It all started with a relatively benign link and two sentence e-mail. What ensued was a long (pointless) discussion on which MLB pitcher Kevin Brown is most like, his Hall of Fame chances (none), whether he should make the Hall (sort of) and some other Dodger pitchers (greats).
Before looking at the exchange, which of the below are Hall of Famers in your mind – post in the comments section:
Guy1: 3.80 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.9 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 2.6 BB/9, 6.8 K/9, 2.63 K/BB, 1,965 Innings, 1,494 Ks
Guy2: 3.28 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.5 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.5 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 2.66 K/BB, 3,256.1 Innings, 2,397 Ks
Guy3: 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.1 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 6.5 K/9, 2.91 K/BB, 3,432 Innings, 2,486 Ks
Guy4: 2.76 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.8 H/9, 0.8 HR/8, 3.2 BB/9, 9.3 K/9, 2.93 K/BB, 2,234.1 IPs, 2,396 Ks
Been a lot of talk about it lately — not sure what I think. I believe in all of the metrics, but it’s just odd – still he was damn good during one of the craziest offensive explosions ever and pitched in some unforgiving places.
Kevin Brown has no chance to make it. And, despite the strong underlying numbers, I think that’s right. Brown was good for about 5 years (’96-’00). I exclude ’01 in that grouping b/c he only pitched 115 innings and 1992 cuz that’s before the ball was juiced, the players were juiced, etc. I can see a strong argument for ’92 if you want to put it in there. Anyway, a 5-6 year career of near dominance is certainly something to consider. He shouldn’t fail to get the 5%, though I imagine he will. Anyway, I remember Brown over that span and he was amazing. I particularly remember his three straight postseasons which were fairly incredibly. Still though, over those 5-6 seasons Brown never won the Cy Young and never came closer than 16th in MVP voting. Clearly not determinative, but instructive.
I think Brown is hurt by a few things. The first and foremost is that he was kind of a douche. That never helps with this voting. The second is that he wasn’t really that good in LA (no matter how that blog post tries to defend him). He had a nice year in 2003 (a very nice year, actually), but that’s about it. Not only did he not put up great numbers at a pitcher’s park, but he got hurt constantly. The third is – and I haven’t read anything to support this so it’s simply a hunch – but I bet a number of writers suspect him of steroid use. For a guy to fall off and get injuries all of the sudden, especially in the juiced age, it just seems to align a bit too nicely. Fourth, and just as a minor postscript, but his time with the Yankees may also hint to some folks that he couldn’t cut it in the AL and only survived pitching against lesser competition in the senior circuit. Sure he pitched well with the Rangers, but that was pre-strike when offense was down.
Let’s set aside what will happen–he’ll share the same fate as Lou Whitaker….But isn’t this a sort of test case for new metrics? Or, at least, a useful thought exercise for myself?
I believe in most statistical advancements (don’t fully grasp the defensive ones yet). But if the metrics I believe say Brown is Hall worthy, then, don’t I have to agree? At first, I can’t really stomach Kevin Brown as a Hall of Famer — but that’s mostly due to my memory of his 1995 campaign with the Orioles. I projected a lot of pain onto him for that campaign (I was just 13), but in reality he was a very very good pitcher. While he only went 10-9, he posted a 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 2.44 K:BB rate – not bad.
He would then run off an incredible span from 1996-2001, during which he averaged a 2.53 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 221 IPs, 194 Ks, a 3.98 K:BB rate and 6.2 WAR. These numbers come from Baseball Reference, not Fangraphs.
For his career, Brown amassed roughly 65 wins above your average replacement player. That is more than Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, Dennis Eckersley, Mordecai Brown, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Red Ruffing, Bob Lemon, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dizzy Dean, and a ton of other players who aren’t Hall of Famers like those gentlemen mentioned above.
The knock on Brown seems to be his lack of continued excellence. So let’s look at Sandy Koufax. Koufax amassed his 54.5 WAR in 12 seasons. Brown pitched in 19 seasons. Brown threw over 180 innings 11 times, and added two 170+ IP seasons – he averaged 171 innings a year.
Meanwhile Koufax threw over 180 innings five times and averaged 194 innings a season, owing to back-to-back 320+ inning seasons. Still, Kevin Brown pitched almost 1,000 more innings total than Sandy Koufax.
