In the Mr. Generics column, I was surprised to see Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry show up as a comparable to so many pitchers. While neither of them is an inner circle hall of famer, they are both in, at the very least for their longevity, which strikes me as an unusual skill in pitchers. I’m curious whether their appearances speaks to their relative ho-hum HOF credentials, whether it reveals something about PECOTA (does it take into account longevity for pitchers as a skill set (is that even possible) or does it compare the progression of the numbers without reference to longevity?
The PECOTA similarity scores are based primarily on looking at a three-year window of a pitcher’s performance. Thus, we might look at what a pitcher did from ages 35-37, and compare that against the most similar age 35-37 performances, after adjusting for parks, league effects, and a whole host of other things. This is different from the similarity scores you might see at baseball-reference.com or in other places, which attempt to evaluate the totality of a player’s career up to a given age.
Now, PECOTA does hedge its bets by including MLB career length as one of the similarity factors. So, if a pitcher didn’t reach the big leagues until he was 35 and then pitched three pretty good seasons, it’s unlikely he’d be compared to Perry or Sutton, who had more than a decade’s worth of MLB experience under their belt. Still, the PECOTAs should generally be thought of as a three year cross-section of a player’s career.
On that score, let’s look at the pitchers who wound up with Gaylord Perry’s name on their comp list:
Casey Daigle? PECOTA is comparing Daigle’s spotty work in the major leagues to Gaylord Perry’s equally spotty work in his first two partial seasons of 1962 and 1963, when he was about 20-25% worse than league average. These things happen, and they’re the reason that we use as many as 100 PECOTA comparables for any given player.
Apart from Daigle, this is an impressive group. About half these pitchers will wind up in Cooperstown, and most of those that won’t are guys well into their 40s, who get compared to Perry because PECOTA has few other options to pick from. Put differently, if a pitcher was like Chris Carpenter in his early 30s, Mike Mussina in his late 30s, and was still a competent big league pitcher into his 40s, would he be a Hall of Famer? I’d think so.
Similarly, for Don Sutton:
This group is slightly less impressive than the Perry group, and we see a slight preference for command pitchers, instead of power arms. Still, there’s nothing to revoke Sutton’s Cooperstown credentials.
It’s natural to turn our gaze to Bert Blyleven, who looks like he’ll get rejected again on Tuesday’s ballot. Blyleven appears only a handful of times in the lists that we generated for the BP07, which are based on a pitcher’s top four comparables, so I’ll cheat a bit and include all the times he appeared in a pitcher’s top ten:
Blyleven was a real phenom, which is why you get guys like Bonderman and Felix Hernandez on the list; he was #11 on Philip Hughes’ list too. But we see some very impressive late-career names as well. In essence, if you compare Blyleven to Gaylord Perry, from ages 25 to 39, they were roughly the same pitcher. But Perry had three or four years in his 40s when was a league-average pitcher after Blyleven had retired, whereas Blyleven had three or four years from age 19-23 as one of the league’s more dominant pitchers before Perry had really gotten on track. How this adds up to Perry being in the Hall of Fame but not Blyleven, I don’t know.