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February 7, 2008

Prospectus Hit and Run

Tandemonium

by Jay Jaffe

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In terms of its current ramifications, I don't have a ton to say about the Johan Santana deal that hasn't already been said by my BP colleagues. The one thing I find most shocking is that three of the four players the Twins acquired were pitchers. Given their core competency of generating mid- and back-rotation starters, why Minnesota would settle for a pair of back-enders like Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey, guys who likely won't wind up better than the already on-hand Kevin Slowey and Boof Bonser, is beyond me.

Humber, Mulvey, I'll take the Humvee instead. Or at least a longer view of the deal, spurred by this email from reader J.P.:

Santana joining Pedro [Martinez] is really an amazing thing in historical perspective. Santana has been the best pitcher in MLB for the last five years, while Pedro has been probably had the best prime of any pitcher in MLB history. I was wondering what were the best 1-2 combos for any team in baseball history. These pitchers don't have to be in their primes at the same time, but just on the team at the same time. How do the five-year primes of Santana/Pedro compare with other five-year primes of other combos?

J.P. offers a few testable assumptions in this email, the first of which is whether Santana actually has been been the best pitcher in baseball over the past five years. Along with the fact that he's the only two-time Cy Young award winner in the 2003-2007 span, the verdict on this is a pretty resounding yes. Per the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, Santana has the most wins, the best ERA and ERA+ of any pitcher over the past five years, along with a commanding lead in strikeouts; his 1152 leaves Jake Peavy's even 1000 in the dust. Turning to WARP (adjusted for all-time WARP3 flavor), we clearly see his dominance of the past half-decade:


Pitcher           Total
Johan Santana      48.8
Mariano Rivera     42.1
Carlos Zambrano    41.6
Brandon Webb       40.1
Roy Oswalt         39.1
Roy Halladay       38.6
Jake Peavy         36.6
John Smoltz        36.3
Joe Nathan         35.8
Roger Clemens      35.0
C.C. Sabathia      34.1
Tim Hudson         33.8
Javier Vazquez     33.8
Dontrelle Willis   33.4
Mark Buehrle       33.3
John Lackey        32.9
Livan Hernandez    32.4
Francisco Cordero  32.3
Curt Schilling     31.9
Billy Wagner       31.4

Amazingly, even if you drop Santana's very respectable 2003 (6.9 WARP), his remaining 41.9 WARP would still be good enough for a strong second place.

As for Pedro Martinez, it's unclear exactly what our reader defined as his prime, but assuming we're talking about a comparable spread to Santana's recent run, we can start with his best five-year span according to WARP3. That may ring a bell, as it was my definition of peak in JAWS's pre-megalomaniacal acronym days. On that basis, Martinez's peak is impressive but hardly a chart-topper: he racked up 55.0 WARP in his best five-year span, 1997-2001, a total held down by shoulder woes that limited him to 18 starts and 5.8 WARP in the latter year. That's tied for 37th all-time, though the great majority of those five-year spans predate World War II. The list contains a lot of redundancy; the top five spots are held by Walter Johnson for streaks ending in 1915, 1914, 1917, 1918 and 1919, respectively. If we simplify so that each pitcher outranking Martinez is held to his best five-year span, our list is as follows:


Pitcher            Best 5   End Streaks
Walter Johnson      78.7   1915    7
Ed Walsh            67.5   1912    3
Hal Newhouser       66.2   1948    3
Christy Mathewson   65.2   1912    6
Greg Maddux         63.0   1998    5
Grover Alexander    63.0   1917    3
Cy Young            59.3   1905    1
Roger Clemens       56.7   1990    3
Robin Roberts       56.4   1955    2
Babe Ruth           56.3   1919    1
Lefty Grove         55.8   1932    1
Carl Hubbell        55.1   1936    1
Tom Seaver          55.1   1973    1
Pedro Martinez      55.0   2001    1

The last column is the number of five-year streaks greater than or equal to Martinez's best run. Even limiting the list to one streak per customer, there are still 13 pretty fair pitchers who can claim a similar run or better, though the Bambino who tormented Pedro for so long gets a boost to his totals by his initial dabbles in the outfield in 1918 and 1919.

Having noted that Martinez's ranking was hampered by injury, if we instead turn to each pitcher's five best seasons at large, Pedro improves to 23rd. Note that I've eliminated nine pitchers whose careers are concentrated in the pre-1893 era, before the distance to home plate was increased to 60'6", and that the version of WARP being used here is straight from my JAWS database, with a slight "tax" for DH-era AL pitchers applied to prevent them from getting an extra boost for not stinking up the joint with their batting ineptitude. Thus Martinez's five-year total here is actually lower than the one above, not that it makes a huge difference. The top 30 five-year peaks:


