Alexander, Faber, Vance: MLB's Best Starting Pitchers of the 1920's

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Alexander, Faber, Vance: MLB's Best Starting Pitchers of the 1920's
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The 1920s was one of the worst decades in the history of Major League Baseball for starting pitcher stats.  It is the worst, except for the 1890s, 1930s, and 2000s (now). 

It’s especially interesting because it followed one of the best decades in history for starting pitcher numbers—the 1910s.

The 1910s is the best decade for starting pitcher numbers, other than the 1870s and the first decade of the 1900s.

The 1920s was the first decade of the live ball era.

Every starting pitcher on this list pitched at least part of their career in the 1910s, and this needs to be adjusted for, because pitching in the 1910s obviously positively affected their numbers. The more they pitched in the 1910s, the more adjustment is needed.

Another thing that makes this decade interesting is the fact that there are nine starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame from the 1920s. That is more than any other decade in the history of MLB, along with the nine from the first decade of the 1900s.

Seven of the nine HOFers make this top 10. So two of them don’t make the top 10; that only leaves three spots for non-HOFers.

There were 60 starting pitchers from the 1920s who pitched in at least 200 games.

If a player does not appear on the list of the 60 eligible players list, then they either didn’t reach 200 games, or I consider them a pitcher from the 1910s or the 1930s.

The 1930s will be covered in a separate article, and I just wrote an article on the 10 best starting pitchers from the 1910s.

Pitchers will only be in one decade. For example, Grover Alexander will appear in this article. So, he will not appear in my 1930s article, which I will write at a later date, and he did not appear in my 1910s article.

 

An Explanation of the Stats

The statistics used will be Games Pitched, Games Started, Innings Pitched, ERA, ERA+, W, W percentage+, H/9 (OBA), WHIP (OOB percentage), SHO, SHO/40 (per 40 games started), K, 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 Red Faber, for example. Faber is a starting pitcher from the 1920's that 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 Faber, I’d exclude his 1927 season. 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, but 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 percentage+ is a statistic that I have invented. It takes the team's winning percentage 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 percentage 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 percentage+. It is to W percentage what ERA is to ERA+. It’s not foolproof, but neither is ERA+, just another piece of the puzzle and far, far more important than raw W percentage.

 

The 60 Starting Pitchers

Here are the 60 starting pitchers from the 1920's that reached at least 200 games (listed in alphabetical order): Vic Aldridge, Grover Alexander, Jesse Barnes, Virgil Barnes, Larry Benton, Sheriff Blake, Ted Blankenship, Joe Bush, Hal Carlson, Rip Collins, Stan Coveleski, Bil Doak, Pete Donohue, Howard Ehmke, Jumbo Elliott, Red Faber, Alex Ferguson, Dana Fillingim, Milt Gaston, Joe Genewich, Dolly Gray, Burleigh Grimes, Jesse Haines, Slim Harriss, Waite Hoyt, Bill Hubbell, Elmer Jacobs, Sam Jones, Tony Kaufmann, Ray Kremer, Dolf Luque, Carl Mays, Hugh McQuillan, Doug McWeeny, Lee Meadows, Jake Miller, Clarence Mitchell, Johnny Morrison, Art Nehf, Joe Oeschger, Herb Pennock, Jesse Petty, George Pipgras, Jack Quinn, Jimmy Ring, Eppa Rixey, Dutch Ruether, Jack Scott, Joe Shaute, Bob Shawkey, Bill Sherdel, Urban Shocker, George Smith, Allan Sothoron, Lefty Stewart, Sloppy Thurston, George Uhle, Dazzy Vance, Elam Vangilder, and Tom Zachary.

 

The Honorable Mentions

Here are the 10 starting pitchers that just missed the top 10 for various reasons (listed in alphabetical order): Bill Doak, Jesse Haines, Sam Jones, Ray Kremer, Art Nehf, Herb Pennock, Jack Quinn, Bob Shawkey, Bill Sherdel, and Tom Zachary.

