SweetSpot: Greg Maddux

This weekend's Hall of Fame induction ceremony features the best class we've had in a long time, with three first-ballot Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas and three legendary managers in Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. After last year's shutout from the Baseball Writers' Association, coupled with a group of Veterans Committee inductees that included names last relevant more than 75 years ago, it's nice to celebrate an era of baseball we actually remember watching.

It's also a celebration of those great Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. Maddux and Glavine were teammates from 1993 through 2002, and the Braves won a division title in each of those seasons, excepting the never-completed 1994 season. Throw in division titles in 1991 and 1992 plus three more from 2003 to 2005 and the Braves won a remarkable 14 consecutive division titles, one of the most remarkable achievements in baseball history.

This article isn't meant to be a criticism or to detract from the accomplishments of Maddux, Glavine and Cox, but it's fair to point out that part of the legacy of those Braves teams is that those 14 playoff appearances led to just one World Series title (1995). Why wasn't it more? The law of averages -- if every playoff team were considered equal -- suggests the Braves should have won 2.1 championships in this period, so they underperformed by only one title by this measure.

But the Braves were often better than the opponent that beat them, at least in the regular season, so maybe it should have been at least three titles. I thought it would be interesting to go back and see what went wrong for them. We'll list three factors for each postseason series defeat during that period.

1991: Lost World Series in seven games to the Minnesota Twins
Let's go straight to Game 7, a classic game in maybe the best World Series ever played. (By starting at the end, we conveniently skip past Otis Nixon's drug suspension late in the season, Kent Hrbek doing this to Ron Gant in Game 2 and Kirby Puckett doing this in Game 6).

[+] EnlargeAtlanta Braves
AP Images/Mark DuncanThe Braves tried everything in the 1991 World Series, even rally caps.
1. Lonnie Smith's bad baserunning on Terry Pendleton's double in the eighth inning. Chuck Knoblauch often gets credited for deking Smith by acting like it was a double-play grounder, but the highlight seems to show Smith simply lost track of the ball as opposed to falling for Knoblauch's phantom double play.

2. Still, the Braves had runners on second and third with no outs and couldn't score. Gant grounded out, and after an intentional walk to David Justice, Sid Bream grounded into a 3-2-3 double play. From what I can tell from a play-by-play search on Baseball-Reference.com, this is the only 3-2-3 double play in World Series history.

3. Dan Gladden's bloop double leading off the 10th off Alejandro Pena that eventually led to the winning run. Thank you, Metrodome turf.

1992: Lost World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays

1. In Game 2 -- the Braves up 4-3 in the ninth, about to go ahead two games to none -- little-used Ed Sprague (one home run on the season) hits a two-run, pinch-hit homer off veteran reliever Jeff Reardon, who had been acquired late in the season.

2. More bullpen blues in Game 3. The Blue Jays had tied it in the eighth off Steve Avery, who was removed after a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth. Mark Wohlers enters to face Joe Carter and Dave Winfield -- but Roberto Alomar steals second, so Bobby Cox intentionally walks Carter. Winfield bunts the runners along and Mike Stanton is brought in to face John Olerud, but Cito Gaston goes again to Sprague and Cox issues another intentional walk. Candy Maldonado then delivers a deep fly-ball single off Reardon to score the winner. The big mistake was walking Carter, a free swinger, but I'm guessing Cox never imagined Gaston would have Winfield bunt.

3. Nixon's bunt. OK, Otis could run. But in the bottom of the 11th, the Braves down 4-3, pinch runner John Smoltz at third base with two outs and the World Series on the line, Nixon tried to bunt for a hit. Gutsy play or dumb play? Mike Timlin fielded the bunt, and the Jays won.

1993: Lost NLCS in six games to the Philadelphia Phillies

1. Bad run distribution. The Braves outscored the Phillies 33-23, winning two games by 14-3 and 9-4 scores but lost three games by one run.

2. More bullpen blues: Greg McMichael, the rookie closer, lost Game 1 in the 10th inning on Kim Batiste's RBI double. Wohlers was the loser in the 10th inning of Game 5 when Lenny Dykstra homered.

3. Maddux's poor Game 6 outing. He walked four batters in giving up six runs in 5⅔ innings.

1995: Won World Series in six games over the Cleveland Indians

[+] EnlargeAtlanta Braves
AP Images/Ed ReinkeThe sole World Series celebration in 1995. One out of 14 straight postseasons … that's not so bad, is it?
What's interesting about the one title is that it probably wasn't the best Braves team of this era. This club went 90-54, a .625 winning percentage. (Remember, the 1995 season was shortened by the work stoppage that started in August 1994.) The Braves had a better winning percentage in 1993 (.642), 1998 (.654), 1999 (.636) and 2002 (.631). They also beat a dominant Indians team that had gone 100-44 while averaging 5.8 runs per game. Atlanta did it, no surprise, with pitching: The Indians hit just .179 in the series. Here's the final out.

1996: Lost World Series in six games to the New York Yankees

1. That hanging slider from Wohlers in Game 4.

2. Earlier in that game, the Braves led 6-0 in the sixth inning when a rookie named Derek Jeter lofted a pop fly down the right-field line that Jermaine Dye chased after … until he ran into umpire Tim Welke. The ball fell for a hit, starting a three-run rally. (We should have realized back then that the Yankees rookie shortstop was destined for greatness, considering he would also hit the Jeffrey Maier home run in the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles a week earlier.)

3. Marquis Grissom's error. His dropped fly ball led to the only run in Game 5 as Andy Pettitte outdueled Smoltz 1-0.

1997: Lost NLCS in six games to the Florida Marlins

1. Eric Gregg. The worst strike zone in the history of baseball (undocumented but presumably true) helped rookie Livan Hernandez strike out 15 and beat Maddux 2-1 in Game 5. Here are all 15 strikeouts. Fast-forward to the 1:30 mark for the final out on Fred McGriff on a pitch that will make you laugh, cry and disgusted.

2. Glavine's stinker first inning in Game 6. Single, walk, single, two-run single, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk (sure seems like Cox issued a lot of intentional walks), HBP with the bases loaded, RBI groundout, strikeout. The Marlins were up 4-0 before the Braves came to bat.

3. Pinch hitting. Thought I'd throw this in here somewhere. Braves pinch hitters were generally awful in the postseason during these 14 years. I'm not sure if that had to with the strength (or lack thereof) of the Braves' benches or just something that happened. Cox always liked to carry a third catcher for the playoffs, which generally meant he wasted a roster spot when he could have had another pinch hitter available. Then again, during much of this period, he carried only nine or 10 pitchers, not the 11 or 12 you see now, so he still had plenty of pinch-hitting options. Anyway, by my count, from 1991 to 2005, Braves pinch hitters went 39-for-208 (.188) in the postseason with zero home runs, 17 walks and just 22 RBIs. Considering postseason pinch hitters are often used in critical situations, that performance had to have hurt. Outside of Francisco Cabrera in the 1992 NLCS, they were certainly lacking their Ed Sprague moments.

1998: Lost NLCS in six games to the San Diego Padres

1. Sterling Hitchcock. In two starts, San Diego’s journeyman left-hander allowed just one run in 10 innings.

2. More bullpen blues. The closer this year was another rookie named Kerry Ligtenberg, who was discovered in independent ball. He had a good year with 30 saves and a 2.71 ERA. The Braves generally had good bullpens during this period. They just didn't always pitch well in the postseason. In Game 1, Ken Caminiti torched Ligtenberg for a home run in the 10th inning.

[+] EnlargeTom Glavine and Bobby Cox
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty ImagesThrough five innings, Tom Glavine held the Padres scoreless in Game 6 of the 1998 NLCS. But in the sixth, this happened. Again.
3. Glavine's bad inning. Game 6 was tied 0-0 in the sixth when Glavine had another one of those innings and the Braves defense made a crucial error. (This seemed to happen quite a bit, surprising since the Braves were generally good defensively.) With one out, the Padres got two base hits and a groundout to take a 1-0 lead. But Wally Joyner singled to make it 2-0, and then a hit and a walk loaded the bases for Hitchcock. He hit a short line drive to left field that Danny Bautista dropped, and two runs scored. Maybe it didn't matter in the end as four relievers combined with Hitchcock on the two-hit shutout.

1999: Lost World Series in four games to the Yankees

1. Another crucial error. In Game 1, the Braves lead 1-0 in the eighth, with Maddux pitching a gem. Scott Brosius singles. Darryl Strawberry, pinch hitting, walks. Knoblauch bunts, but first baseman Brian Hunter -- who had just replaced Ryan Klesko for defense -- boots the play to load the bases. Jeter singles to tie the game, and Paul O'Neill greets John Rocker with a two-run single, with Hunter making another error that allowed the runners to move up a base. After an intentional walk and two strikeouts, Rocker walked Jim Leyritz with the bases loaded. Yankees win 4-1.

2. The Chad Curtis Game. Knoblauch had tied the game in the eighth with a two-run homer off Glavine that Brian Jordan just missed -- a classic Yankee Stadium home run. That led to Curtis, now rotting in jail after being convicted for sexual misconduct, hitting the game-winning home run, his second of the game, in the 10th inning off Mike Remlinger.

By the way, if you're counting, extra-winning wins, 1991-2005 postseason:

Braves: 8
Opponents: 13

3. Mariano Rivera. One win, two saves. The Yankees had him; the Braves didn't.

2000: Lost NLDS in three games to the St. Louis Cardinals

1. Maddux got pounded in Game 1.

2. Glavine got pounded in Game 2.

3. Kevin Millwood got pounded in Game 3.

2001: Lost NLCS in five games to the Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Randy Johnson. The Big Unit allowed two runs in 16 innings in winning both of his starts.

2. Bad Maddux, bad defense. In Game 4 -- a must-win against Albie Lopez, the weak link behind Johnson and Curt Schilling -- Maddux gave up eight hits and six runs in three innings. The Braves committed four errors in the game, including three in a four-run third, leading to three unearned runs.

3. Three-man rotation? Maddux and Glavine started Games 4 and 5 on three days' rest while Johnson started Game 5 on four days' rest. Neither pitched well. Was this an issue throughout this era? From 1991 to 2005, Braves starters pitched 24 times on three days' rest. There were some notable successes -- Smoltz pitched 7⅓ scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Glavine pitched a four-hit complete game in Game 1 of the 1992 World Series, and Denny Neagle tossed a four-hit shutout in Game 4 of the 1997 NLCS -- but the Braves went 10-14 in these games and the starters allowed 4.37 runs per nine innings; when pitching on four or more days of rest in the other 98 games, the starters allowed 3.64 runs per nine innings and the team went 53-45.

So to recap, and considering Cox used his best starters on short rest:

Three days of rest: 10-14, 4.37 runs per nine innings. (The Braves were 0-3 in games started on two days' rest, after a starter had appeared earlier in relief.)
Four or more days of rest: 53-45, 3.64 runs per nine innings.

Cox understandably put a lot of faith in Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz and, early on, Avery. In retrospect, maybe he should have trusted the depth of his rotation a little more.

2002: Lost NLDS in five games to the San Francisco Giants

1. Glavine. In two starts, he lasted a combined 7⅔ innings, allowed 17 hits and 13 runs and had more walks (seven) than strikeouts (four). In his final playoff start for the Braves in Game 4, he got knocked out in the third inning after Rich Aurilia hit a three-run homer. Glavine signed with the Mets that offseason, and you wonder if his poor playoff performances in recent years was a reason the Braves let him go.

[+] EnlargeGreg Maddux
Harry How/Getty ImagesIt was as if Greg Maddux couldn't bear to watch Barry Bonds round the bases after another NLDS home run in 2002.
2. Barry Bonds. This was the postseason Bonds was unstoppable. He hit three home runs and drew four walks in the five games, including a homer off Millwood in a 3-1 Giants win in the clincher.

3. One last gasp that fell short. Game 5, bottom of the ninth, the Braves had two on with nobody out. Gary Sheffield struck out and Chipper Jones grounded into a double play.

2003: Lost NLDS in five games to the Chicago Cubs

1. No offense. By 2003, the Braves had morphed into an offensive powerhouse. This team led the NL with 907 runs scored as Javy Lopez clubbed 43 home runs, Sheffield hit 39, Andruw Jones hit 36, and Chipper Jones hit .305 with 27 home runs. They hit .215 with three home runs against the Cubs.

2. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Prior pitched a two-hitter in Game 3 (throwing 133 pitches). In Game 5 in Atlanta, Wood allowed one run in eight innings. Again, note that Wood was pitching on four days of rest while Mike Hampton went on three days.

3. Smoltz as reliever. From 2001 through 2004, following Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2000, Smoltz became the team's closer. However, he rarely had save opportunities in the postseason in these years; considering he later returned with success to the rotation, you wonder how Braves history would have been different had Smoltz been starting those years.

2004: Lost NLDS in five games to the Houston Astros

1. Jaret Wright. The Braves' Game 1 starter (posting a 3.28 ERA that year), Wright gave up 10 runs in 9⅔ innings in his two starts and lost both games.

2. Carlos Beltran. He hit four home runs and drove in nine runs for the Astros in the five games, including going 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs in a 12-3 rout in Game 5 -- yet another Game 5 loss at home.

3. Marcus Giles. He hit .125 in the series without an RBI. In 25 postseason games for the Braves, he hit .217/.277/.315 with two home runs and six RBIs in 101 plate appearances. Not to pick on one guy or anything.

2005: Lost NLDS in four games to the Astros

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1. Game 4. You could write a book on the longest postseason game ever played. The Astros prevailed in 18 innings when Chris Burke hit this walk-off home run off Joey Devine. You remember Joey Devine, right?

2. Kyle Farnsworth. The Braves blew a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning of that game. Farnsworth gave up a grand slam to Lance Berkman in the eighth and a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth to Brad Ausmus.

3. Failed opportunities. The biggest came in the 14th inning when the Braves loaded the bases with one out. But Brian McCann struck out and pinch hitter Pete Orr grounded out. Roger Clemens, pitching on two days' rest after starting Game 2 and making his first relief appearance since 1984, then tossed three scoreless innings to get the win.

And that was it. The end of an era. That wasn't a great Braves club, going 90-72, at least compared to some of the earlier editions. In 2006, they fell to 79-83, but they rebuilt and gave Cox one final playoff appearance in 2010 -- in which the Braves lost the division series once again. (With another loss in 2013, the Braves have lost six consecutive division series, with a wild-card defeat thrown in as well.)

