Thursday, August 09, 2007


2007 has really been a landmark year for reaching statistical milestones. The end of Hank Aaron's reign as home run king is big enough, but add to that a new member of the 3,000 hit club (Biggio), two new members of the 500 HR club (Frank Thomas, A-Rod) with possibly more to come, and the charter member of the 500 save club (Trevor Hoffman). And Tom Glavine has become the newest member of the 300-win club (and the last for quite a while). With this in mind, let's take a look at these milestones, and see what they mean now and what they mean for the future.

Barry Bonds hits his 756th home run
There's not a whole lot for me to say about Barry's mark that I haven't said before. I certainly can't top what's already been said in almost every media outlet. Instead of revisiting a rant I've gone on before, I'll just say that, compared to his peers, Bonds' greatest accomplishment isn't his home runs, it's his ability to get on base.
Bonds' .445 career OBP is far and away the greatest of his generation. You could argue that it's the greatest of all time; the only other players in the top 20 whose careers lasted past 1960 are Mickey Mantle (.421) and Frank Thomas (.422). And even considering that Bonds played in an offense-heavy environment, that offense was primarily slugging rather than a higher batting average or OBP. Batting averages have actually been falling since WW2, making Bonds' numbers much more impressive when compared to those of John McGraw or Billy Hamilton. The only real challengers to Bonds' title of "greatest real OBP ever" are Ted Williams (.482) and Babe Ruth (.474). Even taking the era into account, it's hard to argue Bonds past Williams. So while Bonds is the best of his era, I guess he's not the best ever.
And he's certainly not the greatest slugger ever. As I said, when you compare Bonds to his contemporaries, his slugging exploits don't compare at all with those of Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth. And it's Ruth, especially, who easily holds the title of greatest slugger ever. He was out-homering entire teams in his day. Ruth hit 714 career home runs and the only player from his era to come close was Jimmie Foxx, with 534. Bonds has 757 HR right now, but there's another player from his era with more than 600 (Sammy Sosa), one who will soon have 600 (Ken Griffey, Jr.) and another who will finish with at least 700 or more barring catastrophe (A-Rod). That's not even including the lesser home run hitters. Here's how the two eras compare (take into account that the book hasn't closed on Bonds' era, with most of the players below still active):

700 HR club:
Ruth's era: Babe Ruth
Bonds's era: Barry Bonds
600 HR club:
Ruth's era: N/A
Bonds's era: Sammy Sosa
500 HR club:
Ruth's era: Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott
Bonds's era: Ken Griffey, Jr., Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez
400 HR club:
Ruth's era: Lou Gehrig
Bonds's era: Fred McGriff, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco, Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez, Carlos Delgado, Mike Piazza
I won't even list the 300-HR club, because that's becoming overcrowded with new members and increasingly irrelevant as a strong career standard.
I guess this is just a way of rationalizing my dismissive attitude towards' Bonds's accomplishment. He is a great player. PEDs have played a part in that, but to argue that they were the predominant factor is not only irresponsible but factually untenable. If Barry Bonds were a nice guy, his reputation would be hugely improved.
And yes, if I had a vote, I would put Bonds in the Hall of Fame.
Alex Rodriguez hits his 500th home run
Alex Rodriguez is the youngest-ever member of the 500 home run club, knocking the first pitch he saw from Kyle Davies out of the park. It's not like A-Rod's spot in Cooperstown was ever in doubt; he has a career batting line of 305/387/575 in some pitcher's parks in the good league, not to mention he did it while at shortstop, making himself the best shortstop of all time not named Honus. He's a third baseman now, but he's still an offensive juggernaut and one of the best players ever.

A-Rod just turned 31 and has 1,452 career RBIs. He's within shouting distance of Hank Aaron's all-time record of 2,297. A-Rod should reach 2,000 with relative ease (which would rank him 4th all-time behind Aaron, Ruth, and Anson, although Bonds should sneak into the 2,000 RBI club soon). He needs just 548 more RBI to reach 2,000 and 846 more to become the all-time leader. Assuming A-Rod plays 10 more seasons, that means he just has to average about 85 RBI per year for the rest of his career -- not an unreasonable goal if he keeps himself surrounded by a good offense.

