Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly’s best years compare well to new Hall of Famers

9 01 2014
Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Congratulations to Greg MadduxTom Glavine and Frank Thomas on their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

All three were elected on the first ballot and rightly so (to the extent that the screwed-up Hall of Fame selection processes have created this stupid first-ballot-election category).

Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly will probably never make it into the Hall of Fame, but you can see that they belong there when you compare them to this year’s Hall of Famers. They aren’t better, especially when you factor longevity, which has become unduly important in Hall of Fame voting. When you measure players at their best, though, Guidry and Mattingly clearly were comparable to this year’s Hall of Famers.

I wish I could make the same case I did three years ago, comparing Ron Guidry to Maddux or Glavine as I did when Bert Blyleven made the Hall of Fame. (Guidry was significantly better than Blyleven except for longevity.)

For Blyleven, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton, I was able to compare best year vs. best year, second-best vs. second-best and so on, and it wasn’t until something like the eighth- or ninth-best years that the Hall of Famers’ longevity started pushing them ahead. Essentially they made the Hall of Fame by having mediocre 15-13 or 13-10 seasons before or after their primes and pushing their career totals into the range that Hall of Fame voters demand. For great seasons, he was easily better than either of those Dodger Hall of Famers.

With Maddux and Glavine, Guidry wins the best-year comparison and holds his own for another three or four years, but by the fourth or fifth-best years, Maddux and Glavine take a clear advantage and they stayed great much longer than Guidry, Blyleven, Drysdale or Sutton.

Maddux and Glavine clearly had more great years than Guidry, as well as longer careers and longer periods when they were among the best in their leagues. You get down to their ninth best years and they’re still having seasons like 16-7 or 18-9. Maddux won 15 or more games 17 straight years, for crying out loud! Glavine had 10 seasons of 15 or more wins.

They were clearly great for longer than Guidry, but they were great for longer than most Hall of Fame pitchers.

The comparison here is more like Guidry vs. Koufax: I won’t claim he was better, but if your great years were closely comparable to someone that great, shouldn’t you be a Hall of Famer? By lots of significant measures, Guidry outperformed either or both of Maddux and Glavine:

  • Neither of them had a year comparable to Guidry’s 1978 season with a 25-3 record and a 1.74 ERA. That was one of the best seasons any pitcher ever had. Neither Glavine nor Maddux ever won more than 22 games and Glavine never had an ERA under 2.00 (despite facing pitchers probably twice or so a game). Maddux maybe came close in 1995 when he was 19-2 with a league-leading 1.63 ERA. But, in addition to winning six more games (and posting that amazing ERA facing designated hitters), Guidry bested Maddux in those years in shutouts (9-3), complete games (16-10, but Maddux did lead the league) and strikeouts (248-181). If you like the new hypothetical stats such as WAR (I don’t), Guidry (9.6) and Maddux (9.7) were nearly identical in their best seasons, but Guidry was a full win better than Glavine’s best season (8.5 in 1991).
  • Guidry was 5-2 in the post-season (with fewer teams in post-season play and fewer rounds of post-season play in his era) and 3-1 in the World Series. Maddux was a post-season loser at 11-14 and 2-3 in the World Series. Glavine was slightly better (than Maddux, not Guidry) at 14-16 and 4-3. Maddux pitched one more World Series game than Guidry but won one fewer game. Glavine pitched twice as many World Series games as Guidry but won only one more. And his sole World Series loss was a 2-1 pitchers’ duel, won by Jerry Reuss in 1981. Maddux and Glavine’s inability to win in the post-season was a huge reason their talented teams won only one World Series. Guidry was a huge reason his talented teams won two.
  • Guidry had more 20-win seasons than Maddux (3-2) and more 22-win seasons than Glavine (2-1).
  • Neither Glavine nor Maddux approached Guidry’s nine shutouts in 1978, the only time he led the league. Glavine’s best season was five in 1992, the only time he led the league. Maddux also topped out at five (but led the league five times).
  • Neither Glavine nor Maddux approached Guidry’s league-leading 21 complete games in 1983 0r his four seasons in double-digit complete games. Glavine topped out at nine CG and led the league once, as Guidry did. Maddux topped out at 10 (twice) and led the league in CG three times.
  • Guidry led the league in winning percentage twice, same as Maddux. Glavine never did.
  • Guidry topped 200 strikeouts twice. Maddux did it once. Glavine never did.
  • Guidry gave up 2.4 walks per nine innings, better than Glavine’s 3.1, but not as good as Maddux’s 1.8.
  • Guidry won five Gold Gloves, way less than Maddux’s 18, but Glavine never won one.
  • Guidry had a higher lifetime winning percentage (.651) than either Glavine (.600) or Maddux (.610).
  • Glavine never led his league in ERA, Guidry did twice,  Maddux four times.
  • Guidry had a better career ERA (3.29) than Glavine (3.54), but a little higher than Maddux (3.16). If you prefer ERA+, which attempts to correct for things such as pitching in the steroid era or facing DH’s instead of pitchers, Guidry is a point better than Glavine (119-118) and they both trail Maddux (132).

