Cy Young and The Clarke Conspiracy

Keith Glab to Asher B. Chancey
3/29/04

So when Scott first showed me his Top 100 list, he told me that a player had to play more than half of his career in the
20th century in order to qualify for the list.  Naturally, it didn't take long for me to point out that Cy Young did not meet
this qualification, whilst a talented little outfielder named Fred Clarke, who did meet the qualification despite playing
almost 800 games prior to 1900, got completely ignored for consideration on the list.

Scott quickly backtracked, saying that Young had proven that he could succeed under post-1900
conditions.  I think it's ridiculous to claim that he proved that more so than Clarke did (see messy
analysis below).

This isn't about Clarke or Young.  It's about being consistent with both how we all evaluate our pre-1900 players and
how we individually evaluate our pre-1900 players.

I was not being sarcastic when I said that Ted Simmons should be on your list, Asher.  No, I don't agree with your lack
of penalty for a player's harmfully poor seasons, but I'm far more concerned with your being consistent WITHIN YOUR
OWN RANKINGS than consistent with what Scott or I think is a fair evaluation for a type of player.  i.e. you cannot
penalize Simmons without also penalizing Carlton.

Now, you seem to have taken the first step in making a consistent ranking of your 19th century players,
regardless of what Scott or I think of it.  Personally, I don't like your treatment (why imagine what his stats would have
been rather than analyze what his stats actually were?), but I applaud your taking a stance.  I'm still wondering what the
heck to do.  Therefore, all I have for you is an all-over-the-place scrutiny of Cy Young:

You have to era-adjust his IP even more for his pre-1900 period than his 1900-1910 period, which gets
a significant downward adjustment anyway.  19th century pitchers had the huge advantage of pitcing in
2 or 3 man rotations, and we have to adjust for that.  Even when you make a significant adjustment, he's right up there
with Grove and Grover in contention for the #2 spot.  Even when you make a significant adjustment, Cy is one of the
most durable pitchers of all time.  There's no such adjustment necessary for pre-1900 hitters.

Now, theoretically, establishing a foul-strike rule would be advantageous to pitchers, not hitters.  Well,
Cy Young's best season with that rule in place was 1908, where he was only the 3rd best pitcher in the
AL.  In his defense, he did not play with this rule until age 36.

(Clarke had 3 of his top 4 seasons in 1901-1903, just after the f-s rule was instated for him.  However, it is likely that
both Cy & Clarke benefited from a diluted talent pool, as those years represent the most
extreme expansion era ever.)

Longevity vs peak value is another concern for Cy.  Whom would you rather have on your ballclub: Cy Young for 18
years, or the best of Maul, Willis, McGinnity, Joss, Waddell, and Overall for three years each?  I'm 100% certain that
this Super Six would outperform Cy, yet I'm not certain that this is a fair method of evaluation.

Another way of looking at Cy, which I did not think of until you split him in two, is to compare him to his
contemporaries twice.  From 1890-1900, he was arguably the best pitcher in the league, with only Amos Rusie and Kid
Nichols at his level.  From 1901-1910, Cy was again among the best pitchers in all of baseball, with only Walsh, Brown
and Matthewson competing for that title.  

What does this mean?  Essentially, Rusie + Brown = Young.  Or Nichols + Matthewson through 1910 = Young. If you
think these equations are even close to being correct, isn't Cy pretty clearly the second best pitcher of all-time?

I just don't know.  Right now, I'm torn between having him as the second best pitcher ever because of that, or taking
him off of the list entirely since we don't have many meaningful stats of him playing under modern conditions.

One thing that I do know, is that Cy & Clarke are each holding the ends of an approximately 65-slot pole, and as one
moves up or down on the list, the other one is dragged with him.