A-Rod has 2,186 hits, meaning if he averages 125 hits per season for about 10 more seasons (a pretty conservative estimate), he'll finish with 3,436, which would be 6th all-time behind Rose, Cobb, Aaron, Musial, and Speaker (pretty impressive company, and all outfielders).

But the more intriguing question is: how many homers will A-Rod finish with? If he averages 30 HR a year for ten more years, then he'll reach 800. But that's a pretty daring estimate; granted, all my estimates are pretty daring to keep him at an All-Star level for 10 more years. But is it really so unreasonable? A-Rod's HR totals with the Yankees so far have been 36, 48, and 35. He already has 36 this year, meaning he should finish with more than 50 on the season. If he can hit a lot of homers now, he won't have to stay active into his early 40's.

It's also hard to guess whether A-Rod will become the all-time HR leader, because we don't know what Bonds will finish with when he does decide to retire. He could hang on for another year or two as a DH in a quest for 800, but I don't know if that's going to happen.

So what are the odds of A-Rod hitting 800 HR? Pretty slim, but he's close enough for us to get excited about it.
Craig Biggio records 3,000th hit
It's unfortunate that Biggio had to outlive his usefulness to the Astros in his quest for 3,000 hits, but if it means he'll get into the HOF on the first ballot, so be it. Biggio was criminally underrated while he was in his prime, and only now that he's snuck up on 3,000 hits are people really getting behind him.

Biggio's career batting line of 282/364/434 isn't that impressive given his context. But then he did spend his most productive years in the cavernous AstroDome. If he'd been elsewhere, he would have something like 350 HR as opposed to his current total of 288. Biggio's EQA (Equivalent Average) is .286. Here's how that looks compared to other HOFers and future HOFers from the MLB:

Rogers Hornsby: .338
Eddie Collins: .311
Joe Morgan: .311
Nap Lajoie: .310
Jackie Robinson: .310
Rod Carew: .302
Roberto Alomar: .296
Jeff Kent: .294
Charlie Gehringer: .293
Tony Lazzeri: .288
Biggio: .286
Billy Herman: .286
Ryne Sandberg: .283
Bobby Doerr: .280
Frankie Frisch: .277
Johnny Evers: .271
Bid McPhee: .262
Red Schoendienst: .261
Nellie Fox: .256
Bill Mazeroski: .249

Actually, Biggio has a similar profile to Billy Herman. Both had a good eye and could take a walk without striking out a lot. Both hit for a high average, and their adjusted career batting lines are similar. But Biggio gets a big edge in power (288 career HR to 47 for Herman) and HBP, Biggio's secret weapon. Biggio also stayed around for longer than Herman, although the latter did lose a couple years to WW2. If you look at Biggio as one step above Billy Herman and Ryne Sandberg, I'd say that's about right, and I think both Herman and Sandberg are legit HOFers. Biggio isn't in the upper echelon of all-time second basemen with Morgan, Collins, and Hornsby, but he's right in there with other legit guys like Herman, and that should be good enough for first-ballot induction.

Frank Thomas records 500th HR
Thomas is considered a borderline case for the Hall-of-Fame. This is due to his offensive drop-off in the early 00's and the fact that he's a 1b/DH (realistically the latter) with limited defensive value. But I think that Thomas was good enough -- and for long enough -- to make it into the Hall.
Thomas wasn't just a great hitter; he was a historically great hitter. He won back-to-back MVP awards and might have deserved another. His career batting line is 302/422/561. That's just great, even for a first baseman. Thomas' career EQA is .341 right now. Let's compare (also with HOFers and future HOFers:

Lou Gehrig:

