Historical WAR Between Hitters and Pitchers

With Sean Smith releasing historical WAR for pitchers, we can take a look at how they compare with the hitters.  Here are the top twenty five players in career WAR, including seasons 1955 and after.

Rank WAR Pos Player
1 173.9 H Bonds, Barry 
2 140.4 H Mays, Willie 
3 139.7 H Aaron, Hank 
4 128.3 P Clemens, Roger 
5 114.7 H Henderson, Rickey 
6 106.5 H Schmidt, Mike 
7 106.1 H Robinson, Frank 
8 105.4 P Seaver, Tom 
9 104.7 H Morgan, Joe 
10 99.3 H Mantle, Mickey 
11 96.8 P Niekro, Phil 
12 96.7 P Maddux, Greg 
13 96.5 H Rodriguez, Alex 
14 96.3 P Perry, Gaylord 
15 94.5 H Yastrzemski, Carl 
16 92.3 H Boggs, Wade 
17 91.8 P Johnson, Randy 
18 91.2 H Ripken, Cal 
19 90.6 H Kaline, Al 
20 90.3 P Blyleven, Bert 
21 89.3 H Brett, George 
22 85.5 P Gibson, Bob 
23 84.8 P Ryan, Nolan 
24 84.6 H Rose, Pete 
25 84.4 P Carlton, Steve 

There are two active players on that list, Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson.  ARod's only 10 WAR from moving into sixth all time ahead of Mike Schmidt, but would need a dozen more WAR to catch Rickey Henderson and the top five, and another few MVP-caliber seasons to catch Roger Clemens.

The best of the best -- Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron -- are, as expected, hitters and are three of the all-time best players.  Willie Mays' total even ignores a few seasons that came before 1955.  6 out of the top 7 and 8 out of the top ten are also hitters.  Is it possible for Clemens and Tom Seaver to be underrated?

The top 25 currently contains 15 hitters and 10 pitchers, perhaps a few more pitchers than I would have guessed.  If you look deeper, at the top 100 players, you find 73% are hitters.  At spot 150, a strange thing happens.  Here, take a look:


Basically, between players ranked 150 and 200, the front half contains a strangely large percentage of pitchers, while the back half contains a strangely large percentage of hitters.  My first thought was that perhaps this is where the best relief pitchers started to fall.  But that doesn't explain the resurgence of the hitters.  And the gap is only from 48 WAR down to 42 WAR, not that wide of a range.  Statistical oddity?  Here, you decide:

149 47.5 P Gooden, Dwight 
150 47.3 P Friend, Bob 
151 47.3 H Puckett, Kirby 
152 47.1 P Langston, Mark 
153 47.1 H Burks, Ellis 
154 47.1 H Harrah, Toby 
155 46.9 P Moyer, Jamie 
156 46.9 P Rivera, Mariano 
157 46.9 H Delgado, Carlos 
158 46.8 P Martinez, Dennis 
159 46.6 P Rogers, Kenny 
160 46.5 H Colavito, Rocky 
161 46.3 H Cepeda, Orlando 
162 45.9 P Rogers, Steve 
163 45.8 P Key, Jimmy 
164 45.8 H White, Roy 
165 45.7 P Lolich, Mickey 
166 45.7 H Tenace, Gene 
167 45.5 P Pappas, Milt 
168 45.3 P Pettitte, Andy 
169 45.2 H Vizquel, Omar 
170 44.9 P Wood, Wilbur 
171 44.5 P Guidry, Ron 
172 44.5 H Fregosi, Jim 
173 44.5 H Campaneris, Bert 
174 44.2 H Damon, Johnny 
175 44.0 H Knoblauch, Chuck 
176 43.9 P Blue, Vida 
177 43.9 H Murphy, Dale 
178 43.7 P Viola, Frank 
179 43.7 H Garciaparra, Nomar 
180 43.5 H Oliva, Tony 
181 43.5 H Canseco, Jose 
182 43.4 H Franco, Julio 
183 43.4 H Finley, Steve 
184 43.2 H Strawberry, Darryl 
185 43.2 H Berkman, Lance 
186 43.1 H Van Slyke, Andy 
187 43.0 H Dykstra, Lenny 
188 43.0 H Fernandez, Tony 
189 42.9 H Rice, Jim 
190 42.8 H Williams, Matt 
191 42.6 H Cameron, Mike 
192 42.6 H Singleton, Ken 
193 42.4 H Brock, Lou 
194 42.4 H Freehan, Bill 
195 42.4 H Mattingly, Don 
196 42.2 H Powell, Boog 
197 42.2 H Munson, Thurman 
198 41.9 H Porter, Darrell 
199 41.8 H Foster, George 
200 41.8 H White, Devon 

Going back to the graph, there are some other interesting things to notice:

  • The best of the best are hitters, but the top 25 players contains a large number of pitchers.
  • The next 25 players are mostly hitters, getting the ratio of hitters to pitcher up into the high 2's through the top 100 players.
  • Then, except for the weird thing in the middle, the ratio of hitters to pitchers gradually decreases through the rest of the list, settling on almost exactly 2.0 by the top 350 players.

Note that I'm only showing the top 452 players on the graph, because that's where the 300th ranked position player (Bill Mazeroski) falls.  Everyone after that would be pitchers, because Sean doesn't go beyond the top 300.

The short story?  We probably underrate pitchers, especially those outside the inner circle of Hall of Famers.  Might that be because we've seen so many inner-circle HoFamers pitch in the last generation and take them for granted?

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