Last week I summarized Sutter's qualifications for the Hall of Fame. One problem I mentioned was that it is difficult to compare relievers from different eras since they were used differently as managerial philosophies have evolved. But Sutter and Gossage come from about the same era (although even those two were not used exactly the same way).
In Gossage's career (not counting years where he started games), he averaged 1.56 IP per game and 74.2% of the games he pitched he finished. For Sutter, those numbers were similar at 1.58 and 77.5%. But Gossage had two seasons where he average over 2 IP per game (a 2.28 and a 2.13). Sutter's highest was 1.73 and Gossage also had a year at 1.85. Gossage had 3 seasons when he finished more than 90% of his games while Sutter only had one. Gossage may have been a little more of workhorse, being asked to do more than Sutter was. Maybe this is not a big difference.
In comparing players, we always have to think about the issue of career value vs. peak value. Some players are great for few years while others are never great but are good for a longer career. First, I look at the peak value of both guys by taking their best 5 years.
I started with the best 5 years for Gossage and Sutter in pitching wins (PW). That is the Pete Palmer linear weights stat that says how many more games a team wins by having that pitcher instead of an average pitcher.
Sutter's best 5: 4.7, 4.3, 3.8, 2.3, 1.6
Gossage's best 5: 6.4, 5.1, 4.3, 3.2, 3.0
Gossage's total adds up to 22 while Sutter's is 16.7
In Win Shares, the Bill James stat that attempts to measure a pitcher's contribution to team wins independent of the hitters and fielders, Gossage's 5 best years add up to 104 while Sutter is at 105. Win Shares are also adjusted for park effects.
Then I looked at RSAA--Runs saved against average. It's the amount of runs that a pitcher saved vs. what an average pitcher would have allowed. It is from the Lee Sinins SABERMETRIC BASEBALL ENCYCLOPEDIA. Sutter's five best years in RSAA per IP worked out to .221 RSAA per IP over 517 IP. For Gossage it was .237 over 488 IP. Even if we remove 1981, Gossage's best year but he only pitched 46 innings due to the strike and throw in his 6th best year, he had .222 RSAA per IP over 540 IP.
But the fielders can affect how many runs a pitcher allows. So I looked at a defense independent stat, the DIPS ERA (this is the creation of Voros McCracken).
I found the best 5 DIPS ERA seasons for each guy, then calculated a composite ERA for those 5 years (which are not necessarily consecutive). I came up with
Sutter 2.15 493 IP
Gossage 2.22 447 IP
It seems like there is not much difference in their peak value. Considering that Gossage had a longer career, he may be more deserving of the Hall of Fame.
The formula for DIPS ERA that I used is
(1) DIPS ERA = Constant + 1.4*HR + .33*BB - .22*SO
(2) Constant = League ERA - (13*HR + 3*BB - 2*K)/IP for the league and year in question
For walks, I included HBP but not IBBs. I did that for both the constants and the pitchers in question.
Then I adjusted each guy's HRs for park effects using the HR park factors in the STATS, INC All-Time BASEBALL SOURCEBOOK. I got
Sutter 1.94 480 IP
Gossage 2.25 447 IP
The reason the IP change for Sutter is that one of his 5 best seasons changed once HRs were adjusted for park factors. Wrigley Field was a very good HR park in the late 1970s.
In save %, Gossage's 5 best years with 20+ saves were: 89, 87, 84, 81 and 77. Sutter had 85, 80, 79, 78 and 78 (this is total saves divided by total saves + blown saves). Gossage had 135 saves in these years while Sutter had 174.
Turning to career totals, Gossage had 233 Win Shares while Sutter had 168. Gossage had 29.5 Pitching Wins while Sutter had 17.9. If we throw out Gossage's disastrous 1976 season when he was used only as a starter, he had 30.4 career PW in 1585 IP. That is .019 PW per IP. Sutter had 17.9/1042 = .017.
If we throw out that 1976 season, Sutter had .118 RSAA per IP in his career while Gossage had .107. RSAA--Runs saved against average. It's the amount of runs that a pitcher saved vs. what an average pitcher would have allowed. It is from the Lee Sinins SABERMETRIC BASEBALL ENCYCLOPEDIA. Gossage had 160 career RSAA while Sutter had 123.
In career DIPS ERA, using the method mentioned above and adjusting HRs for park effects, Gossage had 3.10 while Sutter had 2.73.
Gossage had 310 career saves and 112 blown saves for a success rate of 73.5%. Sutter had 300 in 401 chances for 74.8%.
Gossage seems to be the better choice for the Hall of Fame. At best, Sutter's peak was just a little better than Gossage's. The .3 difference in peak DIPS ERA is pretty small. Gossage clearly has the better career totals. I think that outweighs any possible advantage Sutter has for peak value.