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January 12, 2009 10:23 am

Prospectus Hit and Run: The Pitchers

10

Jay Jaffe

Wrapping up the JAWS rankings for this year's Hall of Fame eligibles.

Finally, we come to the pitchers on the BBWAA ballot for the Hall of Fame, a mercifully short list this time around, featuring four holdovers and three newcomers. Among this group, Bert Blyleven is the standout, and while he's certainly no lock to gain election this time around, he jumped to nearly 62 percent in last year's vote, suggesting that the work done by statheads here and elsewhere to boost his candidacy is finally getting through to the voters.

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January 3, 2008 12:00 am

The Class of 2008

0

Jay Jaffe

A look at the starting pitchers on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Once again, Ye Olde Winter Workload kept me from reaching the pitchers' portion of the Hall of Fame ballot before the arrival of the New Year, not to mention the December 31 deadline for postmarking ballots. Nonetheless, with the election results not due to drop until January 8, there's still plenty of time for readers to play along at home.

The basics of JAWS remain the same for the pitchers as for the hitters: we consider a player's career and peak WARP totals--the latter defined as his seven best seasons--using the all-time version of our WARP3 metric. Just as the worst elected Hall of Famer at each position was eliminated in the process of determining the JAWS benchmarks, we'll exclude a similar percentage of pitchers--four out of 60, in this case. Four more (Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter) are excluded for use in creating the reliever benchmark, known as RAJAWS (Reliever Adjusted JAWS); while Eckersley had a significant career as a starter, his overall numbers are so close to the JAWS benchmark for starters that including or excluding him doesn't move any measure more than a few runs. In examining these pitchers, we'll also use Pitching Runs Above Average (PRAA) as a secondary measure for "peak" in conjunction with PRAR's "career" proxy. A pitcher with many PRAA but fewer PRAR likely had a high peak and a short career, while one with the same number of PRAA but more PRAR likely had a longer career. Although durability should not be confused with excellence, league-average performance has value, as anybody who's ever suffered through a fifth starter's pummeling knows.

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January 9, 2007 12:00 am

The Class of 2007

0

Jay Jaffe

With the Hall of Fame announcement coming later today, Jay concludes JAWS' take on who should make it in by sizing up the pitchers.

We'll dispense with the introductory formalities (you can read last year's pieces here and here) and cut to the chase. As with the hitters, we'll consider career WARP and peak WARP--the adjusted for all time flavor, WARP3--with the latter defined as a pitcher's best seven years. Just as we eliminated the worst elected Hall of Famer at each position in determining the JAWS standards, we'll exclude a similar percentage of pitchers--four out of the 60, in this case. In examining these pitchers, we'll also use Pitching Runs Above Average (PRAA) because it forms a reasonable secondary measure for "peak" in conjunction with PRAR's "career" proxy. A pitcher with many PRAA but fewer PRAR likely had a high peak and a short career, while one with the same number of PRAA but more PRAR likely had a longer career. Although durability should not be confused with excellence, league average has value, as anybody who's ever suffered through a fifth starter's pummeling knows.

This year's pitching segment has one more wrinkle. On the advice of WARP creator Clay Davenport, the pitching portion of this year's edition of JAWS includes a downward adjustment for pitchers in the AL after 1973 to counteract the negative hitting contributions of their non-DH brethren. This prevents the system from overly favoring recent AL pitchers, but the consequence is that the career and peak JAWS scores won't match what you can pull from the DT pages on our site. I'd prefer the transparency, but in terms of evaluating the cases on the current ballot, the need for this "tax" wins out.

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December 16, 2005 12:00 am

The Class of 2006

0

Jay Jaffe

Jay continues his look at the new Hall of Fame ballot, this time turning his attention to the starting pitchers.

The starters would appear to have less hope these days. Spoiled by a group of contemporaries (Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro) who won 300 games from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s, when the days of the four-man rotation dominated, the writers haven't elected a non-300-winning starter since Fergie Jenkins in 1991. Since then, they've made Niekro and Sutton sweat through a combined 10 ballots to gain entry, while Ryan curiously waltzed in with an all-time record percentage of the vote. In the days of the five-man rotation and the six-inning starter, we may not see another pitcher enshrined until Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux finally hang up their spikes, the presence of other worthy hurlers on the ballot be damned.

But despite this "Just Wins, Baby" rule of thumb that the writers appear to be following, the rest of us have learned that wins ain't all that. One of the great lessons of the sabermetric revolution is the idea that a pitcher doesn't have as much control over the outcome of ballgames (as reflected in his win and loss totals) or even individual at-bats (hits on balls in play) as he's generally given credit for. Good run support and good defense can make big winners of mediocre pitchers on good teams, and .500 pitchers of good hurlers on mediocre teams. As such, it's important to examine the things over which a pitcher has control and account for those he does not.