Furthermore, Koufax was worth over 7.8 WAR each season from 1963-1966. Brown was worth over 5.8 WAR each season from 1996-2000. Koufax clearly was more dominant at his prime, however during their “peaks,” Brown amassed 34.6 WAR, while Koufax amassed 37.6 WAR. Not a sizeable difference and not a big enough one for me to toss aside Brown’s innings and declare Koufax clearly the better pitcher.
In short, I don’t think I can say that Koufax had a better career than Brown. I think they had comparable careers – with Brown’s being longer. Sure, Koufax was greater at certain points, but not a whole lot greater and certainly not for a longer period.
I think a more apt comparison for Brown is to another Dodger pitcher: Don Drysdale. Drysdale pitched 14 seasons, He threw over 211 innings 12 times. He averaged 245 innings a season. He finished with a 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2,486 Ks and a 1.85 K:BB ratio.
So Drysdale pitched just 200 more innings than Brown and struck out just 89 batters more. Drysdale never had a peak so high as Koufax. However from 1960-1964 he would be worth 31 WAR. I think it’s safe to say that at his best, Brown was slightly better than Drysdale at his best.
I think Drysdale was a better pitcher than Kevin Brown. I don’t think he was a much better pitcher. Certainly not enough that Drysdale is a surefire HOFer and Brown will not get above 5% of the vote.
My contention: if you think Koufax and Drysdale are Hall of Famers, so is a less elevated Dodgers pitcher: Kevin Brown.
Ok, while clearly not a perfect comparison (again, Koufax was DOMINANT for his peak 5/6 years) I think I’ve come up with the best modern day comparison I can. Remember, we’re playing in a live ball era with smaller stadiums (so ERA and WHIP have to be adjusted up). Also, we’re playing in the era of the professional bullpen, so guys don’t pitch as many complete games (or as many games period — not as many wins). Anyway, if this guy were put before the hall today, would he be in?
I’m kind of swamped at work so I can’t respond to this as completely as I’d like. But, I’ll give you a few choice snippets to nibble on and see what you come back. The first is that I’m not convinced that Sandy Koufax is an apt comparison for anyone when it comes to HOF consideration. The man had five incredible years. And they were incredible. His raw numbers aside, he won the CY Young 3 times, the MVP once (finishing second twice), and was a continued All-star. Perhaps there is an argument for including his 1961 season in this discussion (he did finish 18th for the MVP vote), but it doesn’t seem likely. Regardless, five years of dominance, one year of good (’61), and then four years of not so good (excluding ’55 and ’56 cuz of the limited IP’s). I’m not convinced that if Koufax came up for the Hall today (under a different name of course) that he would garner the requisite votes. Those five years were great, otherworldly even, but does five years make a career? Especially when the only World Series he won was in ’55 when he barely contributed? It’s something to think about; honestly, I don’t think he would have made it. At least not with the current group of voters that hold the Hall to be something sacred and especially difficult to get into.
Wow- it’s unbelievable the resemblance between Chris Carpenter’s and Kevin Brown’s rate stats.
Carp: 3.80 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.9 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 2.6 BB/9, 6.8 K/9, 2.63 K/BB
Brown: 3.28 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.5 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.5 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 2.66 K/BB
However, that’s kind of where the comparison ends. Quite simply, while people think Brown wasn’t durable, Carpenter is fragile Fred Taylor compared to him. In parts of 13 seasons, Carpenter has pitched 1,965 IPs and missed all of 2003 due to injury.
In his first 13 seasons, in which he pitched a major league inning, Brown pitched 2,430.2 IPS. That’s about 2+ years more than Carpenter. Furthermore, Brown averaged 171 IPs per season in his career. So far, Carpenter has averaged just 151. In total, Brown has pitched 1,291 more innings (about six to seven seasons).
This accounts for the dramatic difference in WAR (Brown: 64.8, Carpenter 28.6) even though their rates are so similar. Furthermore, Carpenter never had a stretch like Brown’s from 1996-2000. Only twice has Carpenter been worth more than 4.9 WAR in his career. Brown was worth over 4.9 six times.
Brown’s innings (which were excellent) count. If Carpenter continues to pitch at this level for six more years without injury, he, too, might have a good Hall of Fame case.
I think people are discounting the breadth of Brown’s career. He pitched a lot and was well above average most of the time. Was he great? Yes, for 5 years he was superb.
Lastly, I’ll note that Brown has more innings pitched than Hall of Famers: Mordecai Brown, Whitey Ford, Hal Newhouser, Bob Lemon, Lefty Gomez, and (yes again) Sandy Koufax.