Still, it was a splendid stretch of baseball. From 1991 to 2005, the Braves played 125 postseason games. They won 63 games and lost 62. Maybe they should have won another World Series. In going through the play-by-play of a lot of these games, besides the obvious bullpen issues, I was struck by how many games were affected by errors. The Braves allowed 55 unearned runs in these 125 postseason games; as it turns out, that total isn't that much different from how the Braves performed in the regular season. From 1991 to 2005, not including 1994, they averaged 61 unearned runs per season; in the postseason, they were a little worse, as their total prorates to 71 over 162 games.

Of course, in the postseason, when the margin for error is smaller and the opponents better, those mistakes become more important. Still, maybe that wasn't a decisive factor; the Braves reached on an error 58 times in these 14 playoff years, their opponents 64.

Maybe a key to the Braves' success -- starting pitching depth -- just wasn't as big of a factor in the playoffs, when their opponents could shorten their rotations. Maybe power pitching does win in October; think of some of the pitchers the Braves lost to (Schilling with the Phillies and Diamondbacks; Johnson; Wood and Prior; Clemens and Roy Oswalt). The Braves' best playoff starter was Smoltz, more of a power pitcher than Maddux and Glavine. Maddux went 11-13 with a 2.81 ERA in his Braves postseason career but also allowed 18 unearned runs in 27 starts; he was good but not quite the Maddux of the regular season. Glavine was 12-15 with a 3.44 ERA in his Braves postseason career. (He had a 3.15 ERA in the regular season during this period.)

But Braves fans will always have 1995, Maddux pitching a two-hitter to win the opener and Glavine clinching it with that masterful Game 6 performance, allowing just one hit in eight innings. It's hard to believe that was 19 years ago.
This is sports: We argue about the silliest things, no matter how unimportant. The latest example: Which cap should Greg Maddux wear on his Hall of Fame plaque?

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Maddux decided to go with the logo-less cap, saying he couldn't decide between the Braves and Cubs. "Obviously, I feel like I had more success as a Brave. We did get a World Series there," he said. "But I kind of came up a Cub. For me, I couldn't pick. I really couldn't. Both places mean so much to me personally, to my family. I couldn't pick. So I'm going to go in neutral, I guess."

Maddux won three of his four Cy Young Awards with Atlanta and was 194-88 with the Braves, 133-112 with the Cubs. Hey, at least he didn't choose a Padres cap.

He's not the first player to have a Hall of Fame cap plaque controversy. Hank Aaron has an Atlanta Braves cap instead of a Milwaukee Braves cap, even though he had more years in Milwaukee. Dave Winfield went with the Padres over the Yankees even though he played 55 more games with the Yankees. (Considering how George Steinbrenner treated him, that's understandable.) Gary Carter went with the Expos, although he won a World Series with the Mets. (He played a lot more with the Expos, so this made sense as well.) Catfish Hunter went without a logo, even though he was much better with the A's than with the Yankees. (It may have been a shot at Charlie Finley.) Reggie Jackson went with the Yankees over the A's, perhaps another shot at Finley. Carlton Fisk went with the Red Sox over the White Sox despite playing 350 more games with Chicago.

Tony La Russa also went without a logo, also understandable considering that he had long stints managing the White Sox, A's and Cardinals.

What do you think? Which cap should Maddux have gone with?
I'm in Hall of Fame fatigue, but here's one last post, a roundup of what some others are writing about Wednesday's results. And then we'll move on to Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, and why the Orioles haven't made a big move.

Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated:
Today is a day for celebrating why we love baseball. On a day that has become the annual hand-wringing day about the Steroid Era, two pitchers who looked like they should be shelving books at a library instead of playing in the most anabolically-enhanced era in baseball history rose above the Sturm und Drang. Maddux and Tom Glavine, fellow teammates, fellow 300-game winners, fellow golf partners and fellow summa cum laude graduates of the game, are going in to the Hall of Fame just as they navigated the teeth of the Steroid Era: together.

Dave Cameron, FanGraphs:
In other words, more than 75% of the voters would vote yes for Craig Biggio if that was the only question that was posed to them, but the limit means that is not the question they were asked, and they had to weigh his candidacy against the many other deserving candidates who made up this historically crowded ballot.

The fact that more than 75% of the voters would vote for Biggio, but could not because of an archaic rule that serves no purpose, but he did not get elected because of that rule, is reason enough to discard it post haste. Craig Biggio is, in the minds of 75% of the HOF voters, a Hall of Famer, but is being kept out by a technicality.

Joe Posnanski:
There are so many things wrong with the Hall of Fame voting right now that it feels silly to talk about just one or two. Every time I bring up a Hall of Fame voting change to Bill James, he kind of sighs and acts like I’ve said, “Hey Bill, I’ve got a way to fix Congress.”

Still, it’s clear to me that the BBWAA should make its votes public. I know there are some negatives that go with this — including the potential that voters will feel bullied into voting in a way they would not want to vote. I understand.

But the Hall of Fame does not belong to the BBWAA. It belongs to everybody. If you’re going to vote, you should stand behind your vote. And if public pressure keeps people from throwing a gag vote to J.T. Snow or skipping over Greg Maddux for some inexplicable reason, hey, I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

Buster Olney, ESPN Insider:
No. 1: Make a formal offer from the writers to the Hall of Fame for the BBWAA to recuse itself from the voting. An offer, not an outright recusal.

No matter what your perspective is on the PED generation and its Hall of Fame candidates, the balloting has become something of a mess. Maybe you want to blame the voters who cast ballots for the presumed PED users, or maybe you want to blame the hardened majority, or maybe you want to blame the users or the institution of baseball or the Hall of Fame. No matter where your opinion is, its inarguable that it’s become a controversial, convoluted, flawed process.

Think of this as a presidential crisis: When something isn't working, the administration officials involved will usually offer their resignation, because as the saying goes, they serve at the pleasure of the president. The BBWAA is involved in this only because it is asked to by the Hall of Fame. In the past, Hall president Jeff Idelson has expressed satisfaction with the voting, and he and the board of directors may want to continue using the writers as the voters. It’s their prerogative, either way.

Jeff Passan, Yahoo:
Similarly, the question about Bonds, Clemens and other performance-enhancing-drug users must continue to be asked to those who don't vote for them as well as those who do. If a myriad of Hall of Famers used amphetamines, drugs now considered illegal by Major League Baseball and thought of by some players as even more performance enhancing than steroids, how can we pretend keeping out the modern-day users somehow sanctifies the Hall? If the difference between Bonds and Clemens and others from their era who weren't caught is as simple as the fact that their drug dealers were pinched by authorities, does the organization believe it's tantamount to a drug-sniffing dog, that it knows enough about those it is electing and their potential use to prevent a scenario in which a Hall of Famer later is found to have used and the guys with seven MVPs and seven Cy Youngs are left on the outside?

For all the hand-wringing about how their candidacies are essentially dead, let's remember that the BBWAA voting bloc isn't exactly full of Captain Consistencies. In his second year on the ballot, Bert Blyleven dipped from 17.5 percent to 14.1 percent. A dozen years later, he received 79.7 percent of the vote, having not thrown a single pitch. His greatest ally was time, and the same can be said for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

They have until 2027. That's 13 more years. Think about where we were 13 years ago. Bill James was a cult hero. "Moneyball" was two years from being released. The evolution of the game since then has been staggering, frightening, glorious. If the game grows half as much over the next 13 years, it will still be a monumental shift.

Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports:
For at least some of us, a refusal to vote for a player strongly linked to PEDs is not a question of morality.

Bob Costas said on MLB Network that the issue was more one of “authenticity.” I see it the same way, knowing full well that my voting choices are fair game for those who argue — quite reasonably — that we cannot accurately judge which players did what, to what extent, and the impact their usage had on the game.

I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing by withholding votes for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others, and I reassess my choices every year. But as I've written before, election to the Hall is a privilege, not a right. And the Hall is a museum — a museum with a stated mission of preserving the game’s history, warts and all.

The so-called steroid era is part of that history. If the BBWAA chooses not to elect Bonds and Clemens, it would not mean that they are whitewashed out of Cooperstown; their respective achievements are well-documented in the museum. No, not electing them would simply mean they did not receive the sport's highest honor.

Rick Morrissey, Chicago Sun-Times:
So I had a big, fat, chemically augmented "no" for Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. And I had an agnostic "no," if there is such a thing, for Steroid Era guys such as Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Luis Gonzalez and Jeff Kent.

I can’t emphasize this enough: I’m not sorry about any of it.

Don’t blame me for the people who didn’t get into the Hall. Blame an era. Blame the dirty players (and there were a lot of them) for creating an atmosphere heavy with distrust. Blame Major League Baseball if you think it was either complicit in the Steroid Era or looked the other way. I don’t care.

I get to vote how I want, for whom I want and by whatever yardstick I want. That’s how it works when you walk into a voting booth, isn’t it? You bring in all your experiences, opinions and prejudices. Same thing here.

Russell Carleton, Baseball Prospectus:
There are some differences between those lines. Glavine pitched 850 more innings than did Mussina and 1150 more than Schilling, plus Glavine won more games (and more Cy Young Awards). Maybe more importantly, Glavine won three hundred (and five) games. But their ERAs are comparable, and Glavine notched the fewest strikeouts of the three. Looking at the WAR totals, they all rate pretty comparably. It seems like it’s the same basic case for all three men, or at least close to it. They all even have a “calling card” postseason heroic game to brag about (Schilling’s hematological hosiery heroics in the 2004 ALCS, Glavine’s eight-inning, one-hit performance in the clinching Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, and Mussina’s criminally overlooked 15-strikeout performance in Game 3 of the ALCS, although the Orioles eventually lost that game), as well as his three-inning relief appearance in 2003 ALCS Game 7.

Why then is Glavine (91.9 percent!) getting inner-circle level support while neither Schilling nor Mussina broke the 30 percent barrier? It seems that these three men should have roughly the same support. It’s tempting to think that Glavine’s crossing of the magic 300-win mark is what put him into the 90 percent, first-ballot club. ...

Let me float a slightly different theory. If I played a word association game with “Tom Glavine,” I’ll bet the most common response would be “Greg Maddux." ... Suppose that Maddux had not been on this year’s ballot. Or suppose that Maddux had been teammates for most of the ’90s with Mussina or Schilling. Does Tom Glavine break the 90 percent mark, or is he simply a 60 percent guy who will get in eventually, but only after we’ve had enough time to think about it? Did Glavine get in this time because he had Greg Maddux (and fellow electee Bobby Cox) as a wingman? It’s sort of an uncomfortable question, isn’t it?

Frank Thomas, Hall of Famer (via USA Today):
Asked whether players linked to PEDs should be allowed in, Thomas referenced current Hall of Famers he has spent time with and their vehement stance against steroid users joining the club.

"I've got to take the right stance too," Thomas said. "No, they shouldn't get in. There shouldn't be cheating allowed to get into the Hall of Fame."
Let's finish up with the 14 players I consider strong Hall of Fame candidates. Of course, if I had a ballot, I could vote for only 10 ... well, that's another essay, my friends. Here is Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.


The Hall of Famers

14. Tim Raines (69.1 career WAR, 52.2 percent of the vote last year) -- I’m a big supporter of Raines although it’s possible that the sabermetric crowd has overstated his case just a bit. Raines had a high peak from 1983 to 1987 while with the Expos -- his combined WAR ranks fourth among position players, behind Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken, meaning he was arguably the best player in the National League over that span. He was also an outstanding player in the 1981 strike season and again in 1992 with the White Sox. Other than those seven seasons, however, he was merely good instead of great and spent his late 30s as a part-time player.

Still, as others have written, as he’s a very close statistical comp to Tony Gwynn -- Raines just happened to replace Gwynn’s hits with walks. He’s one of the best basestealers in history and the WAR is right in line with recent Hall of Fame selections. The good news is that Raines’ case is building, from 22.6 percent to 30.4 to 37.5 to 48.7 to 52.2. If he can avoid a collapse this year because of the crowded ballot, his momentum appears strong enough to eventually see election.

13. Craig Biggio (64.9 WAR, 68.2 percent) -- Results from public ballots have Biggio just crossing over the 75 percent mark. Biggio reached the magical 3,000-hit barrier, meaning the only surprise was he didn’t get elected in his first year on the ballot. In the past, 3,000 hits meant you were a mortal lock for Cooperstown. Of the 28 players to reach 3,000 hits, only Biggio, Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro failed to get elected on the first ballot (not including Pete Rose and Derek Jeter).

Of course, to get there, Biggio wasn’t helping his club at the end. He picked up 265 hits his final two seasons while being valued at minus-1.7 WAR. He posted poor on-base percentages and had poor range at second base, not surprising considering he played in his age-40 and age-41 seasons. That's the flaw in focusing on round numbers. Biggio only got there by hanging on.

At his peak, however, Biggio was a tremendous offensive player as a second baseman, with power, speed, on-base skills and the ability to steal bases. From 1994 to 1998 he ranked third, third, second, 12th, third and second, in the NL in offensive WAR and was right up there with the best all-around players in the game.

12. Alan Trammell (70.3 WAR, 33.6 percent) -- To me, it’s clear that the BBWAA threw its support behind the wrong Detroit Tiger. Trammell is basically the same player as Barry Larkin (70.2 WAR), except he played in the same league as Cal Ripken and Larkin played in the same league as Shawon Dunston.

The weird thing about this is that I'm pretty sure Trammell was more famous while active than Larkin, at least on a national level. Larkin did win an MVP Award but Trammell's teams were in the playoff race for most of his career while the Reds were a small-market club that was up and down during Larkin's career. I think what happened is basically this: Say the 33 percent who vote for Trammell also voted for Larkin. That leaves the other two-thirds of the voting pool. Say one-third were NL beat guys and columnists and the other third were AL beat guys and columnists. All the NL guys voted for Larkin because he was the best shortstop in his league but didn't vote for Trammell. But the AL guys didn't vote for Trammell either because he wasn't Ripken -- and then after Trammell retired, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra came along. Larkin gets the easy label -- best in his league -- that Trammell doesn't. Which is too bad. Trammell was a beautiful ballplayer who did everything well.