Frank Thomas: .341
Dan Brouthers: .333
Jimmie Foxx: .329
Johnny Mize: .328
Hank Greenberg: .326
Jeff Bagwell: .323
Willie McCovey: .318
Roger Connor: .317
Harmon Killebrew: .307
Bill Terry: .307
Cap Anson: .303
Orlando Cepeda: .302
Frank Chance: .302
Eddie Murray: .302
Jim Bottomley: .289
Tony Perez: .288
George Sisler: .287
Jake Beckley: .284
George Kelly: .268

Yeah, that's how good Frank Thomas was. To be honest, my senses are telling me that this overrates Thomas' ability, but even if it does, he's still a lock for Cooperstown. He was, at his peak, one of the best hitters of his time (all time?) in so many ways. He was one of the best players in all of baseball for ten or more years, and more productive than people think for the rest of his career. He's about done, but he's still got some life left in him (252/370/438 so far in Toronto this season). He's got over 2400 hits, over 1600 RBIs, one of the best OBPs of all time, and two MVP Awards.

What's the problem?
Trevor Hoffman saves 500th game
Some time ago I resolved (in this blog) to do a complete study of Trevor Hoffman's career to come to a greater understanding of what he's accomplished. The problem isn't so much whether Hoffman is one of the greatest closers of all time (he is, of course) but how we measure closers against starters, especially when the criteria for each role is constantly changing.
Well, that's a very big question, and I could probably spew out some data and ramble on about it for hours without coming to a strong conclusion one way or another. I'll try not to bite off more than I can chew until I feel like I'm ready to tackle one of the more significant challenges to sabermetric historians of our time.
Instead, let's just talk about Mr. Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman is 39 years old and is entering his 15th major league season and his 14th as the closer for the Padres (Hoffman actually debuted with the inaugural Florida Marlins of 1993 before getting traded to San Diego as part of the deal for Gary Sheffield.
Hoffman's career ERA of 2.68 is more than 50% better than the league average (ERA+ of 151), even taking into account his pitcher-friendly home ballparks (Jack Murphy/Qualcomm and Petco). He has a K:BB ratio of 991:259 and has recorded more strikeouts in his career than innings pitched (925.1). He's pretty stingy with the HR, allowing about 6 per season and hitting just 8 batters in his whole career.
Although Hoffman is a closer in the modern sense (his role is tailored to the save stat rather than the situation), he's not as limited as it would seem. He's averaged about 72.2 IP per "season" (as defined at, which is good in an era when few closers top 60 innings pitched in a season. He's always averaged more than 1 inning per game, although his workload has decreased in recent years.
One problem is that traditional statistics don't usually help us rate closers. Wins and losses are irrelevant, and saves are the product of so many factors beyond a pitcher's performance that I don't even pay attention to them anymore. Luckily, there are several new statistics in use to help us pinpoint exactly what we want to know about relievers.
How does Hoffman rank when compared to his peers (the modern closers)? I'll also include some other great closers for context. Let's take a look at them using some standard and not-so-standard stats:
Mariano Rivera: 2.31
Billy Wagner: 2.31
Trevor Hoffman: 2.68
Dan Quisenberry: 2.76
Bruce Sutter: 2.83
John Franco: 2.89
Robb Nen: 2.98
Lee Smith: 3.03
Troy Percival: 3.09
Jesse Orosco: 3.16
Jeff Reardon: 3.16
Randy Myers: 3.19
Jeff Montgomery: 3.27
Jesse Orosco: 1295
Lee Smith: 1289.1
John Franco: 1245.2
Jeff Reardon: 1132.1
Dan Quisenberry: 1043.1
