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MLB History Unblurred: 10 Best Pitchers From the First Decade of the 1900s

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MLB History Unblurred: 10 Best Pitchers From the First Decade of the 1900s
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There were 49 pitchers from the first decade of the 1900s who pitched in at least 200 games. That is the lowest number of any decade in the history of Major League Baseball, other than the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s.

The first decade of the 1900s is an interesting decade to write about, because it is the single best decade in the history of MLB for pitching numbers and it was chock-full of high-caliber pitchers.

In fact, there are nine pitchers from the first decade of the 1900s that are in the HOF, and that is more than any other decade in the history of Major League Baseball, along with the nine from the 1920s.

So, making this top 10 is harder to do than any other decade, since there are nine HOFers. Eight of the nine made the top 10, so only two non-HOFers are in the top 10.  

If a player does not appear on the list of the 49 eligible players list, then they either didn’t reach 200 games or I consider them a pitcher from the 1890s or 1910s. The 1910s will be covered in a separate article, and I just wrote an article on 1890s pitchers.

Pitchers will only be in one decade. For example, Christy Mathewson will appear in this article. So, he will not appear in my 1910s article, which I will write at a later date; and, of course, he did not appear in my 1890s article.


An Explanation of the Stats

The statistics used will be Games Pitched, Games Started, Innings Pitched, ERA, ERA+, W, W%+, H/9 (OBA), WHIP (OOB%), SHO/40 (per 40 games started), and K/BB (ratio). I will also letter-grade their length of career.

First, I will include their raw career numbers. These are simply their career numbers.

Second, I will include their adjusted career numbers, if they had a long career (which most have).

Adjusted career is this: Let’s take Eddie Plank, for example. Plank had a long career. So in order to find his real numbers, I have to exclude some late seasons during his career to find the numbers that he really carried during his career, since he pitched past his prime.

With Plank, I’d exclude his 1913 and 1914 seasons. That is his adjusted career. Again, this can only be done with long career players. If I don’t list an adjusted career under a player’s raw career numbers, then it means they didn’t play long enough to adjust for their long career or it means they didn’t have any bad seasons.

Third, I will include peak career numbers. Many like short peaks, not me. I include the best seasons equaling at least 200 games for a peak. It takes away the possibility of a pitcher having one or two lucky seasons. The 200-game peak will let us know how good the pitcher was at his best.

Note: W%+ is a statistic that I have invented. It takes the team's W% into account. It is very complicated as different weights are applied to seasons depending on how many games and innings pitched a pitcher accumulated during a single season. Having said that, here’s the simple version.

If a starting pitcher has a career .500 W% during the 2000s and that pitcher pitched for the Yankees. Well, .500 is not good. But, if that pitcher pitched for the Royals, then .500 is good. This is the reasoning behind W%+. It is to W% what ERA is to ERA+. It’s not foolproof, but either is ERA+, just another piece of the puzzle and far, far more important than raw W%.


The 49 Pitchers

Here are the 49 pitchers from the first decade of the 1900s that reached at least 200 games (listed in alphabetical order): Nick Altrock, Bill Bernhard, Buster Brown, Mordecai Brown, Howie Camnitz, Jack Chesbro, Bill Dinneen, Bill Donovan, Bill Duggleby, Bob Ewing, Chick Fraser, Clark Griffith, Noodles Hahn, Harry Howell, Tom Hughes, Addie Joss, Ed Killian, Frank Kitson, Sam Leever, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Harry McIntire, Earl Moore, Cy Morgan, George Mullin, Al Orth, Orval Overall, Case Patten, Barney Pelty, Deacon Phillippe, Togie Pittinger, Eddie Plank, Jack Powell, Bob Rhoads, Lew Richie, Ed Siever, Charlie Smith, Frank Smith, Tully Sparks, Willie Sudhoff, Jesse Tannehill, Dummy Taylor, Jack Taylor, Rube Waddell, Doc White, Vic Willis, Hooks Wiltse, George Winter, and Irv Young.


The Honorable Mentions

Here are the 10 pitchers that just missed the top 10 for various reasons (listed in alphabetical order): Bill Donovan, Bob Ewing, Clark Griffith, Sam Leever, Orval Overall, Deacon Phillippe, Jack Powell, Frank Smith, Jesse Tannehill, and Jack Taylor.


