New York Mets starter and all-time great Tom Seaver has died yesterday. Where does he rank among the greatest pitchers of all time?
Seaver won 311 games in a 20-season career mostly with the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds. That record included a pair of 20-win seasons (25-7 in 1969 and 22-9 in 1975), three Cy Young Awards (1969, 1973, and 1975), the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year Award and 13 All-Star Game selections.
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He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 with 98.8 percent of the votes, a record percentage at the time.
Assessing Seaver’s place among the game’s all-time great pitchers involves surmounting the usual problems related to cross-era comparisons – most of them focusing on the changing nature and styles of the game. But there is no question that Seaver belongs in the conversation.
When statisticians make such comparisons, they are generally careful to apply two separate but equal approaches, peak, and career assessments. The first looks at a player’s accomplishments in his prime; the second considers the full extent of a player’s career.
Sandy Koufax – brilliant between 1962 and 1966 but with a relatively short career — is the prime illustration of a peak performer. Warren Spahn – who won 363 games over 21 seasons and nine times led the league in complete games — is the prototypical career yardstick.
Both approaches are valid; they are simply different.
We will assess Seaver from both approaches utilizing several yardsticks that naturally adjust for cross-era and park-sensitive factors. Doing so ought to enable us to fairly place Seaver within the panoply of great pitchers from Cy Young forward to the present day.