If Jamie Moyer had been average in his 20s

If Jamie Moyer had been just a mediocre starting pitcher in his 20s, he would have presented a fascinating test case in the continuing debate about the worth of the won-loss record. Let me explain.

The method of how an individual pitcher has been judged over the decades has traditionally involved using the won-loss record as shorthand notation for how well the hurler performed.

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He’s a 20 game winner. He’s good for 12 to 15 wins. He’s a sub-.500 pitcher. Then, of course, the granddaddy of all titles… the 300-game winner. Entrance to that club, much like Bernie Mac in “Mr. 3000,” was a no-questions-asked entrance to the Hall of Fame.

As we know, however, wins and losses can be misleading in judging a pitcher’s performance. Example: Harvey Haddix threw 12 perfect innings before allowing an unearned run in the 13th inning on May 26, 1959. The very same Haddix blew a save in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, giving up two runs and nearly costing the Pirates the title. Obviously he pitched better in the 13-inning game than in the World Series game, but he took the loss in the 13-inning masterpiece and earned a victory in his near-disastrous Game 7.

Haddix’ won-loss record was affected by elements beyond his control. The Pirates inability to score against the Braves in 1959 cost him his extra-inning game. Ralph Terry, serving up a homer to Bill Mazeroski, earned Haddix a World Series win. Now if you’d ask Harvey, I think he was happier winning Game 7 of the World Series – and who can blame him?

Today, the flaws of using won-loss as a standard to measure greatness are becoming more understood by mainstream sports press.

Last year’s Cy Young Awards were awarded to Tim Lincecum and Zack Grienke, which showed a shift away from Won-Loss adulation. This year’s American League Cy Young award, won (and rightfully so) by Felix Hernandez this week, despite his 13-12 record, shows that new and better standards are being applied to how we praise our pitchers. C.C. Sabathia was the only 20-game winner in the American League this season, and even that couldn’t land him second place in the voting.

It appears that the kind of voting that awarded Bob Welch the 1990 Cy Young Award even when he wasn’t the best starter on his own TEAM, is over (though it could be argued that Welch should have placed third or fourth that year). Hopefully that means we won’t have to see another Cy Young handed out to someone like Bartolo Colon, who cracked the top five in a single pitching category (WHIP) in 2005, but by virtue of being the league’s only 20-game winner, took home hardware.

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This off-season we will see if Hall of Fame voters come to their senses about Bert Blyleven, for whom I have been beating the Cooperstown drum on my blog for the past few years.

So what if Bert is 13 wins short of 300? If he won two more games in half of his big league seasons, he’d be in. Would that have made his career any better? As for the pitchers who stuck around an extra year or two to get to 300 (I am looking at YOU Gaylord Perry and Randy Johnson), would their careers be any less significant had they finished with 299?

Which brings us back to Jamie Moyer. Injuries may have finally caught up with him, but he evidently wants to keep pitching. And because he is left-handed and has a pulse, he will probably find a job. He is sitting at 267 wins for his career, a win total that is comparable to some Hall of Famers: one more win than Bob Feller; one fewer win than Jim Palmer.

Can you imagine if I ever said publicly that Jamie Moyer is in the same class of pitcher as either one of them? How fast would I be put into a straight jacket if I made that statement? He is, however, creeping ever so close to that magic number, 300. If he plays for a team next year and puts eight wins on the back of his baseball card, he’ll be at 275… and would pass Hall of Famers Burleigh Grimes and Red Ruffing.

It got me thinking about Moyer’s surreal career. This was a guy who, in his 20s, looked like a total bust. Between the ages of 23 and 28—when most pitchers are in their prime—he was a combined 34-54 with a 4.56 ERA. Nothing remarkable. By the time he was 29, he was in the minors.

Imagine if I told you back then that Moyer would have more wins than Carl Hubbell, Whitey Ford, Catfish Hunter and Bob Gibson… !

When he turned 30 he was able to harness his junk ball stuff and pitch well enough to win, aided by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Ichiro, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley producing runs for him. And, in the end, his career ERA—4.24—isn’t that much better than his ERA from those subpar 20s.

So imagine if, between 1986 to 1991, he’d been a 10-game winner each year. Nothing significant. Nothing to make him a Cy Young candidate, just hitting the double-digit win mark in what would have been his prime. Add three wins to his 1986 season; one to his 1988 campaign; six in 1989; eight in 1990; 10 in 1991. Then assume the rest of his career plays out the same (including a 1992 season in the minors.) He’d be sitting on 295 wins, and then even an injury-plagued season for a 48-year-old could yield five wins. At that point he’d be at 300—and writers would be forced to evaluate 300 the way that they evaluated 20 wins this year.

