May 26, 2003

Who is the greatest pitcher of all time?: This is a question I've been scratching out ideas and thoughts on and off for the last few days, in hopes of having a user submitted column ready for SpoFi for the event of Roger Clemens' bid for his 300th victory (airs Monday, 10am PST, 1pm EST, on ESPN). In the meantime, ESPN's Rob Neyer has, unsurprisingly, written a short column on this very subject.

posted by hincandenza to baseball at 12:58 AM - 24 comments

Interesting quote: "We know that he wasn't as good as Walter Johnson," That was going to be my counterpoint to your column Hal. But since Neyer just flat out states it in his article, it's probably your job to refute that in your "Clemens = greatest" column.

posted by grum@work at 06:50 AM on May 26, 2003

I remember Dave Stewart and the A's just owning him for a few years. It may not be fair, but I just can't pick Clemens as the best because of that.

posted by offsides at 07:05 AM on May 26, 2003

I'm not sure how a pitcher "owns" another pitcher? I could see where a batter could "own" a pitcher, or a pitcher could "own" a team of batters, but not pitcher "owning" another pitcher (except maybe in the NL). You could make the same case (being "owned" for a couple of seasons by an opposing team) for every great pitcher in baseball history. Walter Johnson lost 279 games while playing for one of the worst franchises in history. Somewhere in there is a probably a 3-year span where the Yankees/Red Sox/Tigers/White Sox probably "owned" him. But in the long run he probably "owned" them all because of his consistant greatness.

posted by grum@work at 08:47 AM on May 26, 2003

Before I read the column, the person who leapt to mind was Bob Gibson. To me, his reputation for being a monster on the mound is larger than those of the others considered by Neyer. I didn't realize that Clemens and Seaver were once teammates.

posted by rcade at 09:22 AM on May 26, 2003

was Nolan Ryan so mediocre that he doesn't warrant a mention in the article? I dunno, his name comes to my mind as being a legend. with only one world series appearance with the 69 Mets you can say he never played on strong teams and therefore his stats might not be as flashy as someone like Clemens who has generally played on good to great teams. I am not saying Nolan Ryan is better than Clemens, just wondering why he wouldn't be mentioned in the article at all. Even a small mention somewhere to put some perspective on who isn't in his top 5. Nolan Ryan 27 Major League seasons W/L 324-292 ERA 3.19 IP 5387.0 SO 5714 Other than the losses (the crap team factor) his numbers don't look that bad against Clemens (well, maybe also that 20 win seasons were not part of his repetoire all that often). Maybe Neyer has Ryan in his top 5 pitchers that were good but can't really claim to be the Best Pitcher Since World War II.

posted by gspm at 09:26 AM on May 26, 2003

The problem with Ryan is that he was never really considered "the best" during his time (never won a Cy Young Award). What makes him HOF material and so memorable to most fans are: - strikeouts (career and single season) - longevity (he pitched in 4 different decades) - no-hitters (7) Don't get me wrong, he was a great pitcher, but the primary stat that leaves him out of the picture is: ERA+ : 112 (ERA+ is a measure of the pitcher's ERA compared to the league average during his career/season) The raw ERA number (3.19) sounds impressive, except that the average ERA during his career was also impressive (3.57). And if you want to talk about his gaudy strikeout numbers, don't forget his walks-allowed (2795, more than 50% higher than any other pitcher in history). In the end he's a great pitcher, but really can't be considered in the debate of "the greatest".

posted by grum@work at 09:51 AM on May 26, 2003

The amazing part is that if what Neyer says is true, Seaver must be one of the least-heralded "greatest" players in sports. Granted, there are ten positions in baseball, and no one's cooing over the greatest offensive lineman in football. But pitcher -- specifically a starter -- is one of the glamour positions, and Seaver is definitely not admired in the same way that a John Elway or Dan Marino would be.

posted by jackhererra at 10:12 AM on May 26, 2003

Stewart and the A's were something like 8-0 against Clemens and the Red Sox. Stewart was in Clemens' head. In 1990, Clemens got tossed from a LCS game pitching against Stewart. That was a big part of the "not a big game pitcher" rap that the Rocket lived with for so long.

