Mar 27, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Somebody asked me this question on Twitter: If I could have any pitcher from any time pitch one game (say a seventh game of the World Series or the ubiquitous “pitching for your soul” scenario”) who would I choose?
I immediately typed: Pedro. 1999.
This is always my fallback position. Back in the Trivial Pursuit days, my mother would guess “Babe Ruth” on pretty much every sports question. She has actually become much more knowledgeable about sports, in part because of this mess of a blog, but back then it was always “Babe Ruth,” even on, you know, billiards or horse racing questions.
And that’s how I am with Pedro Martinez’s 1999 season. Any baseball pitching question can be answered, somehow, by: Pedro, 1999. I would actually like to answer ALL questions that way. When I go fill up gas, and the little pump screen asks: “Cash or Credit” I’d love to be able to type in: Pedro, 1999.
Anyway, the choice lit up the Twitter lines with the expected objections — what about Bob Gibson in ’68 or Randy Johnson in 2001 or Walter Johnson in 1913 or Sandy Koufax in 1965.* You could make an argument for those and a couple dozen more — Carlton in ’72, Gooden in ’85, Grove in ’31, Hershiser in ’88, Mathewson in ’08, on and on.
*Am I the only one who gets kind of annoyed when people put some sort of finality stamp at the end of their opinions? You know what I mean by finality stamp — someone will not just say “Sandy Koufax in 1965 was quite sprightly.” No, they will say something like “Koufax. 1965. End of story.” Or: “Gibson. 1968. The end.” Or: “Carlton. 1972. Period.” Or: “Old Hoss. 1884. Goodbye.”
What are these emphatic termination words supposed to achieve? I mean YOU put those words there, right? I didn’t miss some mediator coming in and ending declaring your viewpoint supreme, did I? It’s not like you pulled Marshall McLuhan out of nowhere to confirm your opinion … YOU confirmed your opinion. How does that mean anything? Is this like the Internet equivalent of taking off your shoe and clomping it on the table like a gavel? Stop doing that. It’s stupid. Period. End of story. Goodbye.
Anyway there was one alternative to Pedro 1999 suggestion that I found interesting for a completely different reason.
The suggestion: Pedro in 2000.
This post is not actually about Pedro Martinez, not specifically, but about WAR. As I assume everyone reading this blog knows, there are two prominent variations of the statistic “Wins Above Replacement.” There is Baseball Reference WAR. And there is Fangraphs WAR. Best I can tell when it comes to everyday players, the two systems are fairly similar — any real variations on players’ totals probably comes down to how defense was calculated.
But the two calculate pitcher’s WAR differently and this might be seen mostly clearly in Pedro Martinez’s 1999 and 2000 seasons.
Martinez made the same number of starts and threw roughly the same number of innings both innings, which is helpful comparison purposes. In 1999, Martinez threw 213.3 innings. In 2000, he threw 217 innings.
The other numbers, though, are quite different:
1999: 19-7, 2.07 ERA, 5 complete games, 1 shutout, 160 hits, 313 Ks, 37 walks, 9 homers.
2000: 23-4, 1.74 ERA, 7 complete games, 4 shutouts, 128 hits, 285 Ks, 32 walks, 17 homers.
OK, before diving in, here is what Baseball Reference WAR says:
1999: 9.7 WAR
2000: 11.7 WAR
So Baseball Reference has Pedro’s 2000 season worth two extra wins.
Here’s what Fangraphs WAR says:
1999: 11.9 WAR
2000: 9.9 WAR
And it’s almost precisely reversed — Fangraphs has Pedro’s 1999 season worth two extra wins.
Obviously both seasons are all variations of awesome and we’re just picking between Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. And you probably know exactly why the two Pedro Seasons are calculated differently but let’s go step-by-step here.
Baseball Reference WAR values the 2000 season more because Pedro Martinez gave up fewer runs and fewer hits. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s at the crux of things. Martinez’s ERA+ in 2000 was 291, which is the record for a season. In 1999 his ERA+ was merely an otherworldly 243.
