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  • How Great Was Lefty Grove?

    He had something like nine straight seasons of a 150 ERA+ or better. But some here have pointed out that Grove dodged the best offenses of his era, making his numbers look better. He had high IP totals, but not outstanding; he never topped 300 in a season. He generally had good defenses backing him. Grove didn't need good defenses behind him, but they helped his numbers. Where do you rank Lefty Grove, and why? Do any of these factors affect your ranking?

    My top pitchers, right now, are:

    1. Walter Johnson
    2. Greg Maddux
    3. Roger Clemens
    4. Cy Young
    5. Grover Cleveland Alexander
    6. Lefty Grove
    7. Tom Seaver
    8. Satchel Paige
    9. Randy Johnson
    10. Christy Mathewson

    Don't ask me how I came up with that list; to be honest, I can't really remember. But, it looks good to me, so I'm sticking with it. I originally had Clemens number one, but frankly, I don't believe him. So I dropped him a couple of spots, and could even see him going down one more, behind Cy Young. I used to have Grove higher, but started trying to get at least some LQ adjustment in there, which moved Clemens and Maddux up, and thought I was underrating Young and Alexander. Finally, there was the top offense dodging. So that's how Lefty Grove ends up out of my top five.
    "Any pitcher who throws at a batter and deliberately tries to hit him is a communist."

    - Alvin Dark

  • #2
    I have him ranked number 3 behind Johnson and Clemens(I am making no adjustments for him), and easily the best lefty of all-time.

    His innings pitch totals have more to do with the time he played and the depth of his team than anything else. You'll find innings pitched totals were lower during the time he played than before or after. He was still consistently among the league leaders in innings, so I don't think he had durability issues.

    I have read anecdotal evidence to suggest the Connie Mack seldom pitched him against the Yankees, but I have no other evidence to back that up.

    Finally, he was stuck in the minors for 5 years before going to the A's. He was dominant for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League, and likely was ready to pitch in the majors at age 22 or so.

    The only question you can ask is whether his statistical dominance was due completely to his greatness or due in part to the fact that there weren't any all-time great pitchers in the AL for most of his tenure. I am not sure how you can accurately account for that, but I would argue that it was probably a bit of both. He was clearly fantastic, but he never had to contend with Walter Johnson or Bob Feller in their peaks. He came along when there was dirth of all-time greats in the AL pitching corps.

    Lefty Grove, Philadelphia Athletics' P, 1929-30--BB Reference -------------Baltimore Orioles, 1920-25


    ----------------------March 21, 1928----------------------------------------1931


    ----------------------------------------------------------March 11, 1941, Spring training, Sarasota, Fl
    Lefty Grove video

    --------March 7, 1936, Spring training, Sarasota, FL


    Lefty Grove/Dizzy Dean, 1937 All-Star Game.


    October 8, 1929



    Lefty Grove, Red Sox' P, 1935
    Last edited by Bill Burgess; 12-27-2011, 04:22 PM.
    "It's good to be young and a Giant." - Larry Doyle

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Chickazoola View Post
      I have him ranked number 3 behind Johnson and Clemens(I am making no adjustments for him), and easily the best lefty of all-time.

      His innings pitch totals have more to do with the time he played and the depth of his team than anything else. You'll find innings pitched totals were lower during the time he played than before or after. He was still consistently among the league leaders in innings, so I don't think he had durability issues.

      I have read anecdotal evidence to suggest the Connie Mack seldom pitched him against the Yankees, but I have no other evidence to back that up.

      Finally, he was stuck in the minors for 5 years before going to the A's. He was dominant for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League, and likely was ready to pitch in the majors at age 22 or so.

