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Their Winning Percentages Were Mediocre, But Were They?

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Everybody loves Baseball-Reference.com. They're wonderful. But do you read the Baseball-Reference blog? I hope you do, because it is fantastic.

I love when they plug in some search criteria, run it, and see what comes out. I particularly like posts like the one today from Steve Lombardi called "Worked So Long For What?". As Steve said:

Playing around with Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index Pitching Season Finder today, I asked it to show me all pitchers with 350+ career Games Started whose career wins were less than 1.02 times their losses.

It's just another way to look at starting pitchers who worked a long time in the big leagues without great winning percentages.

Commenter John Williams summarized the list well:

This is like the kevin costner or bruce willis list. Lots of movies without much box office. Never an Oscar acting, but never the worst thing in the movie. A hit one a decade, but a movie every year.

I decided to check the career WAR (from Rally) of these guys to see if any stood out from the crowd of supposed mediocre pitchers. Here is the original list, but now ordered by WAR:

Name GS W L ERA ERA+ WAR
Frank Tanana 616 240 236 3.66 106 55.1
Bob Friend 497 197 230 3.58 107 48.9
Bobo Newsom 483 211 222 3.98 107 45.9
Jack Powell 515 245 254 2.97 106 44.5
Tom Candiotti 410 151 164 3.73 108 41.0
Claude Osteen 488 196 195 3.30 104 39.8
Charlie Hough 440 216 216 3.75 107 37.5
Javier Vazquez 386 142 140 4.21 107 37.2
Danny Darwin 371 171 182 3.84 106 37.1
Tom Zachary 408 186 191 3.73 107 30.6
Bump Hadley 355 161 165 4.24 105 29.8
Kevin Gross 368 142 158 4.11 95 26.4
Mike Morgan 411 141 186 4.23 98 26.0
Mike Moore 440 161 176 4.39 95 24.9
Floyd Bannister 363 134 143 4.06 102 24.3
Steve Renko 365 134 146 3.99 98 22.0
Steve Trachsel 417 143 159 4.39 99 21.0
Bob Knepper 413 146 155 3.68 95 20.8
Rudy May 360 152 156 3.46 102 19.6
Jim Clancy 381 140 167 4.23 99 18.7
Jim Slaton 360 151 158 4.03 95 16.5
Jeff Suppan 396 135 135 4.68 98 13.3
Bobby Witt 397 142 157 4.83 91 13.2

Frank Tanana stands out over the rest. Tanana, of course, is the pitcher with the most career WAR to never receive a Hall of Fame vote. Bobby Witt, as much as I liked his strikeouts as a kid, simply deserved his fate. Bob Friend and Bobo Newsom both pitched for a long time at a clip moderately above league average. While there aren't a ton of Hall of Famers with less career WAR than them, there are some.

Jack Powell's stats were off in the original table (it only counted his stats from 1901 on). This table has his complete totals. Hard to imagine a sub-3.00 starter losing 254 games while only winning 245, but his ERA was only a little above the league average (106 ERA+). Still, he deserved more wins than he got.

Tom Candiotti completes the group of 40+ WAR pitchers. Like fellow list member Charlie Hough, Tom rode his knuckleball into slightly-above-average-but-stayed-on-the-mound-for-a-long-time immortality. How does fellow knuckleballer Tim Wakefield compare? His winning percentage (.538) is too good to make this list and he slides into the middle of the pack with 33.5 WAR.