Bruce Sutter: 1042.1
Mariano Rivera: 929.1
Trevor Hoffman: 925.1
Randy Myers: 884.2
Jeff Montgomery: 868.2
Billy Wagner: 752
Robb Nen: 715
Troy Percival: 628.2
Mariano Rivera: 197
Billy Wagner: 186
Trevor Hoffman: 151
Troy Percival: 150
Dan Quisenberry: 146
Robb Nen: 138
John Franco: 137
Bruce Sutter: 136
Jeff Montgomery: 134
Lee Smith: 132
Jesse Orosco: 125
Randy Myers: 122
Jeff Reardon: 121
Lee Smith: 1251
Jesse Orosco: 1179
Billy Wagner: 992
Trevor Hoffman: 991
John Franco: 975
Randy Myers: 884
Jeff Reardon: 877
Bruce Sutter: 861
Mariano Rivera: 833
Robb Nen: 793
Jeff Montgomery: 733
Troy Percival: 718
Dan Quisenberry: 379
Dan Quisenberry: 162
Mariano Rivera: 231
Billy Wagner: 251
Trevor Hoffman: 259
Robb Nen: 260
Troy Percival: 268
Jeff Montgomery: 296
Bruce Sutter: 309
Jeff Reardon: 358
Randy Myers: 396
Lee Smith: 486
John Franco: 495
Jesse Orosco: 581
(I left out Dennis Eckersley because his time as a starter skews his numbers and makes him an inaccurate comparison. I left out Goose Goosage and Rollie Fingers because their careers extend earlier into the 60's and 70's when the role of the closer was even more different. Gossage, also, has time as a starter that skews his numbers and makes him an ill fit for this particular comparison).
So according to what he have so far, Trevor Hoffman is a very good closer, but it's hard to really separate him from the pack. While Rivera and Wagner have adjusted ERAs that put them into their own category, it's hard to separate Trevor from Dan Quisenberry or Robb Nen. Hoffman has thrown more innings and notched more strikeouts than most of his modern counterparts.
In my opinion, there's just not enough here to separate Hoffman from the pack enough to merit induction into Cooperstown. The main argument, that he was a very good closer for a long time, is true, but no moreso than it was for non-inductees Goose Gossage and Dan Quisenberry. The raw number of saves accumulated by Hoffman has caused us to vastly overrate him compared to his peers.
The only real salvation for Hoffman is to prove that his saves (and innings, strikeouts, etc.) were more important to his team than his competitors'. If Hoffman did his saving and striking out at more meaningful times, then obviously that would make his modest showing in the above statistics less of a problem. So now we can use the more modern, uber-mathematical stats. We can also use some of these same stats to look for one round number to represent Hoffman's value compared to his peers.
CAREER PRAR (Pitching Runs Above Replacement):
Mariano Rivera: 787
Lee Smith: 758
Trevor Hoffman: 744
John Franco: 714
Billy Wagner: 604
Jeff Reardon: 575
Jesse Orosco: 550
Bruce Sutter: 535
Jeff Montgomery: 511
Randy Myers: 511
Robb Nen: 493
Troy Percival: 473
Dan Quisenberry: 443
Mariano Rivera: 2.53
Billy Wagner: 2.54
Trevor Hoffman: 3.02
Troy Percival: 3.05
Jeff Montgomery: 3.32
Robb Nen: 3.39
Lee Smith: 3.41
Bruce Sutter: 3.43
Dan Quisenberry: 3.48
John Franco: 3.54
Randy Myers: 3.62
Jeff Reardon: 3.63
Jesse Orosco: 3.67
* -- Clay Davenport translations
Mariano Rivera: 90.5
Trevor Hoffman: 83.1
Lee Smith: 82.5
John Franco: 80.0
Billy Wagner: 66.7
Jesse Orosco: 61.9
Jeff Reardon: 60.6
Bruce Sutter: 58.1
Jeff Montgomery: 57.3
Randy Myers: 55.5
Robb Nen: 54.3
Dan Quisenberry: 53.1
Troy Percival: 51.1
PRAR and even WARP are more favorable towards quantity rather than quality; this is why Lee Smith and Jeff Reardon rate so highly despite having such dismal adjusted ERAs. I would love to have career numbers for WXRL or Leverage or Fair Run Average, but as it is these numbers are only available on a season-by-season basis from Baseball Prospectus and I don't have the math ability (nor the statistical formulas) to compute the raw data into a final career number.
