December 7, 2023

The Pitchers: The 4 Levels of Greatness – Part 1

September 26, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

In a previous series of articles, I presented the 5 Levels of Greatness for the 20th century position players who posted Hall of Fame numbers during their careers – according to the CAWS Career Gauge.  We saw that there are one hundred sixteen (116) such players.

In this series of articles, I will present the 4 Levels of Greatness for the 20th century pitchers who posted obvious HOF numbers during their playing days.  We will see that there are fifty-one (51) such pitchers.

The CAWS Career Gauge has separated those 20th century pitchers who have obvious Hall of Fame numbers into four levels depending on their CAWS score (that is, according to their career numbers).  We will look at these pitchers in the two articles that follow.  The lists of pitchers will include those who are in the Hall of Fame and those who have the numbers but are not yet inducted.  At the end of the presentation, I will indicate those pitchers who are currently in the Hall but who do not have the numbers to be there.

For example, we will see that Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax were all great pitchers who had obvious Hall of Fame numbers during their careers.  But Bob Gibson’s career numbers establish him as a Level 1 pitcher while Juan Marichal had a Level 2 career and Sandy Koufax a Level 3 career.

Here are the four levels of major league pitchers (who actually posted HOF numbers) and the number of pitchers in each level – a total of fifty-one (51) players.  Remember that some of these players (like Greg Maddux) are not yet in the Hall.  And there are sixteen (16) 20th century pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame but who do not have HOF career numbers and are not on these lists.

Level 1 – Pitchers with a CAWS score > 260   =   20

Level 2 – Pitchers with a CAWS score < 260 and > 235   =   15
Pitchers with CAWS  < 235 but with CWS > 300   =   4

Level 3 – Pitchers with a CAWS score > 180 in Fewer than 2400 Innings  =  7

Level 4 – Pitchers with a CAWS score > 155 in Fewer than 1500 Innings  =  5

In this article, I will present the Level 1 and Level 2 pitchers.  These are the thirty-nine (39) major league starting pitchers who had the best CAWS scores (career numbers) in the 20th century.

Level 1  -  Pitchers with a CAWS score > 260

Since 1901, there have been only twenty (20) pitchers who attained a CAWS career score of 260 or better.  These are the 20th century’s best major league starting pitchers.  Their career numbers are better than any other pitchers.

Pitchers who pitched predominantly in the Deadball Era (1901-1919) are designated by an asterisk (*).  Since many pitchers in that time-frame pitched many more innings than in the modern era (1920 to present), the comparison between pitchers from the two eras may not be entirely appropriate.

All numbers include the 2011 season.
Bold  =  Hall of Famer
CWS  =  Career Win Shares
CV      =  Core Value (sum of win shares for 10 best seasons)
CAWS  =  Career Assessment/Win Shares  =  CV  +  .25(CWS – CV)

Player Years CWS CV CAWS
1. Walter Johnson* 1907-1927 560 380 425
2. Pete Alexander* 1911-1930 476
3. Christy Mathewson* 1900-1916 426 335 358
4. Lefty Grove 1925-1941 391 301 324
5. Roger Clemens
1984-2007 432
6. Warren Spahn 1942-1965 412 259 297
7. Tom Seaver 1967-1986 388 255 288
8. Eddie Plank* 1901-1917 361 259 285
9. Greg Maddux
1986-2008 398
10. Gaylord Perry 1962-1983 369 243 275
11. Bob Gibson 1959-1975 317 258 273
12. Mordecai Brown* 1903-1916 296 264 272
13. Steve Carlton 1965-1988 366 240 272
14. Phil Niekro 1964-1987 374 235 270
15. Joe McGinnity* 1899-1908 269 269 269
16. Robin Roberts 1948-1966 339 246 269
17. Jim Palmer 1965-1984 312 252 267
18. Vic Willis* 1898-1910 293 257 266
19. Carl Hubbell
1928-1943 305
20. Ed Walsh*
1904-1917 265

For most serious fans, this list will hold very few surprises although there may be one or two names from the deadball era that may not be too familiar.

Some observations:

  1. Cy Young’s career bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.  But the majority of his accomplishments took place in the 19th century – so he is not included here.
  2. You will note that eight of these twenty pitchers pitched predominantly in the deadball era.  This does appear to be a disproportionate number.  As noted above, this is almost certainly due in part to the fact that pitchers tended to pitch many more innings in that era.
  3. Four of these pitchers attained a CAWS score > 260 even though they did not have 300 career win shares (and all were from the deadball era): Mordecai Brown, Joe McGinnity, Vic Willis and Ed Walsh.  This was also due to the fact that they were able to earn more win shares per season because they pitched relatively more innings per season.  All of the pitchers in Level 1 from the modern era have more than 300 CWS.
  4. As you would expect, all of these pitchers are in the Hall of Fame – except for Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux who are not yet eligible.
  5. Note that Roger Clemens has the best career numbers for any right-handed pitcher of the modern era.  Whether those numbers were earned fairly or with the help of performance enhancing drugs is another question.
  6. All 20 of these pitchers have a core value (CV) of 235 or better.  That means that each one averaged better than 23 win shares for his ten best seasons.  That is a remarkable achievement for a pitcher.


