Yeah, I know, the title’s a little dramatic, but what the heck. If you’ve been following closely (and you should) you’ll note I’ve gotten through nine on my way to the 10 top left-handers in the Major Leagues. I began this by complaining that depth among left-handed starters is almost nonexistent. Trying to find 10 who were really top of the line is difficult and the search for the 10th is the hardest.
I went at this the way I normally do, I put down a preliminary list, looked it over, decided it was wrong, then began to research. That’s where I found an interesting problem developing among southpaws. There really is not true consensus about the top 10. I looked at traditional stats, I looked at the new SABR-type stats and realized you can pick your guy based on which stat you like. Pick a stat and when you run through the nine I’ve already looked over, you get all sorts of different picks. I looked at a bunch of SABR-style stats, but will only bore you to tears with three of them for this post. First, I’ll give the stat, then the top five left-handers on that stat’s list that aren’t the nine guys I’ve already done. Notice the differences (all active players in parens).
1. WAR: Tommy John, Jerry Koosman, Hal Newhouser, Frank Tanana, Billy Pierce
2. ERA+: (Johan Santana), John Franco, Rube Waddell, Harry Brecheen, John Hiller. And if you leave out the relievers Franco and Hiller the next two are Noodles Hahn and Newhouser
3. WHIP: Reb Russell, Jack Pfiester, Waddell, Ed Morris, (Santana). Morris pitched his entire career prior to the mound. Leave him out and you add Doc White
Notice something interesting? The only names that repeat are Waddell, Newhouser, and Santana, with Santana still being active and liable to rise or fall depending on what happens with the rest of his career. Not much consensus is there? A couple of these guys (Russell and Morris) I’d never heard of, so I looked them up and that led to the disqualification of Morris. It’s also interesting to note who isn’t there. Hall of Fame pitchers like Lefty Gomez, Rube Marquard, Eppa Rixey, and Herb Pennock are missing.
Other stats do the same kinds of things. There seems to be something of a belief, at least statistically, that Waddell and Newhouser are the best of the old timers (Old timers? Newhouser pitched his last few years in my lifetime. Yikes.) and that Santana is the best of the current lot. OK, I guess. But how impressed are you really at that list? Nice group of pitchers, but are there really only nine guys better in 150 years of the Major Leagues? If so, then the crop of southpaw hurlers is as weak as I thought.
OK, to wrap it up, which one do I add to my list? Tentatively I pick Newhouser and reserve the right to drop him depending on the rest of Santana’s career.