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How I determine who the greatest pitcher of all time is

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  • How I determine who the greatest pitcher of all time is

    This will be lambasted, because it doesn't use math or science to determine the best. I believe that maybe in the future, some new mathematical formulas with supercomputers running data that nobody has yet thought up to us will eventually show this to be the case.

    I came to this conclusion borrowing from the NBA. There is a huge argument over who is the GOAT in pro basketball. If anybody says a name other than Wilt Chamberlain, they don't know basketball. I saw Wilt live. I saw Kareem live. I saw Jordan and Lebron live. I saw Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Pete Maravich, Connie Hawkins, Dr. J, and basically every NBA player that played from the early 1960's through the last couple years. Wilt Chamberlain was far better than any other player in NBA history--case closed, and don't be imbecilic and say otherwise, if you didn't see Wilt play. Ask Bill Russell who the GOAT is, and he will laugh. He played Wilt more than a hundred times, and he says that Wilt never played the same way twice, always having a different strategy that could not be stopped. Russell said Wilt would average 75 points and 40 rebounds a game against today's players. When he was in his mid-40's, he was still better than Magic Johnson in his prime, and there are stories about how he blocked every shot taken in a scrimmage against the Lakers during a year in which LA won the NBA title.

    What does this do for picking the greatest pitcher ever? It sets up that you had to see him pitch and then also had seen the other greats pitch as well, and then this person that saw them all had to be an expert in the game.

    My two experts chosen:

    #1 saw the greats from Christy Mathewson and Grover Alexander in the 1910's all the way to Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton in the 1970's.
    #2 is the foremost expert in hitting off the greats from the 1960's through the 1980's and has seen pitchers all the way through 2019.

    Since both experts agree on the same pitcher, then I will believe them because they know more about baseball than this entire forum combined.

    #1 is Casey Stengel. He played as far back as the 1910's and coached or managed until the mid 1960's, while continuing to see the game until the early 1970's.
    #2 is Pete Rose. He played from 1963 through the mid-1980's, managed until the red-letter day, but has continued to stay on top of the game.

    When asked who the best pitcher he had ever seen, Stengel mentioned Christy Mathewson, Smoky Joe Wood, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, and other greats, but he mentioned that there was another guy that was better than they were.

    Pete Rose hit against Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Dean Chance, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and other greats, but he said there was one pitcher that he had no chance against and held him to a .175 batting average.

    That pitcher is: Sandy Koufax

    I saw Koufax pitch in 1963, 1964, 1965, and 1966. I saw that curveball from right behind home plate. Pete Rose isn't exaggerating much when he describes Koufax's curve in this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppMRNWFfb4k

    His fastball was faster with more movement than Clayton Kershaw. His fastball was about the same speed as Sudden Sam McDowell, just a tad slower than Nolarn Ryan, but faster than Bob Gibson. His curve was impossible to hit cleanly when he was on his game, which was about 90% of the time he pitched.

    I have only seen two pitchers throw with anything close to what Koufax had, and they were J.R. Richard for one or two years, Dwight Gooden for his first two years, and Pedro Martinez for one or two years.

  • #2
    The problem with comparing Koufax to Wilt is that Koufax had a 4.5 year peak.

    And the problem with eye witnesses is that they only saw a fraction of Koufax’ games and have selective memories. Pedro Martinez had virtually the same allowed on-base, slugging and batting average and WHIP (better) in a league that produced a lot more offense, so who’s greater, the pitcher who “seemed” to be harder to hit against or the one who actually WAS harder to hit?

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    • #3
      Wilt’s problem is that free throw shooting could theoretically marginalize his offense. In some of his season’s they gave you 3 shots to make 2 which meant he could go 50% and still get 1.5 points average-the same as a 75% shooter. His free throw shooting means he can’t be the guy with the game on the line and you may even need to keep him out at times.

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      • #4
        Brett Koufax was orders of magnitude better than Martinez.
        “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.” Walter Lippmann

        "I don't care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a ******* zebra. I'm the manager of this team and I say he [Robinson] plays." - Leo Durocher

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        • #5
          Originally posted by brett View Post
          The problem with comparing Koufax to Wilt is that Koufax had a 4.5 year peak.