11. Mark McGwire (62.0 WAR, 16.9 percent) -- One of the things I’ll never forget as a baseball fan is watching McGwire take batting practice while covering a Cardinals-Tigers game at Tiger Stadium in 1999. Standing behind the batting cage as he launched ball after ball onto the roof or over the roof made me re-think the laws of physics (not that I know the laws of physics).

Why McGwire and not Sammy Sosa, when their career WAR isn't that dissimilar? Maybe it is a feel thing, a feeling that McGwire is one of the game's historic figures. I think that counts for something. He also has the best home run rate in history (higher than Babe Ruth).

10. Edgar Martinez (68.3 WAR, 35.9 percent) -- Bias alert! I wrote about Martinez back in 2009 and then again the other day. I rate him a little higher than the guys above because he had more high peak seasons -- five with 6-plus WAR, eight with 5.5-plus WAR and two more at 4.9 and 4.8. Simply, one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. Sadly, if the Mariners didn't waste three years of his career letting him unnecessarily rot in the minors, his case would be much stronger.

9. Mike Piazza (59.2 WAR, 57.8 percent) -- We'll learn a lot about Piazza's future Hall of Fame hopes this year. He achieved a strong showing in his first year. If that grows this year, it's a good sign. If it falls or remains the same, it could be that he's maxed out already due to PED concerns. About that WAR total: It's difficult for catchers to compile the same WAR as other positions, as they play fewer games and often have shortened careers. Piazza ranks sixth all time among catchers, behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez and Yogi Berra.

8. Mike Mussina (83.0 WAR, first year) -- As I wrote back in November, Mussina is eminently qualified for the Hall of Fame.

7. Frank Thomas (73.6 WAR, first year) -- I wrote about Thomas the other day. It looks like he'll get in on his first year on the ballot. Will Thomas' election help Martinez? Once Thomas is in, doesn't it mean you can't use the "but he was a DH" argument against Martinez? Probably not. That suggests a consistent and logical line of thinking from the BBWAA, which ... well, that's like expecting a Cardinals fan to be treated with kindness and respect while sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers wearing a Matt Holliday jersey.

6. Tom Glavine (81.4 WAR, first year) -- Not much to add about Glavine that you don't already know. Durable, consistent, got the most out of his ability. Like Greg Maddux, an absolute joy to watch (unless you were a Mets fan). He owned the outside corner of the plate -- and maybe a few inches beyond -- with that changeup. I think Glavine and Maddux have a bit of an unfair reputation of not showing up in the postseason. Compare their results to those of Andy Pettitte, who does have a reputation as being extra-special clutch in October:

Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 35 GS, 218 1/3 IP, 1.27 WHIP
Maddux: 11-14, 3.27 ERA, 30 GS, 198 IP, 1.24 WHIP
Pettitte: 19-11, 3.81 ERA, 44 GS, 276 2/3 IP, 1.30 WHIP

Their records aren't as good because they didn't get the same run support, not because they didn't pitch well.

5. Jeff Bagwell (79.5 WAR, 59.6 percent) -- Other than not playing an up-the-middle position, the perfect ballplayer: power, speed, on-base ability, terrific baserunner, durable (at least until a shoulder injury cut his career a few years short), excellent defender. Here's something I wrote on Bagwell last January.

There are those who refuse to vote for Bagwell under the assumption he used PEDs; Bagwell has strongly denied using PEDs, telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick in 2010:

I never used [steroids], and I'll tell you exactly why: If I could hit between 30 and 40 home runs every year and drive in 120 runs, why did I need to do anything else? I was pretty happy with what I was doing, and that's the God's honest truth. All of a sudden guys were starting to hit 60 or 70 home runs and people were like, 'Dude, if you took [PEDs], you could do it too.' And I was like, 'I'm good where I'm at. I just want to do what I can do.'


There's nothing abnormal about Bagwell's career curve, other than his freakishly awesome 1994 MVP season when he hit .368. He didn't suddenly start posting career-best numbers in his mid-30s like McGwire or Barry Bonds. He was good as a rookie, got better, remained great and then slowly declined in his 30s.

4. Curt Schilling (79.7 WAR, 38.8 percent) -- Why Schilling over Glavine, even though Glavine won 305 games while Schilling won just 216 games? OK, here's why:

1. Wins are overrated.

2. More career pitching WAR (80.7 to 74.0).

3. Schilling had more high peak seasons -- eight 5-plus WAR seasons with three at 7.9 or higher compared to Glavine's four and one.

4. Postseason dominance.

In the end, I just feel Schilling had the bigger impact on the game's history -- the 2001 World Series triumph for the Diamondbacks, ending the Red Sox curse in 2004 and winning another title in 2007.

Glavine was more durable and lasted longer and maybe you prefer that type of career arc. But I'll take Schilling and his big seasons and go to war with him in October.

3. Greg Maddux (106.8, first year) -- The smartest pitcher who ever lived. At his 1994 and 1995 peak, maybe the best pitcher who ever lived.

2. Roger Clemens (140.3 WAR, 37.6 percent) -- Let's say Clemens started using PEDs in 1997, the year he went to Toronto and went 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA. The popular mythology is that Clemens was fat and washed up in Boston. Actually, he had ranked second among AL pitchers in WAR and led the league in strikeouts in 1996. But whatever. Anyway, through 1996 he was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and 81.3 career pitching WAR. That's more career WAR than Glavine or Schilling. After two big Cy Young seasons with the Blue Jays, he went to the Yankees. And you know what? He wasn't that great with them -- 77-36 but with a 3.99 ERA. He won a sixth Cy Young Award because he went 20-3, not because he was the best pitcher in the league. He won a seventh with the Astros because he went 18-4 (he was seventh among NL pitchers in WAR). Other than the 1.87 ERA in 2005 -- thanks to an absurdly low BABIP -- his late career basically matches what Nolan Ryan did in his 40s.


1. Barry Bonds (162.5 WAR, 36.2 percent) -- Somebody tweeted this on Tuesday night, Bonds hitting a mammoth home run at Yankee Stadium in 2002 -- a blast so impressive that even Yankees fans cheered in awe.

On a basic level, I understand the no votes: Cheaters shouldn't be honored. My colleague Christina Kahrl made a great point about how we view the PED guys: It's a litmus test that tells us what we want from the game. As she told me, we have to remember the past is plenty grimy, full of stories and people every bit as wonderful as we want them to be -- people who also happen to be human.

From 1988 to 1994, Bonds was second in the majors in home runs (to Fred McGriff) and first in OPS and sixth in stolen bases. His WAR was 13 wins higher than the No. 2 position player (Rickey Henderson). From 1988 to 1995, he was 14.5 wins better than the No. 2 guy (Cal Ripken). Ken Griffey Jr. joined the league in 1989. From '89 to '98, Bonds' WAR was 84.1, Griffey's 65.6 (and the No. 3 guy, Barry Larkin, way back at 51.1). Bonds was the most devastating force in the game before he allegedly started using PEDs sometime after McGwire and Sosa went all crazy in 1998.

Ray Ratto just wrote a brilliant Hall of Fame column and he had two great points about Bonds (and Clemens): "1. The player did things on the baseball field that few others did. ... 6. I DON’T WORK FOR BASEBALL, AND I DON’T CARE WHAT IT PURPORTS TO BE. I CARE WHAT IT IS, AND THIS IS PART OF IT."

Bonds is arguably the greatest player of all time, and, yes, a man with many flaws.

What do you want out of the game?
Curt Schilling appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time a year ago with overwhelmingly strong credentials for election: The 216-game winner ranks 26th all-time in wins above replacement for pitchers (17th-highest total since the live ball era began in 1920) and 15th all-time in strikeouts, including three 300-strikeout seasons; he's got the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher ever (well, not counting a guy named Tommy Bond who was 5-foot-7, born in Ireland and began his career with the 1874 Brooklyn Atlantics) and three 20-win seasons; and he led the league twice in wins, twice in innings, three times in starts, four times in complete games (his 15 complete games in 1998 is the highest total in the majors since 1991), twice in strikeouts and five times in strikeout-walk ratio. Schilling never won a Cy Young Award but finished second in the voting three times.

Of course, Schilling was also one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. His October legacy includes his iconic Bloody Sock Game in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, a win in the World Series that year that helped end the long suffering of Red Sox fans, plus his dominant performance throughout the 2001 postseason when he allowed six runs in six starts as the Diamondbacks won the World Series. He helped the Red Sox win another title in 2007. His career 3.46 ERA in a hitters’ era gives him an adjusted ERA equal to Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson and higher than Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal and Bob Feller.

Schilling was great, he has the advanced metrics that scream Hall of Famer, and he was an iconic figure in the game while active. What more do you need to get elected to Cooperstown?

More than 60 percent of voters didn’t check Schilling’s name on their ballot.

Then there’s the pitcher who finished with the same career adjusted ERA as Schilling. His best ERAs, all in seasons where he pitched more than 210 innings, were 1.89, 2.38, 2.39, 2.58 and 2.69, all coming when offensive totals were exploding. The worst of those seasons had an adjusted ERA+ of 150. Since 1920, only five other starters had five or more seasons with at least 200 innings and an ERA+ of 150 or higher: Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay. This pitcher had another season where he went 18-9 with a 3.00 ERA and another where he went 21-11 with a 3.32 ERA while leading his league in innings pitched. He won more than 200 games. He had a 16-strikeout game in the postseason. His career pitching WAR of 68.5 is higher than Palmer, Carl Hubbell or Don Drysdale.

Kevin Brown got 12 votes in his one year on the ballot, not close to the 5 percent needed to remain on the ballot, and he was kicked to the curb alongside Raul Mondesi, Bobby Higginson and Lenny Harris. Thank you for your nice career, but your case has no merit. Heck, Willie McGee received twice as many votes. I mean, Willie McGee was a nice player, and even a great one the season he won the MVP Award, but he had about half the career value of Brown.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America treats starting pitchers like they’re infected with the plague. They’ve elected one in the past 14 years: Bert Blyleven in 2011. And Blyleven, despite winning 287 games and ranking 11th all-time in WAR among pitchers, took 14 years to finally get in. Meanwhile, the BBWAA has elected three relief pitchers in those 14 years, so it’s not an anti-pitcher bias; it’s an anti-starting pitcher bias.

What’s happened here? How come no starting pitcher who began his career after 1970 is in the Hall of Fame? Leaving aside the case of Clemens, who would have been elected if not for his ties to PEDs, there are several issues going on.

1. The 1980s were barren of strong, obvious Hall of Fame pitchers. The BBWAA ignored the cases of borderline candidates like David Cone, Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen and Orel Hershiser, and instead embraced Jack Morris, a lesser pitcher than those four but a guy with more career wins.

2. Comparison to the previous generation of starters. Including Blyleven, there are 10 "1970s pitchers" in the Hall of Fame. Here they are, listed in order of election year along with each pitcher's 10-year peak period:

Bert Blyleven (2011): 1971-1980
Nolan Ryan (1999): 1972-1981
Don Sutton (1998): 1971-1980
Phil Niekro (1997): 1970-1979
Steve Carlton (1994): 1972-1981
Tom Seaver (1992): 1968-1977
Fergie Jenkins (1991): 1967-1976
Gaylord Perry (1991): 1967-1976
Jim Palmer (1990): 1969-1978
Catfish Hunter (1987): 1967-1976

These pitchers aren't merely just great pitchers but products of their generation. The late '60s and early '70s produced the lowest-scoring seasons in the major leagues since the dead ball era. The average team in 1968 scored 3.42 runs per game, the lowest total since 1908. That was the notorious pitchers' year, but 1972 didn't see much more offense at 3.69 runs per game. This was also the period when pitchers were worked harder than they had been in decades, making more starts and pitching more innings. The 15-year period from 1963 to 1977 saw 62 different seasons where a pitcher threw 300 innings. The previous 15 seasons saw it happen just 13 times (six by Robin Roberts); the ensuing 15 seasons saw it happen just three times, two of those by knuckleballer Niekro.

This period was the perfect time to ferment long careers with lots of wins. More starts and more innings gave pitchers the opportunity to get more wins. It's no coincidence that the peak seasons of the above pitchers all occurred in roughly the same time span.

3. Speaking of wins ... Hall of Fame voters love wins like Yasiel Puig loves driving fast. Morris has 254, a main reason he earned 67.7 percent of the vote last year despite his 3.90 career ERA. Schilling has 216 and Brown 211. The fixation on career wins -- and 300 in particular -- is the result of a unique generation of pitchers; it's a standard previous pitchers weren't held to. Bob Gibson won 251 games, Juan Marichal 243, Whitey Ford 236, Don Drysdale 209 and Sandy Koufax 165. Focus on the entire résumé, not just the win total. Schilling didn't win 254 games, let alone 300, but he's a far superior Hall of Fame candidate to Morris.

Let's compare Tom Glavine to Mike Mussina, both appearing on the ballot for the first time. With 305 wins, Glavine appears to be the much stronger candidate than Mussina, who won 270 games. Here's what one voter, Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, wrote:
Glavine and Maddux were 300-game winners. Those are magic plateaus ... unless you cheated.

The rest of the list of players I reject are good old-fashioned baseball arguments. (Craig) Biggio got 68.2 percent of the vote last year, but I don’t think of him as Hall-worthy (only one 200-hit season). Same for Mussina and his 270 wins (he always pitched for good teams) and (Lee) Smith and his 478 saves (saves are overrated and often artificial).


There you go. Glavine won 305 games, Mussina won 270, so Glavine is the easy choice. As an aside: I love the bit about Mussina pitching for good teams. As if Glavine didn't pitch for good teams? Since when is pitching for good teams considered a demerit? Plus, as Jason Collette pointed out, "Mussina pitched for Baltimore for 10 years -- and Baltimore had losing records in five of those ten seasons. Yet, Mussina had a .645 winning percentage and won 147 of his 270 starts with the Orioles. The Yankees never had a losing record when Mussina pitched there and he had a .631 winning percentage with them. Mussina’s .645 winning percentage as an Oriole dwarfed the team’s .510 winning percentage in that same time."

(Also, Shaughnessy is apparently voting for Morris because he won 254 games, which I believe is less than 270.)

