Most baseball fans associate the 1990s and early 2000s with record-breaking, steroids-induced offensive production. After all, Roger Maris’ long standing home run record was broken six separate times from 1998-2001. The 15 year period I’m going to discuss here, 1993-2007, has the second highest run per game average (1994-2008 is the highest) of any 15 year period outside the “live-ball era.”
Therefore, you may be surprised to learn that 1993-2007 featured seven of the 30 greatest pitchers of all time as measured by career WAR.1 These seven pitchers didn’t just pitch at some point during that period, but each of their careers spanned the entire period. The pitchers, career WAR, rank, and playing period follow:
|Name||Career Pitching WAR||Rank among all Pitchers||Seasons played|
A careful reader of this table may notice that all of these pitchers also pitched in 1992. However, this was Pedro Martinez’s first season and he only pitched eight innings so it seems a little cheap to include it.
Seven other of the top 30 pitchers pitched during the 17 season from 1967-1983: Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Fergie Jenkins, and Don Sutton. Two others, Bert Blyleven (career started in 1970) and Bob Gibson (career ended in 1975) pitched for good chunks of this same period. The only overlap with 1993-2007 in the top 30 that is not included in the table above is Nolan Ryan’s 13 games in 1993. No other 15 year period in baseball history (that doesn’t overlap with one of these two) has more than 2 pitchers on the top 30 list. Therefore, it is clear, that one of these two periods is THE GREAT PITCHER ERA™.
Since 1967-1983 is longer than 1993-2007 and it partially includes 9 great pitchers, at first blush it seems like it deserves the crown. However, two factors favor 1993-2007: its great pitchers were greater overall, and they produced much more dominant seasons.
Simply adding up the WAR of the seven 1993-2007 pitchers and the seven 1967-1983 pitchers, yields 50 extra wins for the more recent group. In addition, the 1993 group was much better on a per game basis. The average of their waaWL%2 is .600 vs. only .558 for the 1967 group. In fact, the average of the 1993 group is exactly equal to the best member of the 1967 group (Tom Seaver).
The 1993-1997 period was also full of many extremely dominant single-season pitching performances. 4 players in the 1993 group produced 17 seasons with waaWL% above .700, while only Tom Seaver (who had 2) produced any in the 1967 group:
Tom Seaver 1971, 1973, 1977 (excluded b/c 165 IP)
Roger Clemens 1986, 1990, 1992, 1997
Greg Maddux 1992, 1994, 1995
Randy Johnson 1995, 1997, 1998 (excluded b/c 84 IP), 1999, 2001, 2002
Pedro Martinez 1997, 1999, 2000 (my pick for greatest pitching season ever), 2001, 2003
The overall quality and single-season dominance of the 1993 group outweighs the length and the two (partially) extra pitchers in the 1967 group. I therefore, anoint 1993-2007 the THE GREAT PITCHER ERA™.
1 WAR — Wins Above Replacement for Pitchers. A single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add. This value includes defensive support and includes additional value for high leverage situations. Scale: 8+ MVP Quality, 5+ All-Star Quality, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Reserve, < 0 Replacement Level. Developed by Sean Smith of BaseballProjection.com
2 waaWL% ▾ — Win-Loss% w/ Avg. Team. This is the win-loss of an otherwise average team in ONLY the games this player played in. For example, for a pitcher this would include only the games the pitcher threw in and ignoring games they did not play in.