          And the problem with eye witnesses is that they only saw a fraction of Koufax’ games and have selective memories. Pedro Martinez had virtually the same allowed on-base, slugging and batting average and WHIP (better) in a league that produced a lot more offense, so who’s greater, the pitcher who “seemed” to be harder to hit against or the one who actually WAS harder to hit?
          I think this argument has been had many times here. Remember, though, that Martinez was pitching around 220 innings per year, around 30 starts on 4 days rest, and less than 10% complete games. Not a criticism- just the way they started using pitchers in his era. Koufax was throwing 300+ innings, 40+ starts on 3 days rest- a few on 2- and pitching 60% complete games. Koufax' rate stats almost certainly would have looked different pitching in Martinez' era. It's very difficult, maybe impossible, to sort the effects of those different situations out.

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          • #6
            All depends on how you frame 'greatest', doesn't it?
            If I wanted a player who would produce over years of time at the highest of levels, I'd go with Wilt.
            But if I wanted to win a championship, give me Jordan.
            And am I correct there was no mention of Satchel Paige?
            Seriously?

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            • #7
              How many 7 footers were playing in the NBA during Wilt's time? There are more than 40 now. Sure, he was a fantastic player who put up pinball numbers, but do you really think he would be as productive if he played in the modern league, where his height advantage would be nullified?

              Since both experts agree on the same pitcher, then I will believe them because they know more about baseball than this entire forum combined.
              They may know SOME THINGS more than this forum, clearly not EVERYTHING. E.g., if Stengel knew as much about the value of SB vs. CS as modern analysts do, his teams would not have been caught stealing > 40% of the time, producing net negative value. Same with Rose, who was caught > 40% of the time in his career. Obviously, there are things that the best players and managers of the past didn't appreciate, which are well known to anyone today familiar with analytics.

              Also, picking out just two people heavily involved in the game is not a reasonable approach to answer the question, anyway. There are many other managers and/or or players during that time period whose opinions could have been consulted. How do we know that Stengel and Rose are representative? I could pick a couple of historians to cover that same time period who would give their opinion on who was the greatest U.S. President of the past century or so. Should we take their word for it?
              Last edited by Stolensingle; 11-08-2019, 07:10 PM.

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              • #8
                Who people “felt” was harder to hit is meaningless if it is not consistent with who was objectively harder to hit. That player might have been Koufax for 4 years, given his workload and that it is pretty hard to reduce marginal runs in such a low run environment. That’s a worthwhile conversation.

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                • #9
                  This is a baseball forum, but I must address the Chamberlain replies. Wilt was 35 years old and Kareem was 25 years old when the Lakers beat the Bucks in the 1972 NBA Western Conference Championship Series.

                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un7DaNr3Zq4

                  This is a player several years past his prime dominating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime.

                  Again, you had to see Wilt to believe him. I saw him steal the ball from guards and drive to the basket like a wing player. I saw him play a game where he had a quadruple double when the records for blocks and assists were not official. He had something like 35 points, 25 rebounds, 12 blocks, and 10 assists. I wasn't there the night that Wilt recorded the only quintuple double in pro basketball history with 50+ points, 30+ rebounds, something like 25 blocks, and more than 10 assists and steals. The opposing starting center in that game was a 7-footer named Mel Counts, and the backup was a near 7-footer and former college All-American, Darrall Imhoff. Chamberlain played the entire 48 minutes like he did in over 90% of the games in his NBA career. He never fouled out of a game. Of course, he had the year where he averaged over 50 ppg for the season and scored 100 in one game. He did this in a year where other big men between 6-10 and 7-3 started for most of the other teams, players like Bill Russell, Walt Bellamy, Walter Dukes, Imhoff, and Swede Halbrook were in the game, and there were just 9 teams, including an expansion Chicago Packers team that would become the Baltimore Bullets and Washington Wizards.

                  How many ex-NBA players in their mid to late 40's still regularly scrimmaged against current NBA players and still dominated them? Wilt did this. At the age of 50, he was still able to play pickup games with then current stars and be the best player on the floor.

