kwERA_Minus

Brandon Beachy akes a surprise showing among the top 25 kwERA- seasons of this century. - Stephen Dunn

Looking at the best pitching seasons in baseball history through the lens of kwERA.

This past Friday Glenn DuPaul wrote a terrific article here at Beyond The Boxscore about the kwERA leaders and losers for 2012. For whatever reason, kwERA has been left on the bench by the major sabermetric stat-suppliers-- Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball-Reference. But let's not allow that to prevent us from appreciating this wonderful, simple little descriptive stat with enormous predictive capabilities.

To help continue to raise awareness of kwERA, I've put together an era-adjusted, league-adjusted, park-adjusted version of the stat, one we can call "kwERA-" or "kwERA minus". I've attempted to use the exact formula Glenn used, which is as follows:

C + (12* ((K- NIBB+HBP)/(BFP-IBB)))

I then compared each pitcher-season with the league-average and added strikeout and walk component Park Factors from Fangraph's GUTS section.

In order to get a good first impression of a statistic conceptually, I always like to see how the stat has fared in recent seasons. So, let's begin with a top twenty-five kwERA- seasons of the 2000's:

kwERA- Leaders 2000-2012

# Name Year Team LG Age IP kwERA kwERA- K% BB%
1 Curt Schilling 2002 ARI NL 35 259.3 1.83 43 31.1 3.2
2 Pedro Martinez 2001 BOS AL 29 116.7 1.94 43 35.8 5.5
3 Pedro Martinez 2000 BOS AL 28 217 2.16 45 34.8 3.9
4 Randy Johnson 2001 ARI NL 37 249.7 2.04 45 37.4 7.1
5 Randy Johnson 2000 ARI NL 36 248.7 2.32 48 34.7 7.6
6 Randy Johnson 2002 ARI NL 38 260 2.23 53 32.3 6.9
7 Randy Johnson 2004 ARI NL 40 245.7 2.39 54 30.1 4.6
8 Curt Schilling 2003 ARI NL 36 168 2.39 55 28.8 4.8
9 Curt Schilling 2001 ARI NL 34 256.7 2.52 56 28.7 3.8
10 Pedro Martinez 2002 BOS AL 30 199.3 2.53 56 30.4 5.1
11 Ben Sheets 2004 MIL NL 25 237 2.41 57 28.2 3.4
12 Ben Sheets 2006 MIL NL 27 106 2.59 60 27.0 2.6
13 Mark Prior 2003 CHN NL 22 211.3 2.62 62 28.4 5.8
14 Francisco Liriano 2006 MIN AL 22 121 2.71 62 30.4 6.8
15 Erik Bedard 2007 BAL AL 28 182 2.90 62 30.2 7.8
16 Johan Santana 2004 MIN AL 25 228 2.79 63 30.1 6.1
17 Justin Verlander 2009 DET AL 26 240 2.97 65 27.4 6.4
18 Pedro Martinez 2003 BOS AL 31 186.7 2.99 65 27.5 6.3
19 Octavio Dotel 2001 HOU NL 27 105 2.79 65 33.1 10.7
20 Mark Prior 2002 CHN NL 21 116.7 2.63 65 30.3 7.8
21 Javier Vazquez 2009 ATL NL 32 219.3 2.66 65 27.2 5.0
22 Johan Santana 2005 MIN AL 26 231.7 2.74 65 26.2 5.0
23 Tim Lincecum 2009 SFN NL 25 225.3 2.79 66 28.8 7.5
24 Zack Greinke 2009 KCA AL 25 229.3 3.04 66 26.5 5.6
25 Brandon Beachy 2011 ATL NL 24 141.7 2.52 67 28.6 7.8

The top few seasons are all certainly close enough to stir up a little controversy. With each adjustment made, for park and league, a new winner was crowned, until finally Schilling's 2002 season stood at a statistical tie with Pedro's 2001 at 43 kwERA-. Both Pedro's 35.5/5.6 and Schilling's 31/3 strikeout and walk percentages have a superhuman feel to them, and it would be difficult to anoint one over the other. There is the small matter of Schilling having logged over 100 additional innings in his season, however. But not to worry, Pedro fans, our arbitrary line in the sand at the year 2000 has left Pedro with some additional ammo in future tables.

After the trio of Schilling, Pedro, and Johnson have finished monopolizing the top ten, we are reminded of some lesser-known elite seasons at #11 and 12 with Ben Sheets' 2004 and 2006 campaigns. And although it may seem nearly impossible to forget Mark Prior's fantastic season from 2003, some of us have spent long hours trying to do just that.

We are also reminded that Johann Santana once terrified batters with pin-point command, as did Eric Bedard as recently as 2007. Javy Vasquez had that strange season in 2009 with Atlanta while Zack Greinke was winning his Cy Young Award. And Francisco Liriano looked like a godsend for Twins fans in his rookie season in 2006. Brandon Beachy represents the most recent entry from 2011, just edging out Strasburg and his league-leading kwERA from 2012.

