Career Leaders in Wins Above MVP Level (WAM), Pitchers

A little while back, I published the career leaders in Wins Above MVP Level (WAM) among position players. Let's take a look at the career leaders for pitchers.

As a reminder, WAM is simply a total of all single season WAR above 6.0 (I'm using Rally's WAR). The reasoning is that 6 WAR is a decent baseline for an "MVP-worthy" season. WAM aims to measure how often and by how much a player exceeded this threshold.

As with most things WAR-related, pitchers are a bit funny. They tend to post a lower career WAR than hitters, but their single-season WAR in MVP seasons seems to hang well with their batting counterparts. For that reason I decided to stick with the 6 WAR baseline (thought I'm open to suggestions). Compiling the career pitching WAM leaders became a bit problematic. In the 1800s, a team would often employ very few pitchers. Some of these pitchers would throw in excess of 400 innings per season (or more!). As a result, we have some anomalies like a guy with two pitching seasons under his belt ranking among the all time leaders (Jim Devlin at #36) and a guy who had a single season that alone would have ranked in the career Top 20 (Old Hoss Radbourn's 19.8 WAR 1884 season).

For that reason, I decided to limit this list to "modern" pitchers. This is defined (for today, by me) as any pitcher who recorded a 6+ WAR season after the turn of the 20th century. So, Cy Young is in because he recorded some post-1900 WAM. John Clarkson is out. To give you an idea, this immediately lops off eight pitchers from the top fourteen.

So, enough about the list. Let's see it:

Career Wins Above MVP Level, Pitchers who recorded at least one 6+ WAR season after 1900
Rank First Name Last Name WAM
1 Cy Young 37.4
2 Walter Johnson 31.8
3 Kid Nichols 28.1
4 Roger Clemens 20.6
5 Christy Mathewson 19.3
6 Lefty Grove 18.2
7 Pete Alexander 17.5
8 Bob Gibson 16.3
9 Randy Johnson 14.0
10 Sandy Koufax 13.6
11 Ed Walsh 13.3
12 Gaylord Perry 12.5
13 Tom Seaver 11.9
14 Bob Feller 11.6
15 Juan Marichal 11.5
16 Steve Carlton 10.8
17 Pedro Martinez 10.7
18 Robin Roberts 10.5
19 Joe McGinnity 10.1
20 Phil Niekro 9.8
21 Wilbur Wood 9.4
22 Greg Maddux 9.0
23 Fergie Jenkins 8.6
24 Rube Waddell 8.0
25 Dazzy Vance 7.7
26 Jim Bunning 7.7
27 Warren Spahn 7.5
28 Carl Hubbell 7.4
29 Hal Newhouser 7.3
30 Vic Willis 6.9
31 Eddie Cicotte 6.8
32 Red Faber 5.8
33 Dwight Gooden 5.7
34 Mordecai Brown 5.7
35 Lefty Gomez 5.0
36 Bert Blyleven 4.9
37 Kevin Brown 4.8
38 Frank Tanana 4.7
39 Nolan Ryan 4.7
40 Jim Palmer 4.5
41 Russ Ford 4.5
42 Sam McDowell 4.5
43 Vida Blue 4.5
44 Dick Ellsworth 4.3
45 Bret Saberhagen 4.3
46 Kevin Appier 4.2
47 Stan Covelski 4.2
48 Noodles Hahn 4.2
49 Dolf Luque 4.1
50 Don Drysdale 3.9

Who jumps out at you? I was confident Clemens would rank well (#4), but was a bit surprised by how high Randy Johnson ranks (#9). Johnson is #12 in career pitching WAR, so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. Gaylord Perry, who may shock some by ranking 10th all time in career WAR, does very well here ranking #12 all time in pitcher WAM. Wilbur Wood also ranked very well (#21), particularly when compared with his WAR ranking (#98). All of his WAM came from a three year stretch where he was throwing 320+ innings in the 1970s. Nobody really did that anymore, so that was one way to compile value where others didn't.

I can't help but notice that my childhood favorite, Nolan Ryan, drops from #16 in WAR to a tie at #38 in WAM. I also find it interesting that the man he is tied with is Frank Tanana, his Angels teammate from 1973 to 1979. As an aside, Tanana is the best pitcher (by career WAR) to never receive a Hall of Fame vote. I also though Pedro Martinez would rank a bit better than #17. Of course, the difference between Pedro at #17 and Perry at #12 is just 1.8 WAR. I'm guessing the fact that Pedro was "coddled" a bit to keep his innings down had something to do with it.

Beyond the Top 30 or so, we're getting into some fairly low WAM totals. It's really hard to say much about these numbers when they're crammed so close together. Anything else in the table you find interesting?

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