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December 20, 2004 12:00 am

The Class of 2005

0

Jay Jaffe

Along with the three hitters he named last week, Jay Jaffe sees three qualified pitchers among the 11 on the Hall of Fame ballot.

The 2004 election saw the writers tab just the third reliever for induction, as Dennis Eckersley joined Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers among the bronzed legends. While Eckersley's dominance and his usage pattern ("Just the Saves, Ma'am") contributed mightily to his election, his decade as a starter and the stats he garnered in that role mean that his ascension offers us little insight on the writers' view of what makes a Hallworthy reliever. The standards for starters may be somewhat easy to discern, if lately a bit unrealistic, but with a growing number of quality relievers on the ballot, the continuous evolution of the closer role, and the paucity of standards to measure them by, sorting out the bullpen elite poses a hefty challenge to voters.

One of the great lessons of the sabermetric revolution is the idea that the pitcher doesn't have as much control over the outcome of ballgames (as reflected in his win and loss totals) or even individual at-bats (hits on balls in play) as he's generally given credit for. Good run support and good defense can make big winners of mediocre pitchers on good teams, and .500 pitchers of good hurlers on mediocre teams. As such, it's important to examine the things over which a pitcher has control and account for those he does not.

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January 14, 2004 12:00 am

The Class of 2004

0

Jay Jaffe

The Baseball Writers of America's standards on what constitute a Hall of Fame pitcher are in a curious spot now, both when it comes to starters and relievers. Spoiled by a group of contemporaries who won 300 games from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s (Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro), the writers haven't elected a non-300-winning starter since Fergie Jenkins in 1991. That Perry, Sutton and Niekro took a combined 13 ballots to reach the Hall while Ryan waltzed in on his first ballot with the all-time highest percentage of votes is even more puzzling. Apparently what impresses the BBWAA can be summarized as "Just Wins, Baby"--which is bad news for every active pitcher this side of Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux. Of the 59 enshrined pitchers with major-league experience, only two of them--Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers--are in Cooperstown for what they accomplished as relievers. While the standards for starters are somewhat easy to discern (if lately a bit unrealistic), the growing number of quality relievers on the ballot, the continuous evolution of the relief role, and the paucity of standards to measure them by present some interesting challenges to voters. If there's an area in which performance analysis has struggled mightily against mainstream baseball thought, it's in hammering home the concept that the pitcher doesn't have as much control over the outcome of ballgames--as reflected in his Won-Loss totals--or even individual at-bats--hits on balls in play--as he's generally given credit for. Good run support and good defense can make big winners of mediocre pitchers on good teams, and .500 pitchers of good hurlers on mediocre teams. As such, it's important to examine the things over which a pitcher has control and account for those he does not. Once again, the Davenport system rides to the rescue.

[Note: The research for this piece, and much of the writing, was done prior to the Hall of Fame voting results being announced.]

INTRODUCTION

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December 24, 2003 12:00 am

Prospectus Today: And to All a Good Night...

0

Joe Sheehan

I usually complain that the lack of changes in the weather in southern California causes me to not get into the Christmas spirit. So this year, Sophia and I came east to spend the holidays with my family...and it's 57 degrees in New York City on December 23. The California-native bride is happy that she can feel all her extremities, but I'm looking around for an open golf course, and still wondering if my Christmas cheer is going to make an appearance.

The California-native bride is happy that she can feel all her extremities, but I'm looking around for an open golf course, and still wondering if my Christmas cheer is going to make an appearance. (And writing book chapters. Swear to God, Richard.)

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September 5, 2002 12:00 am

Swinging for the Hall

0

Michael Wolverton

Among the many responses I got to the Bert Blyleven Hall of Fame article on ESPN.com, one of the most interesting was from Dan Kelley of the Boston Metro and yankees-suck.com (a completely objective, non-partisan web site, I'm sure). While my article argued that Blyleven is by far the best pitcher not in the Hall, Dan raised the complementary issue of the best hitter not in the Hall.

Among the many responses I got to the Bert Blyleven Hall of Fame article on ESPN.com, one of the most interesting was from Dan Kelley of the Boston Metro and yankees-suck.com (a completely objective, non-partisan web site, I'm sure). While my article argued that Blyleven is by far the best pitcher not in the Hall, Dan raised the complementary issue of the best hitter not in the Hall.

Dan's letter argued that Jim Rice deserved strong consideration for that honor. (You can read his case for Rice here.) Rice sounded like a decent candidate to me, but then again I had never really looked into the issue.

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