And if you haven't already noticed, I left the minimum IP for this table at 100, and as a consequence we pick up on some bulkier reliever seasons, including Octavio Dotel's 2001. The reason for this is two-fold, really. One, it is the same minimum Glenn used in his tables and I strive for uniformity. And two, it finally allows us to dethrone Pedro Martinez from a 'best of all-time' list of any kind. I imagine a handful of readers saw this article's headline and immediately thought, "TLDR, Pedro Martinez." But the Christmas joke's on you pal-- feast your eyes on Bruce Sutter, 1977, Greatest kwERA season of all-time:

kwERA- Leaders 1920-2012*

# Name Year Team LG Age IP kwERA kwERA- K% BB%
1 Bruce Sutter 1977 CHN NL 24 107.3 1.30 33 31.4 5.6
2 Pedro Martinez 1999 BOS AL 27 213.3 1.73 36 37.5 4.4
3 Pedro Martinez 2001 BOS AL 29 116.7 1.94 43 35.8 5.5
4 Pedro Martinez 2000 BOS AL 28 217 2.16 44 34.8 3.9
5 Curt Schilling 2002 ARI NL 35 259.3 1.83 44 31.1 3.2
6 Dwight Gooden 1984 NYN NL 19 218 1.67 47 31.4 8.3
7 Randy Johnson 2001 ARI NL 37 249.7 2.04 47 37.4 7.1
8 Sandy Koufax 1965 LAN NL 29 335.7 1.67 47 29.5 5.5
9 Rollie Fingers 1972 OAK AL 25 111.3 1.46 48 25.9 7.3
10 Randy Johnson 1995 SEA AL 31 214.3 2.29 49 34.0 7.5
11 Randy Johnson 1999 ARI NL 35 271.7 2.25 49 33.7 6.5
12 Duane Ward 1991 TOR AL 27 107.3 2.01 49 30.8 7.7
13 Dick Radatz 1963 BOS AL 26 132.3 1.77 49 29.9 9.4
14 Randy Johnson 2000 ARI NL 36 248.7 2.32 50 34.7 7.6
15 Curt Schilling 1997 PHI NL 30 254.3 2.16 51 31.6 5.8
16 Bruce Sutter 1979 CHN NL 26 101.3 1.93 51 27.3 7.9
17 Mike Scott 1986 HOU NL 31 275.3 1.95 52 28.7 6.8
18 Tom Seaver 1971 NYN NL 26 286.3 1.80 52 26.2 5.5
19 Frank Tanana 1975 CAL AL 21 257.3 1.99 52 26.1 7.1
20 Keith Foulke 1999 CHA AL 26 105.3 2.55 52 29.9 5.1
21 Mark Davis 1985 SFN NL 24 114.3 1.93 53 28.2 8.8
22 Dick Radatz 1962 BOS AL 25 124.7 2.10 53 28.5 7.9
23 Sandy Koufax 1962 LAN NL 26 184.3 2.08 53 29.0 7.7
24 Randy Johnson 2002 ARI NL 38 260 2.23 54 32.3 6.9
25 Pedro Martinez 1997 MON NL 25 241.3 2.27 54 32.2 7.1

That both Doc Gooden and Sandy Koufax make an appearance feels appropriate, and there's certainly no shortage of our usual cast of characters with Schilling, Johnson, and Pedro all over the place. Yet, there are still a number of surprises. Duane Ward in '91 and Mark Davis in '85 especially surprised me. People often forget about Dick Radatz and his brief but monstrous period of domination in Boston, highlighted here with his 1962 and 1963 seasons.

But it wouldn't be Christmas eve if we didn't at least glance at some of the worst kwERA- seasons in both recent history and all-time. Let's first take a look at the biggest losers from this century:

kwERA- Losers 2000-2011

# Name Year Team LG Age IP kwERA kwERA- K% BB%
1 Kirk Rueter 2005 SFN NL 34 107.3 5.72 135 5.1 9.6
2 Russ Ortiz 2005 ARI NL 31 115 5.66 133 8.4 11.8
3 Fausto Carmona 2008 CLE AL 24 120.7 5.81 133 10.6 12.8
4 Jimmy Anderson 2002 PIT NL 26 140.7 5.45 132 7.4 9.9
5 Julian Tavarez 2002 FLO NL 29 153.7 5.40 132 9.4 10.4
6 Mike Hampton 2002 COL NL 29 178.7 5.43 130 8.8 10.9
7 Damian Moss 2003 SFN NL 26 165.7 5.57 130 11.0 12.2
8 Tyler Chatwood 2011 LAA AL 21 142 5.24 129 11.7 11.2
9 Al Leiter 2005 FLO NL 39 142.3 5.42 129 13.8 16.0
10 Aaron Cook 2003 COL NL 24 124 5.59 129 7.4 9.8

Now this group is pretty horrendous, but thankfully, not a single one of them was horrendous enough to qualify for the top ten worst of the live-ball era:

kwERA- Losers 1920-2011*

# Name Year Team LG Age IP kwERA kwERA- K% BB%
1 John D'Acquisto 1976 SFN NL 24 106 5.34 152 10.5 20.3
2 Ken McBride 1964 LAA AL 28 116.3 5.14 142 12.4 14.1
3 Doug Sisk 1983 NYN NL 25 104.3 5.06 139 7.4 13.2
4 Tim Leary 1992 NYA AL 33 141 5.45 138 8.2 13.8
5 Tex Shirley 1946 SLA AL 28 139.7 4.79 137 6.9 16.0
6 Emmett O'Neill 1945 BOS AL 27 141.7 4.56 136 8.4 17.9
7 Les Sweetland 1928 PHI NL 26 135.3 5.42 136 3.5 14.6
8 Tommy Byrne 1951 NYA AL 31 143.7 5.62 136 12.2 31.3
9 Mike Dunne 1988 PIT NL 25 170 4.70 136 9.3 11.7
10 Bob Wiesler 1956 WS1 AL 25 123 5.66 136 8.2 18.7

I've also put together a google doc detailing all the league constants I used for these tables, so that you can both check my work or play along at home.

*NOTE: Both 'live-ball era' tables are not park-adjusted due to the limited download-ability of the data. I expect to add the component Park Factors at some point in the near future.


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