In my last article on these here internet pages, I attempted to create the best conceivably possible player by taking the most valuable seasons in baseball history and putting them all together into one awesome player. The results were fairly ridiculous. Can we get equally ridiculous results from the greatest age-seasons from pitchers? I’m going to make a couple of tweeks to my methodology from last time to tailor it more towards pitchers, who, at the extremes, seem to have more peculiar career arcs.
- No pre-1900 seasons
I included this rule for position players because I’m not too familiar with the era. I’m including it for pitchers because they weren’t doing anything like what modern day pitchers, or even pitchers in the 1920s were doing. I mean, in 1889, John Clarkson of the Boston Beaneaters pitched 620 innings with a 2.73 ERA. His FIP-WAR was 10.9 while his RA9-WAR was 19.7. That is 4.7 WAR better than Babe Ruth’s best season.
- No seasons with less than 50 IP
This doesn’t really apply all that much, unless you want me to include Joe Nuxhall’s two-thirds of an inning in 1944 when he was 15. He allowed 5 runs on 2 hits and 5 walks.
- No duplicates, take player’s best season
This wouldn’t be as much fun if it were just young Dwight Gooden and old Randy Johnson
As for which version of WAR I’m going to use, FIP-based WAR seems to be less prone to wild fluctuations, particularly with old-timey players. The gradual increase in strikeouts over the past century-plus seems to have balanced out the gradual decline in innings, so that the ridiculous seasons of today are similar in value to the ridiculous seasons of yesteryear. With all that said, let’s get to it and create a Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher.
Age 17: Bob Feller – 1936
Okay, I already cheated a bit. Technically, Bob Feller’s 1937 season ought to be here, as it is by far the best age 18 season, and at 3.1 WAR it is twice as valuable as this one. However, Feller was the only player to pitch at least 50 innings at age 17, and the final WAR total is only affected negligibly, so why not include an extra year? It really is remarkable that Feller was a reasonably effective pitcher in the majors as a legal minor. He struck out over a batter an inning, and this was when strikeouts weren’t nearly as commonplace as today. Luckily for the Indians, he figured out how to stop walking people, at least to an extent, allowing him to enjoy a Hall of Fame career
Age 18: Larry Dierker – 1965
Dierker was not exactly Bob Feller, but he had a good career as a pitcher, manager, and broadcaster with the Astros. His raw stats actually look very similar to Feller’s from his age 18 season, but Dieker was pitching in the offense starved sixties in the Astrodome as opposed to the Jimmie Foxx circus show that was the American League in the thirties. Still, it’s hard to criticize a teenager for only being average-ish when he’s competing at the highest level.
Age 19: Gary Nolan – 1967
Gary Nolan was actually the second best pitcher at this age, and it wasn’t even close. Dwight Gooden put up 8.3 WAR in 1984 and would have appeared here had it not been for an even better season still yet to come. Nolan was still pretty excellent however. His 8.18 K/9 was tops in the NL, and he wasn’t overly walk prone either. Nolan lost the Rookie of the Year award to future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, but Nolan was just as good if not better, at least for that one season. Unlike Seaver, Nolan would be out of baseball before turning thirty due to arm issues.
Age 20: Dwight Gooden – 1985
Doc Gooden put up 8 WAR in both his age 19 and 20 seasons. Only two other pitchers managed to put up as much as 3 WAR in both seasons at that age (Bob Feller and Bert Blyleven, both Hall of Famers). Doc was, for two years, the ultimate outlier. To put this in perspective, think of all the hubbub around Jose Fernandez, particularly in 2013. He was so unbelievably good at such a young age. Despite his numerous injury troubles in the last two seasons, he is still regarded as an extremely valuable asset. At the same age that Fernandez had his great rookie year, Doc pitched 100 more innings and had a significantly better ERA (1.53 to 2.19) and FIP (2.13 to 2.73). Oh, and he had already had a Cy Young caliber season under his belt.
Age 21: Vida Blue – 1971
Vida Blue was one of three starters to post sub-2 ERAs in 1971, joining the aforementioned Tom Seaver as well as Wilbur Wood, who is a cool enough pitcher to get mentioned here despite there being no other reason to talk about him. Blue was a pretty cool pitcher himself, although this was the only year that he was a particularly good strikeout guy, fanning nearly a quarter of the batters he faced.