      The only question you can ask is whether his statistical dominance was due completely to his greatness or due in part to the fact that there weren't any all-time great pitchers in the AL for most of his tenure. I am not sure how you can accurately account for that, but I would argue that it was probably a bit of both. He was clearly fantastic, but he never had to contend with Walter Johnson or Bob Feller in their peaks. He came along when there was dirth of all-time greats in the AL pitching corps.
      I wasn't arguing that Grove had durability issues, just that he wasn't dominating the IP leaderboards. He never led his league. The trapped in the minors argument should have an impact on everyone's ranking, but how much is a tough question. We can't honestly know how good Grove would have been had he been in the majors during those years. I would presume he would have been good, but I don't know for sure. Finally, while I have Grove as the best lefty, I don't see him as way ahead of Randy Johnson. With LQ adjustments, Johnson is fairly close.
      "Any pitcher who throws at a batter and deliberately tries to hit him is a communist."

      - Alvin Dark

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by AstrosFan View Post
        He had something like nine straight seasons of a 150 ERA+ or better. But some here have pointed out that Grove dodged the best offenses of his era, making his numbers look better. He had high IP totals, but not outstanding; he never topped 300 in a season. He generally had good defenses backing him. Grove didn't need good defenses behind him, but they helped his numbers. Where do you rank Lefty Grove, and why? Do any of these factors affect your ranking?

        My top pitchers, right now, are:

        1. Walter Johnson
        2. Greg Maddux
        3. Roger Clemens
        4. Cy Young
        5. Grover Cleveland Alexander
        6. Lefty Grove
        7. Tom Seaver
        8. Satchel Paige
        9. Randy Johnson
        10. Christy Mathewson

        Don't ask me how I came up with that list; to be honest, I can't really remember. But, it looks good to me, so I'm sticking with it. I originally had Clemens number one, but frankly, I don't believe him. So I dropped him a couple of spots, and could even see him going down one more, behind Cy Young. I used to have Grove higher, but started trying to get at least some LQ adjustment in there, which moved Clemens and Maddux up, and thought I was underrating Young and Alexander. Finally, there was the top offense dodging. So that's how Lefty Grove ends up out of my top five.

        His defense was OK but nothing special. The years with Philadelphia that period 1925-33 they were second in fielding percentage, 7th in assists, 2nd lowest in errors and had the lowest number of DPS.
        With the Bosox 1934-41, they were 6th in fielding percentage, 5th in assists, 5th in DPs and made the third most errors,

        Fielding behind him, not bad but nothing special.
        As for dodging the better offense, I don't know, has it ever been researched.
        Well he had to be very good, he seems to be in the top 3 or 4 leftys and the top 10 0r 12 overall.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by SHOELESSJOE3 View Post
          His defense was OK but nothing special. The years with Philadelphia that period 1925-33 they were second in fielding percentage, 7th in assists, 2nd lowest in errors and had the lowest number of DPS.
          With the Bosox 1934-41, they were 6th in fielding percentage, 5th in assists, 5th in DPs and made the third most errors,

          Fielding behind him, not bad but nothing special.
          As for dodging the better offense, I don't know, has it ever been researched.
          Well he had to be very good, he seems to be in the top 3 or 4 leftys and the top 10 0r 12 overall.
          Dick Thompson, aka BBF member WJackman (RIP) has written in depth about Grove's usage patterns. He discusses the topic in his bio about the Ferrell brothers. I'll see what I have to repost, in any case. Hopefully, csh will swing through to drop some knowledge here.

          Edit: Here's something I have saved from an old posting at Baseball Think Factory, the author is presumably Thompson

          Lefty Grove from 1929-1931 pitched:

          140.2 innings against Boston.
          140.1 innings against Cleveland.
          138.2 innings against Detroit.
          125.2 innings against Washington.
          124.1 innings against Chicago.
          104.1 innings against St. Louis.

          and

          72 innings versus the New York Yankees.


          And over that same period,

          Wes Ferrell pitched:

          139.0 innngs against Philadelphia.
          121.1 innings against Detroit.
          117.1 innings against St. Louis.
          113 innings against Washington.
          112.1 innings against New York.
          111 innings against Chicago.
          100.2 innings against Boston.

          So the guy on the strongest team (Grove) pitches his heaviest workload against the worst team in the league and his lightest load against the strongest team.

          And the other guy (Ferrell - on a middle of the pack team) pitches his heaviest load against the best team in baseball, and his lightest load against the worst.