Anyway, when you examine the numbers a little deeper, Glavine and Mussina compare favorably:

Pitching WAR
Glavine: 74.0
Mussina: 82.7

ERA+
Glavine: 118 (3.54 career ERA in the National League with great defense behind him)
Mussina: 123 (3.68 career ERA in the American League with often bad defenses behind him)

5+ WAR seasons
Glavine: 4
Mussina: 10

Postseason
Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Mussina: 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP


The point here isn't to detract from Glavine, but that Mussina has every bit the case Glavine does -- or 95 percent of it, giving Glavine some extra credit if you wish for his two Cy Youngs. Glavine hung on and won 35 more games; Mussina retired after winning 20. That doesn't make Glavine a superior pitcher.

4. Stingy voters. To a certain extent, the BBWAA voters have become tough on all candidates -- not just starting pitchers and PED users. As Joe Sheehan wrote recently:
Consider the recent history of Hall voting. The average number of players named per ballot declined steadily up until just last year. In 1966, which was the first vote in the modern era of BBWAA balloting (that is, in which there have been no years in which the BBWAA did not vote), there were 7.2 names listed per ballot. Ten years later, that figure was 7.6. By 2000, a year that featured two players voted in and a ballot with five others who would eventually be voted in (plus Jack Morris, still kicking around), the number was down to 5.6. There were more baseball players than ever before becoming eligible for the Hall, but the voters were becoming much more difficult to impress. That would remain the case for most of this century:

2001: 6.3
2002: 6.0
2003: 6.6
2004: 6.6
2005: 5.6
2007: 6.6
2008: 5.4
2009: 5.4
2010: 5.7
2011: 6.0
2012: 5.1
2013: 6.6


Remember, that downward trend is occurring despite an increasingly crowded ballot due to the split opinions on what do about the PED candidates. With as many as 15 to 20 legitimate Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot it will be interesting to see if that 6.6 players per ballot increases further.

5. Timing. The starting pitching problem will be abated somewhat in upcoming elections. Maddux will get in this year, Glavine this year or next. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz then join the ballot next year. Johnson is a lock, and Martinez has the Koufax-esque peak value thing going for him, although with 219 wins he's not a first-year lock. Smoltz is similar to Schilling in many ways, down to the career win total (213) and postseason heroics, so odds are he'll face the same uphill climb.

I believe most Hall of Fame voters have the same goal: Elect the best players to the Hall of Fame, or at least the best ones they believe to be clean from PEDs. That issue is still stuck in the mud, the Hall itself refusing to give guidance to the voters. But electing Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina is simply an issue of understanding their greatness. They are among the very best pitchers in the history of the game. They deserve to be elected this year, alongside Maddux and Glavine.
I'll admit the results of this SportsNation poll shocked me: Only 70 percent of respondents -- with more than 33,000 votes cast -- believe Greg Maddux should be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

And you thought the BBWAA had tough standards.

Yes, as much as we criticize the BBWAA -- for not electing anybody last year, for electing Jim Rice, for electing relief pitchers but not starting pitchers -- your average sports fan apparently has an even more narrow view of the Hall of Fame.

They wouldn't elect Maddux this year. Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas wouldn't come close to sniffing Cooperstown this year. Mike Mussina? Not a Hall of Famer. Jeff Kent? Forget about it. You can see why it's so hard for a candidate to get the 75 percent needed for election.

As for Maddux, it appears his legacy has perhaps waned a bit. While I'm sure the BBWAA will elect him with well over 90 percent of the vote -- unfortunately, I'm guessing a few curmudgeons will refuse to vote for him out of some strange first-ballot principle or something and thus prevent him from becoming the first unanimous choice -- perhaps we need a little refresher on Maddux's dominance.

During his seven-year peak from 1992 to 1998, he went 127-53 with a 2.15 ERA, while averaging 32 starts, 239 innings, 184 strikeouts, 38 walks and just nine home runs per season. He won four straight Cy Young Awards and had back-to-back seasons in '94 and '95 with ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63, all while pitching in the heart of a high-scoring era. In '94 and '95, the average National League team scored 4.63 runs per game; compare that to 2012-2013, when the average NL team averaged 4.11 runs per game.

If you're too young to have seen Maddux pitch, go over to YouTube and check out some highlights. Here he is pitching eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the 1996 World Series. He threw a low-90s fastball with great movement, making it cut or sink, but with impeccable command and precision. In 1997, he issued just 14 unintentional walks in 232 2/3 innings; I'm sure several of those were intentionally unintentional. He varied his speed so every pitch was a different velocity from the previous one. He mixed in a changeup to further keep hitters off-balance. My old colleague Rob Neyer tabbed him The Smartest Pitcher Who Ever Lived, an apropos moniker; he was always one step ahead of the hitters, even if he didn't have the overpowering fastball of Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson.

As you can see in this video, Maddux was always a bit coy about what made him so good. It was like he had discovered this great mystery but needed to keep it to himself. Teammates often talked about his encyclopedic knowledge of opponents or his ability to read into a batter's body language, but Maddux always played this down. I remember interviewing him once and asking something along those lines and he simply joked, "Well, if I told you I'd have to kill you." He then took a baseball and showed how he would change his grip or finger pressure for different pitches, but he had such a big smirk on his face that to this day I think he was simply screwing with me.

Despite the glasses he wore when not pitching and a body that rarely -- if ever -- saw a weight room, Maddux was a good natural athlete who won 18 Gold Glove Awards. He was blessed, of course, with a rubber arm, and I believe he never missed a start in his career. (He started 33-plus games every season from 1988 until his retirement in 2008, excepting the strike-shortened seasons of '94 and '95.)

Think about that. You have a guy who had the peak of a Sandy Koufax, plus 12 more seasons where he was better than league average (and sometimes much better). You could actually extend his peak from 1992 to 2002, when he went 198-88 with a 2.47 ERA. His ERA+ -- ERA adjusted for the run-scoring environment pitched in -- over those 11 seasons was 171, a figure Koufax topped in just two individual seasons.

Maddux is 25th in career wins above replacement, making him a clear inner-circle Hall of Famer. Among pitchers, he's seventh. Among pitchers born after 1900, he's third, behind Clemens and Tom Seaver.

Maddux is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer. Maybe he didn't throw 95 mph.

He didn't have to.
Sandy KoufaxFocus on Sport/Getty ImagesOver his final five seasons, Sandy Koufax went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA and three Cy Young Awards.
This is another follow-up to a debate that arose in a recent chat session: Which pitcher had the best five-year peak?

With Sandy Koufax having spent time at Dodgers camp this spring it seems like a perfect time for a list, doesn't it?

Well, I can never make things easy, so this will be a long list. I started with pitchers since 1950, primarily because I'm not as interested in comparing the peak of dead-ball era pitchers to the more modern game. Plus, we had to make this somewhat manageable. I'm going to use Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement to rank the pitchers and we'll have a vote at the end of the story.

The rules: It has to be a five-year consecutive peak -- not necessarily the best five seasons of a pitcher's career, but the best five years in a row. A pitcher can appear only once. That's it. I didn't include postseason results, but maybe should have. I looked at all the Hall of Fame starting pitchers from this era, some current guys and some others I wanted to include. The list is 41 pitchers, but this is not the best 41 peaks. I left out some good pitchers, such as Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Roy Oswalt and others. I do think I got all the guys who accumulated at least 30 WAR, however.

Jack Morris, 1983-1987: 20.2 WAR
We have to start somewhere.

Don Sutton, 1971-1975: 21.1
Despite winning 324 games, Sutton was a controversial selection to the Hall of Fame when he made it on his fifth year on the ballot. He was viewed as a compiler -- and, well, he sort of was, as his career-high WAR was 6.3 and he topped 5.0 just three times. From '71 to '75 he went 89-53 with a 2.63 ERA and 25 shutouts. Not bad for a compiler.

Early Wynn, 1952-1956: 22.3
In 1948, Wynn went 8-19 with a 5.82 ERA for the Senators, walking 94 and striking out 49. Bill Veeck of the Indians coveted Wynn anyway because of his good fastball, they got him along with Mickey Vernon in a trade, pitching coach Mel Harder taught Wynn a curve and slider, and he went on to average 18 wins per season in his nine years in Cleveland.

Whitey Ford, 1961-1965: 22.5
Here's a fair question: Is Whitey Ford overrated? Think about it: He pitched in the old Yankee Stadium, with its mammoth left-center power alley, certainly helpful to a left-handed pitcher; he didn't have to face the best team in the league, back when there were only eight teams in the league for much of his career; he won "only" 236 games. Of course, he was the ace of many World Series winners and was certainly clutch in the postseason. Ford's best five years came after Casey Stengel was fired after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series. Stengel was always cautious with Ford's workload, using him for more than 230 innings only once. But from '61 to '65 Ford averaged 260 innings and went 99-38, a .723 winning percentage.

John Smoltz, 1995-1999: 22.9
When Smoltz shows up on the Hall of Fame ballot, it will be interesting to see how he fares compared to Curt Schilling, two guys with similar career records (Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33; Schilling: 216-146, 3.46) and similar excellence in the postseason. The big difference between the two is Smoltz never had the string of dominant seasons like Schilling did.

Catfish Hunter, 1971-1975: 23.4
Made his mark by winning seven games in the postseason as the A's won three consecutive World Series from 1972 to 1974, but vastly overrated as a pitcher. This five-year peak accounts for two-thirds of his career WAR of 32.1

Tom Glavine, 1995-1999: 24.0
What were the odds that a 22-year-old pitcher who led the league with 17 losses and struck out only 84 batters in 195 innings would turn into a 300-game winner and future Hall of Famer? Lower than slim and none? Glavine's best season via WAR was his breakout campaign in 1991 (8.2) when he won his first Cy Young Award, but in many ways he was similar to Sutton, an amazingly durable pitcher who was very good for a long time.

Felix Hernandez, 2008-2012: 24.1
Working on four straight years of 230-plus innings and doesn't turn 27 until April. With his new contract, the Mariners are banking on many more of those 230-inning seasons in the future.

Nolan Ryan, 1973-1977: 26.0
His first big year came after the Mets traded him to the Angels in 1972 and he won 19 games with a 2.28 ERA, worth 5.8 WAR. Twenty years later he was 44 and posted a 5.0 WAR season for the Rangers. In between, he was a dynamic, often wild, always amazing, and certainly one-of-a-kind. His mid-'70s peak was dragged down by a couple mediocre seasons in '75 and '76 when he posted a 3.40 ERA, only league average for the time once you adjust for his home park.

Mike Mussina, 1999-2003: 26.7
His career WAR of 78.1 is higher than many Hall of Fame pitchers of this era. Best season came in 1992 (7.9 WAR), but he had seven seasons of 5.0 or higher, five of those coming with the Orioles.

Justin Verlander, 2008-2012: 26.7
This stretch includes Verlander's 2008 when he went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA, worth 1.5 WAR, so the total will jump up with a big 2013. Verlander led the league in losses that year, which prompts the question: How many Hall of Fame pitchers led their league in losses? Well, Phil Niekro managed to do it four straight seasons. Bert Blyleven did it at the end of his career in 1988, and future Hall of Famer Glavine did it the same season at the beginning of his career. Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts each did it twice. Early Wynn and Hal Newhouser. A couple of others. Not necessarily that unusual.

Steve Carlton
Rich Pilling/Getty ImagesSteve Carlton won four Cy Young Awards, but only one came during his best five-year WAR peak.
Steve Carlton, 1969-1973: 27.9
Maybe the most inconsistent great pitcher ever, this period includes Carlton's all-timer season in 1972 when he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a Phillies team that won only 59 games. No other pitcher won more than seven games, and he was a reliever. But Carlton followed that up with a 13-20, 3.90 year in 1973 and had some less-than-stellar years. His best stretch of consistent excellence actually came later in his career from 1980-1983, but his 11.7 WAR in '72 helps make this his best five-year stretch.

Don Drysdale, 1960-1964: 28.0
Dodger Stadium: 65-43, 2.19 ERA
L.A. Coliseum: 36-25, 3.14 ERA
Road games: 95-92, 3.41 ERA

Cliff Lee, 2008-2012: 28.9
Sort of the anti-Nolan Ryan. Whereas Ryan would never give in to a hitter, preferring to walk a batter rather than just throw something over the middle of the plate, Lee never wants to give up a free pass. Over this five-year stretch he has walked 165 batters; Ryan walked that many in a season three times.

Bret Saberhagen, 1985-1989: 29.1
Includes his Cy Young seasons in 1985 (6.9 WAR) and 1989 (9.2 WAR), but he couldn't stay healthy after that. Remember when Dave Stewart whined about not winning the Cy Young in 1989? Yeah, let's not get into that.

Jim Palmer, 1975-1979: 29.2
Palmer won 20 games eight times in nine seasons, but went 7-12 in 1974 right in the middle of that stretch to drag down his five-year peak (we ended up using a mediocre 10-6, 3.30 partial season in 1979 to round out our five years).

Frank Tanana, 1974-1978: 29.3
One of the best young pitchers ever, but hurt his arm in 1978. Returned as a finesse guy to have a long career.

David Cone, 1993-1997: 29.4
Only averaged 184 innings per season over this span thanks to the two strike-shortened seasons and an injury in 1996 that limited him to 11 starts, but went 64-35 with a 3.17 ERA during a high-scoring era and won the Cy Young Award in 1994.

CC Sabathia, 2007-2011: 29.7
Finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting all five seasons.

Rick Reuschel, 1976-1980: 29.8
A favorite of sabermetricians because of a career WAR of 64.6 that ranks 32nd all time among pitchers -- just ahead of Palmer, Sutton and Smoltz. Hmm. Reuschel's career record of 214-191 with a 3.37 ERA doesn't blow you away, but he spent his best years with mediocre Cubs teams in a hitter's park with bad defenses behind him. In these five years, he went 77-62 with a 3.33 ERA, topped by a 1977 season (20-10, 2.79 ERA) in which Baseball-Reference rates him not only as the best pitcher in the National League (9.2 WAR), but as the most valuable player. In comparing to Palmer, Baseball-Reference estimates Palmer's defense saved him 0.33 runs per nine innings over his career but cost Reuschel 0.18 runs per nine innings (a difference of about 14 runs over 250 innings). Maybe Reuschel would have won three Cy Young Awards if he had Mark Belanger and Paul Blair behind him.