                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN0Q3KcKA_E

                  Wilt was a star volleyball player after he retired from basketball. In college, he was a champion shotputter, ran the 440 yard dash on the track team, and was a triple jumper.

                  Again, if you didn't see him in person, you just can't comprehend how incredible he was. I am friend with former San Francisco Warrior Clyde Lee. He played against Chamberlain for 6 years and Jabbar for more than that. He told me that even at the end of his career, Chamberlain was unstoppable, except by his own coaches. I am also friends with Jan Van Breda Kolff and have heard stories about how his dad, an ex-Marine, tried to appease Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt when there was only one ball to go around. Even at 35, when Wilt needed to take over a game, he could. The 1972 Lakers might have been the best team ever. The 1967 76ers might have been the second best team ever. Wilt was the center on both teams.


                  As for comparing Koufax to other greats, stats alone cannot tell you who is better than everybody else. Koufax faced Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and others. Christy Mathewson faced Honus Wagner, Frank Chance, Gavvy Cravath, and others. Lefty Grove faced Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, and others. But, when you put Casey Stengel and Pete Rose forth as experts, and they most definitely were, both believed he was the best. Stengel saw all the greats from Mathewson to Seaver. Rose played against all the greats from Warren Spahn to Orel Hershiser and has seen them all since then.

                  If you could have sat behind home plate when Koufax pitched, you would not have believed the break on his curve ball. He did this all the while he was in pain on virtually every pitch he threw for a couple seasons and still dominated the game. I can only imagine what he might have done in 1968 had he been healthy and still in his prime. He might have won 35 games with an ERA around 1.00 and with 400 strikeouts.

                  One final little thing. Nolan Ryan says that Koufax was the best he ever saw, and admitted that he was not as good as Koufax. Ryan was a little faster, but his curve was a good bit inferior, and he was much less consistent. Many talk about how Ryan never had great offenses to back him up. Koufax won 26 games in 1965 with a Dodger offense that hit .245 with an OBP of ..312, and an ungodly .335 slugging percentage. At the same time, Mays and McCovey hit 13 more homers than the entire Dodger team. The Reds' slugging percentage was more than 100 points higher. Tony Pereze was a reserve on the Reds that year and hit as many homers in 281 ABs as any Dodger regular.

                  If you know anything about the game, even if you just coached at the Babe Ruth League level, you know when one player is better than another. You can see who has more talent. The stats may not be the best way to determine who is better tomorrow, but the talent level can.

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                  • #10
                    I admit that it is silly to believe that modern pitchers throw much harder than those of earlier generations, have better 'stuff', more movement etc. The jacked up 'radar guns' that they use to determine ball speed are a total joke. That said, I still feel that Koufax has zero case as the best pitcher ever. Even if he had the most talent, at some point longevity has to be part of the equation. I mean, why not pick Dwight Gooden as the best ever for his 1985 season?

                    Maybe statistics aren't perfect, but there are pitchers who statistically are better than Koufax's career doubled, and they didn't get to pitch in the greatest pitcher environment ever created. How can one possibly say that Koufax was greater than these pitchers?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by wes_kahn View Post
                      This is a baseball forum, but I must address the Chamberlain replies. Wilt was 35 years old and Kareem was 25 years old when the Lakers beat the Bucks in the 1972 NBA Western Conference Championship Series.

                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un7DaNr3Zq4

                      This is a player several years past his prime dominating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime.
                      Why couldn't he dominate Bill Russell and the Celtics? I don't much like judging players by. the number of rings they win, but in the NBA, where one great player can have a major impact on a team, you can't ignore that Chamberlain only won two NBA titles. Certainly if you're going to point to his dominating Kareem, you also have to concede that Boston and Russell consistently got the better of him. Why? Are you going to argue that if Wilt had better teammates, he would have won more titles? When he joined the Lakers with Baylor and West, they had a superteam, but they won only one title.

                      Counting stats aren't everything. James Harden has put up off the chart numbers recently, but he hasn't gotten his current team to a Finals yet, and many think his style of play probably hinders them.

                      I don't really have a problem with someone claiming Wilt is the GOAT, but it's hard to say he's head-and-shoulders above everyone else, no questions about it, when he lost so many times in the postseason.