 

The Top 10

10. Urban Shocker (1916-1928) Career Length Grade: C-

Raw Career: 412 G, 317 GS, 2,681.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 124 ERA+, 187 W, 117 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 28 SHO, 3.5 SHO/40, 983 K, and 1.5 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 411 G, 317 GS, 2,679.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 124 ERA+, 187 ERA, 117 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 28 SHO, 3.5 SHO/40, 983 K, and 1.5 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 208 G, 165 GS, 1,426 IP, 2.92 ERA, 135 ERA+, 108 W, 115 W%+, 8.9 H/9, 1.23 WHIP, 18 SHO, 4.4 SHO/40, 542 K, and 1.6 K/BB (include his 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, and 1927 seasons)

He had a good arsenal of pitches that included a fastball, spitball, and curveball.

He won at least 20 games during the first four seasons of the 1920s, and led the League with 27 wins in 1921 during that streak.

Also during that four season streak, he led the League in Ks in 1922 and K/BB during two consecutive seasons in 1922 and 1923.

He was arguably the best starting pitcher in the League during the first four or five seasons of the 1920s; the first half of the decade.

Unfortunately, he died at the young age of 37 during the 1928 season. He pitched one game in May of that season, was let go, fell ill with pneumonia and died three or four months after he pitched his last game. A tragic and unexpected ending for the great Urban Shocker.

 

9. Dolf Luque (1914-1935) Career Length Grade: B

Raw Career: 550 G, 365 GS, 3,220.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 117 ERA+, 194 W, 96 W%+, 9.0 H/9, 1.29 WHIP, 26 SHO, 2.9 SHO/40, 1,130 K, and 1.2 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 465 G, 345 GS, 2,961.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 120 ERA+, 176 W, 96 W%+, 8.9 H/9, 1.27 WHIP, 26 SHO, 3.0 SHO/40, 1,059 K, and 1.3 K/BB (exclude his 1931, 1932, 1934, and 1935 seasons)

Peak Career: 219 G, 156 GS, 1,381.1 IP, 2.66 ERA, 141 ERA+, 87 W, 96 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.19 WHIP, 13 SHO, 3.3 SHO/40, 551 K, and 1.5 K/BB (include his 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, and 1933 seasons)

He was part of the World Series championship teams that captured the title in 1919 and 1933. He was part of the Cincinnati team that won that infamous 1919 Black Sox Series.

He pitched well during both of those World Series championships in 1919 and 1933. He pitched three games in relief, over nine innings pitched. He never lost a game or allowed a run during those nine plus innings, and posted a 0.54 WHIP, 2.9 H/9, and 5.5 K/BB. Absolutely incredible numbers.

During his career, he led the League in SHO three times, H/9 three times, ERA twice, and ERA+ twice.

The only knick against Luque is his W percentage+. In fact, he’s the only starting pitcher from any decade that is in the top 10 that has less than a 100 W percentage+ in all three careers; raw, adjusted, and peak. That’s 130 starting pitchers in the top 10 with all of the decades.

His teams were generally good—usually somewhere between .525-.550 W percentage, but Luque posted a career .520 W percentage. Not good. But don’t let that fool you, W percentage+ is just part of the formula. He was a great pitcher and his other numbers make up for his poor W percentage+.

 

8. Waite Hoyt (1918-1938) Career Length Grade: A-

Raw Career: 674 G, 423 GS, 3,762.1 IP, 3.59 ERA, 111 ERA+, 237 W, 101 W%+, 9.7 H/9, 1.34 WHIP, 26 SHO, 2.5 SHO/40, 1,206 K, and 1.2 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 576 G, 353 GS, 3,235.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 116 W%+, 207 W, 103 W%+, 9.4 H/9, 1.31 WHIP, 23 SHO, 2.6 SHO/40, 1,092 K, and 1.4 K/BB (exclude his 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1938 seasons)

Peak Career: 225 G, 127 GS, 1,248.2 IP, 2.97 ERA, 137 ERA+, 87 W, 105 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.24 WHIP, 8 SHO, 2.5 SHO/40, 453 K, and 1.6 K/BB (include his 1921, 1923, 1927, 1934, 1935, and 1936 seasons)

He started pitching his Hall of Fame career as a high-school aged 18-year-old during the 1918 season.

He helped his teams to the World Series during seven of the 11 seasons, from 1921-1931. Of those seven World Series, they captured three titles. All seven of those World Series appearances were with the New York Yankees, except for the last one with Philadelphia.

He pitched a dozen games during those seven World Series and posted a 1.83 ERA. Yeah, he had run support with guys like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but it wasn’t needed with that 1.83 ERA.

