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The 50 most overrated pitchers in baseball history

Posted by Andy
DON'T FREAK OUT.

This study uses the same methodology as the 50 most overrated batters post.

That means it's skewed towards career WAR over peak WAR, as well as targeting pitchers who were more popular or pitched more recently.

Thus, the list is populated mainly with great pitchers who had shorter careers and excellent recent pitchers.

Got it? The study is skewed in terms of fan voting on the B-R.com EloRater and punishes pitchers with a high peak WAR but lower career WAR.

Being popular is overrated
Two of these three make the most-overrated list
Icon SMI

Here's the list:

Rank  Player               Elo Rank  bWAR      eWAR      Difference
1     Sandy Koufax         16        54.5      82.0      -27.5     
2     Smoky Joe Wood       75        26.2      51.9      -25.7     
3     Al Spalding          183       10.4      34.1      -23.7     
4     Jim Palmer           22        63.5      85.4      -21.9     
5     Catfish Hunter       67        32.5      53.5      -21.0       
6     Greg Maddux          3         96.8     117.7      -20.9     
7     Dan Quisenberry      121       24.3      45.1      -20.8     
8     Pedro Martinez       10        75.9      96.3      -20.4     
9     Rollie Fingers       94        24.4      44.2      -19.8     
10    Rube Waddell         36        50.2      69.2      -19.0       
11    Carl Hubbell         17        64.4      82.4      -18.0       
12    Jim Kaat             53        41.2      59.2      -18.0       
13    Trevor Hoffman       87        30.8      48.2      -17.4     
14    Candy Cummings       552       0.6       17.9      -17.3     
15    Addie Joss           44        40.9      57.8      -16.9     
16    Ed Walsh             27        54.8      71.0      -16.2     
17    Dick McBride         699       -1.1      14.8      -15.9     
18    Bob Feller           18        66.0      81.2      -15.2     
19    Randy Johnson        5         91.8     106.5      -14.7     
20    Dizzy Dean           47        39.6      53.6      -14.0       
21    Bob Forsch           199       18.6      32.0      -13.4     
22    Mike Cuellar         145       29.9      42.5      -12.6     
23    Bob Gibson           9         85.6      98.1      -12.5     
24    George Zettlein      809       -2.0      10.4      -12.4     
25    Don Newcombe         102       29.7      41.9      -12.2     
26    Jack Coombs          231       19.9      32.1      -12.2     
27    Hoyt Wilhelm         79        41.3      53.1      -11.8     
28    Rich Gossage         63        40.0      51.5      -11.5     
29    Randy Myers          288       16.9      28.2      -11.3     
30    Orval Overall        237       22.4      33.6      -11.2     
31    Mordecai Brown       30        56.1      67.3      -11.2     
32    Burleigh Grimes      83        37.2      48.4      -11.2     
33    Jerry Reuss          144       33.1      44.2      -11.1     
34    Dave McNally         196       21.5      32.3      -10.8     
35    Blue Moon Odom       787       -0.2      10.5      -10.7     
36    Billy Wagner         112       29.7      40.2      -10.5     
37    J.R. Richard         170       22.4      32.9      -10.5     
38    Bobby Mathews        263       16.1      26.5      -10.4     
39    Whitey Ford          40        55.3      64.8      -9.5      
40    Deacon Phillippe     140       33.0      42.3      -9.3      
41    Hooks Wiltse         174       26.5      35.7      -9.2      
42    Mike Hampton         246       20.8      29.9      -9.1      
43    Dave Boswell         686        8.2      17.3      -9.1      
44    Jack Chesbro         101       33.2      42.3      -9.0        
45    Carl Lundgren        408       13.2      22.1      -8.9      
46    Doc Crandall         339       13.2      22.1      -8.9      
47    John Wetteland       211       20.8      29.6      -8.8      
48    Tony Cloninger       829        2.9      11.6      -8.7      
49    Ralph Terry          486       11.1      19.7      -8.6      
50    Bill Lee (2)         270       20.6      29.1      -8.5      
51    Jack Morris          82        39.3      47.7      -8.4      
52    Jesse Orosco         309       20.6      29.0      -8.4      
53    Dave Stewart         217       23.7      32.0      -8.3      
54    Larry Cheney         380       15.6      23.8      -8.2      
55    Sparky Lyle          205       19.6      27.8      -8.2      
56    Jim Lonborg          357       13.0      21.2      -8.2      
57    Chief Bender         91        38.5      46.7      -8.2      
58    Old Hoss Radbourn    23        71.6      79.7      -8.1      
59    Freddie Fitzsimmons  113       32.6      40.7      -8.1      
60    Dock Ellis           392       15.2      23.2      -8.0        
   
OK I cheated and listed 60 because I wanted Jack Morris to show up. It infuriated me to see him come up at #51.

Jim Palmer is the sort of pitcher I was hoping to find with this study. Palmer was a great pitcher but his career WAR of 63.5 is 39th among pitchers but he's rated #22 on the EloRater, ahead of some older pitchers who were better. I'm not saying Palmer was bad--just that he's a bit overrated.

I note that a lot of closers show up. I'm not sure why, except that the guys above don't have particularly high career bWAR. Trevor Hoffman, recently the all-time saves leader, is just 217th in career bWAR but is ranked 87th on the EloRater. What's going on here? Is it:

  • Hoffman's valued by fans more than his career is actually worth
  • bWAR is somehow not representing Hoffman's value appropriately
  • Hoffman has other intangibles that push his popularity up
I'm going with the first bullet, but what do you think?

The top 3 guys all had short careers.

Greg Maddux is up there because his eWAR is calculated based, in part, on those of Cy Young and Walter Johnson. Tough crowd.

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