                      As for Koufax, I'm a big fan of his, and regard him as possibly the best ever for those few years he had at his peak. I remember when columnist George Will wrote a book about baseball, Men at Work, he said he would ask all the players and coaches he interviewed who was the best pitcher of all time. They would respond by looking puzzled for a moment, then saying, "Oh, you mean, after Koufax." If you judge players by how they performed at their peak, Koufax has a good case. When he started, the Dodgers were almost certain to win, and that was with an anemic lineup that set a WS record for fewest runs scored. But durability matters, too. Even if Koufax hadn't been forced to quit, we'll never know how good he would have been in his 30s. Would he have aged as well as Randy Johnson, e.g.? Probably not.
                      Last edited by Stolensingle; 11-09-2019, 06:30 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Chamberlain only won two championships because the Celtics of the late 50's and 60's had hall of fame players at every position. In some years, Chamberlain helped his team to the playoffs when they were about as talented as the Phoenix Suns are now, but adding Wilt made the Warriors the second best team in the East.

                        Russell calls Wilt the greatest player in the history of the game. Red Auerbach called him the greatest ever as well.

                        As for Koufax, you can downgrade him due to seasons played, and say that Walter Johnson was great for many years, but the greatest ever in my mind is the most talented no matter how long he plays. Because Pete Rose played for 20+ years, does this make him a better hitter than Shoeless Joe Jackson? Because Hoyt Wilhelm relieved for over 20 years, does this make him a better reliever than Aroldis Chapman?

                        If you are putting an expansion franchise together, you might want a very good talent for 10 years over a superior talent for 5 years, but in my mind, the greatest to me means that if you have your contenders playing on the field at the same time, you can see who is better, just like a coach conducting tryouts.

                        Not that my opinion means a lot, but I did see most of the greats from the late 1950's until the current time. I saw Warren Spahn when he was in his 30's but still incredible. I saw Herb Score before he was injured. I saw Whitey Ford. I saw Don Newcombe. None of these guys in the 1950's were close to as talented as Koufax. BTW, I saw Koufax in the late 1950's when he probably did throw as fast as Nolan Ryan and was wilder than Mitch Williams.

                        In the 1960's, I saw all the greats--Koufax, Juan Marichal, Sudden Sam McDowell, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Jim Maloney, Tom Seaver, Jim Lonborg, Dean Chance, Camilo Pascual, Mudcat Grant, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Denny McLain, Mel Stottlemyre, The Perry brothers, and on and on.

                        In the 1970's, I saw Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, JR Richard, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and on and on.

                        These pitchers were all incredible with a lot of movement and excellent abilities to put their pitches where they wanted them to go.

                        Koufax could start on 2 days rest and pitch a shutout. We're not talking Wilbur Wood and his knuckleball. We're talking a guy that threw an upper 90's fastball and an upper 80's curve that dropped off a table. Koufax didn't come out after throwing 105 pitches. He routinely threw 130-150 pitches per start and was still throwing bullets in the 9th inning.

                        One more thing--remember Grandpa from The Munsters, Al Lewis? Al was actually an incredible basketball scout. If you went to the previous Madison Square Garden to see the college basketball double headers, Al was there. He was spotted at Rucker Park in Harlem. He helped a lot of players get college scholarships.

                        Who did he say was the absolute best he ever saw--Wilt Chamberlain. He was quoted once on a TV show, maybe Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, that even his blind mother could have scouted Chamberlain and known he was the best ever, and players like Chamberlain came along about as often as chicken with teeth.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by wes_kahn View Post
                          Chamberlain only won two championships because the Celtics of the late 50's and 60's had hall of fame players at every position. In some years, Chamberlain helped his team to the playoffs when they were about as talented as the Phoenix Suns are now, but adding Wilt made the Warriors the second best team in the East.

                          Russell calls Wilt the greatest player in the history of the game. Red Auerbach called him the greatest ever as well.

                          As for Koufax, you can downgrade him due to seasons played, and say that Walter Johnson was great for many years, but the greatest ever in my mind is the most talented no matter how long he plays. Because Pete Rose played for 20+ years, does this make him a better hitter than Shoeless Joe Jackson? Because Hoyt Wilhelm relieved for over 20 years, does this make him a better reliever than Aroldis Chapman?

