Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Idiots on TV
By Zach

So I'm flipping through the channels and I land on ESPN Classic Now! First, ESPN Classic should stick to broadcasting old sporting events and SportsCentury. If I want discussion about contemporary sports, and I have to turn to ESPN for it, I'll take my chances with PTI. First, they ask some random (very fat) sportswriter from Sacramento who will win the 2006 AL Cy Young. He first throws out Johan Santana. Ok, that's fine. He's probably the best pitcher in the AL. Not a very creative pick, but hey, I can live with that. The only other guy he manages to mention (after stuttering and mumbling for a while) is Huston Street. What? Putting aside the fact that Street might not have even been the best rookie in the AL, that has to be the worst prediction I've ever heard. First, how many closers have won the Cy Young? If the greatest closer ever, Mariano Rivera, can't win one, why would Street, who's good but not exactly a legend. Second, how many second-year players have won the Cy Young period? Only Dwight Gooden in recent history. I don't think anyone's comparing Street to Doc quite yet. In fact (and you knew I was gonna throw this in), if you're going to gamble on a second-year player to win the 2006 AL Cy Young, it had better be King Felix, since he's the one guy good enough (oh, and he actually starts).

But all of this was a prelude to the real stupidity. They then asked this guy to put the following Cy Young seasons: Pedro Martinez (1999), Roger Clemens (1986), Ron Guidry (1978), Vida Blue (1971), Denny McLain (1968). His order (from worst to best): Pedro, Clemens, Blue, Guidry, McLain. What a joke. Let's look at it:

McLain: 41 starts, 31-6, 336 IP, 280 K, 7.5 K/9, 0.90 WHIP, 1.96 ERA (3.01 League ERA), 154 ERA+
Blue: 39 starts, 24-8, 312 IP, 301 K, 8.7 K/9, 0.95 WHIP, 1.82 ERA (3.33 League ERA), 183 ERA+
Guidry: 35 starts, 25-3, 273.2 IP, 248 K, 8.2 K/9, 0.95 WHIP, 1.74 ERA (3.63 League ERA), 208 ERA+
Clemens: 33 starts, 24-4, 254 IP, 238 K, 8.4 K/9, 0.97 WHIP, 2.48 ERA (4.19 League ERA), 169 ERA+
Martinez: 29 starts, 23-4, 213.1 IP, 313 K, 13.2 K/9, 0.92 WHIP, 2.07 ERA (5.07 League ERA), 245 ERA+

First of all, McLain's being included is stupid. Yes, he had 31 wins. Fine, it's a great achievement which won't be equaled in today's game. But his season came in the greatest pitcher's year of all time. Remember, the AL batting title was won that year by Carl Yastrzemski at .301. That fact is reflected in his ERA+, even though his raw numbers look pretty good. Still, he places fifth on my list.

Clemens comes in next. First of all, his 1997 or 2004 seasons were much more impressive. Second, numbers just don't stack up with the competition.

Third is Vida Blue. Now we're starting to talk. While his great year came again in another down year for offense, he still was utterly dominant (as you can see in his stats). Still, not enough to crack the top of my list

Guidry comes up just short. His is a truly great season, both in a traditional sense with his ERA and wins, but also when you look at his peripheral stats. He struck out a lot of batters and didn't put many runners on base. All while facing tougher competition than Blue.

But this list utterly belongs to Pedro. His 1999 season was truly special...though maybe not even as good as his 2000 season. Still, he put up an ERA three whole runs lower than the league average. That's amazing. No, that's beyond amazing. Plus, what might put this year ahead of 2000 is the fact that he struck out more than 13 batters per nine innings. That's just ridiculous. One stat I didn't include was K/BB. Pedro's rate that year? 8.5 K/BB. There aren't words to describe how amazing that is. Despite pitching fewer innings than anyone else on that list, he struck out more batters than the rest of them.

This doesn't have some great point, just that I wish more people on TV knew what the hell they were talking about.


Blogger David Arnott said...

The other day, I read something about Pedro's 2000 season, and how it was quite possibly the best pitching season since Ye Olde Days. The most spine-tingling statistical nugget about Pedro's performance that year? .213 opponents' OBP. Good God.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Okay, time for the crazy/bold statement... Pedro is the greatest pitcher ever. Give me any pitcher in his prime for one game, Pedro is the man I'm taking. He was just sick. Not to say he's all that bad now.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


ERA+ isn't the end-all statistic some make it out to be, but the fact that for his career, Pedro's (166) is 18 points higher than the next closest pitcher (Lefty Grove) is still quite telling. If he's not the greatest pitcher ever, he's clearly in the conversation. Gun to my head, I'm going to say Walter Johnson is the man. Martinez, Clemens, and Maddux are all the coversation.

In his prime for just one game? Maddux's 93-94 run was pretty absurd... but Pedro's 2000 still probably takes it.


1:46 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

BK, here's the thing. Maddux was great. I mean, really, really great. People don't appreciate how amazing he really was. But the truth is, if I've got to take one guy, I'm taking the guy who can get out of trouble via the strikeout, and that's clearly Pedro over Maddux.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Agreed. Pedro's peripherals look a little bit nicer, overall. For their careers, Maddux does get the durability points (4400 IP in 19 seasons, well over 200/year) over Martinez (2500 IP in 13 seasons, a hair under 200/year) over Martinez. Still, it's pretty tough to ignore a 28 point gap in career ERA+.

To expand on my point about ERA+, the huge jump in league ERA, the number from which the statistic is formulated, occured in 1993, or Pedro's first year in the majors. This makes a comparison with Maddux and Clemens slightly more complicated. Now, the argument can be made that the very fact that Pedro posted such phenomenal numbers amidst rising run totals makes his stat. line all the more impressive -- and indeed, this line of thought is the reason we deal with ERA+ in the first place. But I'm still incredulous.

Clemens' ERA+ before the jump in league ERA is well over his career average. After, it falls about ten points below (I've quickly thrown together some rough calculations).

Maddux is quite the opposite case. He followed the more standard pitcher's curve, peaking from ages 26-32. All of these seasons come after the league-wide jump in ERA.

So, Maddux's numbers may support my suspicion that Pedro's absurd career ERA+ is at least somewhat misleading. Clemens' may refute that notion, though his career has been aberrational from most every standpoint.

Although I'm not sure how much you want to factor in durability and longevity, I do think it's clear that Pedro is the best pitcher of these three. But I'm not sure the gap is as wide as the Career ERA+ tool would have us believe.


10:05 PM  

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