Age 22: Bert Blyleven – 1973
Blyleven, along with Bob Feller, is one of the best two young pitchers in history. Through his age 25 season, Blyleven had 48.7 WAR. He’s been among the leaders for a lot of the younger seasons for our Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher, but unlike a lot of these guys, Blyleven remained an effective pitcher for a long time. In fact, he managed to appear in the top ten for the age 38 group. This was pretty clearly his strongest season, and he was rather effective in all aspects of pitching that one could be effective in.
Age 23: Dean Chance – 1964
Dean Chance is sort of like the Al Rosen of pitchers, in that he had a short career, but was pretty good throughout most of it, including one spectacular season. This is Chance’s, and I must say, that 7.6 WAR number does not quite do it justice. His ERA was a mere 1.65 and his RA9-WAR was a staggering 11.5, which is the second best mark so far for the Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher, with only Doc Gooden’s 12.8 beating it.
Chance was a member of the inaugural Angels team in 1961, although he only threw 18 innings. He won the Cy Young Award in that spectacular 1964 campaign, back when there was only one award given out for the whole league and in the midst of Sandy Koufax’s dominance (Koufax won it in ’63, ’65, and ’66). Overall, a nice career, although it does lag behind some of these other immortals.
Age 24: Walter Johnson – 1912
Speaking of immortals, here’s the most immortal pitcher of them all, which is to say, Johnson was probably the greatest pitcher of all time, not to say that he was the most difficult to kill among those pitchers who could not die. Like with Chance, his FIP-WAR underestimates his absolute dominance this particular season. Unlike Chance, whose career year was merely extraordinary by RA9-WAR, Johnson reached Ruthian levels, compiling a 14.9 mark. In 1913, his RA9-WAR was 16.2, which is truly absurd.
In this 1912 season, Johnson struck out 303 batters, which is impressive at first glance, but becomes even more so when you realize only two other pitchers managed even 200 strikeouts. But here’s where it gets even mroe ridiculous. Clayton Kershaw, with his league leading 301 strikeouts, had 0.15% of the NL strikeouts in 2015. Johnson provided 3% of the strikeouts in baseball. Hahahahahaha.
I guess it is also worth mentioning that Dazzy Vance managed to accumulate 4% of the league’s strikeouts in 1924.
Age 25: Hal Newhouser – 1946
Hal Newhouser produced much of his value during the the weak years of 1944 and ’45, while baseball’s best were in the service (Newhouser’s poor heart valves prevented him from serving, although he did attempt to enlist). Newhouser was not just a product of these poor leagues though, as his best year was 1946, with Ted Williams et al. having returned to the majors. His 275 strikeouts were a career high, but he was denied a third consecutive MVP award by Ted Williams, who did Ted Williams things.
A brief update on the career progress of the Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher’s career: He just passed 2000 career strikeouts, the youngest ever to do so, three years earlier than the trio of Sam McDowell, Bert Blyleven, and Walter Johnson. His 63.5 career WAR ranks 39th among pitchers, ahead of Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, and Don Drysdale. That might be underrating him though, as his RA9-WAR so far is 79.3. If you like pitcher wins, he already has 173, which is 22 more than Walter Johnson had at that age.
Age 26: Sam McDowell – 1969
This really ought to be Tom Seaver here. Seaver’s ERA in his age 26 season, 1971, was more than a run lower than McDowell’s. While FIP closes the distance somewhat, it still is in Seaver’s favor by a good margin. They both pitched about the same number of innings, with Seaver pitching an inconsequentially larger amount. By RA9-WAR, Seaver blows McDowell out of the water, 11.6 to 5.9. The difference? Although Seaver was a good bit better on balls in play, the big difference, resulting in a 4.6 WAR swing, was the difference in their LOB numbers. Seaver left 83.6% of his runners on base while McDowell left only 70.3%. I do think that Seaver was most certainly better in their respective age 26 seasons, but rules, even if self-imposed, are rules.
That said, McDowell was a fine pitcher, even if he had a relatively small amount of effective seasons. From 1965 though 1970, he was as good as anyone. To most Indians fans, his ’69 season was likely a disappointment as his ERA jumped by over a run, but I would attribute a good deal of that to the raising of the mounds after the so-called Year of the Pitcher in 1968.
Age 27: Pedro Martinez – 1999
Okay this is just insane. Age 27 seems to be the time when pitchers decide to become demi-gods or something. You know about Pedro’s dominance in 1999, but just take a look at this list. Of the top ten players, eight are Hall of Famers, Kershaw is most certainly going make it nine, and Ron Guidry is no slouch either. With the exceptions of Sandy Koufax and Fergie Jenkins, all of them had their best seasons at age 27, and Jenkins’ age 28 season is insignificantly better than this one. I’m just shocked that there is such a concentration of great pitcher seasons at this age. Three of the four highest WAR seasons in the time span I’m considering were age 27.
