leader in this statistic. Better than Sandy Koufax, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and certainly better than Maddux and Clemens. Pedro has done a better job of preventing runs than either Clemens or Maddux, unfortunately in decidedly less innings.

So the decision comes down, for me, to Maddux and Pedro. Maddux has the extra Cy Young award, but Pedro has the best winnings percentage of any pitcher with at least 200 wins. Maddux has the extraordinary longevity, Pedro has, perhaps the most impressive seven year stretch of any pitcher in the history of baseball. Yeah, I said it. I challenge anyone to come up with a 4-7 season span of pitching that impressive. Other pitchers may have slightly better numbers but keep in mind the era in which Pedro achieved those numbers. (Check out Pedro’s 2000 season, the best season ever by a pitcher. 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA and 11.8 Ks per 9 innings.) Maybe if all three were available to me as rookies I would choose Maddux because I’d be garanteed a consistently excellent and longer career, but the Hall is reserved for the best, and so If I had one vote I would give it to Pedro and perhaps the most dominating seven year period this game has ever seen.

-Abfus

P.S. I will learn how to write more succinct posts, hopefully better reads than these last few very technical ones.

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5 responses to “Has Koufax’s Second-Coming Already Arrived?

  1. First off – it’s VERY unfair to discuss Pedro’s 2000 season without mentioning Maddux’s 95 season: 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA. That is absolutely ridiculous.
    Secondly – Another reason I really like Pedro’s career that has nothing to do with stats is simply how he has reinvented himself. Maddux never had a blazing FB and always relied on location, which he still does today. Clemens has taken roids to keep up his velocity which still hits in the 90s. HOWEVER, Pedro used to have a FB in the mid 90s, which now drops to into the mid 80s. For many pitchers, this ends careers and makes former Cy Youngs has-beens. Pedro has added a better curveball, changed movement on his fastball, and has worked to tweak and change his pitches rather than using (maybe) a syringe to keep his velocity up as it waned with age.

  2. Obviously I agree with your second point. As for your first point, I probably should not have left that season unmentioned, but it is still not nearly as impressive as Pedro’s 2000 season. As I mentioned before 2000 was probably the best offensive season of all time, at the height of the steroids era. Fenway is slightly favorable to hitters, and the AL is far superior offensively yet Pedro managed a 1.74 ERA with 284 Ks. I definately regret not mentioning Maddux’s 95, but Pedro’s 2000 is still better.

  3. Hey, Fuss. Long time reader first time poster. I like your arguments about Pedro. Clearly, his ERA numbers are out-of-this-world, especially in the offense-minded AL and steroids era like you mentioned. I also wanted to add that with Pedro, the game turns mental. He had the ability to get inside the heads of the hitters because he WAS capable of merely overpowering them. I say was because his fastball has dropped vastly in velocity since going to the Mets. I wonder why – I think it’s the fans. Hitters feared Pedro, and by shortening or tightening their swing or whatever, it had an effect, especially in Fenway atmosphere. Maddux never had this going for him. Yes, he’s a good pitcher and hard to get a hit off. But Pedro’s head-hunter personality combined with a 96 mph fastball is much more scary than a nice white dude like Maddux that throws high 80s tops. And with Clemens, although he had the same hothead reputation and powerful fastball, everyone knew he was a douchebag and probably wanted an excuse to charge the mound anyway.

    However, I do have a question. Where do you think Santana will fit into all this? He’s a strike-out king, cy young award winner, known for low ERAs, and has only been hurt by his lack of offensive support and playoff opportunities in Minnesota. His 94-45 record and bloated 3.20 ERA, caused by one bad season (last year) in his young career, don’t give justice to how dominating he has been. He probably is the most dominant pitcher today and has glimpses of the kind of mental affect on hitters that Pedro had. What do you think?

  4. Hey, Fuss. Long time reader, first time poster. I like your arguments about Pedro. Clearly, his ERA numbers are out-of-this-world, especially in the offense-minded AL and steroids era like you mentioned. I also wanted to add that with Pedro, the game turns mental. He had the ability to get inside the heads of the hitters because he WAS capable of merely overpowering them. I say was because his fastball has dropped vastly in velocity since going to the Mets. I wonder why – I think it’s the fans. Hitters feared Pedro, and by shortening or tightening their swing or whatever, it had an effect, especially in Fenway atmosphere. Maddux never had this going for him. Yes, he’s a good pitcher and hard to get a hit off. But Pedro’s head-hunter personality combined with a 96 mph fastball is much more scary than a nice white dude like Maddux that throws high 80s tops. And with Clemens, although he had the same hothead reputation and powerful fastball, everyone knew he was a douchebag and probably wanted an excuse to charge the mound anyway.

    However, I do have a question. Where do you think Santana will fit into all this? He’s a strike-out king, cy young award winner, known for low ERAs, and has only been hurt by his lack of offensive support and playoff opportunities in Minnesota. His 94-45 record and bloated 3.20 ERA, caused by one bad season (last year) in his young career, don’t give justice to how dominating he has been. He probably is the most dominant pitcher today and has glimpses of the kind of mental affect on hitters that Pedro had. What do you think?

  5. Friday, April 11, 2008
    Report: Worker tries to jinx Yanks with buried Red Sox shirt
    ESPN.com news services

    Boston Red Sox fans know more than a little about superstitions — and one apparently decided to share the anxiety with Boston’s biggest rival.

    A construction worker and Boston fan working on the concrete crew at the $1.3 billion new Yankee Stadium buried a Red Sox shirt in with the concrete foundation under what will become the visitors’ clubhouse, in the hopes of jinxing the New York Yankees’ new home, the New York Post reported.

    Two construction workers told the newspaper about the stunt on conditon of anonymity.

    “In August, a Red Sox T-shirt was poured in a slab in the visitor’s clubhouse. It’s the curse of the Yankees,” one worker told the Post. “Nobody knows about it. It’s in the floors, it’s buried.”

    The workers say they’re now afraid that they’ve jinxed the Yankees.

    “I don’t want to be responsible for sinking the franchise,” said a second worker, who witnessed the burial. “I respect the stadium.”

    “I guess if the Yankees go 86 years in the new ballpark without a win we’ll know if we are on to something,” the worker said, referring to Boston’s title drought after the franchise sold Babe Ruth.

    Chris Wertz, the co-owner of Professor Thom’s in New York’s East Village — a haven for Red Sox fans in the Big Apple — thought the move was a stroke of genius, according to the report.

    “I won’t be surprised in the least bit to see that visiting locker room torn up and relaid right away,” he said, according to the Post. “This is what makes the game special for baseball fans. It’s not a mean thing, but something they will take seriously.”

    There is a precedent for fans burying trinkets for good luck. During the construction of the ice rink for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a worker laid a Canadian one-dollar coin (known as a “loonie”) at center ice. Canada went on to win its first gold medal in men’s ice hockey since 1952.

    And Mickey Bradley, a co-author of “Haunted Baseball,” told the Post that a worker was said to have buried an unknown good-luck charm in a water main trench of the current Yankee Stadium back in 1920.

    “Prior to that, they never won a World Series,” he said, according to the newspaper.

    But the Yankees said they’re not concerned that a piece of Red Sox-colored cotton could be lurking under their feet at their new home.

    “It sounds like a tall tale, and it would take more than a Red Sox T-shirt to put a curse on the Yankees,” team spokesman Howard Rubenstein told the Post.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=3341650&type=story

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