He won over 20 games in two consecutive seasons in 1927 and 1928; leading the League in 1927.

He also posted over a .755 W percentage during those two consecutive seasons in 1927 and 1928; leading the League in 1927.

He also led the League in WHIP during a career that saw him record almost 240 wins by the time he was through.

 

7. Burleigh Grimes (1916-1934) Career Length Grade: A

Raw Career: 616 G, 497 GS, 4,180 IP, 3.53 ERA, 107 ERA+, 270 W, 106 W%+, 9.5 H/9, 1.37 WHIP, 35 SHO, 2.8 SHO/40, 1,512 K, and 1.2 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 543 G, 465 GS, 3,902.1 IP, 3.44 ERA, 110 ERA+, 257 W, 111 W%+, 9.4 H/9, 1.35 WHIP, 33 SHO, 2.8 SHO/40, 1,445 K, and 1.2 K/BB (exclude his last three seasons)

Peak Career: 231 G, 192 GS, 1,640.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 137 ERA+, 122 W, 121 W%+, 8.8 H/9, 1.24 WHIP, 21 SHO, 4.4 SHO/40, 612 K, and 1.4 K/BB (include his 1918, 1920, 1921, 1928, 1929, and 1930 seasons)

He led the League in wins twice during his career and won over 20 games during four of the first five seasons of the 1920s, from 1920-1924. He posted 270 wins by the time his Hall of Fame career was through.

He also led the League in SHO during his career and finished his career with 35 SHO.

At one time or another during his career, he also led the League in W percentage, Ks and ERA+.

Just a great, long career.

 

6. Carl Mays (1915-1929) Career Length Grade: C+

Raw Career: 490 G, 325 GS, 3,021.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 119 ERA+, 207 W, 108 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.21 WHIP, 29 SHO, 3.6 SHO/40, 862 K, and 1.2 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 439 G, 310 GS, 2,835.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 121 ERA+, 196 W, 105 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.19 WHIP, 28 SHO, 3.6 SHO/40, 820 K, and 1.2 K/BB (exclude his last two seasons)

Peak Career: 210 G, 175 GS, 1,548.2 IP, 2.49 ERA, 134 ERA+, 113 W, 111 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.16 WHIP, 20 SHO, 4.5 SHO/40, 484 K, and 1.2 K/BB (include his 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, and 1925 seasons)

He is often times most remembered as the man that threw the pitch that killed Ray Chapman during the 1920 season. Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch that Mays threw and died a couple days later from the injuries.

It was a tragedy for everyone involved, including Major League Baseball. Baseball was trying to recover from the Black Sox scandal, and now this. It would have been tragic if it were any player, but Chapman was arguably the best shortstop in the League.

His replacement was Joe Sewell, who ended up having a Hall of Fame career. The Hall of Fame career that Chapman was likely on his way to having before his death. His Cleveland team ended up winning the World Series that season in Chapman’s honor.

Many are still hard on Mays because he never showed enough remorse for the incident, in many historians eyes. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is often perceived this way and I just wanted to point that out. He’s still perceived as the bad guy in the minds of many, regarding that incident.

Chapman’s death almost single-handedly led to many rule changes, including the banning of the spitball. By the way, the pitch that Mays threw that killed Chapman was a fastball, not a spitball. But many theorize that the ball was so dirty from the spitball that Chapman didn’t see the ball; a theory that likely holds some validity.

Mays was mainly a fastball and curveball pitcher and many credit him as having the best fastball of the decade. He was a sidearm pitcher. Well, more submarine, actually. Just plain underhand. It worked for him.

He ended up leading the League in SHO twice during his career and posted almost 30 SHO by the time he was through.

He also led the League in W and W percentage at one time or another during his career and ended up recording almost 210 wins by the time his career was through.

He won over 20 games during four of the five seasons from 1917-1921.

You may be asking, how can I have Mays ahead of Grimes (in the seven spot) who’s in the HOF?

The truth is, most historians have Mays ahead of Grimes, like I do.

Mays had a better ERA, ERA+, W percentage+, H/9, WHIP, and SHO/40 than Mays. They are tied in K/BB.

That’s seven categories that most historians agree are seven of the most important starting pitcher stats to look at and Grimes isn’t better than Mays in any of them. Not a one.

It’s why I (and most historians) have Mays ahead of Grimes; even though Grimes is in the HOF and Mays isn’t in the HOF.