          I have no idea how often this holds true, but I would imagine throughout history pitchers who played on the best teams in the league had several advantages over the pitchers on middle-of-the-pack teams. (Besides the obvious ones like better run support and defensive support.)

          In the 1929-31 years, Mack could -- for whatever the reason -- pick and chose spots for Grove. On the other hand, Cronin had to rely on Grove to face the better teams -- Detroit and NY -- more often in order to make up ground in the standings.

          A guy like Wes Ferrell -- always on a middle of the road team -- was more often at this disadvantage than Grove, Gomez, Hubbell or Dean. A desperate manager is more likely to hurl his ace against a better team, maybe even on short rest.

          While Ferrell worked a higher percentage of his innings against weaker teams in '35 and '36 than Grove, it was because he pitched about 50 more innings each season. He didn't pitch any less against NY or Detroit than Grove did, but did work harder against the lesser teams.

          One more example of the holes in ERA+ (which is the same hole as in ERA).

          Here are the big three of the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics.

          The teams are listed in order of runs scored.

          Grove pitched:

          1. 16.2 innings against NY.
          2. 46.2 innings against Washington.
          3. 48.0 innings against Cleveland.
          4. 56.0 innings against Detroit.
          5. 34.1 innings against StL.
          6. 35.2 innings against Chicago.
          7. 53.2 innings against Boston.

          Earnshaw pitched:

          1. 32.2 innings against NY.
          2. 33.3 innings against Washington.
          3. 56.0 innings against Cleveland.
          4. 46.2 innings against Detroit.
          5. 47.2 innings against StL.
          6. 38.2 innings against Chicago.
          7. 41.0 innings against Boston.

          Walberg pitched:

          1. 54.0 innings against NY.
          2. 52.1 innings against Washington.
          3. 20.1 innings against Cleveland.
          4. 17.0 innings against Detroit.
          5. 38.1 innings against StL.
          6. 19.0 innings against Chicago.
          7. 08.2 innings against Boston.


          Grove ERA+ 184
          Earnshaw ERA+ 105
          Walberg ERA+ 100

          Someone sure took a bullet for the team, and I don't think it was Lefty.

          From May 1 of 1930 through almost the end of May of 1931, Ferrell made 13 starts against NY and Philly, two of the greatest lineups of all time, while over that same period, Grove made none. Yeah, I know the arguments. But it's tough to level the playing field.

          WARP and WS are one thing. It's OK to give an overview of a season, but the only way to determine true value for a baseball player is by a game-by-game analysis. "
          Last edited by digglahhh; 02-22-2008, 06:07 PM.
          THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT COME WITH A SCORECARD

          In the avy: AZ - Doe or Die

          Comment


          • #6
            The fielding behind him in Philadelphia was generally in the top two in BABIP against, when you adjust for park. However, the defense behind him in Boston was in the bottom half of the league. For Grove's peak years, which probably run from 1928-32, he had a very good defense backing him, but he was a top pitcher after that, and didn't have the same defensive backing after leaving Philadephia.
            "Any pitcher who throws at a batter and deliberately tries to hit him is a communist."

            - Alvin Dark

            Comment


            • #7
              My understanding is that the "offense dodging" took place in only a couple of years. So even if a guy dodged the Yankeed a handful of times over 2 years, it may affect those two years numbers noticably, but hardly at all over the course of 4,000 IP. The "offense didging" may have helped Grove 1 ERA+ point and 4-5 wins over his whole career. Enough to move him down a spot? Sure, why not. Enough to move him down 3-4 spots? No way.

              The respected and missed Dick Thompson's very interesting work, in my opinion, was mostly an attempt to increase Wes Ferrell's percieved value, and attempted to do that by discrediting Grove. I agree with Thompson that Ferrell is underatted and a great HOF pick, but do not believe that Mack's usage pattern had a significant impact on Grove's career numbers.

              As previously mentioned, Grove's defensive support was very strong half of his career and below average the other half. Overall, I'd say that his defense may have contributed about 1 ERA+ point or so. When your ERA+ is almost 150, a point or two can be missed without moving down too much.

              As far as IP numbers, Grove started pitching at 25, and finished in the top 6 in the league eleven times. Not too bad, but not dominant either.

