7's vs. 10's
We’re getting close to Round 2. Here are the 7’s vs. 10’s in the ’38 Pitchers Bracket Challenge’ (with bracketlogist Kirk Minihane offering the commentary):
Cy Young Region
7. Catfish Hunter vs. 10. Tommy John
It’s sort of become fashionable to knock Catfish as an all-timer over the past couple of years. And while he pitched for championship teams and really only had a couple of great seasons there is no doubt that he belongs on this list. Okay, I’ll buy that five 20-win seasons with the A’s and Yankees in the 1970s isn’t staggering. Bert Blyleven would have won 25 games a year with those teams. But Hunter was still a top pitcher, leading the league in WHIP twice as well as ERA in his 1974 Cy Young season. And how about 30 complete games in 1975? No pitcher has reached 25 complete games since (Tim Wakefield has 32 CG’s in his career). I count three seasons from Hunter that I would term “great” — 1972 (21 wins, 2.96 ERA), 1974 (25-12, 2.49 ERA, .986 WHIP) and 1975 (23-14, 2.58 ERA). Not enough to be among the top 25 pitchers of the last 50 years, but easily fits in the top 64. Tommy John is a medical marvel and did win 288 games, but I’m not sure he was ever one of the top five pitchers in baseball. He did win 20 games three times, but did so for some terrific Dodgers and Yankees teams in the late 70s-early 80s (the three teams that he won 20 games for (1977 Dodgers and 1979 and 1980 Yankees) averaged 97 wins a year). But he did stick around forever, pitching until he was 46. At his peak Hunter was a better pitcher, and by a fairly decent spread. Does 64 extra wins (over 11 seasons) give John an argument?
Walter Johnson Bracket
7. Don Drysdale vs. 10. Orel Hershiser
I know people don’t want to hear this, but Drysdale was largely a product of where he pitched. At home in his career? 114-74 with a 2.53 ERA in 261 starts. On the road? 95-92 with a 3.41 ERA in 257 starts (this is all in a pitcher’s era, remember). It’s the Jim Rice argument. Can anyone who was average for HALF of his career really be viewed as an all-time great? This matchup is a tough one to call. Hershiser pitched in the same ballpark as Drysdale for the majority of his career. His splits are also significant (3.17 ERA at home in 256 games, 3.81 ERA in 254 road games), but not as glaring as Drysdale. Both have a Cy Young Award. Career records are pretty much a push (Hershiser 204-160, Drysdale 209-166). Of course Hershiser broke Drysdale’s shutout innings streak. Both guys were superb in the playoffs (2.95 ERA for Drysdale, 2.59 ERA for Hershiser). Pretty close to a coin flip, but here’s why I’d vote for Hershiser: His two best seasons (1985, 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 1988, 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA) are better than any season in Drysdale’s career. Throw in a slight postseason edge and you’ve got an upset.
Lefty Grove Bracket
7. Johan Santana vs. 10. Dwight Gooden
And the battle to be the second-best pitcher in Mets history is pretty much down to these two, right? Santana is in the middle of his prime, and I fully expect another two or three Cy Young Awards before his career is done. In career adjusted ERA+, only Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson are ahead of Santana. He’s also top 10 all time in Ks per nine innings (9.3, fifth) and winning percentage (.681, eighth). He is easily the strongest of the seven seeds and is, in reality, a lot closer to a four or five. Today Gooden is remembered as potential wasted, but if you look past that and just focus on his numbers he had a nice career. In the Non-Pedro department I would count Gooden’s 1985 season as the best in my lifetime (24-4, 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games, eight shutouts and 268 Ks). That was as a 20-year-old, and followed a 1984 season that may be the best ever produced by a rookie pitcher (17-9, 2.60 ERA and 276 Ks in 218.0 innings). If you had asked me to guess after those two seasons how many career wins Gooden would finish with I would have gone with about 330 or so. Well, he didn’t get to 200 (he ended up with 194). But he won 19 games in 1990, 18 in 1988 and 17 in 1986. He was a victim of his own early greatness (and the drugs, of course). Probably he was one of the top 10-15 pitchers in the majors from 1986-1991, but that wasn’t nearly enough for Mets fans. I’m not sure there is a comparison that fits today. Tom Brady was Super Bowl MVP (not really, but he won it) in his first year as a starter and led the league in TDs in his second. If he has five or six seasons with 17 TDs and 12 picks you’d be pretty close.