Was Robin Robbed?

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
January 23, 2007

For two years in a row, Scott and Asher have each voted Robin Roberts a "2" while I've voted him a "0" for the Baseball Evolution Hall of Fame.  It's time for the justification of this trend.  Firstly, I'll look at the starting pitchers currently in our Hall.  How does Robin Roberts compare with the least deserving of those that we have elected?

Bob Caruthers is probably the weakest starting pitcher of our lot.  Yet he was not only a great pitcher.  He also boasts a career .391 OBP and 508 runs scored as an outfielder.  Caruthers' ability to help himself is part of the reason he has a huge edge in winning percentage - .688 to .539.  Think about that: Roberts pitched nearly 2,000 more innings than Caruthers, yet was only able to win 68 more games.      

What about strictly pitchers?  Fergie Jenkins, Don Drysdale, Clark Griffith, and Vic Willis probably form the lower echelon of our Hall.

Jenkins and Roberts each played on mediocre teams, looking simply at the aggregate winning percentage of the teams that they played for.  Both were control artists who gave up the longball when they missed.  Very similar pitchers indeed, but Jenkins comes out ahead in just about every category.  Roberts has two more career victories, a better walk rate, and pitched more innings than Jenkins did.  But Jenkins had a higher win percentage, ERA+, and strikeout ratio, plus a lower ERA, WHIP, and opponent's BA, OBP, and SLG.  More importantly, Jenkins pitched in extreme hitter's parks while Roberts played in slight pitcher's parks.

Drysdale pitched in roughly the same era as Roberts, so they should be easy to compare.  While Drysdale probably benefited from his home stadium more than any pitcher in baseball history (2.52/3.44 home/road split), his road ERA was still better than Roberts' home ERA (3.54/3.85).  Obviously Roberts had a longer career, but these pitchers led the NL in pitching runs three times each, making them about equal in terms of dominant seasons.

Roberts' stats compare reasonably well to Clark Griffith's, but Griffith spent 20 years as a manager and 36 years as an owner, giving him some bonus points in my estimation.  He also trounces Roberts in winning percentage and ERA+, as many pitchers do.

Vic Willis has similar era-adjusted numbers to Roberts.  I will tend to give the edge to the player with the better overall stats in such cases.  Willis and his 78 point edge in ERA gets the nod.

Let's also look at Ted Lyons and newly-elected Red Faber, mostly because they're fellow 4,000+ inning pitchers, but also because Scott and Asher aren't particularly high on the pair.

Ted Lyons has comparable numbers across the board with Roberts, excepting a better ERA+ and much better batting stats.  But Ted Lyons also missed three years at the end of his career due to World War II.  Granted, Lyons would have been 42, 43, and 44 years old in those seasons.  However, Lyons was coming off a season in which he completed all 20 of his starts, pitching only Sunday doubleheaders.  He went 14-6 with a league-best 2.10 ERA.  Lyons threw a knuckleball, and it's not unusual for knuckleballers to succeed well into their 40's.  It seems reasonable that Ted could have surpassed Roberts in both wins and innings pitched had he not served with the marines.

Faber similarly missed time in 1918 due to World War I, just when he was putting together his best season ever (1.23 ERA in 80.2 IP).  His 1921 and 1922 seasons were more dominant than Roberts' 1952 and 1953 seasons were.  Robin also allowed nearly three times as many homers as Faber did over their careers.

That brings us to Nolan Ryan.  Ryan walked more batters than anyone else in history while Robin Roberts allowed more home runs than any pitcher ever.  Both pitchers had fairly low career winning percentages and adjusted ERA.  But Ryan has the distinction of striking out the most batters in history - and it's not even close.  Roberts has no such distinction, and must play second fiddle to Ryan in terms of Hall of Fame honors.

Next, let's examine some of the starting pitchers that we haven't enshrined, beginning with some of Roberts' contemporaries.

Harry Breechen received no support in our 2006 balloting.  His 1948 season matches up with anything Roberts has to offer, and blows Robin away when it comes to career ERA+ and winning percentage.  Breechen also has an incredible World Series ticker of 4-1 0.83.  I'm not going to say that he's more deserving than Robin, but if Robin gets elected to the Hall, I'm pretty sure that Harry has to come along too.

Billy Pierce sort of represents the midpoint between Breechen and Roberts.  He wasn't as effective as Breechen, nor did he hang around as long as Roberts.   Pierce and Roberts were each second fiddle in the 50's; Pierce to Whitey Ford in the AL and Roberts to Warren Spahn in the NL.  Looking at the decade as a whole, Pierce (230 pitching runs) and Roberts (240 PR) are practically equals.  One is as deserving of enshrinement as the other, and Pierce is no longer eligible for election.

But Pierce and Breechen are hardly the best pitchers out there who aren't in our Hall of Fame.  In fact, there are better pitchers who have already fallen off our Hall of Fame ballots.  Eppa Rixey is chief among these.  Comparable to Red Faber, Eppa put up similar numbers to Roberts despite missing a season-and-a-half to WWI.  They were both good pitchers in what were weak eras for pitchers.

The same can be said of Dizzy Trout.  In terms of overall performance, he beats Roberts, but some of his most dominant seasons did come during war years.  Brett Saberhagen had more great seasons than Roberts did, and fewer poor ones.  The only argument I see for Roberts is his four consecutive seasons leading the NL in wins and his five consecutive ones leading in IP.  But I simply don't understand why a dominant 5-year stretch is more remarkable than five dominant seasons spread out over the course of a career. 

Will White, Silver King, and Joe McGinnity had careers on par with Robin's, but I'll buy the argument that we've got enough pitchers enshrined from the 1890-1910 period already.

I'm not going to bother discussing the superior pitchers still left on the ballot.  Stan Coveleski, Hal Newhouser, and Tommy Bridges are so clearly better than Roberts that it would waste everyone's time to belabor the point. 

To summarize, the fact that Robin Roberts isn't as good as any of our current inductees should not disqualify him for or Hall of Fame.  Cooperstown features dozens more pitchers than we do, and we may decide to elect more as we weigh the value of pitchers versus position players.

The fact that at least two unenshrined pitchers from Robin's era have similar credentials to Mr. Roberts does not rule the man out either.  The 40's and 50's are very underrepresented decades in our Hall of Fame, and all three might deserve to get in.

The fact that there are superior pitchers both on and off the ballot similarly should not clinch his exclusion.  I wouldn't want Cooperstown to shut out all pitchers who aren't as good as Bert Blyleven.

But when you consider together that Robin Roberts is not superior to any pitcher we've currently got in with the idea that he may not even be the best outsider from his era, and that there are plenty of pitchers as deserving who can never be inducted, and that there are still a few others more deserving that have yet to be inducted, I struggle to see why we should put this man in our Hall of Fame.   

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.