              I still have Grove 3, but could see him moved down to 4th behind Maddux.
              Last edited by Bothrops Atrox; 02-22-2008, 06:54 PM.
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              The Top 100 Pitchers In MLB History
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              • #8
                I have Grove at #2, and head and shoulders above the rest of the lefties.

                His usage against the Yankees was largely Mack's doing...a perceived bad attitude when on the mound against them led to Mack juggling his rotation so he missed the Yanks more often than not for a few years. Knock on Grove, or good managing...you decide. At least, those are my conclusions after sifting through much of Mr. Thompson's work regarding Grove (which I definitely agree was done largely to boost Ferrell, not to discredit Grove).

                The single most impressive fact about Grove is his dominance in a hitter's era, despite not being a strong control pitcher(the guys that often do well due to keeping runners off base, a la Greg Maddux). He also did so in 2 of the best hitters parks in the AL, Shibe and Fenway. Check his neutral stats on BBR....not the best tool, but it does provide some interesting stats...like a .722 W%, 341 wins and a 2.49 career ERA!

                His usage pattern had a lot to do with the "low" innings totals as well...he was often brought on to close, something like 10-12 times a year.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Former Fever member and former human being on this earth, BHN, taught me quite a bit about Grove. I have him #2 behind Walter and have strongly considered putting him number 1, when you consider the years he was held back in the minors and the parks he pitched in. The so-called "being held back" against the Yankees for several starts over a couple year span pales in comparison with these other issues. He was an absolute stud who, like Walter, transformed his approach as he aged, and still dominated as a lefty in hitters parks.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Grove's absence vs. the Yankees would be a negative point only if he was the person in charge of determining the pitching rotation. To me, punishing him for missing a start vs. the Yankees is equivalent to punishing Eddie Collins for wasting all those outs on sacrifice bunts. Those weren't the players' decisions - blame the manager if you have to.

                    There's a very interesting stat about Grove, who I rate as #2 all-time. Grove pitched in 616 games, starting 457 and getting the GF stat in 123 more. That, in essence, means that he was either the starter or closer in 580 of the 616 games that he pitched - 94.2% of his total games. Of the 36 games that he didn't either start or finish, 15 were in his rookie year.

                    Now I seriously doubt if Lefty was doing mop-up duty in a 14-3 loss during the peak of his career - in other words, his games finished would have occurred in situations that today would have used the closer, not the #12 guy on your staff. And this may be the source of his "missing" innings vs. the Yankees.

                    It's 1930 and Grove has 17 GF. Perhaps a few of them would have occurred in this situation: A's with a narrow lead vs. the Yankees, with the top of the Yankee order due to come up. And Grove only comes in for the ninth inning, and only gets three outs. But two of them are named Ruth and Gehrig.

                    It looks like Mr. Mack knew that having a left-handed relief ace available every day might be more valuable against the Yankees than a starter that you can only use once in a series.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I have Lefty Grove #2 behind Walter Johnson.

                      Reasoning:
                      * What he was able to accomplish during one of the highest offensive era's of all time is nothing short of incredible.

                      * He got a late start to his ML career which probably hurts his overall career stats to a significant degree. Let his be in the ML's 3 years earlier and his numbers look even more impressive.

                      * He was able to transform himself from a primarily fastball pitcher into one who after losing his fastball to elbow injury and continued at a high level.

                      * The dodging the Yankees I think had a lot more to do with Mack's usage of him than a fear of the Yankees. Mack may well hae preferred to start Grove against other teams to assure himself of a win. Knwing Grove's determination, competitive nature, and overall outlook I can't see Grove trying to avoid anybody.

                      * Mack also used Lefty to close out games a few times. I've read about his ability to come in to games in releif and slam the door. I suspect he may have been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, closer of all time if that had been what he was assigned to do.

