Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
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1980s Pitchers
Top Pitchers of the 1980s

Jack Morris 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.

Most pWins during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL
Jack Morris147.3131.610.423.7
Fernando Valenzuela138.7128.212.323.8
Dave Stieb138.7117.313.025.2
Nolan Ryan136.8127.810.422.0
Bob Welch132.1116.813.023.9
Charlie Hough122.7118.44.215.9
Jim Clancy121.5119.33.414.8
Bert Blyleven121.4110.47.818.9
Mike Scott115.4109.78.318.2
Rick Sutcliffe114.5105.98.718.6


Jack Morris 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.

Most pWins over Replacement Level during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL
Dave Stieb138.7117.313.025.2
Bob Welch132.1116.813.023.9
Fernando Valenzuela138.7128.212.323.8
Jack Morris147.3131.610.423.7
Dwight Gooden89.765.816.222.9
Nolan Ryan136.8127.810.422.0
Roger Clemens81.556.613.720.4
Orel Hershiser92.176.811.919.4
Bert Blyleven121.4110.47.818.9
Rick Sutcliffe114.5105.98.718.6


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.

Most pWins over Positional Average during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL
Dwight Gooden89.765.816.222.9
Roger Clemens81.556.613.720.4
Dave Stieb138.7117.313.025.2
Bob Welch132.1116.813.023.9
Fernando Valenzuela138.7128.212.323.8
Orel Hershiser92.176.811.919.4
Dan Quisenberry68.841.311.518.5
Bret Saberhagen80.359.711.418.3
Teddy Higuera70.350.311.117.1
Nolan Ryan136.8127.810.422.0


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 through 1988 (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.

Most eWins during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
Jack Morris140.7134.65.618.7
Dave Stieb136.3115.312.824.8
Fernando Valenzuela135.4127.610.822.2
Nolan Ryan128.0124.27.618.6
Bob Welch127.1120.08.819.7
Charlie Hough124.7123.62.614.7
Bert Blyleven122.4110.88.119.3
Rick Rhoden116.6112.27.617.6
Jim Clancy116.6115.32.913.9
Frank Tanana115.7113.92.913.9


The names here are mostly familiar from earlier tables.

Most eWins over Replacement Level during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
Dave Stieb136.3115.312.824.8
Fernando Valenzuela135.4127.610.822.2
Roger Clemens80.455.913.420.1
Bob Welch127.1120.08.819.7
Bert Blyleven122.4110.88.119.3
Jack Morris140.7134.65.618.7
Orel Hershiser89.875.311.418.7
Nolan Ryan128.0124.27.618.6
Bret Saberhagen79.759.211.318.2
Rick Rhoden116.6112.27.617.6


Most eWins over Positional Average during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
Roger Clemens80.455.913.420.1
Dave Stieb136.3115.312.824.8
Orel Hershiser89.875.311.418.7
Bret Saberhagen79.759.211.318.2
Fernando Valenzuela135.4127.610.822.2
Dwight Gooden80.267.510.416.7
Bob Welch127.1120.08.819.7
Teddy Higuera65.951.08.414.3
Bert Blyleven122.4110.88.119.3
Mark Gubicza78.464.78.015.0


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.

Most Pitching Wins during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player eWins eLosses Net Wins
Jack Morris127.5124.13.4
Dave Stieb122.0108.113.9
Charlie Hough115.2115.7-0.5
Nolan Ryan112.9102.610.3
Fernando Valenzuela112.5104.18.4
Bert Blyleven110.7102.28.5
Bob Welch110.1101.88.3
Jim Clancy106.4105.41.0
Frank Tanana105.1104.90.2
Mike Witt104.199.34.9


Once again, if you're looking at a pure counting measure, Jack Morris looks pretty damn good.

Most Net Pitching Wins during the 1980s: Pitchers
Player eWins eLosses Net Wins
Roger Clemens71.353.917.4
Bret Saberhagen71.556.614.9
Dave Stieb122.0108.113.9
Orel Hershiser75.061.213.8
Dwight Gooden66.754.712.0
Dan Quisenberry52.040.511.5
Teddy Higuera58.848.410.4
Nolan Ryan112.9102.610.3
Mark Gubicza70.460.89.6
Dennis Eckersley84.375.09.3


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.

Top Pitchers by League-Season in the 1980s, pWORL
Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL Player pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL
1980ALMike Norris17.611.03.5
4.7
NLSteve Carlton19.913.24.1
5.4
1981ALSteve McCatty12.38.12.3
3.3
NLFernando Valenzuela15.310.53.1
4.2
1982ALJim Palmer14.810.02.7
3.8
NLSteve Carlton21.615.34.1
5.7
1983ALLa Marr Hoyt17.011.33.1
4.5
NLJohn Denny15.910.63.4
4.5
1984ALWillie Hernandez9.93.13.1
3.9
NLDwight Gooden16.411.63.2
4.3
1985ALBret Saberhagen15.98.53.9
5.3
NLDwight Gooden21.311.06.1
7.6
1986ALRoger Clemens17.39.93.9
5.2
NLMike Scott19.012.64.0
5.4
1987ALRoger Clemens18.311.73.6
5.1
NLRick Reuschel14.511.62.3
3.5
1988ALRoger Clemens18.011.93.3
4.7
NLOrel Hershiser20.313.44.2
5.7
1989ALBret Saberhagen16.79.33.9
5.1
NLMike Scott15.712.72.2
3.5


Roger Clemens won the most "pWin Cy Young awards" - 3. Other repeat winners would have been Steve Carlton, Dwight Gooden, and Bret Saberhagen.

Conclusion
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 - 1983) was Philadelphia Phillies Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton. The best pitcher for the middle 20% of the 1980s (1984 - 1985) was New York Mets wunderkind Dwight Gooden. The best pitcher for the last 40% of the 1980s (1986 - 1989) 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.

Games pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWin Pct. eWOPA eWORL
1980
38
19.913.20.6024.1
5.4
19.114.90.5632.94.2
1981
24
11.58.30.5812.2
3.0
12.29.70.5571.92.9
1982
38
21.615.30.5854.1
5.7
18.215.40.5422.33.7
1983
37
17.716.80.5131.3
2.8
18.316.50.5251.83.2
1984
31
16.411.60.5873.2
4.3
13.410.40.5642.23.1
1985
35
21.311.00.6596.1
7.6
17.911.30.6134.25.5
1986
33
17.39.90.6373.9
5.2
16.310.60.6063.14.4
1987
36
18.311.70.6093.6
5.1
18.011.90.6033.44.9
1988
35
18.011.90.6033.3
4.7
16.510.30.6153.34.6
1989
35
14.812.70.5371.2
2.6
15.412.10.5591.93.2
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1990
342
176.8122.40.59133.1
46.4
165.4123.10.57326.939.7


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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