Every 300 game winner is either in the Hall of Fame, a lock for the Hall of Fame (like Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Tommy Glavine), or named Roger Clemens, and God-knows-what will happen when his name is on the ballot.

It would be the litmus test for 300 wins being automatic for Cooperstown, a junkball pitcher who hung around into his late 40s with a mediocre ERA and no real dominating season, who was never considered to be an elite pitcher—waving his Hall of Fame credentials.

Nobody could point to steroids with him; I doubt his fastball would even get a speeding ticket. He’s just a classic crafty lefty who pitches well enough for the W.

No doubt people would bring up his effective, but hardly legendary, stats in making the argument against his Hall of Fame candidacy. The Bill James article will make the rounds, explaining that Moyer has the most “Cheap Wins” in baseball history. To put it simply, 58 of Jaime Moyer’s wins added up to a 5.42 ERA—and with him averaging less than six innings a start. I may not 100 percent sure how James made his calculations, but I can tell you that isn’t good. Yet, also without a doubt, many writers would also say “But he won 300 games. And that’s a number you can’t deny.”

I am bringing this up because, as of this writing, he is the closest active pitcher to 300. Andy Pettitte is next with 240, but he might not even be back next year. Nobody else in the bigs has even 200. So the idea of 300 wins being a make-or-break stat for the Hall of Fame could have been tested with Jamie Moyer, right on the heels of the Felix Hernandez Cy Young.

It might be a long while before we see someone sniff 300 again. Roy Halladay might get there eventually… but he’s putting together a Hall of Fame career by any standard if he stays healthy. So we baseball geeks missed out on passionate debates about the merits of Jamie Moyer’s career.

Of course, I am in no way trying to demean Moyer with this post. There isn’t a person reading this that wouldn’t trade places with Moyer—in a heartbeat—not only because he has played for nearly a quarter of a century in the big leagues (and called many Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers his teammates). Not because he has a World Series ring on his finger. Not just as the winner of the Hutch Award, the Lou Gehrig Award, the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award—Moyer’s shown he is one of the true class acts in the game. Not only for all of that, but also because he has made over $80 million during his career (and that’s a number we can ALL can understand—and envy).

Moyer’s had a wonderful career, one in which his win total (despite his lack of great stuff) tells a lot about his ability to grind it through season after season. It’s a career worth celebrating and saluting, but not one to honor with a plaque in Cooperstown.

However, if he’d been just mediocre in his 20s, he may very well have had one.

References & Resources
http://www.baseball-reference.com/

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Comments

  1. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Very nice article, I enjoyed it.

    I just have one quibble:  your saying that 4.24 ERA isn’t that much better than 4.56 ERA.

    Just using Pythag, if you had a 4.56 RS team, the first pitcher would win at a 86 win rate (in 162 games), the other at a 81 win rate, a 5 win difference.  But 10 in total because he would be 86-76 and the other 81-81.

    That’s not a great difference, and perhaps that is your point.  And looking at the top pitcher’s list in prior years, when the run environment was higher, there was still not much difference in ranking between 4.24 and 4.56, maybe a handful of pitchers in-between.

    Still, that is a 10 game difference when writ large, 2 game difference on an individual pitcher’s basis (assuming 5 starters).  I think that there is quite a difference there.

  2. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    I understand obsessivegiantscompulsive… I guess what was saying about his ERA is that it wasn’t such a wide gap that he was pitching to a 5 ERA in his mediocre twenties and pitching to a 3 or lower ERA in the time when he was piling up wins.

    It’s been his M.O. Throw junk and pitch well enough to keep his team in the game.

    And there’s nothing wrong with that

    Thanks for liking the article

  3. Pete said...

    There are many who still make a Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris. If you go by career numbers, Moyer is more or less Morris’ equal. Moyer has 6 more seasons, but only 200 more innings. Moyer had .4 less K/9 but .8 less BB/9. ERA+ at 105 (Morris) and 104 (Moyer). And of course, Moyer has 13 more wins than Morris. (We’ll ignore that he pitched in over more games than Morris as it is irrelevant to this type of Hall of Fame case).

    Of course Moyer doesn’t have the postseason reputation of Morris, but he has a 247-0 lead in games pitched in their 40s.

