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By The Numbers: The Greatest Right-Handed Starting Pitcher In Baseball History?

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(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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By Father Gabe Costa
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Ms. Shawna Bleyl is a former varsity softball pitcher and college senior. Halfway through taking a sabermetrics course, she has decided to look at some of the greatest right-handed hurlers ever.

What do you think of her sabermetrical reasoning?

Shawna Bleyl:  Each season there are over 300 pitchers in major league baseball. They have been scouted, coached, and managed. Many will easily throw over 1000 pitches every season, as they strive to win games and individual awards…not to mention a World Series Ring.

For this installment of By The Numbers, I decided to rate a half-dozen of the greatest right-hander starting pitchers in the history of the game: Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Bob Feller, Tom Seaver and Pedro Martinez.  To assist me in ranking these great hurlers, I used 15 different measurements.  I considered Games Pitched (GP), Games Started (GS), Innings Pitched (IP), Earned Run Average (ERA), Adjusted ERA (ERA+), Wins (W), Hits Per Innings Pitched (H/9), Walks and Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP),  Shutouts (SHO), Shutouts Per 40 Games Started (SHO/40), Strikeouts (K), Walks (BB), Strikeout-to-Walk Ration (K/BB), Homeruns Allowed (HR), and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).  Below are each player’s stats.

chart By The Numbers: The Greatest Right Handed Starting Pitcher In Baseball History?

Based on the above table, here is my ranking – in descending order – of these six great pitchers:

#6 Bob Feller

Statistics – GP: 570, GS: 484, IP: 3827, ERA: 3.25, ERA+: 122, W: 266, H/9: 7.7, WHIP: 1.32, SHO: 44, SHO/40: 3.636, Ks: 2581, BB: 1764, K/BB: 1.463, HR: 224, FIP: 3.48.

Bob Feller was ranked sixth due to his ERA of 3.25.  Out of the six pitchers his ERA was the highest.  He also had the second fewest games pitched and games started, and he was ranked fifth for innings pitched.  Even though he didn’t have the least amount of wins, Martinez, who pitched almost 100 games and 1000 inning less than him, was not far behind with Ws.

A deadly combination for a pitcher is a high amount of BB and HR.  These are two aspects that hurt a pitcher the most.  The defense can do nothing to help a pitcher out of the inning when they give up a HR or BB.  Feller gave up 224 HRs and had the highest amount of BBs, 1764.  For every BB he had roughly 1.5 Ks.

#5 Tom Seaver

Statistics – GP: 656, GS: 647, IP: 4783, ERA: 2.86, ERA+: 128, W: 311, H/9: 7.5, WHIP: 1.12, SHO: 61, SHO/40: 3.771, Ks: 3640, BB: 1390, K/BB: 2.619, HR: 380, FIP: 3.04.

Tom Seaver had the one of the highest ERAs and WHIPs.  He had one of the lowest ERA+, after Bob Feller.  He gave up over 100 more HRs than any of the other pitchers.  However, he did have the most Ks.

#4 Grover Cleveland Alexander

Statistics – GP: 696, GS: 600, IP: 5190, ERA: 2.56, ERA+: 136, W: 373, H/9: 8.4, WHIP: 1.12, SHO: 90, SHO/40: 6.00, Ks: 2198, BB: 951, K/BB: 2.311, HR: 165, FIP: 2.85.

It was tough to determine who was better, Pedro Martinez or Grover Alexander.  Even though Alexander had the better ERA, Martinez had a better ERA+, H/9, WHIP, Ks and a lower number of BBs.

Alexander also had the highest number of hits per 9 innings but had one of the lowest ERAs. This shows that he was a pitcher who could work out of jams.  He had the third lowest BBs out of the 5 other pitchers and gave up the third lowest number of HRs.

#3 Pedro Martinez

Statistics – GP: 476, GS: 409, IP: 2827.1, ERA: 2.93, ERA+: 154, W: 219, H/9: 7.1, WHIP: 1.05, SHO: 17, SHO/40: 1.663, Ks: 3154, BB: 760, K/BB: 4.150, HR: 239, FIP: 2.91.

Pedro Martinez ranked third even though he had the second highest ERA.  Martinez pitched only 2,827 innings, nearly half of the innings Walter Johnson pitched.  Martinez had the highest ERA+, and the lowest H/9, WHIP, BB and K/BB.  Even though Martinez had the least amount of SHO, I didn’t look at SHO and SHO/40 as a significant determinant in ranking this pitcher.  A SHO is nice to have but with the low amount of walks he gave up and the high amount of strike outs he had those two stats proved more important than his SHO record.

#2 Christy Mathewson

Statistics – GP: 636, GS: 552, IP: 4788.2, ERA: 2.13, ERA+: 136, W: 373, H/9: 7.9, WHIP: 1.06, SHO: 79, SHO/40: 5.725, Ks: 2507, BB: 848, K/BB: 2.956, HR: 89, FIP: 2.23.

Christy Mathewson ranked second due to his low ERA of 2.13, his low number of HR, 89, and his low FIP of 2.23.  Mathewson also had the second most Ws and the second lowest WHIP along with Walter Johnson.  Mathewson had a low number of BBs and the amount of Ks he had amounted to him having the second highest K/BB ratio.

#1 Walter Johnson

Statistics – GP: 802, GS: 666, IP: 5914.1, ERA: 2.17, ERA+: 147, W: 417, H/9: 7.5, WHIP: 1.06, SHO: 110, SHO/40: 6.607, Ks: 3509, BB: 1363, K/BB: 2.574, HR: 97, FIP: 2.36.

I ranked Walter Johnson first because he ranked either first or second in almost every stat.  Even though he did not have the best ERA (Christy Mathewson did), he had the second lowest ERA of 2.17.  He had the most GP, GS, IP, W, and SHO.   He ranked second in ERA, ERA+, H/9, WHIP, Ks, HR, and FIP.  However, Johnson did give up 1363 walks but if you compare that to the 5914.1 innings pitched, he gave up roughly (1363/5914.1=.2305) 1 walk for every 4 to 5 innings.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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