Monday, February 09, 2009

All-Lifetime Team, Part 3: Pitchers

I thought that right field was a loaded position, but the tough decisions there paled in comparison to those I had to make determining what pitchers would make my all-lifetime team. Starting pitchers were particularly difficult, as I could have made a top ten list and still left Hall of Famers off of it. Or, I could have chosen three right-handers and three left-handers, but instead I opted to just go with six starters in total.

Starting Pitcher
1. Roger Clemens
2. Greg Maddux
3. Tom Seaver
4. Randy Johnson
5. Pedro Martinez
6. Steve Carlton

As I said before, on-field performance is strictly what these selections are based on, and it's hard to argue that Clemens—with his seven Cy Young awards—is not the best starting pitcher of his generation. Maddux's career included an incredible run of seven consecutive seasons with an ERA+ of 160 (60% better than average) or higher. Seaver only accomplished that twice, but he did finish in the top five in Cy Young voting eight times. Johnson and Martinez have arguably been more dominant at their peaks than anyone here, but their injury plagued careers keep them out of the top three. Carlton beats out Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Fergie Jenkins, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and John Smoltz for the final spot.

Relief Pitcher (pre-1988)
1. Bruce Sutter
2. Rich Gossage
3. Dan Quisenberry

Relief Pitcher (post-1988)
1. Mariano Rivera
2. Trevor Hoffman
3. Dennis Eckersley

Rivera is an easy #1, but after that I can understand why Hall of Fame voters seem to be having such a tough time figuring out how to deal with relief pitchers. I honestly didn't expect this to be such a difficult decision, so I decided to divide them into two categories: pre-1988 and post-1988. That year, of course, was Eckersley's first season as a full-time closer, which is generally considered to be the beginning of the one-inning save trend.

Like I said, Rivera would be #1 on the list even if I hadn't split the group in half. I used to think that some could make an argument for Eckersley as the best of the post-1988 bunch. But, then I took a closer look and realized that, as great as he was in his prime, that prime was very short-lived. He makes the list, but I chose Hoffman's consistency over Eck's dominant prime. Surprisingly overlooked in discussions of the best active closers is Billy Wagner, whose career ERA+ of 180 is second only to Rivera. Lastly, Lee Smith probably doesn't quite get the respect he deserves, but in my opinion, he's still not a Hall of Famer.

The most unsung closer of the pre-1988 era is Quisenberry, and I really believe he deserved much more Hall of Fame consideration than the 3.8% of the vote he received in his first, and only, year on the ballot. His career percentage of save opportunities converted (81.6) is better than Sutter (74.8), Gossage (73.5) and Rollie Fingers (75.8); and his ERA+ (146) outshines that Hall of Fame trio as well: Sutter (136), Gossage (126), Fingers (119). All four of them averaged over an inning and a half per relief appearance, so they're on a pretty level playing field when it comes to comparing their saves percentages. Incidentally, the post-1988 crew have much better success rates, but they all average about a half inning less per outing. I intend no disrespect to Fingers by bumping him from the list in favor of Quisenberry, because it could have been any of them. If he was a little closer to 300 career saves, I'd have no reservations ranking Quiz #1.

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