Pitcher             Last   Peak 5
Walter Johnson      1927   81.7
Cy Young            1911   74.5
Ed Walsh            1917   70.1
Pete Alexander      1930   70.0
Christy Mathewson   1916   69.6
Hal Newhouser       1955   66.2
Greg Maddux         2007   63.6
Kid Nichols         1906   62.9
Bob Feller          1956   62.1
Roger Clemens       2007   61.8
Lefty Grove         1941   61.6
Bob Gibson          1975   57.4
Tom Seaver          1986   57.0
Randy Johnson       2007   56.7
Dazzy Vance         1935   56.5
Robin Roberts       1966   56.4
Steve Carlton       1988   56.2
Bob Lemon           1958   55.7
Carl Hubbell        1943   55.1
Wes Ferrell         1941   54.7
Warren Spahn        1965   54.3
Juan Marichal       1975   53.4
Pedro Martinez      2007   53.2
Dizzy Trout         1957   52.5
Gaylord Perry       1983   52.5
Fergie Jenkins      1983   52.5
Dizzy Dean          1947   52.3
Phil Niekro         1987   52.0
Rube Waddell        1910   51.1
Wilbur Wood         1978   51.0

Given this data, it's very tough to claim supremacy for Martinez over any lengthy period, though his individual seasons are impressive enough.

Turning to consideration of the best tandem at the front of a rotation, the new Mets duo represents one of the few pairings of multi-Cy winning pitchers:

10: Roger Clemens (7), Tom Seaver (3)
6: Steve Carlton (4), Bob Gibson (2)
6: Greg Maddux (4), Tom Glavine (2)
5: Pedro Martinez (3), Johan Santana (2)

Held back by the fact that the Cy didn't come about until 1956, that's too short a list to be very interesting, so instead we'll return to those five-year WARP peaks, where it's clear that Martinez and Santana (53.2 and 48.3 WARP by this methodology, for a combined 101.5) can be outdone by numerous other combinations. Strictly eyeballing these so as to save our data department some nightmares, what follows are some notable pairings that top their total.

132.0 (1st): Walter Johnson (81.7), Stan Coveleski (50.3)
122.9 (3rd): Walter Johnson (81.7), Hippo Vaughn (41.2)

The Big Train's dominance of all things WARP helps him top this list with the aid of pitchers nowhere near his stratosphere. After excelling for the Indians for the better part of a decade, Coveleski was traded to the defending world champion Senators (!) prior to the 1925 season and promptly helped them to a second consecutive pennant. The duo spent three years (1925-1927) together. Far shorter was Vaughn's stint with the Senators; it lasted just 12 games in 1912.

128.3 (2nd): Hal Newhouser (66.2), Bob Feller (62.1)
121.9 (4th): Bob Lemon (55.7), Hal Newhouser (66.2)
117.8 (6th): Bob Feller (62.1), Bob Lemon (55.7)
111.2 (11th-T): Hal Newhouser (66.2), Early Wynn (45.0)
107.1 (21st): Bob Feller (62.1), Early Wynn (45.0)

Feller (1936-1956 except for 1942-44), Lemon (1946-58), and Wynn (1949-57) were mainstays of a great Cleveland staff, but it was Newhouser's career-ending stint in Cleveland (1954-1955) which helps them make this list in every permutation but one (Lemon-Wynn, just shy at 100.7). Though he threw only 46 2/3 innings in the Tribe's 111-win season in 1954, Newhouser won seven games and saved seven more. He made just two appearances in 1955 before drawing his release.

118.8 (5th): Roger Clemens (61.8), Tom Seaver (57.0)

This was something of a passing of the torch, as Seaver's last gasp with the 1986 Red Sox allowed him to cross paths with the 23-year-old Clemens during the Rocket's breakout campaign, in which he garnered not only his first Cy Young but the AL MVP award as well.

116.3 (7th): Lefty Grove (61.6), Wes Ferrell (54.7)

The Dick Thompson Duo, so named because Thompson's research showed how, at his peak, Ferrell was used disproportionately against good AL teams, whereas Grove fattened up on the dregs. (Namesake Chris Jaffe has actually debunked some of Thompson's claims.) Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey's spending spree brought the two pitchers together later in their careers; they were teammates from 1934 to mid-1937.

114.9 (8th): Christy Mathewson (69.6), Joe McGinnity (45.3)

The Big Six and the Iron Man were teammates on the Giants from 1902-1908, helping them to the 1905 world championship.

113.6 (9th): Bob Gibson (57.4), Steve Carlton (56.2)

Carlton was generally second banana to Gibson during their years together in St. Louis (1965-1971), though he did win 20 games to Gibby's 16 during their final season together.

112.3 (10th): Greg Maddux (63.6), Tom Glavine (48.7)
107.5 (19th): Greg Maddux (63.6), John Smoltz (43.9)

In case you've been living under a rock, you're well aware that this trio anchored the Braves' dynasty for a decade (1993-2002) before Glavine left for the Mets. Maddux spent one more year in Atlanta before returning to the Cubs.