The Top 10

10. Noodles Hahn (1899-1906)

Career Length Grade: F

Raw Career: 243 G, 231 GS, 2,029.1 IP, 2.55 ERA, 132 ERA+, 130 W, 116 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.13 WHIP, 4.3 SHO/40, and 2.4 K/BB

Peak Career: 237 G, 225 GS, 1,987.1 IP, 2.52 ERA, 134 ERA+, 127 W, 116 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.13 WHIP, 4.3 SHO/40, and 2.4 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Hahn was only 27 years old when his MLB career was over. He had a short career and began pitching in MLB as a teenager during the 1899 season.

He threw a mean fastball that helped lead to some spectacular numbers during his career. He led the League in Ks during each of his first three seasons, and he won over 20 games during four of his first five seasons.

His candle didn’t burn long, but it burned intensely bright.

There are three or four pitchers on the Honorable Mentions list that have good arguments to take this 10th spot from Hahn. But Noodles gets the nod once the numbers are seriously analyzed.

In fact, it’s very uncommon to see a player with a 132 ERA+ so far down a list. But, it’s his F length of career that keeps him from being higher.

A very high-caliber pitcher; a very short career.

 

9. Joe McGinnity (1899-1908)

Career Length Grade: B-

Raw Career: 465 G, 381 GS, 3,441.1 IP, 2.66 ERA, 120 ERA+, 246 W, 108 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.19 WHIP, 3.4 SHO/40, and 1.3 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 428 G, 361 GS, 3,255.1 IP, 2.68 ERA, 121 ERA+, 235 W, 109 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.19 WHIP, 3.0 SHO/40, and 1.3 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 242 G, 209 GS, 1,903 IP, 2.47 ERA, 138 ERA+, 143 W, 118 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.17 WHIP, 3.5 SHO/40, and 1.2 K/BB (include his 1899, 1900, 1902, 1903, and 1904 seasons)

He’s in the HOF and he won over 20 games during seven of the 10 seasons during his career.

By the time it was all said and done, he had led the league in wins five times and W% twice.

He was a workhorse that pitched 465 games and almost 3,450 innings in 10 seasons. I’ll save you from doing the math: That’s an average of over 45 games and almost 345 innings per season.

Many historians will have him a bit higher on this list than I do, likely because of his spectacular workload. I’ll admit, it’s an impressive workload. Unfortunately, his workload is more impressive than his bottom line numbers. Don’t get me wrong, he was great and likely belongs in the HOF.

But was he really better than Joss?

I have Joss higher on this list with a shorter career.

Not a chance in hell that McGinnity was better than Joss, though some will try to tell you he was—even some very well respected historians, like Bill James.

Joss and McGinnity pitched seven seasons together in MLB. McGinnity was better in 1904, but Joss was better in 1902, 1903, 1905, 1906, 1907, and 1908.

Does that answer that question?

I hope it does.

So, some respected historians will try to tell you that McGinnity was a better pitcher than Joss, but I’ll tell you the truth: It was Joss.

McGinnity gets a B- in the length of career category and Joss gets a D-. McGinnity is better in that category. Joss is better in everything else, ERA, ERA+, W%+, H/9, WHIP, SHO/40, and K/BB.

Length of career is of some importance, but we have to draw the line somewhere and where that line is drawn is up to you. But to me, that line is clearly drawn somewhere between Joss and McGinnity.

I’m not trying to be hard on McGinnity, because having him ninth on this list in a decade that is chock-full of great pitchers is my way of saying, "yes, he was great."

But let’s stop acting like he’s on the same shelf at the HOF that Plank, Brown and Mathewson are on. And please, historians, stop telling people that he was better than Addie Joss.

 

8. Jack Chesbro (1899-1909)

Career Length Grade: C-

Raw Career: 392 G, 332 GS, 2,896.2 IP, 2.68 ERA, 110 ERA+, 198 W, 110 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.15 WHIP, 4.2 SHO/40, and 1.8 K/BB

Peak Career: 207 G, 186 GS, 1,656.2 IP, 2.23 ERA, 131 ERA+, 130 W, 115 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.06 WHIP, 5.1 SHO/40, and 2.3 K/BB (include his 1901-1905 seasons)

He’s the last pitcher in the history of MLB to record over 40 wins in a single season. He did it during his 1904 season.

He’s in the Hall of Fame, and by the time his career was through he had led the league in shutouts twice, wins twice and W% twice.

He also won over 20 games during four consecutive seasons from 1901-1904.

Chesbro and McGinnity (in the No. 9 spot) are very similar pitchers, in my mind.