Jim Bunning, 1963-1967: 30.2
After going 12-13 with a 3.88 ERA in 1963, the Tigers traded Bunning to the Phillies (for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton), figuring at 32 he was past his prime. He wasn't. Instead, Bunning reeled off four magnificent seasons with the Phillies, going 74-46 with a 2.48 ERA while averaging 298 innings per season.

Kevin Appier, 1992-1996: 30.9
Surprise! Went 69-43 with a 3.22 ERA, including a spectacular 9.0-WAR 1993 when he led the AL with a 2.56 ERA and allowed only eight home runs. Should have won the Cy Young Award that year.

Warren Spahn, 1949-1953: 32.2
This stretch includes four of his five highest WAR seasons, the other being his best one -- 9.1 in 1947. Two awesome Spahn stats: (1) From 1947 to 1963, the fewest innings he pitched was 245.2; (2) Led the NL in complete games seven consecutive seasons, from ages 36 to 42. Here's a third one: Led or tied for the NL lead in wins eight times.

[+] EnlargeDave Stieb
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesToronto ace Dave Stieb should have won a Cy Young Award or two in the early '80s.
Dave Stieb, 1981-1985: 32.4
Underrated in his own time, Baseball-Reference rates Stieb as the first- or second-best pitcher in the AL all five seasons in this stretch, but he never finished higher than fourth in the Cy Young voting because they were giving the awards to guys like Pete Vuckovich and LaMarr Hoyt.

Roy Halladay, 2007-2011: 32.5
Went 93-44 with a 2.80 ERA.

Bert Blyleven, 1971-1975: 33.5
Blyleven's run came from ages 20 to 24 and included a 325-inning season in 1973 when he was 22. Somehow his ligaments and tendons remained attached and didn't turn into soba noodles. You'll notice that Blyleven is the third pitcher with the exact same five-year dates; to a large extent this is because innings totals increased during this period. With more innings comes a higher WAR. In the 1960s, for example, there were 25 300-inning seasons; in the first five years of the '70s, there were 27. Or, really, innings started ramping up in the late '60s, when offense declined, leading to the lowering of the mound after 1968 and the advent of the designated hitter in the American League. To put a more dramatic spin on the increase in workload, from 1955 to 1964, there were seven 300-inning seasons (three by Drysdale); in the next 10 years, there 47 300-inning seasons.

Johan Santana, 2004-2008: 34.2
Won three ERA titles and two Cy Young Awards (and probably should have won a third) in this period.

Ferguson Jenkins, 1968-1972: 34.9
Went 107-71 with a 3.02 ERA, averaging 309 innings and winning the 1971 Cy Young Award. The Cubs were still pretty good in this era, finishing over .500 all five years, so this wasn't just a pitcher excelling despite a bad team behind him.

Curt Schilling, 2000-2004: 35.0
This run includes half a season in Philly, three and a half in Arizona and his first year in Boston, a year that culminated with a bloody sock and the lifting of a curse. Five-year totals: 85-40, 3.24, three Cy Young runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons, a 300-strikeout season (he had two more in 1997 and 1998) and two World Series championships. Schilling pounded the strike zone -- he averaged only 1.5 walks per nine innings -- and had a remarkable 316/33 strikeout/walk ratio in 2002.

Kevin Brown, 1996-2000: 35.4
Deserved to hang out on the Hall of Fame ballot longer than one year and have his case at least discussed. For a time, Brown was impressive as any pitcher of his generation, throwing that hard, mid-90s sinker. In this stretch he went 82-41 with a 2.51 ERA in the heart of the steroids era, averaging 242 innings, twice leading in ERA and pitching in two World Series. His seasonal WAR totals: 7.7, 6.7, 8.3, 5.9, 6.8.

Juan Marichal, 1962-1966: 35.4
Starting in 1963, he went 25-8, 21-8, 22-13, 25-6, 14-10, 26-9 and 21-11. You know how many Cy Young votes he received those seasons? None. His best five-year peak would be better if not for that 1967 season where he missed some time and made 26 starts. As is, he went 107-45 with a 2.37 ERA.

Wilbur Wood, 1970-1974: 36.7
Another early '70s guy, Wood's knuckleball allowed him to post some of the more freakishly awesome seasons in modern history, including 1971 when he had a 1.91 ERA in 334 innings, and 1972 when he started 49 games and pitched 376.2 innings. Those two seasons were worth 11.5 and 10.3 WAR. (He slacked off in 1973 and started only 48 games and threw 359.1 innings.)

10. Gaylord Perry, 1972-1976: 37.0
OK, we're into the top 10, so we'll start numbering the countdown. If you're getting the idea that the early '70s were to pitching what the late '90s and early aughts were to hitting, then give yourself a gold star. Perry's 1972 with Cleveland was an amazing season: 24-16, 1.92 ERA, 29 complete games, 342 innings, worth 10.4 WAR. From May 6 to Aug. 5 he started 22 games and completed 19, posting a 1.55 ERA. Here's the kicker: He averaged more than nine innings per start in that stretch (one of his non-complete games was a 13-inning scoreless effort).

Five-year totals: 97-79, 2.83 ERA, 313 innings per season.

9. Tom Seaver, 1969-1973: 37.4
Went 103-51 with a 2.35 ERA. Followed this up with another five-year stretch valued at 30.2 WAR.

8. Bob Gibson, 1966-1970: 38.0
This period includes his memorable 1968 season when he went 22-8 with a 1.12 ERA, a year that included a 47-inning scoreless streak and one period where he allowed two earned runs in 92 innings. No wonder baseball lowered the height of the mound from 15 to 10 inches for 1969. That season was worth 11.1 WAR, and he followed that up with two more pretty good ones: 10.3 WAR in 1969 and 8.4 in 1970, when he won another Cy Young Award. If not for a broken leg that forced him to miss two months in 1967, he'd be even higher on the list. (Or if we included hitting; he accumulated 3.3 WAR at the plate as well, and had 19 RBIs in 1970.) Five-year totals: 99-48, 2.30, 27 shutouts.

7. Phil Niekro, 1974-1978: 38.6
This is never mentioned as a great peak since Niekro's record was just 87-77 (pitching for bad Braves teams in the post-Aaron era) and his ERA was 3.16. He even led the league in losses in 1977 and 1978 (and would do so again in 1979 and 1980, joining Pedro Ramos as the only pitchers to do that four consecutive years). His ERA+ of 127, for example, was much lower than Gibson' five-year mark of 153. What Niekro did was throw a lot of innings -- 302.1, 275.2, 270.2, 330.1 and 334.1 -- and that workload led to WAR totals of 7.5, 6.5, 6.4, 8.6 and 9.6.

6. Sandy Koufax, 1962-1966: 39.1
Only sixth? For a pitcher who went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA, won the NL ERA crown all five years and had seasons of 25-5, 26-8 and 27-9? He won an MVP Award and finished second in the voting two other years, while winning three Cy Young Awards (when they gave it to just one pitcher in all of baseball). So why only sixth? Well, there's no doubting Koufax's domination -- he, Gibson and Wood are the only two pitchers with two seasons of 10+ WAR during their peak runs. But a couple of things: (1) Dodger Stadium was a huge pitcher's park in those days, with a notoriously high mound (Koufax had a 1.37 ERA at home and 2.57 on the road, not that there's anything wrong with 2.57), so his numbers are knocked down a bit to adjust for that; (2) He missed time in 1962 (184 innings) and 1964 (223 innings), so that cuts into his value, at least compared to the other three seasons.

5. Greg Maddux, 1992-1996: 39.2
This is when he won his four consecutive Cy Young Awards. Five-year math: 90-40, 2.13 ERA, 191 ERA+, single-season WAR of 8.9, 5.5, 8.3, 9.5, 7.0 (followed by seasons of 7.6 and 6.3). And remember, his value was held down by the shortened seasons of 1994 and '95, when he had ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63.

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesThe young Roger Clemens wasn't too shabby.
4. Roger Clemens, 1986-1990: 40.1
The numbers: 100-42, 2.71 ERA, 156 ERA+, 256 innings per season, 57 complete games, 23 shutouts, two Cy Young Awards (and was robbed in 1990). Also had 33.7 WAR from 1996 to 2000 and six other seasons of 5+ WAR not included in either of those two stretches.

3. Robin Roberts, 1950-1954: 40.5
Now this is what you call a peak: 115-64, 2.87 ERA, 138 ERA+, 135 complete games, 327 innings per season, seasons of 7.0, 7.6, 7.9, 9.4 and 8.6 WAR. By the 1950s, innings pitched totals had to started to decline, especially compared to the dead-ball guys, but not for Roberts. There were 10 300-inning seasons in the decade and Roberts had six of them. From his autobiography (tip of the cap to the "Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers"): "I was mainly a one-pitch pitcher, although sometimes I mixed in a curveball when I was ahead in the count. I could put my fastball where I wanted it, but I was sometimes criticized for not pitching inside more. ... I just went after people with my best stuff and let the batters hit it if they could."

Roberts threw very hard -- Bill James says he threw about as hard or possibly harder than Bob Feller or Bob Gibson or any of those big guys. Because his control was so good, he relied primarily on that one pitch. (He did give up a lot of home runs.) Outside of this stretch, Roberts had only one more season rated above 5.0 WAR, and one other above 4.0.

2. Pedro Martinez, 1997-2001: 41.4
Let's take these seasons one-by-one:

--1997: 17-8, 1.90 ERA, 8.7 WAR, 241.1 IP, 158 H, 305 SO, won Cy Young Award. Led NL in ERA and complete games (13).
--1998: 19-7, 2.89 ERA, 6.9 WAR, second in Cy Young voting in first year with Red Sox, struck out 251 in 233.2 innings.
--1999: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 9.5 WAR, won Cy Young, second in MVP voting, 313 SO in 213.1 innings (13.2 per nine).
--2000: 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 11.4 WAR, won Cy Young, somehow only fifth in MVP voting, 284 SO in 217 IP, opponents hit .167 off him -- .167! This isn't a closer we're talking about here. .167.
--2001: 7-3, 2.39 ERA. Injured, made only 18 starts.

It's too bad we couldn't sub in his 2002 (20-4, 2.26) or 2003 (14-4, 2.22). Great fastball, the best changeup of all time, command, varied his arm angles, mixed in a cut fastball, slider and curveball, and wasn't afraid to deliver some chin music every now and then. Only thing he lacked was the durability to rack up a lot of innings.

Five-year totals: 84-28, 2.18 ERA, 215 ERA+, 1,316 SO in 1,022 innings.

1. Randy Johnson, 1998-2002: 42.2
As awesome as Pedro was, the Unit rates even higher, which tells us something about how good he was. Five-year totals: 100-38, 2.63 ERA, 174 ERA+, four Cy Young Awards, three ERA titles, 41 complete games, 17 shutouts, five 300-strikeout seasons, 1,746 SO in 1,274 innings.

SportsNation

Which pitcher had the best five-year peak?

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    27%
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    23%
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    35%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,858)

Individual seasons: 5.4, 8.8, 7.8, 9.8, 10.4. In fact, his five-year peak could have been higher had he not sulked his way through the first half of 1998 with the Mariners before finally getting traded to the Astros (where he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts).

On a rate basis, Pedro was a little better, as reflected in his better ERA+. He also had to face DH lineups for four of his five seasons. But Johnson was dominant and durable -- he pitched 252 more innings than Pedro in his five-year peak and that puts him at No. 1.

* * * *

Of course, you don't have to rely on WAR for your own personal rankings. My top five would probably go Johnson, Martinez, Koufax, Maddux, Clemens, with apologies to Bob Gibson.

In the poll, we can only include five names. I apologize to Robin Roberts fans for leaving him out despite his No. 3 ranking above. Like Phil Niekro, his value comes as much from a huge workload as being a great pitcher. But he wasn't dominant in the same sense as some of these other pitchers -- he never led his league in ERA, for example, and his ERA+ during his five-year peak was 138, well below the others. So he got the boot from the poll.

Who do you have?
Who is the greatest pitcher ever? There are different answers to that question, I suppose.

When Bill James ranked pitchers a decade ago in his "New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract," he had Walter Johnson at the top of his list, followed by Lefty Grove and Pete Alexander (Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux were still finishing up their careers).

SportsNation

These were the top five pitchers in the Hall of Fame. Who should be No. 1?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,768)

According to Baseball-Reference.com's career WAR leaders list, it's Cy Young, followed by Johnson and Clemens.

If you go by the highest percentage of votes upon induction into the Hall of Fame, it's Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan (who have the highest percentages of any players), followed by Steve Carlton.

If you go by Cy Young Awards, it's Clemens, followed by Randy Johnson and then Maddux and Carlton.

If you just go by career wins, it's Young, Johnson (Walter, not Randy) and then Alexander and Christy Mathewson.

That's 11 pitchers we've mentioned, all with varying claims to being the "greatest ever," and you see why there isn't an easy answer to this. And that doesn't include Warren Spahn or Bob Gibson or Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax ...

In the Hall of 100 vote, Clemens finished as the highest-ranked pitcher -- seventh overall -- while Walter Johnson ranked 13th and Maddux 14th. Let's focus on those three since they led the voting. It's a little easier to compare Clemens with Maddux since they were contemporaries and I think the voters got this one right. While Maddux had that incredible run of four straight Cy Young seasons from 1992 to 1995, I'm not sure how you rate him higher than Clemens, even if you emphasize peak seasons.

On a career basis, it's not that close -- Clemens towers above Maddux in career WAR. Let's look at peak value.

Best three seasons -- Clemens 31.0 WAR, Maddux 26.7 WAR.
Best five seasons -- Clemens 48.0 WAR, Maddux 41.3 WAR.
Best eight seasons -- Clemens 70.9 WAR, Maddux 59.4 WAR.

That's how awesome Clemens was -- clearly better than the wonderful, amazing Maddux. And before you start jumping on Clemens' alleged PED usage -- keep in mind that the Hall of 100 voters were told to factor in only what happened on the field -- Clemens' best seasons were 1997, 1990, 1987, 1986 and 1992. Other than that outlier 1.87 ERA season with Houston in 2005 when he was 42 (a season driven by a low .246 average allowed on balls in play), his aging pattern wasn't really all that unique. His best seasons came when he was younger and threw harder and threw more innings. Remember, this was a guy who once threw 18 complete games in a season but threw just four over the final nine years of his career. And keep in mind that many pitchers have been excellent in their 40s -- Ryan, Randy Johnson, Young. Warren Spahn won 23 games at age 42. Being a great pitcher in your 40s isn't as historically unique as being a great hitter in your 40s.