These measures do, however, favor Hoffman. They do reward his quantity, but they also recognize his quality, as his ERA is 3rd in the group even with the adjustments. Once again Rivera and Wagner top the group in terms of quality, although Wagner hasn't amassed enough quantity yet to top Rivera. So we can safely say that Mariano Rivera is the era's greatest reliever (no surprise there) and the #2 spot is neck-and-neck between Wagner and Hoffman. Hoffman has more quantity and Wagner has better quality. Both WARP and PRAR seem to favor Hoffman.
So we've come up with a tentative answer to our question (Hoffman is the second-greatest reliever of our time), but we've still failed to place it in a wider context. Is the second-greatest reliver of our era good enough to get into Cooperstown? I'm inclined to say yes, but I have to remind myself of the sobering facts above that tend to argue against it. That said, if I were forced to decide today, I would cast a very reluctant ballot in favor of Trevor Hoffman's induction into Cooperstown.
Hopefully when that decision comes around we'll have a better understanding of the context of our era.
Tom Glavine wins 300th game
Has there ever been a pitcher as great as Tom Glavine with a less-imposing resume? If Glavine weren't such a great pitcher, you'd never think he was a great pitcher. That is to say, there's not much outside of his actual statistical record to suggest a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer (which I do believe Glavine is).
People often refer to Greg Maddux as the pitcher who did the most with the least amount of "stuff," or raw pitching talent. But that honor should really go to Glavine. Maddux doesn't throw hard, but he combined a great sense of poise and intelligence with some really good breaking pitches (circle change, anyone?) to establish himself as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Yes, Maddux only struck out 200 batters once in his whole career (Randy Johnson did it 13 times; Nolan Ryan 15 times), but he struck out at least 190 5 times and at least 170 batters 10 times. Maddux's 3,245 career strikeouts rank 11th all-time. Even considering that strikeouts are at an all-time high, Maddux was a more dominant strikeout pitcher than his reputation suggests.
Compare that to Glavine. Despite pitching roughly the same amount of time, Glavine is 7,001 strikeouts behind Maddux. Glavine ranks 28th all-time, just behind Jerry Koosman and Tim Keefe. He has never struck out 200 batters in a season (his career-high is 192 in 1991), a remarkable thing for a dominant pitcher in this day and age. Only twice has he struck out 170 or more (compared to Maddux's 10 times), and he's only struck out 150 or more batters in a season 5 times. And whereas Maddux was a fantastic control artist who has allowed just 965 free passes in 4759.1 career IP, Glavine is much more walk-prone, allowing 1449 in 500 fewer career innings (4293.2 IP).
Glavine not only has a low strikeout rate, he has a poor K:BB ratio. His career ratio is 2544:1449, or about 1.76. Here's how that compares to other HOF pitchers (and HOF-bound pitchers):
Pedro Martinez*: 4.28 (2998:701)
Greg Maddux*: 3.36 (3245:965)
Dennis Eckersley: 3.25 (2401:738)
Juan Marichal : 3.25 (2303:709)
Randy Johnson*: 3.25 (4616:1422)
Fergie Jenkins: 3.20 (3192:997)
Roger Clemens*: 2.97 (4653:1568)
Christy Mathewson: 2.96 (2502:844)
Sandy Koufax: 2.93 (2396:817)
Don Drysdale: 2.91 (2486:855)
Rube Waddell: 2.88 (2316:803)
Jim Bunning: 2.86 (2855:1000)
Ed Walsh: 2.81 (1736:617)
Bert Blyleven*: 2.80 (3701:1322)
Bruce Sutter: 2.79 (861:309)
Don Sutton: 2.66 (3574:1343)
Rollie Fingers: 2.64 (1299:492)
Tom Seaver: 2.62 (3640:1390)