McGinnity has a slightly longer career, Chesbro has slightly better numbers. I’m giving the nod to Chesbro.

McGinnity has a better ERA, ERA+ and a better LOC grade; but, Chesbro has a better W%+, H/9, WHIP, SHO/40, and K/BB. Two HOFers fighting for the No. 8 spot.

 

7. Doc White (1901-1913)

Career Length Grade: C

Raw Career: 427 G, 363 GS, 3,041 IP, 2.39 ERA, 113 ERA+, 189 W, 103 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 4.9 SHO/40, and 2.1 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 408 G, 355 GS, 2,938 IP, 2.35 ERA, 115 ERA+, 187 W, 104 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.11 WHIP, 5.1 SHO/40, and 2.1 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 225 G, 208 GS, 1,705.2 IP, 2.08 ERA, 130 ERA+, 105 W, 102 W%+, 7.7 H/9, 1.08 WHIP, 6.0 SHO/40, and 2.1 K/BB (exclude his 1901, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1912, and 1913 seasons)

His 2.39 ERA still ranks as the 20th best ERA in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

During his career, at one time or another, he led the League in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, Wins, and K/BB.

Some may be surprised that I have White ahead of the HOF pitchers, Chesbro, and McGinnity in the eight and nine spots.

I explained why I have Chesbro ahead of McGinnity.

So, how do I have White, who’s not in the HOF, ahead of Chesbro, who is in the HOF?

Here’s how: First of all, White had a longer career than Chesbro. It’s close; a “C” vs. a “C-“ in the length of career category. But nevertheless, White had the slightly longer career.

Chesbro has the better W%+. But, White has the better ERA, ERA+, H/9, WHIP, SHO/40, and K/BB. I invented W%+. So, the only thing that Chesbro is better in is a stat that I invented; White is better in everything else.

So, the player with the longer career (White) is also the player with the better numbers. This is a no-brainer; the player with the longer career and the better numbers is the better player.

Blank out the HOF symbol next to Chesbro’s name. Just blank out the names, period. Compare the numbers. The player with the longer career and the better numbers wins. Now put the names back in, the name that goes next to the better numbers and the longer career is Doc White.

It’s just the way it is, either Doc White belongs in the HOF, or Chesbro, and McGinnity don’t.

“Doc White gave me trouble for a long time.”—Ty Cobb, the best batting average in the history of MLB

 

6. Vic Willis (1898-1910)

Career Length Grade: B+

Raw Career: 513 G, 471 GS, 3,996 IP, 2.63 ERA, 118 ERA+, 249 W, 103 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.21 WHIP, 4.2 SHO/40, and 1.4 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 480 G, 448 GS, 3,784 IP, 2.59 ERA, 120 ERA+, 240 W, 102 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 4.4 SHO/40, and 1.4 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 212 G, 193 GS, 1,691 IP, 2.32 ERA, 145 ERA+, 122 W, 107 W%+, 7.8 H/9, 1.18 WHIP, 4.6 SHO/40, and 1.5 K/BB (include his 1898, 1899, 1901, 1902, and 1906)

Willis was an interesting phenomenon, because he relied heavily on the curve ball and the changeup. He really didn’t throw the heat.

His curveball was a slow curveball that was generally the same speed as his changeup. We don’t see this much today, and we saw it even less during the first decade of the 1900s, as more pitchers relied on the fastball back then.

Willis stayed away from the heat, and it worked.

By the time his HOF career was over, he had won at least 20 games during eight of his 13 seasons, led the League in shutout twice and led the League in ERA+ twice.

He was the real deal, kind of one of those forgotten HOFers, but he belongs right where his is, in the HOF.

 

5. Rube Waddell (1897-1910)

Career Length Grade: C-

Raw Career: 407 G, 340 GS, 2,961.1 IP, 2.16 ERA, 135 ERA+, 193 W, 110 W%+, 7.5 H/9, 1.10 WHIP, 5.9 SHO/40, and 2.9 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 397 G, 338 GS, 2,928.1 IP, 2.15 ERA, 136 ERA+, 190 W, 105 W%+, 7.5 H/9, 1.10 WHIP, 5.9 SHO/40, and 2.9 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 238 G, 204 GS, 1,820.1 IP, 1.95 ERA, 152 ERA+, 124 W, 106 W%+, 7.2 H/9, 1.06 WHIP, 5.7 SHO/40, and 3.2 K/BB (exclude his 1899, 1901, 1906, 1907, 1909, and 1910 seasons)

His 2.16 ERA still ranks as the seventh-best ERA in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

His 1.10 WHIP still ranks as the 13th best WHIP in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

His 135 ERA+ still ranks as the 13th best ERA+ in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

His 7.5 H/9 still ranks as the 20th best H/9 in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

As you can see, that puts Waddell in the top 20 of all time in four of the most important starting pitcher stats in history.