Clemens versus Walter Johnson is a more difficult comparison, considering one guy was born in 1887.

Johnson had more innings and the lower ERA, but that's a product of environment, of course. Johnson pitched most of his career in the dead-ball era, when home runs were essentially a non-factor -- in 1916, he pitched 369 innings and didn't allow a single home run. Of course, there were only 144 hit that entire season in the American League. When you adjust each pitcher's ERA to its era -- the ERA+ figure above -- it's pretty close, with Johnson having just a very slight edge.

And because Johnson pitched in an era when starters threw more innings, his best seasons are worth more then Clemens', at least in terms of WAR -- 14.3 in 1913, 12.9 in 1912, 11.5 in 1914, 10.8 in 1910 and 1915. Johnson was 32 when the "lively ball" era began in 1920, and his best after that point 6.3 WAR in 1924. If we look at how many times each pitcher led his league in WAR, we get Johnson with eight and Clemens with seven. Clemens led in ERA seven times, Johnson five. Johnson won more games and pitched more innings, but lost many more games. Clemens pitched on better teams, but the Senators of Johnson's era weren't as awful as often believed, and they later won two pennants in 1924 and 1925. Baseball-Reference estimates the winning percentage that a player would push an otherwise average team to -- for Clemens, it's .633, for Johnson it's .621.

It's close. In our voting system, I gave both players a 95. If I had to rank ... well, I give the edge to the guy from the more modern times.

You may disagree.

Dream teams: 1992 versus 2012

August, 13, 2012
8/13/12
5:46
PM ET
Before the Olympics began, Kobe Bryant suggested this year's Olympic basketball team would defeat the fabled 1992 Dream Team that featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird. Bryant later adjusted his thoughts, saying the Dream Team was better but that the 2012 squad could beat them.

Bryant and company cruised throughout the tournament until Sunday's gold-medal game against Spain, prevailing 107-100 after leading by just one point heading into the fourth quarter.

Anyway, that's a lead-in to this: What would baseball's dream team from 1992 look like? Let's turn back the clock and imagine we're in the summer of 1992. Let's pick a 25-man team -- 15 position players, seven starting pitchers and three relievers. Just like the '92 hoops Dream Team, legend status should come into play a bit. Since we're imagining an Olympic-type scenario, we're going with U.S. players only.

The Starters
1. 2B Ryne Sandberg, Cubs (.304/.371/.510, 26 HR, 7.6 WAR)
Made his ninth consecutive All-Star appearance in '92.

2. CF Kirby Puckett, Twins (.329/.374/.490, 19 HR, 6.8 WAR)
Had led the Twins to a World Series title in 1991; finished second in '92 American League MVP vote.

[+] EnlargeBarry Bonds
AP Photo/John SwartBarry Bonds led the Pirates to the NLCS in 1992.
3. LF Barry Bonds, Pirates (.311/.456/.624, 34 HR, 8.9 WAR)
The best player in the game; won his second MVP award in '92.

4. DH Frank Thomas, White Sox (.323/.439/.536, 24 HR, 6.7 WAR)
In his second full season, but the most feared hitter in the AL. Led the league in OBP and OPS for the second consecutive season.

5. 1B Mark McGwire, A's (.268/.385/.585, 42 HR, 6.2 WAR)
Had rebounded from a poor 1991 to lead the AL in slugging percentage and the A's to the AL West title.

6. RF Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners (.308/.361/.535, 27 HR, 5.5 WAR)
At 22 years old, already one of the game's best all-around players. We'll move him to right field with Kirby in center.

7. 3B Terry Pendleton, Braves (.311/.345/.473, 21 HR, 4.8 WAR)
People remember his 1991 MVP season, but he finished second to Bonds in the '92 vote.

8. C Darren Daulton, Phillies (.270/.385/.524, 27 HR, 6.7 WAR)
It was a weak year for catchers, but Daulton had a monster season with the fourth-highest WAR among position players.

9. SS Cal Ripken, Orioles (.251/.323/.366, 14 HR, 3.8 WAR)
Not a good season but a baseball dream team wouldn't have been complete without Ripken.

The Bench
OF Rickey Henderson, A's (.283/.426/.457, 15 HR, 5.4 WAR)
The best leadoff hitter in the game compiled 5.4 WAR despite playing just 117 games.

OF Andy Van Slyke, Pirates (.324/.381/.505, 14 HR, 5.9 WAR)
Led the NL in doubles and hits, fourth in the MVP vote, Gold Glove center fielder. His window was small, but a terrific player for a few years.

OF Dave Winfield, Blue Jays (.290/.377/.491, 26 HR, 3.8 WAR)
Others with a higher WAR, but Winfield gets credit for legend status and helping the Blue Jays win the World Series.

SS Ozzie Smith, Cardinals (.205/.367/.342, 0 HR, 5.0 WAR)
Tough call here: Barry Larkin (.304/.377/.452, 5.5 WAR) or the 37-year-old Ozzie? The Wizard could still pick it and had 43 steals.

3B Gary Sheffield, Padres (.330/.385/.580, 33 HR, 6.0 WAR)
Challenged for the Triple Crown much of the year before finishing first in batting, third in homers and fifth in RBIs.

C Terry Steinbach, A's (.279/.345/.411, 3.8 WAR)
Gets the nod over Mickey Tettleton as the backup catcher for his good defense and leadership.

Pitching Staff
Tom Glavine, Braves (20-8, 2.76 ERA, 3.6 WAR)
The only lefty on our 10-man staff, finished second in the Cy Young vote after winning it the year before.

[+] EnlargeGreg Maddux
AP Photo/Bill WaughGreg Maddux would win four consecutive Cy Youngs beginning with the 1992 season.
Greg Maddux, Cubs (20-11, 2.18 ERA, 8.9 WAR)
Won the first of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards.

Roger Clemens, Red Sox (18-11, 2.41 ERA, 8.4 WAR)
Led the AL in ERA, shutouts, WHIP and SO/BB ratio, but finished just third in Cy Young vote.

Doug Drabek, Pirates (15-11, 2.77 ERA, 5.1 WAR)
Career went downhill after signing with the Astros in '93, but regarded as one of the toughest competitors in the game at the time.

Jack Morris, Blue Jays (21-6, 4.04 ERA, 2.5 WAR)
Morris absolutely would have been on a '92 dream team despite the high ERA. He'd just won back-to-back World Series titles and had the 21 wins.

Jack McDowell, White Sox (20-10, 3.18 ERA, 4.9 WAR)
Kevin Appier and Mike Mussina had better ERAs, but Black Jack had the image at the time. And the league-leading 13 complete games.

Nolan Ryan, Rangers (5-9, 3.72 ERA, 1.8 WAR)
The numbers don't merit inclusion, but by '92 Ryan was the biggest icon in the game, a 45-year-old flame-throwing legend. Much like Bird, you wouldn't leave him off.

Dennis Eckersley, A's (7-1, 1.91 ERA, 51 saves, 2.8 WAR)
The last AL reliever to win the Cy Young, Eck also walked away with the MVP trophy. OK, it was a bad vote, but Eck seemed unbeatable back then.

Rob Dibble, Reds (3-5, 3.07 ERA, 25 saves, 0.9 WAR)
At the time, Dibble had four of the five highest K/9 rates in major league history (minimum 50 innings).

Jeff Montgomery, Royals (1-6, 2.18 ERA, 39 saves, 3.0 WAR)
From '89 to '93, Montgomery fashioned a 2.22 ERA with 159 saves. What, you expected Mitch Williams?

So, who got Isiah'd? We mentioned Barry Larkin. Tony Gwynn was in a bit of a down spell (for him), so he loses out as well. We can't find room for NL home run leader Fred McGriff, Will Clark or Paul Molitor. For pitchers, some of the better statistical options would have included the aforementioned Mussina (7.9 WAR) and Appier (7.7 WAR) as well as Frank Viola, Sid Fernandez, Bob Tewksbury and David Cone, plus some up-and-coming guys like John Smoltz and Curt Schilling.

How does this team compare to a 2012 dream team? I'll let you debate who would be on such a 2012 team in the comments section.


In spring training of 2010, the Mets made their first cuts in mid-March. A 35-year-old pitcher who was trying to make the team as the last man out of the bullpen was one of those sent to minor league camp.

Give up? Retire? Are you kidding? The pitcher threw a knuckleball.

R.A. Dickey began that season at Triple-A Buffalo. He'd spent a lot of time in Triple-A, racking up 148 career starts and 42 relief appearances among Oklahoma City, Nashville, Tacoma and Rochester. That's a lot of Holiday Inns and a lot of minor league roommates.

It's two years later, and Dickey has perfected that knuckleball, like Mariano Rivera perfected the cutter or Pedro Martinez perfected the changeup or Greg Maddux perfected the outside corner. Dickey just threw his second straight one-hitter in the Mets' 5-0 win Monday over the Orioles, the first pitcher to do that since Toronto's Dave Stieb did so in his final two starts of the 1988 season.

(Stieb, for those who remember, lost both of those near no-hitters with two outs in the ninth inning. He also pitched a shutout in the start before those two games.)

But Dickey has gone to another level, becoming the first pitcher to allow no earned runs and strike out at least eight batters in five consecutive starts. He joined Stieb as one of 10 pitchers since 1900 to allow one hit or fewer in consecutive starts. Over his past six starts, Dickey is 6-0 with a 0.18 ERA (one earned run in 48 2/3 innings), 63 strikeouts, five walks and a .131 average allowed.

It is a beautiful thing, when a pitcher gets on a roll like this, when he shuts down the opposition inning after inning, batters helpless to do anything but take their awkward swings and slump back to the bench. Even in this season, in which it seems somebody flirts with a no-hit bid on a nightly basis, it's an amazing string of games. At some point, you'd think Dickey would hang a knuckler or a batter would accidentally run into one or a bleeder would be followed by a bloop.

That's not happening. Dickey himself is almost having trouble explaining his dominance. When asked about his favorite moment during this run, he laughed, saying, "Probably the base hit," referring to his leadoff single in the sixth inning Monday, starting a rally that led to Ike Davis' grand slam. "In reality, I have a good feel for [the knuckleball] right now, making it do a couple different things."

Watching him mow down the Orioles reminded me of something Roger Angell once wrote about Sandy Koufax in the 1965 World Series, when he pitched shutouts in Game 5 and, on two days' rest, Game 7:

"It is almost painful to watch, for Koufax, instead of merely overpowering hitters, as some fastball throwers do, appears to dismantle them, taking away first one and then another of their carefully developed offensive weapons and judgments, and leaving them only with the conviction that they are victims of a total mismatch."

That's what it was at Citi Field against the Orioles: a mismatch, the game's hottest pitcher facing the team that has struck out more than any other. Dickey, of course, has been commanding and locating the knuckleball with precision. He walked two against the Orioles and has just seven walks in his past eight starts. Seven walks by a knuckleballer? Phil Niekro walked at least seven batters in a game 12 times; Nolan Ryan, who didn't throw a knuckleball, walked that many in a game 71 times.

So we're left wondering: Where does Dickey's run of excellence rank? Orel Hershiser, of course, spun six consecutive shutouts in September 1988. Hershiser wasn't quite as dominant as Dickey, as he allowed a .160 average over those 55 innings but had just 30 strikeouts. In 1994, Greg Maddux posted a 1.56 ERA; he was mostly a model of consistency that season, allowing two earned runs or fewer in 21 of his 25 starts. From July 2 until the strike hit in August, he had an eight-start stretch in which he allowed seven earned runs (but 11 runs) and allowed a .182 average with 50 strikeouts and five walks. In 1995, when he posted a 1.63 ERA, he had a 58-inning stretch over eight starts, during which he allowed five runs.

Maybe the most dominant run I've ever was seen was Pedro Martinez at the end of the 1999 season. Over his final seven starts, he allowed seven runs (five earned) with eight walks and 96 strikeouts in 55 innings. In consecutive starts, he struck out 15, 11, 15, 17, 14, 12 and 12. Against Seattle on Sept. 4, he pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing two hits. In his next start, he was nearly perfect against the Yankees, allowing only a Chili Davis home run as he struck out 17. Every start at Fenway was a raucous party, fans standing and cheering with every two-strike count from the first inning onward.

In the postseason, he threw 17 more scoreless innings, allowing just five hits, a string that included his memorable six-inning hitless relief appearance in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against Cleveland. Add all that up -- including a one-inning relief appearance at the end of the season -- and Pedro allowed five earned runs over 73 innings (0.62 ERA) with 120 strikeouts.

There have been other memorable runs, of course. Fernando Valenzuela at the start of the 1981 season, when he threw five shutouts in seven starts and allowed two runs in 63 innings. Bob Gibson, in 1968, had an 11-start stretch in which he threw 11 complete games and allowed three runs. Hey, it was 1968 and all, but still, that's just sick.

We could go on. But this is what it feels like watching Dickey right now, that we're seeing the stuff of legends -- Maddux's control, Pedro's arsenal, Fernando's screwball, Gibson's fastball/slider combo ... R.A. Dickey's knuckleball. For the past six starts, it's been as dominant as any pitch, for a short period of time, as we've ever seen.

Maybe he'll lose the feel of it one of these starts. Maybe he'll crack a fingernail. All I know is this: I'll be watching his next start. It's the best story of the season.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Nyjer MorganBenny Sieu-US PresswireGiven recent headlines, maybe Nyjer Morgan shouldn't make a federal case out of a call.
Barry Bonds, Randy JohnsonAP Photo/Eric RisbergBarry Bonds hit three home runs in 49 at-bats against left-handed power thrower Randy Johnson.
The other night I tweeted something like, "Would love to see Aroldis Chapman face 2001 Barry Bonds." On the Baseball Today podcast, we had a reader ask us about best pitcher-hitter matchups to watch for over the next few years.

With that prompt, I'd thought it would be fun to list 10 of my all-time favorite matchups I would have wanted to see ... although a few of them are recent enough that some of us did see them. With help from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org, we can even find results of the matchups.