                          If you are putting an expansion franchise together, you might want a very good talent for 10 years over a superior talent for 5 years, but in my mind, the greatest to me means that if you have your contenders playing on the field at the same time, you can see who is better, just like a coach conducting tryouts.

                          Not that my opinion means a lot, but I did see most of the greats from the late 1950's until the current time. I saw Warren Spahn when he was in his 30's but still incredible. I saw Herb Score before he was injured. I saw Whitey Ford. I saw Don Newcombe. None of these guys in the 1950's were close to as talented as Koufax. BTW, I saw Koufax in the late 1950's when he probably did throw as fast as Nolan Ryan and was wilder than Mitch Williams.

                          In the 1960's, I saw all the greats--Koufax, Juan Marichal, Sudden Sam McDowell, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Jim Maloney, Tom Seaver, Jim Lonborg, Dean Chance, Camilo Pascual, Mudcat Grant, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Denny McLain, Mel Stottlemyre, The Perry brothers, and on and on.

                          In the 1970's, I saw Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, JR Richard, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and on and on.

                          These pitchers were all incredible with a lot of movement and excellent abilities to put their pitches where they wanted them to go.

                          Koufax could start on 2 days rest and pitch a shutout. We're not talking Wilbur Wood and his knuckleball. We're talking a guy that threw an upper 90's fastball and an upper 80's curve that dropped off a table. Koufax didn't come out after throwing 105 pitches. He routinely threw 130-150 pitches per start and was still throwing bullets in the 9th inning.

                          One more thing--remember Grandpa from The Munsters, Al Lewis? Al was actually an incredible basketball scout. If you went to the previous Madison Square Garden to see the college basketball double headers, Al was there. He was spotted at Rucker Park in Harlem. He helped a lot of players get college scholarships.

                          Who did he say was the absolute best he ever saw--Wilt Chamberlain. He was quoted once on a TV show, maybe Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, that even his blind mother could have scouted Chamberlain and known he was the best ever, and players like Chamberlain came along about as often as chicken with teeth.
                          But where do you draw the line? Five seasons? One season? One game? Even if we are limiting ourselves just to five year peak, which is the best possible option for Koufax, he still gets destroyed by Johnson (both Walter and Randy), Pedro, Grove, and a bunch of others.

                          Much of what you describe as his 'greatness', what people saw, was an illusion based on him pitching in a pitcher's era off a high mound in a pitcher's stadium. Watching Chuck Klein hit in 1930 or Todd Helton hit in 2000 would lead people to believe that they are among the best hitters ever, until they adjust accordingly for environment.
                          Last edited by willshad; 11-09-2019, 03:48 PM.

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                          • #14
                            So what do we do when another group of baseball lifers claims that a different pitcher was the best they ever saw? What if we get a panel of 30 baseball industry lifers that bring-up 8-9 different pitchers as being the best of all-time/they ever saw/ever could have been?

                            That is why data and statistics matter. Too many "experts" and "baseball men" have very different emotional memories from each other.

                            It's like when SI had the "Best Pitcher You Will Ever See" cover with Maddux on it in 1995. It is at least debatable that there were two or three better pitchers in the MLB at that very time.
                            Last edited by Bothrops Atrox; 11-09-2019, 04:28 PM.
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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by willshad View Post

                              But where do you draw the line? Five seasons? One season? One game? Even if we are limiting ourselves just to five year peak, which is the best possible option for Koufax, he still gets destroyed by Johnson (both Walter and Randy), Pedro, Grove, and a bunch of others.

                              Much of what you describe as his 'greatness', what people saw, was an illusion based on him pitching in a pitcher's era off a high mound in a pitcher's stadium. Watching Chuck Klein hit in 1930 or Todd Helton hit in 2000 would lead people to believe that they are among the best hitters ever, until they adjust accordingly for environment.
                              For the last time Pedro is not as good as Koufax.

                              I don't stand firm on too many lines, but that one I do.
                              “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.” Walter Lippmann

                              "I don't care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a ******* zebra. I'm the manager of this team and I say he [Robinson] plays." - Leo Durocher

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