It’s why he’s in the HOF, and it’s why he still remains as one of the 10 best left-handed starting pitchers in the history of MLB.

He led the league in Ks for 6 consecutive seasons from 1902-1907; by the time his career was through, he had also led the league in ERA+ 3 times, ERA twice, and H/9 twice.

He was dominant, there's no other way to put it. I’ll let the legendary Tommy Leach quote help explain his dominance, I love this old quote:

“Waddell was an overgrown boy. It was a riot. I remember one time he called the outfield in and pitched an inning without any outfielders…somebody in the stands threw an egg at him and hit him right on top of the head. You couldn’t faze that guy, though…So he showed them how good he was by calling in the outfield and striking out the side. I used to stand there at third base and watch him throw. I wasn’t playing, I was watching! “How can a man throw that hard?” I used to wonder to myself. He had a terrific curveball, too, and great control.”—Tommy Leach, respected Center Fielder from the first decade of the 1900s

I’m not saying he’s better than Roger Clemens from the 1990s, but I bet Clemens never called the outfield in and struck out the side. Gee, that would make the highlights on the MLB Network, huh?

 

4. Eddie Plank (1901-1917)

Career Length Grade: A

Raw Career: 623 G, 529 GS, 4,495.2 IP, 2.35 ERA, 122 ERA+, 326 W, 109 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 5.2 SHO/40, and 2.1 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 548 G, 477 GS, 4,067.2 IP, 2.31 ERA, 125 ERA+, 293 W, 110 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 4.9 SHO/40, and 2.0 K/BB (exclude his 1913 and 1914 seasons)

Peak Career: 216 G, 178 GS, 1,517 IP, 2.09 ERA, 141 ERA+, 117 W, 120 W%+, 7.8 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 5.3 SHO/40, and 2.0 K/BB (include his 1903, 1909, 1911, 1912, 1915, and 1917)

His 2.35 ERA still remains as the 15th best ERA in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

He had over a .565 W% during each of his first seven seasons.

He also led the league in shutouts twice.

He won over 325 games and recorded almost 70 SHO by the time his career was through.

He’s in the Hall of Fame, where he belongs, and he still arguably remains one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball; and he’s one of the 10 best left-handed starting pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball.

Waddell, in the No. 5 spot, ended his career with a better ERA, ERA+, W%+, H/9, WHIP, SHO/40, and K/BB than Plank. That’s seven categories that most historians consider to be very important stats; and Plank isn’t better than Waddell in any of them. Not a one.

Plank gets this spot over Waddell because Plank had a longer career than Waddell, much longer. Plank was great, don’t get me wrong, a superb starting pitcher compared to most. But let’s not act like he was a higher-caliber starting pitcher than Waddell.

 

3. Addie Joss (1902-1910)

Career Length Grade: D-

Raw Career: 286 G, 260 GS, 2,327 IP, 1.89 ERA, 142 ERA+, 160 W, 117 W%+, 7.3 H/9, 0.97 WHIP, 6.9 SHO/40, and 2.5 K/BB

Peak Career: 209 G, 188 GS, 1,666.2 IP, 1.67 ERA, 152 ERA+, 120 W, 119 W%+, 7.2 H/9, 0.94 WHIP, 7.7 SHO/40, and 2.8 K/BB (exclude his first two seasons and his last season)

His career was cut short because he died of Tubercular Meningitis at the young age of 31.

He is one of the five highest-caliber starting pitchers to ever grace the fields of Major League Baseball. One of the few that you can compare to the best ever: Walter Johnson. I’m talking about caliber here.

Now, we have to take something away from Joss because of his short career. After all, he was a D- in the length of career category. It’s amazing some of the pitchers that many historians will put ahead of Joss because of his short career.

We have to take something away from Joss for it, but many historians go way overboard. Even Bill James, one of the most respected historians ever, has Wes Ferrell (1930s) rated higher than Joss. Ferrell wasn’t nearly the caliber starting pitcher that Joss was; and he only had an average length of career.