So that’s at the heart of Baseball Reference’s process — Pedro Martinez gave up 11 fewer runs in 2000 (largely because the league hit an almost unbelievable .167 against him, 38 points less than the year before) and that meant it was a clearly better season.
Fangraphs WAR, meanwhile, doesn’t deal with ERA. It deals with the three things that Fangraphs believes a pitcher can control: Strikeouts, walks and home runs. In 1999, Martinez struck out an obscene 13.2 batters per nine inning (just behind Randy Johnson’s 2001 record) and he hardly walked anybody and, perhaps most overlooked, he gave up NINE HOME RUNS all season. Both of these seasons were smack in the middle of the Selig Era, when home runs flew like confetti, and to give up nine homers all year …
Well, let’s look at the top five in the AL that year in homers per nine innings:
That doesn’t look very close, does it?
Anyway, of the three things at the heart of the Fangraphs process he did two of them (strikeouts, home runs allowed) better in 1999 and the third (walks) was more or less a wash. So that’s why Fangraphs thinks 1999 was a clearly better season.
What makes this cool, though, is that it’s a great way to decide exactly which kind WAR speaks loudest to you. Which season do YOU THINK is better? If you think the 2000 season was better, then you are probably a Baseball Reference person. If you think 1999 — you’re Fangraphs.
I asked Tom Tango what he thinks and, as usual, he came up with an interesting way of looking at things. Looking at it another way, the question in play is this: How much control do you think a pitcher has on balls hit in play — yes, we’re crossing back to the famous BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play).
If you think a pitcher has COMPLETE CONTROL over balls in play then you will naturally think that Pedro was a better pitcher in 2000 when his ERA and hits allowed were much lower. The BABIP numbers could not be more stark.
– In 1999, despite his dominance, Pedro allowed a .325 batting average on balls in play — which was actually the FIFTH HIGHEST in the AL.
– In 2000, Pedro allowed a .237 BABP — which was the LOWEST in the AL.
So, if you believe a pitcher has complete control over balls put in play then you will believe that Pedro Martinez learned a whole lot between the end of the 1999 season and the beginning of 2000.*
*I believe it is this Pedro gap, by the way, that helped inspire Voros McCracken to come up his theory about pitchers not having control of balls hit in play.
OK, but if you think a pitcher has ZERO CONTROL over balls in play, then you will definitely believe that Pedro was a better pitcher in 1999 and was just a whole luckier in 2000 (or had a team that played much better and smarter defense, which is in a way the same thing for a pitcher).
What Tango says — and I concur — is that it’s likely neither absolute is true. It’s likely that pitchers do not have complete control on balls hit in play, and it’s likely that pitchers are not entirely powerless.
“Since reality is somewhere between the two … we get into our conundrum: must we take a 0/100 approach to everything we track?” Tango asks. “Or, can we start to give partial credit? … No one likes the idea of partial credit, because it implies a level of precision that we can’t possibly know.”
Tango comes down closer to the side that a pitcher has limited control over balls in play. I again agree. I think there will still be studies and thought experiments that get us closer to that relationship between pitching and defense, but right now I lean just a touch more to the Fangraphs side. I think Pedro pitched a little bit better in 1999 than he was in 2000. That 313-37 strikeout to walk ratio is just absurd. Those nine home runs allowed, wow. I don’t think he was a full two wins better. But one game — we’re talking one game — I’m taking that Pedro Martinez in the middle of the Selig Era who didn’t let the ball in play much, who always kept it in the ballpark and who was good for 13 outs a game on his own.
And Tango? Well he says Baseball Reference and Fangraphs give us the extremes … and the answer, almost certainly, lies in the middle. And this is why Tango, when looking at Baseball Reference WAR, at Fangraphs WAR will split the difference.
This would make Pedro’s 1999 and 2000 seasons almost EXACTLY EVEN.
Which, if you think about it, is a good way to end this. Period.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
We interrupt this regular old Tuesday night to inform you that Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner is working on a perfect game at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. He has not allowed a hit or a walk through seven innings and he’s thrown just 78 pitches despite striking out nine Colorado hitters. Updates to come.