That’s a dozen significant measures in which Guidry was better than either or both of these no-question first-ballot Hall of Famers. They were better in a lot of other measures. But, unless longevity is the most important factor, he clearly he belongs with them in Cooperstown.

The case isn’t as strong comparing The Big Hurt to Don Mattingly. I’ve already made the case that Mattingly’s career was nearly identical to Kirby Puckett’s (another first-ballot Hall of Famer) and showing how he outperformed most of his peers in the Hall of Fame.

I’ve made the case often enough here and on Twitter, that Red Sox fan Matt DeRienzo tweaked me on Twitter for not making the case this year:

Mattingly got only 8 percent of the votes this year from the Baseball Writers Association of America, the first group responsible for the inconsistent Hall of Fame voting and the consistent anti-Yankee bias in Hall of Fame voting.

Thomas far exceeded Mattingly on longevity, playing 19 years to only 14, overlapping for six of those years. So Thomas’ career totals all exceeded Mattingly by a lot. While that’s true with some of the other Mattingly contemporaries in Cooperstown, Mattingly surpasses most of them in career averages and peak performance measures.

In career averages, Mattingly has the advantage on Thomas only in batting average, .307 to .301. Thomas was great at drawing walks, so his on-base percentage was vastly better, .419 to .358. He also pounded a lot more homers, giving him an advantage in slugging, .555 to .471. So of course, Thomas blew Mattingly away in OPS, .974 to .830.

The comparison is more mixed in peak performance measures.

Mattingly’s best comparison to Thomas is in best years. Donnie Baseball’s best batting average was .352 in 1986. Thomas topped that by one point in the strike-shortened 1994 season, but his best in a full season was .349, close but a little behind. Mattingly’s best RBI performance was 145 in 1985. The Big Hurt topped out at 143 in 2000. Thomas has a big advantage in best years for homers, 43-35. For hits, though, Mattingly has a huge advantage: 238-191. For runs, Mattingly leads 117-115. Thomas had significant leads in best seasons for on-base, slugging and OPS.

As for leading the league, Mattingly has an edge in the Triple Crown categories, with titles in batting (1984) and RBI (1985). Thomas led once in batting (1997). Neither ever led the league in homers. Mattingly led the league twice in hits, three times in doubles and twice in total bases. Thomas led once in doubles, never in hits or total bases. They each led once in slugging. Thomas led the league once in runs, four times in on-base percentage and four times in OPS. Mattingly never led in runs or on-base and just once in OPS.

If you count seasons above important thresholds, Mattingly had three 200-hit seasons and Thomas none. Mattingly topped 40 doubles four times and Thomas did it twice. But then the advantages shift to Thomas: 11 100-RBI seasons to five for Mattingly; 9-7 on seasons hitting .300; 9-3 on 30-homer seasons (5-0 on 40-homer seasons); 9-2 on 100-run seasons. And big advantages again (I won’t even bother to count them) in on-base, slugging and OPS.

If you value WAR (I’m not big on hypothetical stats; I prefer to count what people actually did), they are pretty even on best years, 7.3 for Thomas in 1997 to 7.2 for Mattingly in 1986. But Thomas had six years at 6 or better to only three for Mattingly.

The biggest difference between them was in walks and strikeouts. Thomas led the league in walks four times and had 10 seasons with 100 or more walks. He played most of his career before statisticians started overvaluing walks, but he became eligible for Cooperstown at exactly the right time for a guy who’s 10th in career walks. Mattingly’s peak season in walks was 61, less than half of Thomas’ best. But strikeouts were nearly the opposite: Thomas topped 100 strikeouts three times. Mattingly never struck out more than 43 times.

Defensively, Mattingly has a huge advantage, with nine Gold Gloves. Thomas never had one and played designated hitter more than first base.

Mattingly won one Most Valuable Player award (and was clearly the best hitter in 1986 when Roger Clemens was MVP) and Thomas won two.

Neither of them made the post-season much and neither played in the World Series, but Mattingly has a huge advantage there, hitting .417 in his one post-season series (past his prime in his final season), with 10 hits, 4 doubles, a homer and 6 RBI in just five games. Thomas hit three homers in four post-season series, but went hitless in two series. In his four post-season series, he had almost three times as many at-bats as Mattingly and just one more hit.

Clearly, Thomas has a stronger case for the Hall of Fame than Mattingly. But doesn’t a guy who is comparable with the Big Hurt on this many peak measures belong in Cooperstown?

All statistics here come from Baseball Reference.

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9 responses

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