The CAWS Career Gauge suggests that these twenty pitchers had the best career numbers of the century.

Level 2 contains the names of nineteen (19) more pitchers who posted HOF numbers during the century.  This level has two distinct groups:

  1. 15 pitchers with CAWS score < 260 and > 235
  2.  4 pitchers with CAWS score < 235 and CWS > 300

As (b) above implies, the CAWS Career Gauge suggests that any major league pitcher who earns 300 win shares in his career certainly has Hall of Fame numbers.

Level 2 (a)  -  Pitchers with a CAWS score < 260 and > 235

Player Years CWS CV CAWS
21. Fergie Jenkins 1965-1983 323 233 256
22. Randy Johnson 1988-2009 326 230 254
23. Bob Feller 1936-1956 292 239 252
24. Bert Blyleven 1970-1992 339 218 248
25. Wilbur Cooper* 1912-1926 266 239 246
26. Burleigh Grimes 1916-1934 286 231 245
27. Hal Newhouser 1939-1955 264 234 242
28. Jack Powell* 1897-1912 287 227 242
29. Eppa Rixey 1912-1933 315 217 242
30. Red Ruffing 1924-1947 322 212 240
31. Early Wynn 1939-1963 309 217 240
32. Juan Marichal 1960-1975 263 229 238
33. Carl Mays 1915-1929 256 230 237
34. Ted Lyons 1923-1946 312 210 236
35. Stan Coveleski 1912-1928 245 231 235

Level 2 (b)  -  Pitchers with CAWS score < 235 and CWS > 300

Player Years CWS CV CAWS
Tom Glavine 1987-2008 314 203 231
Nolan Ryan 1966-1993 334 191 227
Don Sutton 1966-1988 319 187 220
Dennis Eckersley 1975-1998 301 183 213

Some observations:

  1. Only three pitchers in Levels 1 and 2 have been eligible and are not in the Hall of Fame: Wilbur Cooper, Jack Powell and Carl Mays.  Cooper and Powell happen to be the only two in Level 2 from the deadball era and Mays pitched shortly after that era.  All of the pitchers in Levels 1 and 2 who pitched since 1930 and have been eligible are now in Cooperstown.
  2. The other four pitchers in Levels 1 and 2 who are not yet in the Hall of Fame are all recent major leaguers who are not yet eligible: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine.  I assume each of these will be elected quickly when he becomes eligible.  Of course, Clemens may prove to be the exception here since he has been tainted by the “steroids scandal.”  And the recent voting history of the BBWAA seems to indicate that no “steroids abuser” will ever be elected to the Hall.
  3. Note that only three of these pitchers did not attain a core value (CV) of 200 or better: Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton and Dennis Eckersley.  I think it is fair to say that their place in Cooperstown owes as much to the longevity of their careers as to any other single factor.  Each of them pitched in the majors for at least twenty-three seasons.

These thirty-nine (39) Level 1 and 2 pitchers all have Hall of Fame numbers.  And there are twelve (12) more 20th century pitchers who also had outstanding careers – even though they pitched fewer innings than those above.

Those twelve (12) pitchers form Levels 3 and 4 and I will present them in Part 2 of this series.  I will also list there the sixteen (16) 20th century major league pitchers who are in Cooperstown but who do not seem to have the career numbers to justify their being there.

Thanks for your time.

Mike Hoban
Professor Emeritus – City U of NY
Author of A GOOD CAWS: A Hall of Fame Handbook (2011)


3 Responses to “The Pitchers: The 4 Levels of Greatness – Part 1”
  1. Todd says:

    Seems that the formula is a little too heavily weighted towards wins but it is difficult to make a good argument against such weighting. Koufax certainly is a level 3 guy in my mind except for career wins, starts …. but no pitcher was as dominant as him for his relatively short career. Pedro Martinez is another guy who doesn’t have the career numbers but might make the HOF because of his dominance, especially considering it was during a time of alleged steroid activity. Guys like Gaylord Perry residing in a higher level than say a Randy Johnson or Bob Feller seems a little fishy but that’s just me.

  2. David says:

    Actually, the formula’s not weighted towards wins at all, at least if you’re talking about the common pitching statistic “wins.” The main thing that you’re describing is, I think, the fact that it appears that longevity may carry more weight than brilliant short careers. That’s possible. Based on the formula above, it’s easy to see that “longevity” is not weighted nearly as high as “peak value.” However, since peak value is defined as a ten-year span, it definitely takes longevity into account, as well. Some pitchers (i.e. Koufax and Martinez) didn’t put together 10 good years. So a pitcher like Gaylord Perry, who played forever, put up more good seasons. While it’s certainly true that it may look fishy to have a player like Perry ranked so highly, perhaps it’s your perception of Perry that needs to alter, rather than a flaw in the formula. Just a couple of thoughts.

  3. MIKE HOBAN says:

    I think we could say that there is no “fair” way to compare pitchers like Gaylord Perry and Sandy Koufax directly because their careers were so different.

    One of the strengths of the CAWS Career Gauge is that there is no reason to try to compare them directly.

    By establishing various HOF benchmarks for different kinds of pitchers, the CAWS Gauge demonstrates that a pitcher can be a true Hall of Famer even if he had a “relatively brief” career.


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