What do these guys all have in common? They're all relievers, of course (save for Josh Johnson, who had an injury-shortened season.)
Seven of them were closers in 2011 and the rest were middle relievers (other than, again, Johnson.)
It's a bit surprising to me that there are no full-season starters on here. I wonder why? A couple of theories:
- The guys who made this list all performed at a very high level too difficult to maintain over, say, 200 innings.
- The guys who made this list were all utilized primarily in situations that benefited the accumulation of WAR.
Among active pitchers, minimum 200 IP, here are the only guys to average at least 3.5 WAR per 100 IP over their career:
If we drop the bar to 2.5 WAR per 100 innings pitched, here are the active guys to clear that:
Again, all relievers except for Josh Johnson, who has been almost exclusively a starter in his career. Although closers are well-represented on this list, there are plenty of middle relievers, too. This argues against the idea that it's a usage pattern allowing these guys to rack up WAR (since there are a bunch of different ways these guys were used.)
No, I tend to think it's the fact that such great performance is difficult to sustain over a large number of innings, and these guys are all fantastic pitchers who throw a relatively small number of innings each year. In fact, this is perhaps one of the better arguments I've heard about why relievers shouldn't be considered for Cy Young or the Hall of Fame--because their small number of innings does give them an advantage from a regression-to-the-mean perspective. I wonder how effective Roy Halladay would be as a closer? John Smoltz comes to mind.
The thing about Josh Johnson is that he's had a lot of short seasons due to injury. He's had 6 full seasons in the majors and pitched fewer than 90 innings in half of them. He's topped 160 innings only twice. That's how he made this list--by being a really good pitcher but rarely pitching something like a full season.
Incidentally, if we look just at starting pitchers in 2011, there are a handful to get 2.5 WAR per 100 innings pitched:
I think we'd agree that these 9 guys were among the 12 or so best starters in the game this past year. So I think the WAR/IP measure does a nice job--it just also suggests that a whole bunch of relievers were even more valuable--if only they could pitch that effectively as starters.