    Overall, I think this says more about Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame case than Moyer’s. So while I don’t believe Moyer or Morris should be in the Hall, and I do believe that Morris was a better pitcher overall than Moyer, a case can be made easier than you would think.

  4. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Oh, and I totally agree, Blyleven belongs in the HoF.  Whether going by numbers or also by how he was perceived when he was playing, which I still don’t get.

    When he was playing, he was known for having the best curve-ball of his time, perhaps of all time.  While he didn’t win a lot of games, he was clearly the pitcher that other teams feared. 

    Which is why I don’t understand how the media could have shut him out all these years.  They were swimming in all that whereas I was an outside observer reading one dinky local newspaper (Oakland Tribune).  They had the firehose of information, and not just outside but inside information, so they must have been aware of how opposing hitters feared him.  That was clear to me from reading about him in the newspaper. 

    Yet they refused to vote for him.  That is one of the major reasons I feel that something has to be done about the HoF voting/eligibility.  Willie Mays not unanimous?  I think almost anyone could see the idiocy of that.  And he’s just one of the obvious HoF over the years who didn’t get a unanimous nod.

    While I have to acknowledge what one local scribe noted, that one must look at the overall result and see if that is right, and generally they have been right, things like his has irked me, making me yearn for a better system.  Alas, I have not been able to think of one.

    I even thought that perhaps once the HoF players were put on a committee that they would right some wrongs, but if anything, they were worse than the media, looking to keep everyone else out of what they earned.

  5. Kazinski said...

    Why would you say Randy Johnson stuck around only to get to 300?  He finished 2008 with 184ip compiling a 3.91era, 3.76fip, 3.71xfipand 3.8war.  I don’t think that that kind of performance indicates he should have hung up is spikes then.  And while his results weren’t as good in his injury shortened 2009, he still threw 96 innings and had a 3.74xfip.

  6. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Kazinski,

    I understand what you are saying statistically about Randy Johnson. I bet he could have found a new job in 2010 if he really wanted to.

    But I really think the only thing he had left on his career checklist was winning 300 games. And I also believe that after his wonderful 2004 season for the Diamondbacks when he dominated but only went 16-14, I believe he orchestrated the trade to New York so he could pile up the wins and call it a career.

    He of course was miserable the nanosecond he got to New York but picked up 34 wins in 2 seasons.

    The fact that he hung up his cleats at 303 when he still had a little value makes me believe that the magical 300 number was the final goal for him.

    And I also believe that if he reached 300 by the end of 2008, he wouldn’t have come back in ‘09.

    Some pitchers hang them up before they become broken down. Kind of like Mike Mussina.

    I guess not every pitcher is Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver… pitching until nobody wants them anymore.

    It is not a slight on Randy Johnson.

  7. Alaska Pete said...

    As a lifelong M’s fan I have fond memories of Randy and Jamie as the perfect 1-2 punch, blinding heat followed by slow and slower.  I have to reluctantly agree that Moyer was “never considered to be an elite pitcher.”  But as a fan I will say that in his first 8 years with Seattle I was never sad to see him taking the hill.  I always thought it meant a likely win.  As an example of my confidence in him, in 2001 I was sure Lou had make a huge mistake in starting Freddy Garcia in game 1 instead of Moyer.  And we did end up losing that game, and it wound up going to a 5th and deciding game (won by Moyer) when it should have been over in 3 or 4.  As it was we had to start Aaron Sele in game 1 against New York, and Moyer didn’t face the Yankees until game 3 (a win).  The 116-win Mariners of course eventually lost that series to NY, and Moyer only faced them once.  He went 3-0 in the 2001 playoffs allowing 4 runs in 19 innings, with 3 walks and 15 Ks.

    I kind of got the impression from your article that his career after 30 was mostly flat, with a bunch of ok seasons where he piled up wins.  But clearly he had a peak in his first few years with Seattle.  He has 8 seasons with a WAR of 3.0 or more, and 6 of those were with Seattle from 1997-2003, and 3 of those were a WAR over 5.  His ERA+ in that time period averaged around 130.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that while he may not be hall-worthy, and may not have ever been “elite,” as a FAN of him and the Mariners, he was certainly elite in my mind.  And I’m *compelled* to defend him because of this.  And thank you for the last 3 paragraphs of your piece.  The only signed memorabilia of any kind that I own is a baseball signed by “rocket Jamie.” In answer to the question posed by your piece, if he were knocking on 300 wins door right now I would consider voting him in.  There is something to be said for extreme longevity.  But don’t worry, I don’t have a vote and it will never happen.  I’m just hoping the M’s pick him up this year as a 5th starter.  I could see him winning 12 games in Safeco with a little luck, and that makes me smile just writing that.

