February 7, 2008
Prospectus Hit and Run
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.
10: Roger Clemens (7), Tom Seaver (3)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.