posted by offsides at 11:15 AM on May 26, 2003

A big reason Seaver is not recognized as one of the great pitchers is there is Neyer's column lack of postseason exposure. Seaver's own teammates did quite a bit to hold his butt down. Plus, he just wasn't Mr. Chatty. Nice guy ... not very flamboyant. Grum, Neyer took the easy way out. Greatest pitcher since WWII? Who cares? Why set an arbitrary line right there? Why not Greatest Pitcher Since Hula Hoops Were Invented, or Greatest Pitcher Since Kennedy Did Monroe? He says it right there about Johnson, and damn it, no one will convince me otherwise. All this happy horseshit about the game being tougher right now do people think Walter Johnson couldn't pitch in this era? If he hadn't had to work every four days and expect to throw nine innings every time? If he hadn't played for the Senators? Power pitchers always win out, and while Clemens is awfully damn good ... he ain't the Big Train.

posted by wfrazerjr at 11:58 AM on May 26, 2003

It's interesting that the 5th best match to Seaver (career-wise), and the best match for 8 of his 20 years as a pitcher is Roger Clemens. That's probably what makes it hard to separate them. As for the lack of fame that Seaver gets, it might have to do with the fact that he scuffled along as an average pitcher for 4 of the last 5 seasons in an attempt to get his 300th win. But at least he didn't do it like this guy. As for the Stewart/A's "owning" Roger Clemens: A quick check of Retrosheet shows that during Stewart's tenure in Oakland (1986-1992), Roger Clemens faced the A's 16 times. He went 5-8 with 3 no-decisions. Stewart faced the Red Sox 22 times and went 14-4 with 4 no-decisions (during the same span). Statistically, I think it's hard to believe that all 8 of 11 Clemens' losses/no-decision were versus Stewart, but it is a possibility. I just think it's a more logical statement that Stewart "owned" the Red Sox more than the A's/Stewart "owned" Clemens. And Clemens got tossed from that ALCS game because the overzealous umpire thought he could read lips.

posted by grum@work at 12:00 PM on May 26, 2003

Greatest Pitcher Since Kennedy Did Monroe WF, I think you have just come up with the greatest time slicer since, well, sliced cheese! ROTFL!

posted by billsaysthis at 02:14 PM on May 26, 2003

Well, I'm watching the game and I'd be willing to bet Clemens doesn't get out of the 6th, probably not even the 5th. He doesn't have it, and is throwing too many pitches. And sitting here watching this, I'm noticing that I seem to think these things a LOT whenever he pitches... over the past several years, in fact. As far as being great over a long period of time, Clemens is right up there, as Neyer shows. But it's been a long time since he's been absolutely dominant, and even in his 20-3 season I never considered him 100% automatic. Which really should be what you think of the "best ever." I still consider Pedro and Randy automatic, and consider Schilling the same in pressure situations (he just dials it up better than anyone). I suppose a lot of this is just because I'm the world's largest pessimist though... and probably have a lower tolerance for losing than Steinbrenner himself (so as you can guess, I've been boiling with rage for the past several weeks as they lose game after game).

posted by Bernreuther at 02:28 PM on May 26, 2003

Clemens has been my favorite pitcher over the last 20 years, mainly because of his consistency and work ethic. But I would agree that Seaver is better than Rocket by a close shave. It would be interesting to do a secret poll among Joe Morgan and some of the experts who saw all of these pitchers and see who they would pick as the greatest pitcher.

posted by cg1001a at 02:40 PM on May 26, 2003

Joe Morgan was a great baseball player (probably one of the best 2B in the history of the game), but in terms of evaluating talent and making intelligent statements about how the game should be played, I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. And I'm a very scrawny fellow.

posted by grum@work at 02:49 PM on May 26, 2003

Found a source for Stewart 8-0 lifetime against Clemens (NY Times, registration required, link expires around 31 May). Worth a read if you're interested in Clemens (the link points to page 3 of 5).

posted by offsides at 02:57 PM on May 26, 2003

And therefore I stand corrected. My humble apologies for doubting the stat. but I still assert that a pitcher can't "own" another pitcher, but can own the other team instead

posted by grum@work at 03:37 PM on May 26, 2003

just to pipe in with a thanks of sorts after my Nolan Ryan mention way back thanks grum. i'll suggest that my comments shows what i know about baseball and i was asking for some insight and it was provided. cheers. in terms of Clemens, about 10 years ago my brother (woulda been about 12 at the time) met Roger on a golf course in Houston. He didn't report that he was a very pleasant person. Which might be an assessment of any athlete/celebrity at one time or another but I think I've heard that he isn't the nicest guy... ... but we're not gossiping. he's had an impressive career.