Mays is the best starting pitcher from this decade that is not in the HOF.

 

5. Stan Coveleski (1912-1928) Career Length Grade: C+

Raw Career: 450 G, 385 GS, 3,082 IP, 2.89 ERA, 127 ERA+, 215 W, 106 W%+, 8.9 H/9, 1.25 WHIP, 38 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 981 K, and 1.2 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 438 G, 377 GS, 3,024 IP, 2.84 ERA, 130 ERA+, 210 W, 107 W%+, 8.9 H/9, 1.25 WHIP, 38 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 976 K, and 1.3 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 237 G, 208 GS, 1,693.2 IP, 2.36 ERA, 148 ERA+, 124 W, 106 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.15 WHIP, 26 SHO, 5.0 SHO/40, 586 K, and 1.4 K/BB (include his 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1923, 1925, and 1927 seasons)

To help redeem the death of his Cleveland teammate, Ray Chapman, Coveleski won three games during the 1920 World Series. He completed all three games he started and allowed only two runs during the 27 innings, while capturing the championship. One of the best World Series performances in history by a starting pitcher.

During Coveleski’s Hall of Fame career, he led the League in ERA twice, SHO twice, ERA+ twice, and H/9 twice.

He won over 20 games during four consecutive seasons, from 1918-1921, and posted almost 40 SHO by the time his career was through.

He was a winner, plain and simple. He recorded over a .535 W percentage during 12 of the 14 seasons during his career.

 

4. Eppa Rixey (1912-1933) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 692 G, 552 GS, 4,494.2 IP, 3.15 ERA, 115 ERA+, 266 W, 105 W%+, 9.3 H/9, 1.27 WHIP, 37 SHO, 2.7 SHO/40, 1,350 K, and 1.3 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 638 G, 514 GS, 4,204 IP, 3.05 ERA, 117 ERA+, 253 W, 105 W%+, 9.2 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 37 SHO, 2.9 SHO/40, 1,291 K, and 1.3 K/BB (exclude his 1930 and 1931 seasons)

Peak Career: 202 G, 166 GS, 1,395.1 IP, 2.57 ERA, 141 ERA+, 93 W, 113 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.18 WHIP, 17 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 430 K, and 1.4 K/BB (include his 1912, 1916, 1923, 1924, 1925, and 1932 seasons)

He led the League in wins during his career and won at least 20 games during three of the four seasons, from 1922-1925. He recorded over 265 wins by the time his Hall of Fame career was through.

He also led the League in SHO during his career and posted almost 40 SHO by the time he was done.

Rixey was great, no question. But Coveleski was a higher caliber pitcher than Rixey. Rixey gets this spot ahead of Covelski because he had a much longer career than Coveleski. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Gee, I hate that length of career affects the stats.

Rixey arguable still remains one of the 20 best left handed starting pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball.

 

3. Red Faber (1914-1933) Career Length Grade: A

Raw Career: 669 G, 483 GS, 4,086.2 IP, 3.15 ERA, 119 ERA+, 254 W, 112 W%+, 9.0 H/9, 1.30 WHIP, 29 SHO, 2.4 SHO/40, 1,471 K, and 1.2 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 651 G, 468 GS, 3,976 IP, 3.11 ERA, 120 ERA+, 250 W, 113 W%+, 9.0 H/9, 1.30 WHIP, 29 SHO, 2.5 SHO/40, 1,432 K, and 1.2 K/BB (exclude his 1927 season)

Peak Career: 213 G, 179 GS, 1,535.2 IP, 2.44 ERA, 145 ERA+, 106 W, 113 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 17 SHO, 3.8 SHO/40, 577 K, and 1.4 K/BB (include his 1916, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1921, and 1922 seasons)

He won over 20 games during the first three seasons of the 1920s, from 1920-1922. He recorded almost 255 wins by the time his Hall of Fame career was through.

He was a winner that posted over a .525 W percentage during each of his first 10 seasons in Major League Baseball.

During the 1917 World Series, he picked up three wins and posted a 2.33 ERA during the Series. He was still on that White Sox team when they threw the 1919 World Series, but he did not play because of injuries.

Some theorize that if Faber had not been hurt, the World Series would have never been thrown. They say this because he would have likely gotten those starts instead of Williams, and he would have had no part in the fix because he and Comiskey were close and Faber was one of Comiskey’s favorites.

