All-Modern Day Deadball All-Stars–pitching by year
As the old saying goes, there are three ways a pitcher can help himself out: raise strike outs, lower walks and get more ground balls. Deadball pitchers must have gotten a lot of ground balls because they didn’t give a s**t about strike outs or walks.
Selecting a Deadball All-Star squad from modern pitchers was slightly more complicated than the hitting team because of philosophical questions. How do you adjust for HR/9 when the post modern era averaged more than five times as much? Where do you draw the line for innings pitched?
First, I looked over the Hall of Fame list of deadball era pitchers after the amalgamation of the NL and AL, which is 1901-1919, because we want the best of the group. The majority of the HoFers had a BB/9 less than 3 and a K/9 less than 6. Getting rid of the outliers, none of those pitched fewer than 240 innings in a season.
So I began to set the parameters:
1.5 < K/BB < 2.5
6 < K/9
3 < BB/9
240 <= IP
and then organized that Deadball era HoFers group by WHIP. Turns out most of the WHIPs were somewhere between 0.9 and 1.3, so that was added.
Then I put in the function into B-R’s Play Index as following:
WHIP < 1.3
6 < K/9
3 < BB/9
240 <= IP
(Note: doing [3 < BB/9, 1.5 < K/BB < 2.5] pulled up some results we weren’t looking for–some pitchers that had 6.7 K/9. There were also some deadball HoFers–Christy Mathewson, per se–who had a higher K/BB than 2.5 even though they had a K/9 less than 6, so that was scrapped and the [6 < K/9, 3 < BB/9] worked better anyway, as you’ll see in the results).
And then I organized it by HR/9–since there was no way of a pitcher matching a deadball era pitcher’s HR/9 (most were sub-0.10), the best thing to do was to see who came closest.
So what turned up was interesting. 122 results kicked up, only five pitchers after 1989 came up and none after 1997 (Dave Stewart 1990, Kevin Brown 1992, Bill Wegman 1992, Jack McDowell 1992 and Pat Hentgen 1997). I originally guessed that was because of the five-man rotation, but it gets weirder, as you’ll see.
Anyway, here’s the team as I see it and with an explanation after the jump.
Stats ordered in importance (innings pitched, homers per nine, strike outs per nine, walks per nine, WHIP, ERA, ERA+)
SP Tommy John, 1979 (276.1/0.29/3.62/2.12/1.205/2.96/137)
SP Dave Roberts, 1971 (269.1/0.30/4.51/2.04/1.109/2.10/157)
SP Vida Blue, 1976 (298.1/0.27/5.01/1.90/1.109/2.35/142)
SP Randy Jones, 1976 (315.1/0.43/2.65/1.43/1.027/2.74/120)
But we also want to include some current pitchers, so we’re changing the parameters to a 5-man rotation (~200-225 IP) and the years to eliminate pitchers who reached those innings through injury (1990-2009).
SP Tom Glavine, 1991 (225.0/0.2/5.16/2.80/1.187/2.76/133)
SP Dennis Martinez, 1991 (222.0/0.36/4.99/2.51/1.122/2.38/153)
SP Derek Lowe, 2002 (219.2/0.49/5.20/1.97/0.974/2.58/177)
SP Joel Piniero, 2009 (214.0/0.46/4.42/1.14/1.145/3.49/118)
SP Curt Schilling, 1992 (226.1/0.44/5.85/2.35/0.990/2.35/150)
Relievers (note: ERA and ERA+ are unbolded because they are not as important for relievers)
RP Mudcat Grant, 1968 (94.2/0.10/3.33/1.81/1.014/2.09/131)
RP Frank Linzy, 1968 (94.2/0.11/3.42/2.57/1.088/2.09/143)
RP Cisco Carlos, 1967 (41.2/0.00/5.83/1.94/0.768/0.86/348)
RP Dale Murray, 1974 (69.2/0.13/4.00/2.97/0.990/1.03/372)
RP Clay Carroll, 1976 (77.1/0.12/4.42/2.79/1.177/2.56/140)
RP Steve Howe, 1980 (84.2/0.11/4.15/2.34/1.240/2.66/133)
RP Dan Quisenberry, 1981 (62.1/0.14/2.89/2.17/1.187/1.73/207)
RP Chad Bradford, 1998 (30.2/0.00/3.23/2.05/1.109/3.23/141)
A lot of players from the ’70s popped up, almost like it was a deadball revival.