111.2 (11th-T): Grover Alexander (70.0), Hippo Vaughn (41.2)

We again find the Hippo riding somebody else's coattails, this time those of Alexander the Great. The duo were together with the Cubs from 1918-1921. Alexander might have made this list a couple more times had I not arbitrarily set a 40-WARP peak cutoff for the trailing member; 1926 Cubs teammate Charlie Root (31.8) is one example.

109.8 (13th): Roger Clemens (61.8), Mike Mussina (48.0)
107.6 (18th): Roger Clemens (61.8), Mariano Rivera (45.8)
105.3 (25th): Roger Clemens (61.8), David Cone (43.5)

Clemens' stints in the Bronx yield a few solid contributions to this list, the best of which is his match with the Moose, from 2001-2003 plus 2007. His teaming up with Rivera (1999-2003 plus 2007) and Cone (1999-2000) are none too shabby either.

108.9 (14th): Robin Roberts (56.4), Fergie Jenkins (52.5)
103.7 (28th): Robin Roberts (56.4), Jim Palmer (47.3)

Roberts is responsible for two of the more short-lived pairings on this list. During his final half-season in Baltimore in 1965, he was joined by 19-year-old rookie Palmer, one of a few youngsters (along with Dave McNally and Wally Bunker) whose effectiveness crowded the 38-year-old veteran off the roster. Released in August carrying a 5-7 record but a 3.38 ERA--still better than league average--Roberts caught on with Houston for about a year before again drawing his walking papers. He was picked up by the Cubs, who had acquired the 23-year-old Jenkins from the Phillies earlier in the season. Roberts made just nine appearances for Chicago, going 2-3 with a 6.14 ERA before hanging up his spikes at the end of the year.

108.8 (15th): Dazzy Vance (56.5), Dizzy Dean (52.3)
101.5 (30th): Dazzy Vance (56.5), Burleigh Grimes (45.0)

Though it didn't last long, the 1933-1934 union of Dazzy and Dizzy in St. Louis certainly makes for the best-named tandem on this list. Grimes made eight appearances for those Cardinals as well, thus reprising his Broooklyn-based 1922-1926 union with Vance.

108.2 (16th): Steve Carlton (56.2), Phil Niekro (52.0)
105.0 (26th-T): Steve Carlton (56.2), Bert Blyleven (48.8)

Carlton was a nomad during the twilight of his career. Released by both the Phillies and the Giants in 1986, he caught on with the White Sox, missing an overlap with Tom Seaver by about six weeks; their combo of 113.2 would have ranked 10th. Aided by a brief rebound in Chicago (4-3, 3.69 ERA in 10 starts), Carlton continued to hang on. After joining Niekro to make 23 appearances for the Indians in 1987, Lefty was sent to the Twins in a deadline deal. He fared so badly (6.70 ERA in nine appearances) that he was left off the post-season roster, while Blyleven helped pitch the Twins to a World Series upset. Both pitchers returned for 1988, though Carlton didn't last long before drawing his release. As for Niekro, his 1987 season also included a stop-off in Toronto before a one-game farewell with the Braves, whose staff featured a 21-year-old Glavine; at 100.7, that pairing just misses the list.

107.7 (17th): Warren Spahn (54.3), Juan Marichal (53.4)
106.8 (22nd): Warren Spahn (54.3), Gaylord Perry (52.5)
106.3 (23rd): Warren Spahn (54.3), Phil Niekro (52.0)
105.9 (24th): Juan Marichal (53.4), Gaylord Perry (52.5)

Spahn's final years pay off with a few entries here. The ancient lefty's last season in Milwaukee (1964) coincided with Niekro's 10-game debut stint, while his 16-game stint with the Giants the following year teamed him up with a pair of Hall of Famers who spent a whole decade (1962-1971) as mainstays of the Giants' staff.

107.3 (20th): Randy Johnson (56.7), Curt Schilling (50.6)

This duo's overlap (2000-2003) not only brought the Diamondbacks a World Championship in 2001, but happened to be one of the rare instances on this list where both pitchers were together during their peaks instead of towards either end of their careers.

105.0 (26th-T): Fergie Jenkins (52.5), Gaylord Perry (52.5)

Repeat business for these two, who teamed up for the 1975 Rangers. A Perry-Blyleven tandem from 1976 (101.3) just misses the cut.

102.2 (29th): Tom Seaver (57.0), Nolan Ryan (45.2)

Ryan debuted with the Mets in 1966, Seaver in 1967, though the two didn't actually share the big-league roster until 1968. Wilder than a rabid dingo at this stage, Ryan pitched in Seaver's shadow until being traded to the Angels after the 1971 season.

So there you have it, 30 pairings of pitchers whose WARP peaks rate higher than the shiny new Martinez-Santana tandem. Of course, given the newest Met's youth (he turns 29 in March) and shot at improving his peak (a failure to surpass his 2003 season would rate as a debacle), they're a good bet move up this list. Stay tuned.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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