Pedor Martinez was awesome, wasn’t he? Also awesome was Christy Mathewson, who, despite his great season here and otherwise great career, will not get to contribute to the career of our Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher. In the 1905 World Series, Mathewson pitched three shutouts in six days, allowing all of 13 hits. His teammate, Iron Man McGinnity also pitched one shutout, and only allowed one unearned run in his other start (which he lost). Luckily for this year’s Royals, they didn’t have this duo pitching for them, or else they would never have been able to come back and win every game.
Age 28: Fergie Jenkins – 1971
Fergie Jenkins walked 37 batters in this 1971 season. That is actually tied for the lowest mark with two other seasons so far in this list, specifically Larry Dieker’s 1965 campaign and the above season from Pedro. Jenkins pitched over 100 more innings than either than them, with 325.
Cliff Lee is totally jealous of Fergie Jenkins’ non-walking skills.
Age 29: Sandy Koufax – 1965
This was actually the only season of Koufax’s insanity era that he did not post a sub-2 ERA, and also the only season in said era that he allowed more than 20 dingers. A layperson could take a quick look at his career and say this was a down season, provided they ignored the whole ‘strikeout everyone in sight’ part of it.
The Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher has officially reached 3000 strikeouts, finishing this season at 3240. No one else at this age was within 900 of this mark.
Age 30: Pete Alexander – 1917
Our 22nd, 24th, and 40th president here was actually co-leader with Fergie Jenkins at age 28, but I chose to slot him in here to avoid ties. Alexander was in the midst of six straight seasons with a sub-2 ERA, although one of them was all of 26 innings. His 1.83 mark in this season is actually on the weaker side for Pete’s prime, but it’s backed up by a 1.84 FIP, which is not.
Age 31: Mike Scott – 1986
Mike Scott is the second pitcher listed so far to have had his number retired by the Astros, along with Larry Dieker. I’d probably chalk this up more to the Astros liberal use of number retirement as opposed to a forgotten legacy of dominant hurlers. That said, Mike Scott did have one really good season, and this is it. His 28.7% K rate practically doubled his previous career high, and he didn’t really slump in any of the other aspects of his game. Really, this isn’t a particularly exciting season compared to many of the others. This is the closest Greg Maddux ever comes to making it with 8.0 WAR in 1997, although my choice of FIP based WAR is partly to blame, as is the player strike of 1994-95.
In other news, Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher officially passed the 300 Win mark. His is, surprisingly, not the youngest player ever to do so with 19th century pitchers Kid Nichols and Mickey Welch beating him by a year. However, by age 31, Welch was completely finished, and Nichols was only had a few more years left. We’re not even half way done.
Age 32: Bob Gibson – 1968
This season showing up here is not very surprising. What is surprising is the low WAR total. By RA9-WAR, its a much more amazing 13.5. FIP-WAR actually likes both of Gibson’s follow-up seasons more than this one, but its really hard to argue with a 1.12 ERA. Gibson actually had a sub-1 ERA after his 10 inning shutout on September 2nd. Going into Gibson’s next start on the 6th, the Cardinals were 89-52 and up 13.5 games in the NL pennant race. If you are Manager Red Schoendienst, do you bench Gibson to allow him to maintain such a sparkly number? If so, do you handcuff Gibson to ensure he does not bean you in protest? Is Bob Gibson currently hunting me down? These are questions that need to be asked.
Age 33: Kevin Brown – 1998
Second place in this age bracket is someone named Cy Falkenberg playing for the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Federal League in 1914. I love that baseball let’s me compare Kevin Brown and Cy Falkenberg in a meaningful-ish way. In fact, there are quite a lot of similarities between the two in their age 33 seasons. Both were clearly playing the best baseball of their respective careers. Brown outpaced Clemens and Maddux while Falkenberg matched up with Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander. And perhaps most interestingly, both played for a team that I had not heard of before today.
Age 34: Roger Clemens – 1997
There are a good number of Rocket seasons that could have fit in here, but this is clearly the right choice. Interestingly, his 292 strikeouts this year represented a career high for him. Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez both outpaced him strikeout-wise in this season. J.R. Richard had two seasons with 300+ strikeouts while Roger Clemens had zero.
In dumb news, according to the infallible Wikipedia, Clemens named his children after his strikeouts. That is among the stupidest things you’ll read on Wikipedia, possibly only being surpassed in stupidity by this unfortunate, but unrelated page. If you enjoy arguing over Clemens’ steroid allegations, that should be right up your alley.