Aug 26, 2014, 11:18 PM EDT
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina took a round of batting practice on Tuesday night at Double-A Springfield and has been cleared to catch five or six innings there Wednesday in his first minor league rehab game.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
He didn’t cover very much ground before the dive, but A’s outfielder Jonny Gomes saved a couple of runs with this two-out grab in the bottom of the third inning Tuesday at Houston’s Minute Maid Park …
Aug 26, 2014, 9:23 PM EDT
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen returned in just 15 days from an avulsion fracture in his left rib cage and had hit three home runs in six games since being activated from the disabled list. But he aggravated the injury on this catch against the outfield wall in the third inning Tuesday versus St. Louis …
Aug 26, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
Joey Votto is finally beginning to make some progress in his recovery from a severe quad strain. According to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, the Reds first baseman began taking dry swings and throwing lightly on Tuesday afternoon.
Aug 26, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT
Watch as Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo reaches 30 home runs for the first time in his young career with this moonshot to the right-center field seats at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park …
Aug 26, 2014, 7:17 PM EDT
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro flew home to the Dominican Republic last Wednesday following the death of his cousin and three close friends in a car wreck. He is back in the Cubs’ lineup Tuesday, having been activated from the bereavement list.
Aug 26, 2014, 6:32 PM EDT
From Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star comes word that Yordano Ventura has been scratched from his scheduled Wednesday start against the Twins due to stiffness around the middle of his back. Liam Hendriks will pitch in his place.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:50 PM EDT
Not so long ago Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was on the hot seat–and rightfully so, after four consecutive losing seasons–but then he broke the bank for Robinson Cano this offseason and now the Mariners are 71-59.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:35 PM EDT
Mark Cuban may have good reason not to like Bud Selig. But if he’s going to go after him, he should at least do so with facts, not fantasy.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
Recently there have been conflicting reports about the status of David Wright’s injured shoulder, but the Mets third baseman is out of the lineup tonight for the second straight game and admitted that he’s still hurting.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Here at the end of his tenure, baseball is closer to Selig’s nirvana than perhaps ever before.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Get used to a lot more Robbie Ray, Tigers fans.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Twins prospect Byron Buxton missed the first two-plus months of the season following a spring training wrist injury and missed the final two weeks of the season following a concussion suffered during a gruesome-looking outfield collision.
Aug 26, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Acquired from the Reds this offseason after posting a .360 on-base percentage through his first seven seasons in the majors, Hanigan hit just .212 with a .309 on-base percentage in 61 games before the injury.
Aug 26, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Giancarlo Stanton may be the NL’s MVP this year. But he may be in the AL as soon as next year.
Aug 26, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
No reason was given. Probably because there’s no justification for not upholding the protest.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT
Jason Giambi has been out since June with left knee inflammation and has played just 15 games for the Indians all season, but now the 43-year-old designated hitter has been cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment.
ESPN’s Calvin Watkins doubles down on his Yu Darvish nonsense. Also fails to understand how the DL works.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
In which an ESPN analyst apparently believes that the disabled list is like the NFL’s injured reserve.
Aug 26, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton is off the disabled list after missing the past three weeks with a strained oblique muscle.
- Andrew McCutchen departs game versus Cardinals after aggravating injured left rib cage 2
- Mariners extend general manager Jack Zduriencik’s contract 12
- Money, money, money (and Bud Selig’s nirvana) 14
- These days, the correlation between payroll and winning is historically weak 60
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 49
- Report: Cubs calling up top prospect outfielder Jorge Soler 40
- Shin-Soo Choo to undergo season-ending bone spur surgery on elbow 13
- Bartolo Colon and Scott Feldman clear revocable waivers; eligible to be traded to any team 22
- The Cubs grounds crew was short staffed because the Cubs were trying to avoid Obamacare (247)
- Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime (142)
- Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to sign with the Red Sox for $72 million (96)
- A pitch clock in Major League Baseball? No thanks. (92)
- Even if he’s reinstated, does Pete Rose make the Hall of Fame? (89)