1976 Vida Blue was an interesting one, probably his best season comparison is 1905 Cy Young. Vida Blue was one of the pitchers on the ’70s Oakland A’s teams that won a string of championships. He started in the rotation at the age of 21 in 1971 and then found his groove at age 26. 1976 was a great year for him, probably his best in peripherals, and he ended up pitching better over his career than Catfish Hunter over as many innings.
I had a feeling Tommy John would come out on top of the starters and voila. Tommy John was something special. Wish I could’ve seen him pitch. 1969 Claude Osteen was originally on this list, but was removed for Vida Blue, who had a better HR/9 and BB/9. Jones was the lowest HR/9s that fit the parameters and pitched over 300 innings–1975 Jim Palmer was a great candidate, but his HR/9 was too high at 0.56. Palmer popped up a few times.
Jones was a freak, though. Look at that K/9. Of the 27 pitchers that qualified ( BB/9 < 3, K/9 < 6, HR/9 < .5, WHIP < 1.2 and at least 250 innings pitched), the majority were in the 4.0-5.0 K/9 range. Only two had a K/9 under 3.49. Jones was second lowest to 1978 Lary Sorenson was first, who had fewer IP and a higher HR/9. I can’t fathom how he got away with that, either he had a tremendous defense behind him or he broke the single-season record for ground balls induced. Probably both. And then it all disappeared the next year. Even if it was all smoke and mirrors, that’s one heck of a season.
In the five-man rotation, the thing that stands out the most is Joel Piniero’s season–almost everything is better than Derek Lowe’s 2002 season. Defense may have been a key factor. Indeed, Piniero had Skip Schumaker and Mark Derosa at 2B and 3B, both of whom have very bad UZR/150 over their careers at those positions, while Lowe had Rey Sanchez and Nomar Garciaparra up the middle–UZR was in its first full season, but seeing Sanchez’s three season spread is impressive. Shea Hillenbrand was at 3B, but was no less productive defensively than Derosa.
One thing that surprised me, I was almost certain Mark Buerhle was going to come up at least once on this list, but his HR/9 was too high. In fact, Piniero and Lowe were the only two from the 2000 decade and basically all the other pitchers were from 1990-1993, which makes a lot of sense when you think about when the home run era started. After expanding the parameters to 1.3 < WHIP, Roy Halladay, Chien Ming Wang and Tim Hudson showed up. After resetting and then expanding parameters to 0.8 < HR/9, Roy Halladay, Mark Buerhle, Carl Pavano and Tim Hudson showed up.
If we’re to infer anything from this, it doesn’t seem like the top tier of talent changed, but hits and HR/9 went up. The two best explanations I can come up with are 1) the strike zone got smaller, 2) batters became more patient on balls out of the strike zone and hit for more power. I would put expansion as a possible reason (the Marlins and Rockies were created in 1993 and then the D-backs and Rays in 1997), but in theory, HR/9 would have gone down after the expansion because of the dilution of hitters. By Occam’s razor, since the drop off is so sharp and pitchers that showed up in the 1991-1993 years continued to pitch throughout the 1990s, no. 1 is more likely. More research on this to come.
I think the lack of pitchers in the search between 1993 to present is amazing. It’s a testament to just how impressive Piniero’s and Lowe’s seasons were in each year.
On the relievers side, parameters were tightened and loosened to HR/9 < 0.20, IP > 50, and then tightened and loosened again after that to HR/9 < 0.15, IP > 20. Not that many kicked back. Kinda weird that Mudcat Grant (great name) and Linzy pitched in the same year, in the same division, had the same ERA and came out with two different ERA+s. Guessing that has to do with park factor, but Grant pitched at Dodger Stadium and Linzy pitched at Candlestick.
Dale Murray was maybe the biggest surprise. A big BB/9, a tiny K/9 and a sub-1 WHIP. Where did that guy come from? And he did it multiple times in his career. Watching him pitch must have been like watching divine providence.
There were more pitchers available more qualified than 1998 Chad Bradford, but I went with him because a) Bradford is awesome and b) he was the closest in proximity to the current year.
Originally 1992 Pedro Astacio on there (82/0.11/2.20/4.72/1.220/1.98/176), but all of his innings came via starting. He had 11 appearances, and 11 starts. Thought that was a little unfair. Same with 1977 Mark Fydrich and 1978 Vern Ruhle.
For the four-man rotation, 1964 Dean Chance (0.23 HR/9) just fell out with a 6.69 K/9, unfortunately. Same for 1978 Phil Neikro, who had over 300 IP.
Others earning consideration were 1976 Mark Fydrich, 1992 Mike Mussina, 1993 Steve Avery, 1968 Gaylord Perry and 1982 Joaquin Andujar.