Robin Roberts: 2.61 (2357:902)
Walter Johnson: 2.57 (3509:1363)
Dizzy Dean: 2.57 (1163:453)
Gaylord Perry: 2.56 (3534:1379)
Dazzy Vance: 2.43 (2045:840)
Pud Galvin: 2.42 (1806:745)
Chief Bender: 2.40 (1711:712)
Bob Gibson: 2.33 (3117:1336)
Carl Hubbell: 2.31 (1677:725)
Pete Alexander: 2.31 (2198:951)
Cy Young: 2.30 (2803:1217)
Steve Carlton: 2.26 (4136:1833)
Catfish Hunter: 2.11 (2012:954)
Tim Keefe: 2.10 (2562:1220)
Eddie Plank: 2.10 (2246:1072)
Charley Radbourn: 2.09 (1830:875)
Hoyt Wilhelm: 2.07 (1610:778)
Nolan Ryan: 2.04 (5714:2795)
Mordecai Brown: 2.04 (1375:673)
Lefty Grove: 1.91 (2266:1187)
Rube Marquard: 1.86 (1593:858)
Phil Niekro: 1.85 (3342:1809)
Jack Chesbro: 1.83 (1265:690)
Warren Spahn: 1.80 (2583:1434)
Whitey Ford: 1.80 (1956:1086)
Glavine*: 1.76 (2544:1449)
Jim Palmer: 1.69 (2212:1311)
John Clarkson: 1.66 (1978:1191)
Kid Nichols: 1.47 (1868:1268)
Bob Feller: 1.46 (2581:1764)
Hal Newhouser: 1.44 (1796:1249)
Mickey Welch: 1.43 (1850:1297)
Vic Willis: 1.36 (1651:1212)
Lefty Gomez: 1.34 (1468:1095)
Herb Pennock: 1.34 (1227:916)
Joe McGinnity: 1.32 (1068:812)
Early Wynn: 1.31 (2334:1775)
Red Ruffing: 1.29 (1987:1541)
Eppa Rixey: 1.25 (1350:1082)
Stan Coveleski: 1.22 (981:802)
Red Faber: 1.21 (1471:1213)
Waite Hoyt: 1.20 (1206:1003)
Burleigh Grimes: 1.17 (1512:1295)
Amos Rusie: 1.13 (1934:1704)
Jesse Haines: 1.13 (981:871)
Bob Lemon: 1.02 (1277:1251)
Ted Lyons: 0.96 (1073:1121)
Some observations:
  • First of all, it's important to note that while K:BB is a good indicator of a pitcher's quality, it's not absolute. The above list is not meant to be a list of the best pitchers in history in order. It's a very instructive list that strongly correlates with quality and Hall-of-Fame standards.
  • Having said that, would anyone (myself included) have guessed that the Hall-of-Fame starting pitcher with the best K:BB ratio was Juan Marichal? Marichal will be passed by Maddux and Pedro when they're inducted, but considering that Marichal pitched 30 years ago (albeit during a pitcher's era), that has to raise our opinion of him somewhat.
  • It's also interesting to note that this list shows some underrated pitchers in high places. As I said, K:BB ratio itself is not proof enough to change our opinions of someone, but it's nice to see perennially underrated hurlers like Marichal, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Bunning, Bert Blyleven, and Robin Roberts do well on this list.
  • And on the other hand, it's not surprising that the pitchers at the bottom of the list are mostly those with marginal Cooperstown credentials, such as Welch, Willis, Gomez, McGinnity, Rixey, Coveleski, Faber, Hoyt, Grimes, Rusie, and Haines. Not all the guys at the bottom are bad pitchers, but this list is more evidence that Glavine is perhaps the greatest non-strikeout pitchers of all time (we'll talk about Ted Lyons later).
  • I should also mention that the list favors modern pitchers, as the strikeout rates have risen dramatically over the past century, while walk rates have not. So we should make an appropriate timeline adjustment when viewing the list. That makes the presence of four active pitchers at the top of the list a little less surprising. It's also a real credit to the deadball-era pitchers who do rank highly; namely, Christy Mathewson and Rube Waddell.
  • Along the same lines, it's worth noting that the old spitballers (Faber, Grimes, Haines) rank low on this list. This is for the same reason that deadball-era pitchers do relatively poorly: the goal was not to strike out the batter at all, but rather to get them to put the ball in play. The old spitballers wanted the batter to make contact and send a soggy, lifeless ball into play for the defense to handle. It's why they have so few career strikeouts and walks.
