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More WAR as a Rate Stat: Top Pitchers All Time (WAR per 200 IP)

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Pedro is the daddy of this list.
Pedro is the daddy of this list.

The other day, I posted the top position players all time in terms of WAR per 700 plate appearances. Inevitably, in the comments I was asked to draw up a list of pitchers by WAR/200 IP. Because of the way leverage index can boost a relief pitcher's per-inning WAR (high leverage innings are worth more and starters don't get the benefit of pitching them), I decided to break this out into two lists—one for pitchers with more starts than relief appearances and one with more relief appearances than starts. The minimum for all pitchers considered is 1000 career innings. All numbers come from Rally's WAR.

First, the starters:

Rank Name Innings WAR WAR/200 IP GS%
1 Pedro Martinez 2827.5 75.9 5.37 85.92
2 Roger Clemens 4916.6 128.4 5.22 99.72
3 Lefty Grove 3940.6 98.3 4.99 74.19
4 Johan Santana 1709.7 42.1 4.92 75.48
5 Sandy Koufax 2324.4 54.5 4.69 79.09
6 Roy Halladay 2046.6 47.4 4.63 91.69
7 Randy Johnson 4135.4 91.8 4.44 97.57
8 Brandon Webb 1319.7 29.2 4.43 99.5
9 Bob Gibson 3884.4 85.6 4.41 91.29
10 Tom Seaver 4782.6 105.3 4.40 98.63
11 Roy Oswalt 1803.4 39.5 4.38 95.76
12 Walter Johnson 5914.7 127.7 4.32 83.04
13 Curt Schilling 3261 69.7 4.27 76.63
14 Bret Saberhagen 2562.6 54.7 4.27 92.98
15 Mike Mussina 3562.8 74.8 4.20 99.81
16 Teddy Higuera 1379.9 28.3 4.10 96.24
17 Harry Brecheen 1907.4 38.8 4.07 75.47
18 Kid Nichols 5056.3 102.3 4.05 90.48
19 Pete Alexander 5189.9 104.9 4.04 86.06
20 Dizzy Dean 1967.3 39.6 4.03 72.56
21 Kevin Brown 3256.3 64.8 3.98 97.94
22 Tim Hudson 2059.5 40.9 3.97 99.68
23 Cy Young 7354.8 146.0 3.97 89.96
24 David Cone 2898.8 57.5 3.97 93.11
25 C.C. Sabathia 1889.4 37.3 3.95 100

Persons of interets (to me):

  • Pedro Martinez (ranked #1): During his days in Boston, it was often said that no pitcher was ever more dominant at any point in history. Apparently that was true.
  • Johan Santana (#4): At 31, I like to think he's still going strong. His K/BB and HR/9 are essentially unchanged from last year (where he "slumped" to 3.6 WAR in just 166.2 IP). This will go down since he hasn't declined yet. But still, 4th all time? That's higher than Pujols is on the hitters list.
  • Roy Halladay (#6): He's pretty badass.
  • Brandon Webb (#8): He appears because of a pretty liberal innings requirement (I kept it at 1000 IP for both tables). Before last year's -0.3 WAR (in 4 IP), he posted figures of 4.9, 3.1, 4.5, 5.8, 6.1, and 5.1. If he can return to that level, he'll stay up in the leaderboards. But that's a very big "if".
  • Roy Oswalt (#11): When they were just starting out, Oswalt and Tim Hudson were my picks for future Hall of Famers. The last couple seasons (3.7 and 3.1) have been decent for Roy, but if they are the start of a new performance trend, he'll slide down this list.
  • Curt Schilling (#13): WAR loves Curt Schilling.
  • Bret Saberhagen (#14): WAR also loves Saberhagen. This puts some oomph behind the decision to induct Saberhagen into the Hall of Merit. Odd-year Bret was a Hall of Famer.
  • Mike Mussina (#15): Like Schilling, this is a modern guy who's actually pretty underrated. We're talking 24th all time in career WAR, 15th as a rate stat. He was consistently well-above-average for a long time. After his first full season (1992 with 7.4 WAR), he never passed 6.5 WAR. But he also rarely posted anything lower than 4.0.
  • Teddy Higuera (#16): Ha! I loved this dude! Higuera's first four seasons were worth 3.2, 8.4, 6.1, and 7.0 WAR. After a couple average seasons, he flamed out rather quickly. Not having much of a decline kept his WAR/200 IP quite high. He ranks #254 all time in WAR.
  • Harry Brecheen (#17): A while back I wrote about the non-Hall of Famers with the best career ERA+. Brecheen ranked 4th among players eligible for the Hall (behind Dan Quisenberry, Joe Wood, and John Hiller) with a 133 ERA+ (T-27th all time at that point). Brecheen didn't get a full-time shot at the rotation until age 28 and then retired at age 38 to become the pitching coach for the Orioles.
  • Kevin Brown (#21): Here's another guy in the Schilling/Mussina class that WAR loves more than the general public does.
  • Tim Hudson (#22): Here's another guy who started on a Hall of Fame path but has had a bumpy road recently. One thing that keeps Hudson's WAR/200 IP high is the fact that he hasn't suffered from ineffectiveness—just injury. Only 2006 (0.3 WAR in 224.1 IP) and to a lesser extent 2005 (2.9 WAR in 192 IP) did much damage to his WAR/200.
  • David Cone (#24): Cone always felt underrated, and WAR agrees. HIs 57.5 WAR is 47th all time and higher than many, many Hall of Famers.
  • C.C. Sabathia (#25): Sabathia actually started off by flirting with us a few years, showing talent but not always results. Then came the 4.7 and 6.8 WAR seasons in 2006 and 2007, followed by his 7.1 combined with Cleveland and Milwaukee in 2008. Last season's 4.3 was more this-worldly, but still very very good.