Ty Cobb versus Walter Johnson (.366, 1 HR)
According to researcher Terry Cullen, Cobb hit .366 in his career off Johnson (120-for-328) -- pretty amazing considering Cobb's average against all pitchers was ... .366. While Cobb reportedly said Johnson's fastball "looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed," he certainly didn't have issues hitting it. Cobb knew Johnson was too nice to pitch inside, so he'd crowd the plate. "I saw him wince when he fired one close to somebody's head, and he used to tell me that he was afraid someday that he would kill a man with that fireball," Cobb once said. "So I used to cheat. I'd crowd that plate so far that I was actually sticking my toes on it when I was facing Johnson. I knew he was timid about hitting a batter, and when he saw me crowding the plate he'd steer his pitches a little bit wide. Then with two balls and no strikes, he'd ease up a bit to get it over. That's the Johnson pitch I hit. I was depending on him to be scared of hitting me." Now, that's what Cobb said; seems a little too simple though, doesn't it? Why didn't every hitter do that? There's no doubt the approach helped Cobb, but unlike most hitters, he could hit Johnson's fastball. (By the way, his only home run off Johnson was an inside-the-parker.)

Babe Ruth versus Lefty Grove (incomplete)
Some say Grove was the best pitcher of all time -- 300 wins with a .680 winning percentage, nine ERA titles, seven consecutive strikeout titles. Wouldn't you love to see Ruth taking a big cut against Grove's legendary fastball? I couldn't find Ruth career's numbers against Grove, but he did hit nine home runs off him, tied with Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg for the most against Grove. In the data Retrosheet has available, Ruth hit .300/.349/.438 with three home runs in 80 at-bats, six walks and 27 K's.

Ted Williams versus Bob Feller (.347/.467/.677, 9 HR in 124 ABs)
Those numbers are from Retrosheet, but are incomplete. From 1948 to 1956, Williams crushed Feller -- .389/.511/.833, with eight home runs in 72 at-bats. So, at least initially, Feller fared better before Williams started dominating. Williams did call Feller the best pitcher he ever faced.

Willie Mays versus Bob Gibson (.196/.315/.304, 3 HR in 92 ABs)
With his fastball/slider combo, you might expect that Gibson was tough on right-handed batters and you'd be correct: right-handers hit .204 against him, left-handers .257. Basically, he owned Mays, who struck out 30 times in 108 plate appearances and had just four extra-base hits. In James Hirsch's biography of Mays he tells the story of Gibson once visiting Mays' home wearing glasses. Gibson didn't wear them when he pitched. "You wear glasses? Man, you're going to kill somebody one of those days," Mays said. Hirsch writes that later in his career Mays started conveniently scheduling off days against hard-throwers like Gibson and Tom Seaver, and that he always preferred off-speed pitches to fastballs.

Hank Aaron versus Bob Gibson (.215/.278/.423, 8 HR in 163 ABs)
Aaron had a little more success than Mays. So who did hit well against Gibson? Billy Williams hit .259 but with 10 home runs in 174 at-bats and 24 walks against 14 strikeouts. Richie Hebner had a 1.127 OPS against Gibson in 74 PAs, batting .387. Darrell Evans, facing mostly the late-career Gibson, never struck out against him in 35 PAs, drawing 11 walks and and hitting three home runs.

Willie Mays versus Sandy Koufax (.278/.426/.536, 5 HR in 97 ABs)
Of course, Mays faced the young Koufax, and then the unhittable Koufax. During Koufax's 1962-1966 run, when he led the National League each season in ERA, Mays still hit a respectable .242/.373/.484, with more walks than strikeouts.

Hank Aaron versus Sandy Koufax (.362/.431/.647, 7 HR in 116 ABs)
Of 73 players with at least 40 career plate appearances against Koufax, only five hit .300. Most of that damage was against pre-'62 Koufax, as Aaron hit .259 from '62 to '66.

Mike Schmidt versus Nolan Ryan (.179/.405/.482, 5 HR in 56 ABs)
Ryan came over to the Astros in 1980, the year Schmidt won the first of his three MVP trophies. In the ultimate battle of power hitter versus power pitcher, the results were perhaps what you would expect: Schmidt hit for a low average, but got on base and popped home runs at a pretty good ratio.

Barry Bonds versus Greg Maddux (.265/.376/.508, 9 HR in 132 ABs)
The two came up in 1986, so it's not surprising that Maddux faced Bonds more than any hitter in his career. How good was Bonds? Even the pitcher with pinpoint control walked him 24 times in 157 PAs with just 16 strikeouts. Bonds' nine home runs off Maddux are the most he hit off one pitcher, tied with John Smoltz. Bonds had an .883 OPS against Maddux, but 1.138 against Smoltz and .992 against Tom Glavine. Who did own Bonds? He went 3-for-33 off Chuck McElroy, with just one walk (although two home runs).

Barry Bonds versus Randy Johnson (.306/.452/.551, 3 HR in 49 ABs)
Johnson had 37 intentional walks in his career; 34 were to right-handed batters. Two were to Barry Bonds. The other? Jeremy Hermida. Go figure. The first walk to Bonds came in 2003, runner on second, no outs, sixth inning, Diamondbacks down 2-0. The second one came in 2004 and is more interesting: 2004, game tied in the fifth, runners on first and second. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a fly ball to deep left-center that Luis Gonzalez dropped; Steve Finley was then credited with an error on the throw in as all three runners scored. The walk to Hermida came in 2008, in a game Hermida was batting eighth. Maybe that's when Johnson knew he was nearing the end.

What are some of your favorite matchups?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

Tim Lincecum worth a long-term extension

January, 16, 2012
1/16/12
4:50
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There’s a long-held bias against shorter pitchers in baseball. Part of that’s based on the entirely reasonable observation that pitchers only so tall are limited in the number of angles they can come into the strike zone with; part of it’s also associated with the expectation that shorter pitchers can’t handle the workload of regular rotation work.

These were some of the reasons why the Giants’ Tim Lincecum slipped to the 10th overall choice in the 2006 draft, something Brian Sabean and company happily exploited when he fell to them. Yet the Freak’s height (5-foot-11) and slight build are also parts of the reason why some might wonder whether the Giants should now sign the two-time Cy Young winner to a multi-year extension to keep him in the fold beyond his date with free agency after 2013.

[+] EnlargeTim Lincecum
AP Photo/Eric RisbergThere are plenty of reasons the Giants need to lock down Tim Lincecum, his shorter height withstanding.
Scouts certainly don’t have it wrong in the broad strokes — of the 359 starting pitchers who have thrown 800 or more innings from 1969-2011, just 60 were 6 feet tall or shorter, and 24 of those 60 were lefties. So in 43 years just 36 rotation right-handers standing 6 feet or less have tossed 800 or more innings in the big leagues. Some of that might be blamed on selection bias, but not all of it.

However, some teams have recognized this and made a point of developing short pitchers to exploit this "market inefficiency." In the ’90s the Astros cranked out Roy Oswalt, Kirk Saarloos and Tim Redding, none of whom stand taller than 6 feet. (Not to mention the 5-foot-10 closer Billy Wagner.) The Astros also traded for Mike Hampton (5-10), and then later swapped Hampton to the Mets for Octavio Dotel, another 6-footer.

Oswalt’s name is worth bringing up because he’s an established ace today, but he’s not the only notable power righty who stood in nobody’s shadow at the front of a rotation. Greg Maddux is generously listed at 6 feet; he’s going to the Hall of Fame. Catfish Hunter and Juan Marichal already have. Pedro Martinez is the same height as Lincecum.

Extraordinary talents, of course, make for exceptions, and Lincecum is clearly exceptional. Perhaps his loss of velocity is a source of greater concern, because his fastball’s down around 92 mph where it was sitting at 94 during his Cy seasons. His strikeout rate has similarly dropped — at 24 percent last year, it was still above MLB average, but his rate’s going down at the same time that strikeout rates hit all-time highs. But it’s also worth noting he’s mixing in a lot more sinkers these days, and generating a higher proportion of groundball outs.

Whether that’s the workload or the wisdom of age is the $20 million Average Annual Value question. The Giants are already going to pay Lincecum a raise from last year’s arbitration-generated $14 million, and next year they’ll have to pay another raise beyond whatever he gets this winter. Why not take arbitration out of the equation and put at least a five-year deal on the table now? Including posting fees, the Red Sox spent more than $100 million on 6-footer Daisuke Matsuzaka, and that was in 2006-07 dollars. Jered Weaver accepted less than $20 million per year when he accepted his five-year, $85 million extension last August. That was after his first two spins in arbitration.

FanGraphs’ valuation metric has the value of Lincecum’s work the past two years just under $20 million per season, which might make that sort of pricing tough to accept. On the other hand, the same metric says Lincecum’s performance was worth more than $30 million in each of his Cy Young campaigns. So there’s certainly no guarantee that Lincecum would accept a five-year, $100 million offer, even if it were made, and even if the Giants were willing to trade on their direct knowledge of Lincecum, and whether the dropping strikeout rates and velocity are more by design than red flags for the faint of heart.

Certainly, Sabean has never been afraid to sign a big check. And that’s part of the problem; the Giants still have Barry Zito to afford. But that’s an expense that has almost run its full course with just two years to go and $46 million to spend ($39 million to employ Zito, and $7 million to kiss off their 2014 club option). The Giants can’t afford to let the past entirely dictate their future.

As far as the Giants’ budget goes, now and beyond 2012, they already have big expenses coming off the books. The Giants no longer have to pay $6 million or more apiece for Cody Ross, Miguel Tejada or Mark DeRosa. Next year, they can replace the reliably mediocre Freddy Sanchez at second base for less than the $6 million it cost per year to employ him, Aubrey Huff’s $10 million per season salary goes away as well, and the last checks to Aaron Rowand to pay off that $60 million mistake. The immediate future of the offense belongs to Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, and the closest any of them are to free agency is Sandoval after 2014.

So the time to shell out for the rotation, the platform of the team’s success in 2010 as well as 2012 and beyond, is now. And that means not just affording the more conventionally beefy Matt Cain before he heads into free agency after this season, it means keeping their Freak on.
On Thursday, I wrote a post on my list of the 15-best pitching seasons since 1960, topped by Pedro Martinez's superlative 2000 campaign.

I wanted to post this quick follow-up chart, which lists each pitcher's runs allowed per nine innings, innings pitched per start, hits and strikeouts per nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio, all rated as to how much better they were than the league average for that season. (Totals are not park adjusted.)


A few notes. Gaylord Perry and Zack Greinke probably have the shakiest ground to be on the list. Depending on the importance you want to place on the various numbers, Greinke's relative lack of stamina and Perry's relative lack of dominance in strikeout rate and strikeout/walk ratio hurt them. Perry was amazingly durable that season, throwing 342 innings, so his WAR (wins above replacement) was very high. But it was a low-scoring era and a lot of starters pitched deep into games that year, so Perry's innings per start, while still high, didn't necessarily tower over the league.

Greg Maddux probably deserved to be ranked higher. I didn't put him as high since he only made 28 starts in the strike-shortened season, but I rated Pedro's two 29-start seasons higher. Maddux didn't dominate like Pedro did with the killer strikeout rates, but he did dominate in his own way. I think you could also make the case the Roger Clemens' 1997 and Dwight Gooden's 1985 seasons were incrementally more impressive than Bob Gibson's 1968.

Anyway, that's the fun thing on a list like this. I don't think there a right answer, but it's fun defending your choices.

Follow David on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Bob GibsonGetty ImagesWho had the best season since 1960? Pedro, Randy and Bob Gibson are in the running.
Last week on his blog, Curt Schilling wrote an interesting post on what he called Pitcher Dominance Factor -- a way to evaluate the best starting pitchers. His formula basically rates a pitcher by comparing his ERA to the league average ERA for starters, and comparing his baserunners allowed per nine innings to the league average.

In many ways the formula works perfectly -- it rewards pitchers with low ERAs and those who don't allow many baserunners. It has a couple primary flaws in assessing overall value: There are no park effects and it doesn't factor in innings pitched, so a 170-inning season can have the same "dominance factor" as a 250-inning season.

There's another flaw: All of Schilling's highest-rated seasons since 1960 came during the so-called steroid era. His top 13 seasons included five from Pedro Martinez; two apiece from Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Kevin Brown; and one each from Roger Clemens and Johan Santana. Now, maybe those are the best seasons since 1960, as those guys dominated in a high-scoring era.

Of course, there are other metrics out there as well to measure the best pitcher seasons.

Wins: I think we all agree by now that wins aren't the best way to measure a pitcher. By this method, in 1990 Bob Welch had the second-best season since 1960 with 27 wins -- despite ranking just sixth in his own league in ERA and posting a mediocre 127/77 SO/BB ratio.

ERA: Better than wins, but doesn't adjust for home ballpark, era (a 2.05 ERA in 1968, when the American League ERA was 2.98 is not as valuable as a 2.05 ERA in 1996, when the AL ERA was 5.00) or innings pitched.

ERA+: The Baseball-Reference stat adjusts a pitcher's ERA for his park and era to a scale where 100 is average. Much better than regular ERA, although it still doesn't factor in innings pitched, unearned runs, or the quality of a pitcher's defense. It actually ends up generating a list similar to Schilling's as 15 of the top 25 ERA+ seasons since 1960 occurred between 1994 and 2005. ERA+ also doesn't factor in "dominance" in the sense of what Schilling was looking for, as it's possible to post a low ERA without dominating peripherals.

WAR (wins above replacement): WAR establishes a value to a pitcher's season. FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference have different versions of WAR, and both arguably have a problem in generating a list of the best pitching seasons since 1960.

Under the Baseball-Reference formula, the more innings you pitch, the more value you accumulate. While completely logical (you're more valuable if you pitch more innings), its list ends up skewed towards the late '60s and early '70s, when starters routinely racked up 300-plus innings. Fourteen of its top 25 seasons reached 300 innings (and only four have fewer than 275), so modern pitchers struggle to make the top of the list since they don't pitch as many innings.

FanGraphs' version of WAR doesn't factor a pitcher's ERA or runs allowed. Instead, it extrapolates a pitcher's innings, strikeouts, walks allowed and home runs allowed (adjusted for park and era). It also only has pitcher WAR dating back to 1974. As it turns out, nine of its top 10 seasons occurred between 1995 and 2004, and you also end up with seasons like Schilling's 2002 in the top 10, when he had a great strikeout-to-walk ratio, but finished just 10th in the NL in ERA.