  8. Larry Rublin said...

    First of all, I loved the article. The most interesting baseball game I ever personally witnessed was a 1987 matchup between Moyer and Rick Reuschel at Wrigley Field. I was in the box seats immediately behind the Cubs dugout and had a perfect view of how the ball was moving as if in slow motion as each of the junkballers pitched.

    A few years ago, Bill James wrote that not only did Rickey Henderson have a HOF career, he actually had two HOF careers. His case was that either half of Henderson’s career was Hall worthy on its own merits.

    So applying that approach to Moyer with a slight modification … how about we take a look at Moyer’s career from age 30 on and see whether or not that would stand on its own merits.

    The stats for Moyer’s “second career” are as follows: W/L: 233-150; ERA(+): 4.17 (108); WHIP: 1.278; with 1970 Ks in 3321 IP. Surprisingly enough, except for the strikeout rate his second career really does have a lot in common with that Jack Morris. He’s allowed in the conversation, but he doesn’t get into the Hall.

    Now, if instead of just arbitrarily giving Moyer 10 wins a season, it would have been interesting if you’d have prorated Moyer’s later win rate and stats over the 700 IP he had in his 20’s. Instead of going 34-54, he’d have been something like 49-32. Adding that to his later totals, the revised consistent career Jamie would have a W/L record of 282-182.

    The BBWAA would look at consistent career Jamie and see Tommie John with about 50 less losses. And they’d vote him in.

  9. Zubin said...

    I guess I in the minority when it comes to career totals and the Hall of Fame.  I do think there are many roads to baseball greatness and I do think there is a place in the Hall of Fame for guys who were just consistantly goood, but not necesarily great for a very long time.  If guys like Jaime Moyer, Julio Franco or Rusty Staub can hit those milestones, then good for them.  They legitimately should be HoFers.

    The only question in my mind is where do those lines get drawn.  In that regard, I think most saberticians slightly underestimate the importance of (pitchers) wins, but traditional media vastly overemphasize it.

  10. Al said...

    If you were to give Moyer more wins in the years from 1986-1991, you’d also have to give him more strikeouts, comparable to his K rate in the full seasons he had in 1987 and 1988.

    That would give him 450-500 more strikeouts. Now then… you’d not only have a 295-game winner, but someone with 2850-2900 strikeouts.

    Granted, he would have done all that by being essentially a 4th/5th starter all that time, and gotten to the 300/3000 milestones strictly by hanging around till age 48.

    I’d argue there’s value in that—how many pitchers in MLB history have even done that? The answer is one: Jamie Moyer.

    It’s an interesting argument. I hope he can make it back.

  11. Bobo said...

    How do you figure Jamie Moyer is a sub .500 pitcher?

    Generally, when someone has more wins than losses, like 267 vs 204, they are not a sub .500 pitcher.

    please fix.

  12. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    OH I SEE!
    No, I wasn’t calling Moyer that. I was giving examples of short hand people have for the quality of a pitcher using wins as the sole barometer.

  13. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Alaska Pete, I 100% agree.

    As I said in the article he has had a wonderful career and I actually said his high win total shows a lot about his resolve and grit as a pitcher.

    He was able to put his team in a position to win more often than not and there were a few terrific seasons sprinkled in there.

    And as a Red Sox fan, I have always felt that the Jamie Moyer for Darren Bragg deals was a jaw dropping mistake.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a solid pitcher for a long long time… especially in the steroid era.

    And the 1-2 punch with Randy Johnson was wonderful… one slow and one fast… and both effective.

    This isn’t a slight against Jamie Moyer. I just don’t think he is a Hall of Famer.

    I would put him in a class with Bob Welch or John Tudor… guys who had nice long careers and a few terrific seasons… but not Cooperstown material.

    And the thing that inspired me to write this was looking up the fact that he was the closest pitcher to 300 wins still active. And wondering if 300 wins was still automatic.

    Moyer has had a terrific career and I mention that in the article.

  14. Larry Rublin said...

    David:

    Moyer’s 4.56 ERA in his 20’s yielded an ERA+ of 87 – well below league average.

    Post 30 his 4.17 is good for 108, which is comfortably above league average.

    I love bbref.

  15. David P. Stokes said...

    A 4.24 ERA might not be hugely better than 4.56,  but weren’t the league ERA’s higher during those latter years?  And therefore wouldn’t comparing Moyer’s ERA’s to the league average show a bigger gap between what he posted in his 20’s and what he posted later?