Age 35: Curt Schilling – 2002
Curt Schilling took Fergie Jenkins’ gimmick of striking out a lot of dudes without walking anyone and pushed it to the extreme. He accumulated 316 strikeouts to only 33 walks in this season. Amazingly, despite sharing a division with him, only two of those walks came versus Barry Bonds.
Age 36: Gaylord Perry – 1975
This is not the best season by a 36-year-old pitcher. That belongs to Randy Johnson, but we get to save him for later. This is also not the best season that Gaylord Perry gave us. He won Cy Youngs in both 1972 and 1978. His 1966 season was pretty clearly better as well. Perry started this season with the Indians, but he was traded midway through to the Rangers for Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown, and Rick Waits, which shows you how valued he was.
At the very end of this season, Perry eclipsed the 3000 strikeout mark. The Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher also reached a strikeout milestone in his age 36 season, becoming only the second pitcher to strike out 5000. He also picked up his 400th win sometime in April.
Age 37: Randy Johnson – 2001
The Big Unit, not Schilling or Perry, was the real WAR leader in both of the past two seasons and will be so again twice more in the future, but this was his best season. This was the only season of his illustrious career in which he struck out over 35% of the batters he faced. He wasn’t even the best player over 35 in his own division this year, as a 36-year-old Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, although none of them came off Johnson.
This is as good of time as any to recognize Steve Carlton, who has been runner up about half a dozen times to the guy who eventually gets mentioned here, including his age 37 season, 1982, in which he accumulated 8.2 WAR and won the Cy Young. His 1972 season ranks second best of all eligible seasons, but he still doesn’t get a spot because surprise Pedro Martinez.
Age 38: Cy Young – 1905
The all time pitcher losses leader made a large contribution to his record in this season, losing 19 games. Despite the losing record, WAR likes this as Young’s second best season in his illustrious career. Young is primarily known for winning a ton of games and getting an award named after him, but his most impressive ability was preventing the walk. This was one of the fourteen seasons in which Young lead the league in BB/9, and it had the least number of walks of any season we’ve looked at so far, despite the fact that Young pitched 60 more innings than the Curt Schilling, the runner-up.
Age 39: Phil Niekro – 1978
You know we are getting toward the end when the knuckleballers start showing up. Interestingly, Niekro threw more innings in 1978 than Cy Young did in 1905, and by a rather decent margin. Of course, Niekro out-threw everyone else in baseball this season with nearly 40 innings more than the closest competitor. Like our Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher, Niekro had plenty left in his arm after this, pitching effectively for nearly a decade longer. Unlike our Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher, he did not set the all time strikeouts record at age 39.
Age 40: John Smoltz – 2007
John Smoltz might not come to your mind as a pitcher who did most of his work at the end of his career, but about 40% of his career WAR came at age 35 and later, despite only 29% of his innings coming in that time. Smoltz finished sixth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2007. You might remember that Jake Peavy won the award that season. What you probably don’t (and shouldn’t) remember is that Jeff Francis, Aaron Harang, Brad Penny, and Jose Valverde all received votes. Peavy was the only NL starter with a sub-3 ERA or FIP. Ian Snell was a pretty solid pitcher. So was John Maine. 2007.
Age 41: Jerry Koosman – 1984
Koosman was never a truly great pitcher, although he was a pretty solid one for a long time. He was one of the young pitchers for the 1969 Miracle Mets, although his legacy shines much dimmer than Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. Koosman is interesting as a demonstration of the value of FIP as a statistic. His season by season FIPs were pretty consistent, generally in the low 3 range, while his ERA was much more prone to fluxuation. By the end of career, both stats agreed he was a pretty solid pitcher for a long time.
The career of the Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher is now old enough to rent a car.
Age 42: Nolan Ryan – 1989
In general, the pitchers who remain effective into their forties are the Warren Spahns of the world. Junkballers with noodle arms, for whom velocity is mostly irrelevant. Nolan Ryan was not one of those guys at all. He was still reliant on his blazing velocity when he put up this gem of a season. Interestingly enough, Ryan was probably more effective in his forties than his thirties. Ignoring his 3 innings in 1966, Ryan’s two best seasons in terms of K/9 were 1987 and 1989. And his walks, while still high, were down from the ridiculous levels they occupied earlier in his career.
Congratulations to the Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher, who, with Ryan’s 16 wins this season, surpassed Cy Young on the all time win list. It does not look like he will surpass Ryan in career walks however, as he is still over 1000 behind him.