  • I'm still astonished at how Pedro Martinez ranks head and shoulders above every other pitcher in history. I don't think we truly realized how special Pedro was when he was at his peak. He may not put together a lot of milestone numbers as his career ends, but it's important to note that Pedro Martinez was indeed a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax and right up there with guys like Lefty Grove for quality, if not quantity. This is borne out not just by BB:K ratio, but by pretty much every significant measure of pitcher quality.
  • How about that Ted Lyons? He's the only pitcher in the Hall of Fame with more career walks (1121) than strikeouts (1073). Was Lyons really such a great pitcher (as his 260 wins would indicate)? Or was he the beneficiary of a fair amount of luck?
    Well, it's worth noting that Lyons pitched for a long time (21 seasons, 4,161 innings), so if he was just lucky it was some kind of miracle. Lyons' career ERA was above-average for his era (3.67, for an adjusted ERA of 118). And it's also worth noting that his won-lost record (260-230) owes a lot to the teams he played for: the Chicago White Sox from 1923-1942 (with a 5-game stint in 1946). The White Sox of Lyons' era won more than 82 games just once: a relatively excellent 1937 that saw them rise all the way up to 3rd place at 86-68. Lyons' career fits almost perfectly in the worst era in White Sox history; the period after the breakup and disintegration of the Black Sox teams and before the regeneration of the 1950's (After finishing 60-94 in 1950, the Sox were above .500 for the rest of the decade and never finished lower than 3rd, culminating in the 1959 AL pennant). So Lyons did, all in all, put up a significantly better record than his team, which is evidence that he was not just a mediocre pitcher taking advantage of a good team.
    Yes, but even so, how much credit can Lyons really get? He allowed so very many balls into play, even considering his era, that he himself wasn't the one getting all those outs. It's times like these where it would be great to have the modern tools and play-by-play statistics to more accurately measure a pitcher's skill and especially be able to separate it from his team's defense.
    What evidence do we have of Lyons' context? Well, his home ballpark, Comiskey Park #1, was more friendly to pitchers during his career, though not to a huge extent. We could give Lyons credit for pitching to his ballpark, knowing that it was not a friendly place for the new breed of slugger to ply his trade.
    The big question I've been avoiding so far is Lyons' knuckleball. The knuckler was Lyons' main pitch throughout his career, though I haven't been able to pin down exactly to what extent he used the knuckler compared to other pitches. It would be easy to write off his stats and say, "Well, he was a knuckleball pitcher," but that's a generalization that I'm not comfortable making.
    The trouble is, that may be the best answer we can get. I'm sure if I kept looking I could find more anecdotal (and conflicting) evidence about the nature of Lyons' knuckler, how often he threw it, and how he was able to be so successful despite allowing so many balls into play. Because even compared to other knuckleballers, Lyons was still a low-strikeout guy (Phil Niekro compiled 3342 career K's; Charlie Hough managed 2362 and fellow White Sox Wilbur Wood struck out 1411 in just 2600 IP).
    The problem is that it seems like no two knuckleballs are the same. Some are "true" knucklers, where a pitcher actually holds the ball with his knuckles; the more common form is held by the fingertips, giving the ball its trademark "flutter." There's also a big difference in how often a pitcher throws a knuckler. Many pitchers have used it as simply a part of their arsenal (although that's less true nowadays) and others use it the vast majority of the time.