  16. Xave said...

    It’s a moot point. 20-year-old Jamie Moyer was probably like “Alright, I’m just gonna take it easy for the next decade and save up for my mid-40s.” If he hadn’t made that conscious decision he wouldn’t still be pitching!

  17. jtorrey13 said...

    I have a cause in which I am way too invested, but when I see the words “wins” and “John Tudor,” I think of another stat which has way too much value with people – “saves.” It’s only slightly related to this thread (I mean John Tudor is just an offhand remark in one of your comments) but I think the general idea is still there – just instead of wins, we look at another counting stat of dubious distinction, saves. Three people’s stats (data from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs):

    Player IP, WHIP, ERA+, K/BB, bWAR, FIP, WPA/LI
    Player 1:  1797.0, 1.198, 125, 2.08, 32.3, 3.77, 13.20
    Player 2:  1809.1, 1.232, 126, 2.05, 40.0, 2.89, 16.54
    Player 3:  1701.1, 1.156, 120, 2.64, 24.4, 3.17, 9.80

    With the mention of John Tudor and saves, you can probably figure out that Player 1 is John Tudor, Player 2 is Goose Gossage (310 saves) and Player 3 is Rollie Fingers (341 saves). The differences (to me) do not seem very large (though the FIP difference for Goose is pretty decent) except for the saves number. I am the first to admit that Mariano Rivera belongs in the Hall of Fame (205 ERA+, 52.9 bWar, 30.35 WPA/LI – and is a bit of a surreal outlier – which true HOFers should be) and Bruce Sutter’s 136 ERA+, 25 bWar and 12.69 WPA/LI in only 1042 innings seems to be at a higher level, but I think that most relievers need to be compared to John Tudor (or a similar innings level starter) just to see if without the saves they’d be HOFers.

    However, if Gossage and Fingers are the baseline, should Lee Smith (132 ERA+, 2.57 K/BB, 30.3 bWAR, 13.93 WPA/LI, 2.93 FIP) be that far off from election?

    Sorry – that last line just moved me firmly off topic and with that, I should go. Great analysis on Moyer. I love thinking on these lines.

  18. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    All true Larry… I still don’t think he is a Hall of Famer even if he slogs his way to 300 wins

  19. Marc Carcanague said...

    I don’t think Moyer is a HOF pitcher, and I do think he would be a great case study to see how voters would treat him if he had 300 wins.  Hell, he still may – either way, we can be assured that Tim Kurkjian would vote him in, as he’s never seen a player in his life who doesn’t belong in the HOF.

    I have a second issue – concerning Bert Blyleven.  Every time I turn on Baseball Tonight and they’re discussing him, no one on the show can figure out why he isn’t in the HOF.  A lot of bloggers feel the same way.  Can’t we ask someone who hasn’t voted for him why they don’t see him as one?

    I have a few opinions on the matter, which I’ve written up on an occasional blog I keep:

    I think the argument against his HOF credentials are as follows:

    1.  The belief that he played for bad teams is overstated.  His teams w/o him go 79-82, with him a little over .500.  He pitched for a World Champion, and 4 teams that won 90 games.

    2.  He was known, during his career, about caring for his own stats rather than how the team did.  Over time, this has been forgotten because Blyleven does a great job announcing, and has stayed in the public eye in a positive way.  But if you go back, he was miserable on the ‘79 Pirates as they were winning the World Series, he was miserable in 1980 and they got rid of him after that.

    3.  Compare the run support he received to contemporaries, then compare his winning percentage in low scoring games.  He was consistently the worst of them.  (Seaver won 50% of the games he pitched where he received 2 runs of support or less.  Blyleven was under 30%).

    4.  He is better than Hunter, and I think he was better than Sutton.  But I don’t think a player should be better than the worst player in the HOF – I think they should be better than about one-third of the players.  And I’m not sure Blyleven is that much better a pitcher.  If he gets in, then we’ll go back and discuss Tommy John.  Then Jim Kaat.  Then Moyer.  Where does it stop?

    http://baseballbullsh.blogspot.com/2009/01/final-word-on-blyleven.html

  20. HuskerHalo said...

    Sort of unrelated to the ‘real-conversation’ going on here.  But when Moyer was with the Cubs, he was getting married to Digger Phelps’ daughter.  Digger suggested they get married at the All Star break because Jamie wouldn’t be busy then.

    On another unrelated note, got my Hardball Times 2011 edition today & it’s awesome!!!

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