stayed on the BBWAA Hall-of-Fame ballot for fifteen years and, at his peak, two-thirds of Hall-of-Fame voters thought that Jack Morris belonged there. Setting aside Game 7 of the 1991 World Series
(not to suggest that shouldn't count toward his case), the chief argument in support of Jack Morris's Hall-of-Fame candidacy was that he had the most pitcher wins in the 1980s.
Pitcher wins have their flaws, but this sets up two questions that I think are worth exploring:
1. Does being the best pitcher of a decade merit induction into the Hall of Fame?
2. Who was the best pitcher of the 1980s?
In my opinion, the answer to question 1. is yes, being the best pitcher in baseball over a ten-year period is enough to merit induction into the Hall of Fame. This article attempts to answer question 2 using Player won-lost records.
Best Pitchers based on pWins
Let's start with the closest parallel to traditional pitcher wins. The next table shows the top 20 pitchers in pWins
during the 1980s.
led all major-league pitchers in pWins during the 1980s. He also led all major-league pitchers in pLosses in the decade.
The next table, then, moves away from a zero baseline and looks at pWins
over replacement level
Jack Morris falls to third (which is still pretty damn impressive - Jack Morris was a very good pitcher for a good long time), passed by Dave Stieb
and Fernando Valenzuela
Shifting to pWORL also gives us our first (and, as it will turn out, our only) relief pitcher, Dan Quisenberry
. I wrote an article
about him last fall when he appeared on the Veterans' Committee Hall-of-Fame ballot.
Comparing against replacement level
is a good way to measure total value, recognizing that being below-average, but not too bad, has positive value. But does being a little below average add to a player's candidacy for determining the "best pitcher of the 1980s"? Maybe not.
So, the next table looks at the best pitchers of the 1980s as measured by pWins
over positional average
Switching to average, the top two starting pitchers of the 1980s did not make their major-league debuts until the fifth year of the decade, 1984
: Dwight Gooden
and Roger Clemens
. Both Gooden and Clemens were actually still in high school when the 1980s began. But when they got to the major leagues in 1984, they both hit the ground running and made up for lost time: Gooden with an absolutely legendary 1985 season
and Clemens with three straight seasons as the best pitcher in the American League from 1986
(see below). I have previously written about Dwight Gooden
, suggesting that I think he actually has a reasonable case for the Hall of Fame. I have also written about Roger Clemens in several previous articles
Best Pitchers based on eWins
The previous tables all evaluated pitchers based on pWins
, which are tied to team wins and are therefore highly context-dependent. Pitchers have some control over how well they perform in high-context situations, but much of the context underlying pWins are outside of a player's personal control.
Some people might, therefore, prefer to evaluate the "best pitcher of the 1980s" in a context-neutral framework. The next three tables, then, parallel the previous three, but are based on eWins
instead of pWins
The names here are mostly familiar from earlier tables.
Controlling for context knocks Dwight Gooden down a bit, while making Orel Hershiser look quite a bit better.
Best Pitchers based purely on Pitching
The preceding tables have looked at total player won-lost records. One could, perhaps, argue instead that the best "pitcher" of the 1980s should be determined based purely on pitching. So, the next two tables look only at pitching player wins.
Once again, if you're looking at a pure counting measure, Jack Morris looks pretty damn good.
Finally, the best pitchers of the 1980s, measured only by net (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) pitching wins are Roger Clemens
, Orel Hershiser
, Bret Saberhagen
, Dwight Gooden
, Dave Stieb
, and Dan Quisenberry
That's probably a pretty solid list of players about whom one can have a conversation about whether they were the best pitcher of the 1980s. What's striking about this list is that four of the six pitchers did not throw a single major-league pitch over the first one-third of the decade.
Best Pitchers by Season
So far, we've only looked at totals for the entire decade. What about season by season? The next table shows the top pitchers of the 1980s by league-season, measured by total player pWins over replacement level.
won the most "pWin Cy Young awards" - 3. Other repeat winners would have been Steve Carlton
, Dwight Gooden
, and Bret Saberhagen
So, who was the best pitcher of the 1980s? I'm going to cheat. The best pitcher for the first 40% of the 1980s (1980
) was Philadelphia Phillies
Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton
. The best pitcher for the middle 20% of the 1980s (1984
) was New York Mets
wunderkind Dwight Gooden
. The best pitcher for the last 40% of the 1980s (1986
) was Boston Red Sox
ace Roger Clemens
. Call the combination Steve "Doc" Clemens.
And, just for fun, here is what Steve "Doc" Clemens career record looked like in the 1980s.
That guy would have been at the top of all of the preceding tables.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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