posted by gspm at 03:54 PM on May 26, 2003

The rocket man will not get #300 today, he's just been pulled, down 7-3.

posted by Scottymac at 04:06 PM on May 26, 2003

I don't think any competitive person is a nice guy on a golf course :) I know I'm not. That said, Roger is pretty cold and unfriendly (but not exactly a jerk) to just about everyone except family and other pitchers. He's also been known never to talk shop with hitters, in case of a trade. I figured he'd last between 5 and 6 and that's exactly what happened... lots of Ks, lots of 2 strike counts, but he obviously couldn't get the splitter working and ended up throwing high a lot, and the Sox did a great job hitting foul balls and finally poking one through. They had a lot of seeing eye singles through what was noted by Bobby V last night is a terrible defensive infield, and naturally, the 8th run came courtesy the shoddy bullpen. That bullpen REALLY needs work, it's disgusting. I wonder if the delay threw him off a bit... things like that mess with your mindset and your diet (which is pretty important). I think that he will get it easily next start in detroit, but in of course a totally anti climactic setting... I'm guessing the Yankees go 2-2 before then, pick up the win in an ugly game, but getting momentum to right the ship... back in first by June 20. (though actually, here comes interleague, and they always managed to slip up and go exactly .500 against the NL...)

posted by Bernreuther at 05:38 PM on May 26, 2003

Interleague will help the Yankees; the Red Sox keep sucking against the Braves. Meanwhile, the Yankees get to feast on the Mets.

posted by Bryant at 07:04 PM on May 26, 2003

I actually discussed this with a couple baseball coaches and other fans at a high school game this evening. Those in the 30-50 range liked Seaver as the top pitcher of the era. Someone mentioned Carlton, but I looked his stuff up this morning, and I think he's out. The younger ones went with Maddux. No one liked Clemens, and one coach said what I've been thinking. He pointed out that in a Game 7, who knew if Clemens would blow his top again, i.e. getting tossed in the 1990 ALCS and throwing the bat at Piazza? Everyone there said Gibson or Koufax would be their top choices for a one-gamer. As for best ever? Big Train, baby. :)

posted by wfrazerjr at 10:04 PM on May 26, 2003

my choice for a one gamer, right now, in 2003, would be Schilling. I'd take him over Pedro in a pressure situation, in a 1-0 shutout, the 1 run being unearned. Just instinct. But that list of current pitchers would be Schill, Pedro, Randy, in that order (assuming no injury). I'd probably put The Big 3 in Oakland, Moose, Maddux, and Aaron Sele (if I had gambled against my own team, that is) ahead of Clemens as well. Of course we're only speaking about one year, the last of his career, but that can't speak well for his dominance.

posted by Bernreuther at 11:46 PM on May 26, 2003

Interleague will help the Yankees; the Red Sox keep sucking against the Braves. Meanwhile, the Yankees get to feast on the Mets. The AL East plays the NL Central this year. The Sox probably will continue to suck in Interleague, but not for the reason specified. (How are the Sox playing the Phillies too?)

posted by yerfatma at 09:16 AM on May 27, 2003

What exactly are the criteria here, anyway? There are lots of ways to think about this, but whenever I mull it over, I always have to choose between: 1) who had the greatest career overall, according to the statistics, and 2) who would you choose for your roster for a season, or maybe even a series? And they're usually different. Career: Walter Johnson, of course. The question is really which pitcher figured out how to beat their opposition with the greatest consistency. Also, he could hit better than most pitchers. Season/Series: Too many names keep popping up to choose without reservation. I'll go with Sandy Koufax. On another note, most interesting pitcher of all time: Satchel Paige. I once heard an anecdote that related his ability to pick off butterflies in flight with rocks. Everything anyone ever said about him is like that, and I want to believe it all. He's also a candidate for most interesting human being of all time.

posted by jason streed at 11:00 AM on May 27, 2003

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.