For the ninth and final installment of my “Position Review” series, we look at the pitcher. This takes an entirely different approach. Due to the complexity of picking a single pitcher, five starters, and a closer will be chosen.
“Greg Maddux is probably the best pitcher in all of baseball along with Roger Clemens. He’s much more intelligent than I am because he doesn’t have a 95 or 98 mph fastball. I would tell any pitcher who wants to be successful to watch him, because he’s the true definition of a pitcher.” – Randy Johnson
“The Man with the Rock”. One of baseball’s most brilliant quirks is that it is the only game where the defense possesses the ball. The man who spends the most time with it is the pitcher, and it is possibly the most difficult position on the diamond. Discipline, skill, and conditioning unique to this position is what makes it so hard to quantify. It’s the only position that requires the player to single handedly produce outs, while simultaneously relying on his teammates every time the ball is hit. It’s the job where if you succeed 70% of the time, your career will be short and probably not memorable. The lights shine brighter at the top of the mound.
THE STARTING FIVE:
- Greg Maddux (3.16/132)*
- Randy Johnson (3.29/135)*
- Roger Clemens (3.12/143)*
- Tom Seaver (2.86/127)*
- Pedro Martinez (2.93/154)*
* (ERA/ERA+) ERA+ is a quantified adjustment for the ballparks that players pitched in, and factors the average ERA of the league over that players career. Among more analytically minded baseball writers, it’s a far more objective way of examining a pitchers career, since it accounts for factors other than earned purely runs over innings pitched (ERA).
This was oddly pretty easy. Here you have representation from a wide ranging era, Seaver being the earliest of the group, and Martinez the most recent. Each one carries their own specific traits that would make them one of the all-time starting rotation. Maddux led the way with 5008 innings pitched, and holds the record for gold glove awards for pitchers (18, 12 of which he won consecutively) while Seaver’s 2.86 ERA was best of the pack. Clemens and Johnson give outstanding strikeout numbers from each side (4,672/4,875) and Pedro for his effectiveness, despite the context of the era in which he played. Sure there are many arguments to be made, and there’s some strategy involved when constructing a rotation in general, but if I had one series to win, and I could only use the criteria laid out for this project, this would be the group I would take to that series.
There’s great subjectivity to picking “the pitcher to start the game your life depends on”, for example, if I wanted to go strictly by the best ERA+ (good ol’ fashioned ERA isn’t as objective, considering the average ERA went from the mid 3’s to the mid 5’s during the time span of this project), given the dates required, my rotation would look more like this…
- Pedro Martinez (154)
- Roger Clemens (143)
- Brandon Webb (142)
- Johan Santana (136)
- Randy Johnson (135)
Martinez’s value suddenly becomes more apparent, and despite having slightly more than half of Maddux’s innings pitched, and short of Clemens by 1500 strikeouts, the headwinds that he was pitching into only further proves his case.
“Closest Active Comparison”
- Clayton Kershaw
- Max Scherzer
- Justin Verlander
- Zack Grienke
- Chris Sale
Why? For the same reason that Barry Bonds is my left fielder. For the same reason that water is wet and the sky is blue. Mariano Rivera collected 652 saves over a career that spanned 18 seasons, 5 world championships (2 postseason MVP’s, including the 1999 World Series), and he did it all with one pitch.. If we were looking for the genesis of the cut fastball, i’m sure we can get lost in the muck as to how it came about, but there is little (if any, really) debate over who legitimized that pitch into the record books. This is the “if I had one inning and my life depended on it” pitcher, for just about anyone who watched a baseball game over the last 25 years. His saves record seems safe (Craig Kimbrel, anyone?), but even if it is surpassed, he will always hold a place as one of (if not THE) greatest relief pitchers of all time.
Closest Active Comparison: Craig Kimbrel