And the relievers:

Rank Name Innings WAR WAR/200 IP GS%
1 Mariano Rivera 1090.1 49.9 9.16 1.09
2 Trevor Hoffman 1041.8 31.5 6.05 0
3 Bruce Sutter 1042.1 25.0 4.80 0
4 Lee Smith 1289.4 30.3 4.70 0.59
5 Dan Quisenberry 1043.2 24.3 4.66 0
6 John Hiller 1241.9 28.2 4.54 7.89
7 Rich Gossage 1809.3 40.0 4.42 3.69
8 John Franco 1245.7 25.8 4.14 0
9 Doug Jones 1128.2 21.5 3.81 0.47
10 Ellis Kinder 1479.8 27.4 3.70 25.21
11 Hoyt Wilhelm 2254.2 41.3 3.66 4.86
12 Roberto Hernandez 1071.5 19.5 3.64 0.3
13 Jeff Reardon 1132.4 20.3 3.59 0
14 Dennis Eckersley 3285.6 58.7 3.57 33.71
15 Gary Lavelle 1085.1 18.9 3.48 0.4
16 Kent Tekulve 1436.3 24.8 3.45 0
17 Bob Wickman 1059.1 17.9 3.38 3.35
18 Wilbur Wood 2684 45.0 3.35 45.62
19 Rick Aguilera 1291.2 21.3 3.30 12.16
20 Eddie Rommel 2556.4 42.1 3.29 49.8
21 Tom Gordon 2108.2 34.4 3.26 22.81
22 Kelvim Escobar 1507 24.5 3.25 49.15
23 Terry Forster 1105.6 17.6 3.18 6.35
24 Jesse Orosco 1295 20.6 3.18 0.32
25 Bobby Shantz 1935.7 30.6 3.16 31.84

Observations:

  • Bruce Sutter (#3): It all comes down to whether or not you think relievers should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. If you do, then Sutter wasn't a terrible choice (though there are still others I like more).
  • Lee Smith (#4): I really feel bad for Lee Smith. His talent is actually underrated because people assume he's overrated because of all the saves. He was a damn good pitcher who threw more innings than most of these modern relievers.
  • Dan Quisenberry (#5): I just don't see how Sutter can get in the Hall of Fame while Quiz didn't. There's just no explanation (that I'll accept, anyway). It's a shame this guy didn't get a longer look. I love Dan Quisenberry.
  • John Hiller (#6): Undoubtedly, uncontested, the most underrated relief pitcher of all time, no matter how you look at it.
  • Rich Gossage (#7): He's actually down this list a bit, but he has far more innings than anyone else on this list (and more WAR than anyone not named Rivera). He deserved his long-overdue induction.
  • Doug Jones (#9): He's the first guy on this list that I don't generally consider as having a decent case for The Hall. I've always underrated him, but maybe that's my fault.
  • Ellis Kinder (#10): The first guy on this list to have a substantial number of starts (about 25%). He seemed to dominate in his relief performances, but didn't have the leverage index boost that some other relievers get to their WAR. Like Wilhelm below, it seems that relievers just came in when starters were gassed and finished the game. That leads to a lower leverage index upon entry to the game. That's one reason why modern relievers rate so well.
  • Hoyt Wilhelm (#11): He pitched forever and his leverage index was all over the map. Interestingly, his best season by WAR (7.4) was the only season he started (1959). Makes you wonder why the Orioles didn't stick with it.
  • Dennis Eckersley (#14): Eckersley, quite famously, had two careers (one as a starter from 1975 to 1986 and one as a reliever from 1987 to 1998. As a starter, he was worth 42.1 WAR in 2496 innings (3.37 WAR/200 IP). As a reliever, he was worth 16.6 WAR in 789.2 IP (4.21 WAR/200 IP). Far more of his career value came from starting while relieving had a bit better rate.
  • Kent Tekulve (#16): Another guy I really like. His career WAR was right there with Sutter and Quiz. He just had more innings.
  • Wilbur Wood (#18): Had 45% of his games as starts. 36.0 of his 45.0 career WAR came from 1971 to 1975 (when he was exclusively a starter).
  • Eddie Rommel (#20) and Kelvim Escobar (#22): They just made this list with 49.8% and 49.1% of their games being starts, respectively.

Whatchyoo got for me after looking at the table?