Many theorize that Faber would have blown the whistle since he and Comiskey were close. I’m not saying what would or wouldn’t have happened, I’m just telling you that many historians bring this up, and there actually may be some truth in the theory. But we’ll never know.

Faber may have pitched his two best seasons right after that scandal. He led the League for two consecutive seasons in ERA, ERA+, and WHIP during 1921 and 1922.

 

2. Dazzy Vance (1915-1935) Career Length Grade: C

Raw Career: 442 G, 347 GS, 2,966.2 IP, 3.24 ERA, 125 ERA+, 197 W, 118 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.23 WHIP, 29 SHO, 3.3 SHO/40, 2,045 K, and 2.4 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 397 G, 341 GS, 2,838.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 127 ERA+, 193 W, 117 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.22 WHIP, 29 SHO, 3.4 SHO/40, 1,975 K, and 2.5 K/BB (exclude his last two seasons)

Peak Career: 204 G, 186 GS, 1,616.4 IP, 2.78 ERA, 151 ERA+, 119 W, 128 W%+, 8.0 H/9, 1.13 WHIP, 18 SHO, 3.8 SHO/40, 1,166 K, and 3.0 K/BB (include his 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930 seasons)

Two things are very out of the ordinary about Vance, other than his great pitching.

The first: He only pitched just over 30 innings before the age of 30. You never see this, especially from a Hall of Fame pitcher that ended up pitching in over 2,950 innings.

The second: He had arm injuries early in his career. Most never recover from arm injuries and usually have them at the end of their careers because they can’t recover. Well, Vance had them early, and he did recover from the arm injuries.

He ended up leading the League in K/BB during eight consecutive seasons, from 1924-1931.

He ended up leading the League in Ks during seven consecutive seasons, from 1922-1928.

He led the League in SHO four times during his career.

He led the League in H/9 four times during his career.

He led the League in ERA three times during his career.

He led the League in ERA+ three times during his career.

He led the League in WHIP three times during his career.

He led the League for two consecutive seasons in wins during 1924 and 1925.

I’d say he ended up recovering well from those arm injuries.

Any questions?

 

1.Grover Alexander (1911-1930) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 696 G, 599 GS, 5,190 IP, 2.56 ERA, 135 ERA+, 373 W, 121 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 90 SHO, 6.0 SHO/40, 2,198 K, and 2.3 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 567 G, 486 GS, 4,295 IP, 2.33 ERA, 142 ERA+, 317 W, 124 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.09 WHIP, 85 SHO, 7.0 SHO/40, 1,975 K, and 2.4 K/BB (exclude his 1921, 1922, 1928, 1929, and 1930 seasons)

Peak Career: 213 G, 187 GS, 1,657.2 IP, 1.74 ERA, 175 ERA+, 130 W, 123 W%+, 7.4 H/9, 0.99 WHIP, 46 SHO, 9.8 SHO/40, 765 K, and 2.9 K/BB (include his 1915, 1916, 1918, 1919, 1920, and 1927 seasons)

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

He led the League in ERA+ during four of the six seasons from 1915-1920.

He was a winner that won over 20 games during six of his first seven seasons in the League from 1911-1917. He posted over 370 wins by the time his Hall of Fame career was through, which still remains third on the all-time wins list.

He ended up leading the League in wins six times during his career.

He had over a .525 W percentage during all 20 seasons of his career, except for his last season in 1930. That’s simply incredible.

He drank a good deal during the second half of his career. He reportedly drank because of shell shock from the war, where he spent most of the 1918 season.

He still managed to arguably have three of his best seasons after the war; most notably, 1919, 1920, and 1927.

Like Vance, his League-leading stats can just be rattled off.

Alexander led the League in SHO seven times during his career and posted 90 by the time he was done, which still remains second all-time.

He led the League in Ks six times during his career.

He led the League in WHIP five times during his career.

He led the League in ERA during four of the six seasons, from 1915-1920.

He led the League in ERA+ during four of the six seasons, from 1915-1920.

He led the League in H/9 three times during his career.

He led the League in K/BB three times during his career.

As you can see, he was dominant, hands down.

It’s why he still remains as one of the 10 best starting pitchers to ever grace the fields of MLB.

 

There you go; the 10 best starting pitchers from the 1920s.

 

 

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