Yankees among the best almost everywhere but starting pitcher

21 09 2015

Look around the baseball diamond, and at nearly every position, a Yankee was one of the best ever. But not at starting pitcher.

We say that pitching wins championships, and the Yankees through the decades have had excellent depth in good starting pitchers, and sometimes great starting pitchers. But none of the all-time greatest starting pitchers spent most of their careers with the Yankees.

The only Yankee pitcher you might see on a list of the 10 best starters ever is Roger Clemens, and his best years were with the Red Sox. Clemens won 20 games only once in his six Yankee years. His Yankee years wouldn’t rank him among the best Yankee starters ever, let alone among baseball’s best. (For purposes of this discussion, I’m dealing with actual performance, not trying to decide whose achievements to discount because of suspicions about use of performance-enhancing drugs.)

If you expand your best-ever list to 20 or 25, Whitey Ford usually gets a spot, but Yankees remain notably absent, or low, from any best-ever discussion of starting pitchers. And they’re prominent in such discussions at nearly every other position.

At six positions, at least one Yankee is either the best ever or one of two to five stars contending for the top spot:

Catcher

Yogi Berra often loses the best-catcher-ever debates to Johnny Bench, but he’s always in the discussion. With three MVP awards and more championships than anyone, plus still-impressive offensive numbers, Yogi figures prominently in discussing best catchers ever. And Yankee Bill Dickey would be on anyone’s top-10 list, maybe even top five. Read the rest of this entry »

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Young Randy Johnson never projected as a Hall of Famer

7 01 2015

Next time you read a statistical projection of a player’s chances of making the Hall of Fame, think of Randy Johnson, especially if a young player projects as having no chance.

Johnson made it to Cooperstown on the first ballot, leading the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame class announced Tuesday. And when Johnson was age 28, two years older than Clayton Kershaw is now and the same age as Félix Hernández is today, the Big Unit was just a Big Bust. No one would have projected him for the Hall of Fame.

Kershaw and Hernández have combined for four Cy Young Awards. By age 28, Johnson didn’t have a career winning record yet or a season of 15 wins. His power was always frightening, but he had led the league in walks three times and strikeouts only once. The most optimistic computer projection or pitching coach couldn’t possibly have forecast him as a five-time Cy Young winner and first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Johnson didn’t make it to the majors until he was 24, and the first five years of his career he was mostly an oddity, a skinny 6-foot-10 freak with more potential than performance.

The Expos gave up on him after three wins, scattered over 10 starts and two seasons. He made an All-Star team for the Mariners in 1990, at age 26, but his 14-11 record that year wasn’t as notable as his league-leading 120 walks.

The walk total grew worse, to a peak of 152 in 1991 and improving only to 144 in 1992. That year, he actually led the league in strikeouts for the first time, too, with 241. And in hit batters, 18.

The Mariners didn’t have a bull mascot for The Big Unit to hit, but at age 28, Johnson was still basically Nuke LaLoosh, but hurling his wild pitches at the big-league level.

Two other power pitchers remembered for their slow starts, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, bloomed notably younger than Johnson. Both broke into the big leagues at age 19 and were in full-stride by their mid-20s.

Ryan didn’t reach 10 wins in any of his first four seasons, but he had three strikeout titles, two 20-win seasons and three no-hitters by the end of the 1974 season, when he was 27.

Koufax, whose first six years were unremarkable, won his first strikeout title at age 25 and his first Cy Young Award and two no-hitters by the time he was 27.

Both were on their way to Cooperstown at an age when Johnson was still trying to find home plate. Read the rest of this entry »





Baseball Hall of Fame voting is screwed up, steroids or not

10 01 2013

Baseball Hall of Fame voting is even more screwed up than voting in real elections.

OK, I get why Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa didn’t make the Hall of Fame. There’s the drug thing (though a jury actually acquitted Clemens of perjury when he denied use).

Jayson Stark wrote a good piece for ESPN about how baseball needs to come to terms with the steroid era and how that should be represented in the Hall of Fame. But I think yesterday’s vote showed how screwed up Hall of Fame voting is, period. Even the votes on people not tainted with drug suspicion make no sense.

The Baseball Writers Association of America and veterans committees have made the Hall of Fame selection a laughingstock for generations. The football and basketball Hall of Fame selections always make more sense (though there’s always room for argument in any such voting). But baseball voting is a head-shaker every year.

For this post, we’ll set aside Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, along with Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Whether you agree or not, everyone understands why baseball writers vote against people who are tainted with suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs. If the voting did make sense, you could certainly understand a few years of “no” votes for suspected cheaters (character and integrity are among the voting criteria).

And, for this post at least, we’ll mostly set aside my own usual rants about the voters’ prejudice against Yankees. Other than Clemens and the usual dissing of Don Mattingly (13 percent this year), players who played their great years for the Yankees don’t figure in this year’s voting. So I’ll note the ridiculous votes on other candidates who fell short of the 75-percent vote needed for induction (all stats from Baseball Reference): Read the rest of this entry »