Age 43: Jamie Moyer – 2006
You probably expected Moyer would end up on this list, although this was actually the seventh best season from a 43 year old, and one of Moyer’s lesser seasons in his forties. The next best season at this season from someone not otherwise on this list was Mariano Rivera’s final season.
Age 44: Jack Quinn – 1928
Here’s a name you might not be familiar with. In his lenghty career, Quinn pitched for teams named the Highlanders, the Terrapins, and the Robins. Along with Bert Blyleven, he is one of two pitchers here to have been born in Europe, Quinn having been born in a small Slovakian town in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Quinn was also one of the last pitchers to legally use the spitball, with only Burleigh Grimes being allowed to use it later.
It’s worth noting the Quinn’s birthday was July 1st. One day after the cutoff that would have made this his age 45 season.
Age 45: Tommy John – 1988
We are really getting down to the last few stragglers here. Only nine pitchers threw at least 50 innings at this age, and all but Charlie Hough make an appearance here. FIP really loves this season from Tommy John. He underperformed his ERA by nearly a run, mostly due to a .332 BABIP. I’m not sure I buy that John was that much better than his ERA suggests, although the Yankees’ defense was rather poor that season outside of Willie Randolph.
John has become a bit of an underrated pitcher, at least in part due to the surgery that uses his name overshadowing what was a quite good career. He is the 22nd most valuable pitcher of all time by WAR, and every pitcher above him is in the Hall of Fame except for Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.
Age 46: Satchel Paige – 1953
In all honesty, this season should have been provided by Hoyt Wilhelm, but I made an executive decision to give it to Satchel Paige. Wilhelm is also the leader at age 47, and there are no other eligible pitchers at that age that I haven’t already used. It doesn’t really change much other than that I get to talk about Satchel Paige.
Paige might have been the greatest pitcher in the Negro Leagues. He certainly was its biggest star and personality. Paige drew huge crowds whenever he pitched, and his prowess inspired many Major League stars to challenge him in exhibition games. Paige would eventually become the seventh player to cross the color line, although by that time he was already in his forties. This is mere speculation, but I would guess that Paige’s acceptance by the white ball community accelerated integration.
Once he did make it to the majors, Paige was rather effective. This season was Paige’s last in the majors, with the exception of the three shutout innings he pitched for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 at age 59.
Age 47: Hoyt Wilhelm – 1970
As I said above, I decided to push Wilhelm’s season back in order to both talk about Satchel Paige, and allow our Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher to stick around for another year. Wilhelm himself had two more seasons left in his arm after this one. He isn’t very well known despite his Hall of Fame status, but you could make an argument he was the greatest reliever ever (yes, even better than Mo). He was also effective in his one full season as a starter way back in 1959 when he was only 36.
Interestingly enough, among the six guys to pitch at the major league level at age 47, he wasn’t the only Wilhelm, as he was joined by famed German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm, who, apparently, after his ouster from the German throne, pitched eight innings for the Phillies in 1921. It also seems that on June 28th, 1914, the Kaiser, then pitching for the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League, got beat up real good by the Brooklyn Tip Tops, giving up 9 runs in 4 innings. What he was doing pitching when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated the previous day, I have no idea.
So there is one career of a Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher. His final career record is 563-306, outpacing Cy Young by over 50 wins. He also dwarfs Nolan Ryan’s career strikeouts with a grand total of 6928, which is 2000 more than anyone except Ryan. His career ERA is 2.47, which is a bit higher than Clayton Kershaw’s career ERA, except Kershaw still has a decade of decline awaiting him. His career FIP is nearly identical at 2.46.
Now, the Magical Mystery Player from my position player article accumulated 220.4 WAR in his career, while the Ruth-Bonds conglomerate managed 210.0. How does this stack up against the Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher?
His FIP-WAR: 221.2
That’s awfully close. So close that if I hadn’t excluded Bonds and Ruth from the position player experiment, it would have won out. Well within the margin of error either way. Once again, here is the full chart:
|Age||Player||Season||IP||W||L||BB||K||ERA||FIP||FIP WAR||RA9 WAR|
So there you have it. Seventeen Hall of Famers contributed to the career of the Ridiculous Moon Wizard Pitcher. He won ten Cy Young awards, including two in 1971, and two MVP awards. His career spanned 31 seasons, which means had he retired at the end of the 2012 season, his career would have overlapped with Carl Yastzemski’s.
Next up, creating the best catcher in baseball history.
Jaack is a pseudonym bestowed by one Jeff Sullivan upon a humble Fangraphs participant. His interests include Barry Bonds, Rutherford B. Hayes, and very bad baseball players.