So, how much do we take away from a player because of a D- length of career?

Well, he’s one of the five highest caliber starting pitchers in history. But he’s not one of the five best overall starting pitchers in history. Some, like James will drop him down around 75th. That seems a bit harsh to me, how about you?

Me: I’ll drop him out of the top 10, but no way I’d drop him out of the top 20 all time.

I’m not putting Plank ahead of him (and sure as hell not Wes Ferrell).

You may be asking yourself, “why is he talking so highly of the Joss fella?”

Here are part of the reasons why:

He led the League in ERA twice and WHIP twice.

His 0.97 WHIP still remains as the best WHIP in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

His 1.89 ERA still remains as the second best ERA in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

His 142 ERA+ still remains as the eighth best ERA+ in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

His 7.3 H/9 still remains as the 14th best H/9 in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

So, he’s in the top 15 all time in four of the most important starting pitcher stats that historians look at. He’s in the top 10 in three, the top two in two and first all time in one.

He had less than a 2.80 ERA during all nine seasons of his career and he had less than a 2.30 ERA during every season of his career, except for his rookie season.

So go ahead and put Wes Ferrell ahead of him. But me, I’ll put him where he belongs: ahead of Eddie Plank, even with his short career.

And the Red Sox hired Bill James?

Hey Tampa Bay, hire me, I’ll do as good or better than James, and I’ll be cheaper.

At least the Hall of Fame had sense enough to put Joss in. Thank you.

 

2. Mordecai Brown (1903-1916)

Career Length Grade: C

Raw Career: 481 G, 332 GS, 3,172.1 IP, 2.06 ERA, 138 ERA+, 239 W, 112 W%+, 7.7 H/9, 1.07 WHIP, 6.6 SHO/40, and 2.0 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 399 G, 277 GS, 2,655 IP, 1.89 ERA, 149 ERA+, 206 W, 109 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.04 WHIP, 7.2 SHO/40, and 2.1 K/BB (exclude his last 3 seasons)

Peak Career: 210 G, 155 GS, 1,460.2 IP, 1.42 ERA, 182 ERA+, 127 W, 107 W%+, 6.7 H/9, 0.93 WHIP, 9.7 SHO/40, and 2.6 K/BB (include his 1906-1910 seasons)

His peak was incredible and it was during five consecutive seasons, from 1906-1910. Check it out what he averaged during those five straight seasons: a 1.42 ERA, 182 ERA+, 6.7 H/9, 0.93 WHIP, and 9.7 SHO/40. Wow!

He won at least 20 games during the six consecutive seasons from 1906-1911.

By the time his career was through, he had led the league in WHIP three times and SHO twice.

His 2.06 ERA still remains as the fourth best ERA in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher, his 1.07 WHIP still remains as the seventh best and his 138 ERA+ still remains as the 10th best.

It’s why he’s one of the 10 best starting pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball.

 

1. Christy Mathewson (1900-1916)

Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 635 G, 551 GS, 4,780.2 IP, 2.13 ERA, 135 ERA+, 373 W, 115 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.06 WHIP, 5.7 SHO/40, and 3.0 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 554 G, 485 GS, 4,208 IP, 1.99 ERA, 147 ERA+, 337 W, 114 W%+, 7.8 H/9, 1.05 WHIP, 6.0 SHO/40, and 3.0 K/BB (exclude his last 3 seasons)

Peak Career: 224 G, 185 GS, 1,621.2 IP, 1.59 ERA, 183 ERA+, 142 W, 113 W%+, 7.5 H/9, 0.96 WHIP, 7.0 SHO/40, and 4.2 K/BB (include his 1905, 1908, 1909, 1911, and 1912 seasons)

He won at least 20 games 13 times during his career and he won over 20 games for 12 consecutive seasons from 1903-1914. By the time his career was through, he had won over 370 games and led the League in wins four times.

It’s not the only thing he led the league in. During his career, he also led the league in K/BB nine times, ERA five times, Ks five times, ERA+ five times, SHO four times, and WHIP four times.

His 1.06 WHIP still remains as the fifth best WHIP in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher, his 2.13 ERA still remains as the sixth best and his 135 ERA+ still remains as the 13th best.

It’s why he’s easily one of the 10 best starting pitchers to ever grace the fields of Major League Baseball; and truthfully, he’s one of the few that you can actually compare to Walter Johnson.

 

There you go: the 10 best pitchers from the first decade of the 1900s.

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