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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

PItchers WAR in 1978 is curious.

In 1978, before Wins Above Replacement (WAR) had been invented, the issue was the American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Should it go to Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry or Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice? Rice led the AL in Hits, 3B, HR, RBI, SLG, TB and unbeknownst back then OPS+. Rice was awarded the MVP and Guidry the Cy Young award as best pitcher with what was considered an historically great season.
Photo of Phil NiekroPhoto of Ron Guidry
But look what the magic of WAR reveals:

Rk Player WAR Year Age Tm Lg G GS CG SHO GF W L W-L% SV IP H R ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+ HR BF AB 2B 3B IBB HBP SH SF GDP SB CS PO BK WP BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Pit Str
1 Phil Niekro 10.0 1978 39 ATL NL 44 42 22 4 1 19 18 .514 1 334.1 295 129 107 102 248 2.88 2.76 142 16 1389 1254 42 10 5 13 13 6 13 34 12 4 3 11 .235 .298 .323 .621 71
2 Ron Guidry 9.6 1978 27 NYY AL 35 35 16 9 0 25 3 .893 0 273.2 187 61 53 72 248 1.74 2.19 208 13 1057 969 34 5 1 1 13 2 15 9 14 2 1 7 .193 .249 .279 .528 50
3 Mike Caldwell 8.1 1978 29 MIL AL 37 34 23 6 1 22 9 .710 1 293.1 258 90 77 54 131 2.36 2.94 160 14 1176 1102 36 0 3 7 7 6 25 11 7 1 1 8 .234 .273 .305 .578 62
4 Dennis Eckersley 7.3 1978 23 BOS AL 35 35 16 3 0 20 8 .714 0 268.1 258 99 89 71 162 2.99 3.70 139 30 1121 1028 38 4 8 7 7 8 19 26 5 0 0 3 .251 .302 .383 .685 83
5 Dave Goltz 6.6 1978 29 MIN AL 29 29 13 2 0 15 10 .600 0 220.1 209 72 61 67 116 2.49 3.17 155 12 913 826 39 5 1 1 10 8 17 10 13 1 1 4 .253 .307 .356 .663 84
6 Jon Matlack 6.4 1978 28 TEX AL 35 33 18 2 2 15 13 .536 1 270.0 252 93 68 51 157 2.27 2.71 165 14 1097 1027 31 7 4 4 12 3 14 16 13 7 0 8 .245 .283 .330 .613 72
7 Jim Palmer 6.3 1978 32 BAL AL 38 38 19 6 0 21 12 .636 0 296.0 246 94 81 97 138 2.46 3.48 143 19 1197 1085 33 6 1 1 10 4 21 18 17 1 1 5 .227 .290 .321 .611 76
8 Bob Knepper 6.3 1978 24 SFG NL 36 35 16 6 1 17 11 .607 0 260.0 218 85 76 85 147 2.63 2.98 131 10 1062 953 40 2 11 4 11 9 19 16 8 0 0 6 .229 .292 .306 .599 76
9 Vida Blue 5.8 1978 28 SFG NL 35 35 9 4 0 18 10 .643 0 258.0 233 87 80 70 171 2.79 2.68 123 12 1042 948 31 9 4 0 16 8 19 14 15 3 0 5 .246 .295 .335 .631 84
10 Luis Tiant 5.6 1978 37 BOS AL 32 31 12 5 1 13 8 .619 0 212.1 185 80 78 57 114 3.31 3.98 126 26 863 790 34 1 4 5 7 3 18 14 6 2 2 0 .234 .289 .378 .667 77
11 Craig Swan 5.6 1978 27 NYM NL 29 28 5 1 0 9 6 .600 0 207.1 164 62 56 58 125 2.43 3.00 143 12 819 750 33 4 8 2 5 4 12 16 9 2 0 1 .219 .275 .321 .597 75
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/12/2016.

Those are the pitching WAR leaders for both the AL and National League (NL). Back then the Milwaukee Brewers were in the AL before commissioner/owner Allan Huber "Bud" Selig moved his team to the NL in 1998.

I doubt that anyone back then would have thought that Phil Niekro was a better pitcher than Ron Guidry or that Niekro had a better season in 1978. Part of that would have been influenced by their won loss records: Niekro 19-18, Guidry 25-3. But Guidry's ERA was more than a run lower and his uninvented ERA+ advantage was huge: 208 to 142.

But WAR is a total, not an average like ERA or ERA+. Niekro had many more innings: 334 to 273. And they were tied in SO. OPS+ against them: big advantage Guidry:

The only explanation is that the AL replacement pitcher was better and that Guidry had to exceed a higher level. Of the top 11 pitchers listed above, only 4 are NL and numbers 2-7 are all AL.

Niekro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997 and he is a member of its board of directors. Guidry has not been elected and his 15 years of eligibility have expired; Guidry is unlikely to ever be elected by any of the increasing number and variety of veterans committees.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_pitch.shtml

Pitcher WAR Calculations and Details

... Runs Allowed (both earned and unearned) and Innings Pitched ...

Adjusting for Team Defense

Adjusting Averages for Starters and Relievers

Custom Park Factors

Adjusting for Leverage

Setting Replacement Level for all Pitchers

Fine-Tuning Replacement Level

Computing WAR

WAR = WAR_rep + WAA + WAA_adj

__________________________

1978 Cy Young and MVP votes. Tuesday, April 12, 2016 3:57 PM

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