    We just can't read between the statistics and see what Ted Lyons really looked like without the aid of a time machine. In my opinion, the best we can do is say that Lyons did get people out for a very long time and how he did it is relatively unimportant.
And this brings us back to Mr. Glavine (forgive my indulging in statistical oddities). It's really not so important how Glavine got so many people out but rather that he did -- for so very long that it cannot be given over entirely to luck. Both Glavine and Lyons may have relied on their defense and/or ballpark more than other HOF pitchers, but I don't think there's enough evidence in the record for us to penalize them for doing so.
And with Glavine, we do have the more detailed play-by-play data and we do have the videotape. We know enough to say that Glavine operated with an uncanny amount of control, enabling him to consistently get hitters out without resorting to the strikeout and without suffering a great deal from balls put into play. He was, quite simply, one of the best ever at getting people out. His career ERA isn't amazing (ERA of 119, just ahead of Lyons' 118). But if you can do that for over 20 years with consistency and durability, then you're a Hall-of-Famer.
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
Upcoming Milestones:
3,000 games played: Barry Bonds (2,959)
10,000 at-bats: Barry Bonds (9,776)
All-time Runs Scored:
1. Rickey Henderson (2295)
2. Ty Cobb (2246)
3. Barry Bonds (2213)
3,000 hits: Barry Bonds (2,916)
2,600 hits: Julio Franco (2,585); Omar Vizquel (2,568); Ken Griffey, Jr. (2515); Gary Sheffield (2501)
2,500 hits: Luis Gonzalez (2,476); Ivan Rodriguez (2,457)
2,000 hits: Jeff Conine (1,970); Shawn Green (1,970); Ray Durham (1,930); Vladimir Guerrero (1,921)
All-time Doubles:
5. George Brett (665)
6. Craig Biggio (662)
600 doubles: Barry Bonds (599)
600 home runs: Ken Griffey, Jr. (589)
500 home runs: Jim Thome (490); Manny Ramirez (489); Gary Sheffield (478)
450 home runs: Carlos Delgado (424); Mike Piazza (422)
400 home runs: Chipper Jones (375); Andruw Jones (363)
350 home runs: Luis Gonzalez (342)
300 home runs: Todd Helton (297); Richie Sexson (290); Craig Biggio (289); Ivan Rodriguez (286); Albert Pujols (274)
All-time RBI:
4. Lou Gehrig (1,995)
5. Barry Bonds (1,983)
All-time BB:
9. Eddie Yost (1614)
10. Frank Thomas (1607)
All-time Strikeouts:
1. Reggie Jackson (2,597)
2. Sammy Sosa (2,292)
3. Andres Galarraga (2,003)
4. Jim Thome (2,000)
All-time HBP:
1. Hughie Jennings (287)
2. Craig Biggio (285)
All-time Wins:
7. Kid Nichols (361)
8. Roger Clemens (352)
9. Tim Keefe (342)
10. Greg Maddux (340)
300 wins: Randy Johnson (284)
250 wins: Mike Mussina (246); David Wells (235); Jamie Moyer (226)
200 wins: Andy Pettitte (194); Tim Wakefield (164)
All-time Games Pitched:
1. Jesse Orosco (1,252)
2. Mike Stanton (1,160)
1,000 Games Pitched: Roberto Hernandez (996); Mike Timlin (991)
All-Time Saves:
1. Trevor Hoffman (511)
2. Lee Smith (478)
3. Mariano Rivera (431)
400 saves: Billy Wagner (350)
5,000 IP: Roger Clemens (4,889.2); Greg Maddux (4759.1)
All-Time Strikeouts:
1. Nolan Ryan (5,714)
2. Roger Clemens (4,653)
3. Randy Johnson (4,616)
3,500 Strikeouts: Greg Maddux (3,245); Curt Schilling (3,091)
3,000 Strikeouts: Pedro Martinez (2,998); John Smoltz (2,904)
All-Time Games Started:
4. Phil Niekro (716)
5. Steve Carlton (709)
6. Roger Clemens (702)
7. Tommy John (700)
8. Greg Maddux (697)
More to come.

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