Saturday, March 10, 2007

Winningest Tigers Pitchers

As we continue to put together the Tigers Hall of Fame over at MotownSports, we are confirming how difficult it is to compare players who played in different environments. For example, it was easier for a pitcher to pitch a lot of innings in the deadball era before 1920 when the league OPS was often lower than .650 than in eras like the 1930s and 199os when the league OPS was sometimes higher than .750. Similarly, a pitcher who receives strong support from his offense will have an easier time winning games than a pitcher who does not and this is true regardless of era.

In order to gain a better understanding of how to rank the all-time best Tigers, I've been looking at some statistics which help to compare players from different eras or otherwise different environments. Today, I'll present data on support neutral wins (SNW) and losses (SNL). SNW is the projected number of wins given league average offensive support and SNL is defined similarly.

Table 1 below lists the top 20 Tigers in SNW between 1901-2006. Most of you have probably heard that Hooks Dauss is the all-time Tigers wins leader with 222. However, the SNW leader is Hal Newhouser with 219. Newhouser had 19 fewer actual wins than SNW which probably means that he received less than average run support in the games that he pitched. Dauss, on the other hand, had 16 more actual wins than SNW which probably indicates he received better than league average support.

One might argue that Dauss "pitched to the score" of the game better than Newhouser but that's difficult to prove. I'm sure that supporters of Newhouser would vehemently deny that he did not "know how to win". At any rate, it's important to consider run support when looking at pitcher wins.

Like actual pitcher wins, the SNW statistic is driven by longevity more than excellence. A fairer measure of performance for pitchers with shorter careers is support neutral winning percentage (SNPCT). The all-time top 20 Tigers with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched are listed in Table 2 below. John Hiller is the number one pitcher with a SNPCT of .644 but he was mostly a reliever. The best SNPCT for a starter was Newhouser at .629. He was followed by Tommy Bridges (.608) and Dizzy Trout (.605).

Is it better to judge pitchers by longevity or excellence? Pitchers like Newhouser and Bridges who rank well by either criteria are pretty easy to evaluate. Those pitchers should make our Tigers Hall of Fame with little debate. Where things get interesting is when we compare a pitcher like Wild Bill Donovan (130 SNW and .549 SNPCT in 2,137 innings) to Harry Coveleski (69 and .598 in 1,023 innings). Coveleski pitched better when he did pitch but Donovan pitched twice as much. Which one is more deserving of the Tigers Hall of Fame? Most of us agree that both longevity and excellence are important but some place more emphasis on the latter and some on the former. It's an issue which is at the center of many debates as our voting process goes on. Next time, I'll discuss the statistic runs saved above average which tries to combine longevity and excellence

The data for this analysis were extracted from the Lee Sinnis Complete Baseball Encyclopedia.


Table 1: Tigers All-time Support Neutral Wins Leaders

Pitcher

W

SNW

Hal Newhouser

200

219

Hooks Dauss

222

206

Tommy Bridges

194

202

Mickey Lolich

207

200

George Mullin

208

200

Dizzy Trout

161

190

Jack Morris

198

188

Frank Lary

123

132

Earl Whitehill

133

131

Wild Bill Donovan

141

130

Virgil Trucks

114

119

Jim Bunning

118

116

Dan Petry

119

113

John Hiller

87

105

Vic Sorrell

92

100

Denny McLain

117

99

Ed Killian

99

96

Fred Hutchinson

95

94

Schoolboy Rowe

105

92


Table 2: All-Time Tigers Support Neutral Percentage Leaders

Pitcher

IP

SNW

SNL

SNPCT

John Hiller

1242

105

58

.644

Hal Newhouser

2944

219

129

.629

Tommy Bridges

2826

202

130

.608

Dizzy Trout

2592

190

124

.605

Harry Coveleski

1023

67

45

.598

Ed Siever

1036

68

46

.596

Al Benton

1219

80

55

.593

Dave Rozema

1007

61

42

.592

Hank Aguirre

1180

74

54

.578

Virgil Trucks

1802

119

91

.567

Frank Lary

2008

132

101

.567

Fred Hutchinson

1465

94

72

.566

Jim Bunning

1867

116

89

.566

Ed Killian

1536

96

77

.555

Denny McLain

1592

99

80

.553

Schoolboy Rowe

1444

92

75

.551

Wild Bill Donovan

2137

130

107

.549

Jack Morris

3042

188

160

.540

Elden Auker

1084

69

60

.535



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