Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What a relief! Pun Intended

Thanks Mariano. It's bad enough to have a Red Sox player be the all-time leader in something. If it were a great guy like Carl Yastrzemski you wouldn't mind, but a guy like Pedro Martinez, yecch. Well, most fans know that Mariano Rivera, who will be out for a while after injuring himself shagging flies, is the all-time leader in saves, but few know that he has surpassed Pedro Martinez as the leader in career Adjusted ERA, or ERA+. 

The ERA+ is a pitcher's ERA adjusted for the parks he pitched in and the league's ERA. It is based at 100. If the average ERA in the league is 4.00 and a pitcher is pitching in a park that favors hitters and his ERA is 4.00, his ERA will be over 100. If the average ERA in a park is 3.00 and he is pitching in a park that favors pitchers and his ERA is 3.00 the pitcher's ERA will be below 100. 

The beauty of the ERA+ for me is that pitchers can be compared across different eras, the same way that hitters can be compared using OPS. Bob Gibson's ERA of 1.12 in 1968 was the best in the modern era – the lowest since Dutch Leonard's 0.96 ERA 54 years before. Gibson ended up just 22-9 though. I don't know if it's possible to determine, but I'm guessing that Gibson had the lowest 2-month ERA ever in '68. In 92 innings in June and July he gave up 2 runs for a 0.20 ERA. 

But in 1968 major league hitters batted .237. In 1930 the major league AVERAGE was .296. The league's ERA in 1968 was was just 2.99. How times change.

Martinez, who certainly has to be rated among the best starters of all time, had the second best season ERA+ (291) in 2000. (See below for the best.) Then we drop a bit to Dutch Leonard's 279 in 1914, then to  Greg Maddux in 1994 with 271 and 262 the very next year.

Martinez had a career ERA+ of 154, which leads Jim Devlin at 151, Lefty Grove at 148, Hoyt Wilhelm, Smoky Joe Wood, and Walter Johnson at 147, Dan Quisenberry at 146, and Ed Walsh at 145.

The career ERA+ leaders among active players (after Rivera) are Johan Santana (142), Roy Halladay (137), Tim Linecum (133), Felix Hernandez, and Jered Weaver (130).

If you are thinking that Gibson should have done better than a 22-9 record with an ERA of 1.12 consider that Tim Keefe was just 6-6 with the Troy Tojans in 1880 in spite of the best season ERA+ ever - a whopping 295. 

And Walter Johnson, who was famous for losing 1-0 games, was  just 25-17 with the 1910 Senators in spite of a sparkling 1.36 ERA.  He did better in 1913 when he had the sixth best ERA+ of all time (one ahead of Gibson's 258 ERA+ in '68). The Big Train was 36-7 in 1913. His ERA was 1.14. 

Baseball history fans talk about how great Bob Feller and others would have been if they hadn't gone to war at the height of their careers. Or what if Ted Williams had played in Yankee Stadium and Joe Dimaggio had played in Fenway? Well, what if Walter Johnson had pitched for anybody but the Senators. He might have won as many games as Cy Young.

More about Tim Keefe, Jim Devlin, Smoky Joe Wood and other great hurlers is in future installments. Mariano, I know you're 42, but heal quickly. In a game that is now all about the closer you have been the greatest. Rick talked about his regular season achievements but Rivera has also been among the greatest ever in the World Series – not that the Yankees seem headed there this year even if Mariano can come back.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Very interesting, Will. Thanks for all the info.