                      Yankees Fan Since 1957

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Stuff of Grove from Bill Werber's book Circling the Bases

                        "Lefty" Grove was something else. I was positive then, and remain so now, that if there ever was one all-important game which had to be won, Grove would be the guy I would pick to pitch it. In spring training in Sarasota, Florida, in 1934, he developed an infection in his teeth, which created such pain in his left shoulder that he could scarcely toss the ball. At one point, discouraged by his ineffectiveness, he left the ball club. However, he was sent to Boston, where the cause of his difficulty was diagnosed and corrected.
                        Because he had lost so much spring-training time, the skin on the fingers of his pitching hand was still tender when the regular season opened. In an early game which he was working in Detroit, I noticed some blood on the ball when it was thrown to me at third base. After walking to the mound to hand the ball to "Lefty," I saw that the inside of his middle finger was mostly raw meat. "Get out of there," I urged. "You can't pitch with a finger like that."
                        "Gimmie the ball, and you get the hell back to third," was his response. Back I got, and pitch he did. It was an exhibition of sheer courage, if I ever saw one. Each throw brought him burning pain.
                        Ira Thomas, head scout of the "A's" once told me about the time he went to Lonaconing, Maryland, to sign Grove. It was near dusk one fall evening, and the future star had been out hunting squirrels. Following direction given by Grove's mother, Ira started out to meet the object of his visit. Thomas had not gone far when he spotted a tall, rawboned mountain lad striding along with numbers of squirrels dangling from the belt around his waist.
                        "Are you "Lefty" Grove," asked Ira.
                        "That I am," answered the lad.
                        "Where's your gun?" queried Thomas.
                        "I don't use a gun on squirrels," replied Grove. "I kill 'em with rocks." Thereupon, he produced several round, smooth ones from his pocket. Selecting one, he threw it with his right hand and shattered the glass insulation on a telephone pole some 50 feet away.
                        "But I had heard that you were a left-hander," said an astounded Thomas.
                        "Sure am," Grove answered, "but I'd tear 'em all up if I throwed at 'em left-handed."

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Gee Walker View Post
                          Grove's absence vs. the Yankees would be a negative point only if he was the person in charge of determining the pitching rotation. To me, punishing him for missing a start vs. the Yankees is equivalent to punishing Eddie Collins for wasting all those outs on sacrifice bunts. Those weren't the players' decisions - blame the manager if you have to.
                          Ehh. This is a pretty difficult question.

                          First, let's revisit the lexicon. I don't think anybody is suggesting that we PUNISH Grove for his usage pattern (that was admittedly beyond his control). Rather, we should CORRECT for it.

                          Essentially if you don't "punish" him, you "reward" him for it. If he had an advantage in garnering stats because of something circumstantial, and you don't correct for that circumstance, you are in fact attributing the advantage gained by circumstance to the player in question's skill. So taking it at face value isn't really leaving it alone, but accepting an artificial boost.

                          Whether the net effect has any bearing on Grove's overall status is an open question, and I can appreciate the argument that this whole issue is irrelevant or fully counterbalanced by other factors. I'm just replying to the specific point I quoted though.

                          As to the more philosophical question, it's somewhat difficult to hold a player accountable for something they had no control over. But, players at that time didn't really have control over who they played for or where they played their homes games, should we not consider park effects then?

                          I'll admit the above was a little different context, so let's try something different. Imagine a heavyweight boxer from the 80's who retired undefeated but never fought Tyson (his mgmt. makes those decisions, right). What do you make of that record?
                          THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT COME WITH A SCORECARD

                          In the avy: AZ - Doe or Die

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                          • #14
                            By the way, Mantle's OPS+ of 172 was boosted by 3 1/2 points because he didn't have to face his own pitchers.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by brett View Post
                              By the way, Mantle's OPS+ of 172 was boosted by 3 1/2 points because he didn't have to face his own pitchers.
                              Thats opening the door to lots of looking back on all the great hitters who didn't face the good pitchers on their own team and not only that, looking back on some of the best pitchers who also played on some of the better hitting teams who didn't have to face the hitters on their team.

                              Do we want to go down that road and review whole careers, adjust, not just some years because team strengths change over the years, pitching and hitting.

                              Thats a long road, I can't see diminishing, projecting,adjusting, playing with numbers subject to all kinds of variables and in the end who determines, who gives the final answer.

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