Both the B-R and FanGraphs lists are a terrific guide to greatness. I'm not knocking their lists. I'm just not sure either should be considered the definitive list of the "best" seasons. So here's my subjective 15 best since 1960, trying to account for the changing patterns of the game ... with apologies to the many great pitchers who finished 16th in my personal tally.

15. Steve Carlton, 1980 Phillies
24-9, 2.34 ERA, 304 IP, 243 H, 90 BB, 286 SO, 15 HR

The last pitcher to throw 300 innings, Carlton led the NL in wins, innings, strikeouts and SO/BB ratio. He held opponents to a .218 average -- and this despite Greg Luzinski usually behind him in left field.

14. Gaylord Perry, 1972 Indians
24-16, 1.92 ERA, 342.2 IP, 253 H, 82 BB, 234 SO, 17 HR

A great season that nobody remembers, although Perry did win the Cy Young Award. While 1972 didn't see much hitting -- there was a reason the AL instituted the DH rule for the 1973 -- Perry's workload was amazing as he had 29 complete games and averaged 8.5 innings per start. That's a lot of spit. From May 6 through Aug. 5, he started 22 games and averaged more than nine innings per start, all while compiling a 1.55 ERA.

13. Randy Johnson 2002 Diamondbacks
24-5, 2.32 ERA, 260 IP, 197 H, 71 BB, 334 SO, 26 HR

Johnson captured his fourth straight Cy Young Award with one of his many dominant seasons. He allowed two runs or fewer in 22 of his 35 starts and struck out 15 or more four times. He also tightened up when it most counted, holding batters to a .174 average in "high-leverage" situations, with just one home run allowed in 154 at-bats.

12. Zack Greinke, 2009 Royals
16-8, 2.16 ERA, 229.1 IP, 195 H, 51 BB, 242 SO, 11 HR

Greinke hasn't been able to replicate the consistency, focus or, yes, the little bit of magic he had in 2009. He allowed one run or less in more than half of his starts -- 18 of 33 -- but due to lack of run support won just 12 of those 18 games. (Thank you, Royals teammates.) His relative lack of stamina prevents him from ranking higher as he pitched fewer than seven innings in 13 of his starts.

11. Greg Maddux, 1995 Braves
19-2, 1.63 ERA, 209.2 IP, 147 H, 23 BB, 181 SO, 8 HR

The shortened season cost Maddux a few starts, otherwise he'd rank even higher with the additional innings pitched. He allowed 39 runs (38 earned) in 28 starts and had a remarkable 0.81 WHIP. His .224 OBP allowed is the second-best since 1960 and his ERA+ is third-best (he ranked even better in 1994, although he did allow nine unearned runs that year.) Maddux allowed more than two runs just four times and more than three runs just twice. He painted the corners, got grounders, didn't give up home runs and dominated without just blowing batters away. Some say he also had a few extra innings off the plate to work with thanks to the kindness of the umpires.

10. Tom Seaver, 1971 Mets
20-10, 1.76 ERA, 286.1 IP, 210 H, 61 BB, 289 SO, 18 HR

The only season on our list not to result in a Cy Young trophy, as Seaver lost out to Fergie Jenkins, who went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA for the Cubs. The vote actually wasn't a travesty; once you adjust for Shea Stadium and Jenkins' 39 more innings pitched, the seasons are close in value. However, Seaver did outpitch Jenkins by quite a bit on the road: 1.63 ERA versus 2.70 ERA, so I rate Seaver's season as better. Seaver's 9.1 K's per nine led the league, at a time when the league average was 5.4, a ratio of +69 percent. In 2011, the NL average is 7.2 K's per nine; a rate of +69 percent would equate to 12.2 K's per nine.

9. Ron Guidry, 1978 Yankees
25-3, 1.74 ERA, 273.2 IP, 187 H, 72 BB, 248 SO, 13 HR

My buddy Bish is going to punish me for not ranking Louisiana Lightning her, but this is a tough field. Guidry, all 160 pounds of him, threw 16 complete games and tossed nine shutouts. Guidry didn't lose until July, and in September, with the Yankees battling the Red Sox for the AL East title, he went 6-1 with a 1.19 ERA. He went 3-0 in four starts against the Red Sox. Can we have a re-do on that AL MVP vote?

8. Pedro Martinez, 1999 Red Sox
23-4, 2.07 ERA, 213.1 IP, 160 H, 37 BB, 313 SO, 9 HR

Pedro's second of three Cy Young reasons resulted in an opponents' batting line of .205/.248/.288, as he allowed just nine home runs while fanning 13.2 per nine, the second-highest total ever for a starter. He fanned 15 batters four times, 16 once and 17 once. He allowed more than four runs just once, a nine-run disaster after his All-Star start that landed him on the DL. In fact, that's the only strike against this season: He made just 29 starts. Well, that and these gloves he wore during the playoffs.

7. Randy Johnson, 2001 Diamondbacks
21-6, 2.49 ERA, 249.2 IP, 181 H, 71 BB, 372 SO, 19 HR

And if you want to give him extra credit for winning three games in the World Series, please do so. Johnson struck out 10 or more in 23 starts, including a record-tying 20 on May 8 against the Reds. His 13.4 K's per nine is the best ever for a starter, left-handed batters hit one home run off him all season and you didn't dare dig him against him: he also hit 18 batters. Yes

6. Sandy Koufax, 1966 Dodgers
27-9, 1.73 ERA, 323 IP, 241 H, 77 BB, 317 SO, 19 HR

You could flip a coin between any of Koufax's three Cy Young seasons (1963, '64, '66). His strikeout and hit rates were better in 1965 than 1966, but he also allowed 14 more runs in the same number of starts. He threw 11 shutouts in 1963, but had a big home park advantage that year. In 1966, he had 1.52 ERA at home and 1.96 on the road, his most even split, so I give '66 the nod. This was his final season, as he pitched in so much pain doctors were injecting steroids directly into the elbow joint, according to Jane Leavy's "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy." Down the stretch, with the Dodgers battling for the pennant, he started seven times over the final 26 days, posting a 1.20 ERA.

5. Steve Carlton, 1972 Phillies
27-10, 1.97 ERA, 346.1 IP, 257 H, 87 BB, 310 SO, 17 HR

If you want to argue that Carlton's season was the best ever, I won't mount much of a disagreement. Carlton famously won nearly half of his team's 59 wins as he completed 30 of his 41 starts and threw eight shutouts. He held batters to a .207/.257/.291 line while making 31 starts on three days' rest. He allowed one home run to a cleanup hitter all season. And did you check the innings pitched total? The National League OPS that year was .680, not far below the .704 so far this season. Carlton's 12.2 WAR ranks No. 1 on Baseball-Reference's list since 1960.

4. Roger Clemens, 1997 Blue Jays
21-7, 2.05 ERA, 264 IP, 204 H, 68 BB, 292 SO, 9 HR

While the AL was batting .271/.340/.428 in 1997, Clemens dominated with a .213/.273/.290 line. He won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts while allowing zero runs or one run in 20 of his 33 starts. Clemens had many great seasons -- seven Cy Young Awards, seven ERA titles -- but 1997 stands out as his best. Red Sox fans just punched the wall in disgust.

3. Dwight Gooden, 1985 Mets
24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276.2 IP, 198 H, 69 BB, 268 SO, 13 HR

He allowed just a .201 average and .270 slugging percentage. Left-handed batters had a lower OPS off him than right-handers. In September, with the Mets fighting the Cardinals for a division title, he went 4-0 in six starts with a 0.34 ERA. His strikeout rate of 8.7 per nine may not appear to stand out now, but that's 58 percent better than the NL average. He even hit .226. And he did all this at 20 years of age while partying with Darryl Strawberry.

2. Bob Gibson, 1968 Cardinals
22-9, 1.12 ERA, 304.2 IP, 198 H, 62 BB, 268 SO, 11 HR

Yes, 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher, but even in a league where the league ERA was 2.99, Gibson's 1.12 ERA ranks as fourth-best ERA+ since 1968. He threw 13 shutouts (meaning he was just 9-9 if he didn't throw up a zero). You can find areas to nitpick: He allowed nine unearned runs, he averaged just 7.9 K's per nine (although that was second-best mark in the NL). But this is what stands out most to me: He pitched seven innings his first two starts of the season ... and then at least eight every start after that. The man literally didn't have a bad game all season.

1. Pedro Martinez, 2000 Red Sox
18-6, 1.74 ERA, 217 IP, 128 H, 32 BB, 284 SO, 17 HR

Can a guy who pitched 87 fewer innings than Gibson have had a better season? (Vote in the poll!) Pedro's opponent batting line is just sick: .167/.213/.259. Absolutely incredible. He was throwing 95-mph Wiffle balls that year, unhittable heaters and changeups and curveballs with precise location. The AL ERA in 2000 was 4.92, giving Pedro the best adjusted ERA since 1960. I think I answer it this way: If I wanted one of these guys pitching at his peak in a game to save the future of mankind, I'd take 2000 Pedro Martinez.

(Statistics from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com.)

Follow David on Twitter @dschoenfield and the SweetSpot blog on Facebook.
In 1985, Dwight Gooden won 24 games, struck out 268 batters and posted a 1.53 ERA, the second-lowest in 60 years.

The next spring, the Mets decided to change Gooden's approach. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre directed him to not go for so many strikeouts. Later that season, with Gooden going through a rough patch, Stottlemyre told The New York Times, ''I have downplayed the strikeouts with him for the simple reason he doesn't need to strike out 10 batters to have a strong game. The important thing is put zeros on the scoreboard. I probably made too great an emphasis with him on getting ground balls, and not enough on getting pop-ups."

It should be mentioned that Stottlemyre was a ground ball pitcher during his own pitching days. He averaged 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his career, far less than the league average during his time. He undoubtedly was coming from a good place; Gooden was just 21 years old, and he wanted to preserve his arm and make him more durable over the long haul.

But Stottlemyre's advice was bad advice. As Bill James wrote in the "1987 Baseball Abstract" about Stottlemyre's thinking, "That's a common belief among baseball men, but it is dead wrong. Among all of the hundreds of issues that I have studied in the ten years I have been doing this, the most definitive evidence I have ever found on any issue is the evidence that the career expectation for a strikeout pitcher is dramatically longer than it is for a control pitcher."

Gooden, who had struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings as a rookie in 1984 and 8.7 in 1985, dropped to 7.2 in 1986. His ERA rose to 2.84. Obviously, Gooden faced extenuating circumstances later in his career -- he entered drug rehab in the spring of 1987 and later injured his shoulder -- but in the summer of 1986, he claimed velocity wasn't an issue.

"'I'm throwing harder than at any time in my career,'' he said, ''but the ball has been going straight and it's been getting hit, and that's been part of the problem." The magic of 1985? Gooden never regained it.

* * * *

After Justin Verlander no-hit the Blue Jays on May 7, I watched his postgame interview, and he said he and Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp had been working on slowing down his delivery, trying to make it more methodical to improve his consistency and location. He said he even dialed down his fastball early in the game, throwing 92 to 94 mph instead of his customary 96-plus. He didn't exactly say it, but in the back of my mind, I thought, "Uh-oh, that sounds like he could be saying that he's trying to pitch to contact."

Verlander struck out only four Blue Jays that day. On May 24, after he gave up six runs to Tampa Bay, his ERA stood at 3.42. It was looking like another typical Verlander year -- while that's a solid ERA, in 2011 it hardly makes you one of baseball's elite pitchers. (Currently, that would rank only 48th among starting pitchers.) And as good as Verlander has been, he's never had a season ERA less than 3.25 or a top-five finish in ERA in the American League.

But in the six starts since May 24, Verlander is 6-0 with a 0.72 ERA, allowing just four runs in 49 2/3 innings. He's also struck out 51 batters.

Yes, strikeouts matter. As he continues to blow away hitters, it appears to me now that Verlander wasn't working on inducing more contact. He was working on becoming a more dominant pitcher, refining his control and mixing up his repertoire. But he's shown over the past month that he's still trying to strike guys out. And now he's become perhaps the best starter in the game.

* * * *

Fans will invariably say, "Yes, but what about Tom Glavine? Or Greg Maddux. Or Jamie Moyer!"

In Glavine's first Cy Young season, in 1991, he struck out 7.0 batters per nine innings, well more than the National League average of 5.9. In 1998, when he won his second Cy Young, he was still striking out 6.2 per nine, a tick less than the NL average of 6.8. The point is, he had room to work with: He started out above the league average strikeout rate before slowly dipping through the years.

Maddux was even more of a strikeout pitcher than Glavine. During his 1992-98 peak, when he went 127-53 with a 2.15 ERA, his K rate was 6.9 per nine, peaking at 7.8.

Even Moyer will surprise you. He certainly didn't throw hard, but he struck out just enough hitters -- 5.4 per nine over his career -- to pitch forever. Last season he was still averaging 5.1 K's per nine, not a great total, but enough to get by, which is what he did.

And those pitchers, of course, are extreme examples, masters of location, control and changing speeds. Maybe they didn't blow 100 mph fastballs past hitters like Verlander can do, but they still got their swings and misses.

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I checked the pitchers with the best ERAs since 2008 (at least 500 innings pitched). Among the top 25 pitchers, only Tim Hudson has averaged less than 6.3 K's per nine. Thirteen of the 25 have averaged more than 8.0. For the most part, the best pitchers are strikeout pitchers. Yes, there is an occasional Tim Hudson or Mark Buehrle, who has thrived for years without a high K rate. They are a rare breed.

This is why it's important to check out a pitcher's strikeout rate -- no matter how often your local broadcaster says it's a good thing that Pitcher X isn't trying to strike everybody out anymore. Bottom line: It's difficult to maintain a high level of success without a K rate at least close to the league average (currently about 7.0 per nine innings). Here are some starters to monitor closely:
As I write this, I'm watching Brandon Beachy of the Braves pitch. Most analysts projected him as a fifth-starter type heading into the season. Heading into Monday's start, he had a 3.22 ERA while averaging more than 10 K's per nine. I'm beginning to think he might be better than initially advertised.

Follow David on Twitter @dschoenfield.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Jim LeylandRick Osentoski/US PresswireSafe to say Jim Leyland isn't trying to get the crowd to applaud the umpiring crew. Just a guess.

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