The recent vote by the Old Timers Committee at the Baseball Hall of Fame gave us a perfect chance to review the value of some old-time statistics, too. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball, especially regarding former Indian Wes Ferrell.
Many who study baseball are concluding that the “Win” is a faulty way to judge pitchers. With pitch counts, stacked bullpens and a multitude of better-balanced ways to judge pitchers, the “decision” seems almost trivial and more of a team stat than a judgement about the pitcher’s performance.
However, there is something to be said about an athlete who excelled at the standards of his day. So while we can sneer at the value of a win today, shouldn’t we tip our hat to the players who met the goals set before them and achieved excellence?
If the current study of baseball tells us anything, it is to look as deeply as possible. So when we see that Wes Ferrell won his 193 games with a gigantic 4.04 ERA it should not automatically disqualify him for accolades.
Ferrell was on the pre-integration ballot this year and, as has happened too often lately, the committee decided to pick no one.
Remembering that the win-loss record was the key factor is measure quality of his day, let’s go a little deeper regarding Ferrell. He introduced himself to baseball with four stellar seasons for mediocre Indians teams – 21 wins in 1929, followed by 25 wins, 22 wins, and 23 wins. Those were middling Tribe teams, finishing third, fourth, fourth and fourth. He also was a reliever, pitching in 192 games over those four seasons, usually getting about 250 innings.
Hitting was more robust back then, making that lifetime ERA more impressive. The Yankees scored 1,062 runs in 1930, the year Ferrell had 25 wins and a 3.31 ERA. The American League batted .288 with a .772 OPS that year. League-wide, the ERA was 4.65. Ferrell did some hitting, himself. Could the Indians of today use a lifetime .280 hitter with a .797 OPS and 38 homers? That OPS is right at 100 in OPS+, which means he was right at the league average.
The next season, Ferrell had four complete-game victories over the Yankees, three times holding them to one run.
Unfortunately, Baseball Reference does not have pitcher/hitter matchups for back then, so I can’t tell you how the right-handed Ferrell did against lefties like Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth.
In SABR’s Baseball Biography Project, Mark Smith says Ferrell left Cleveland following the 1933 season because of arm problems and a hyper-competitive spirit that grated on teammates and manager Roger Peckinpaugh. He was suspended for 10 days after refusing Peckinpaugh’s order to hand him the ball for a pitching change.
He was traded to the Red Sox where he had two more 20-plus-win seasons and a second-place finish for MVP in 1935.
Is Wins Above Replacement your measuring stick. It wasn’t compiled back then but can be figured retroactively. Ferrell finished with 48.8 wins, including a high of 8.4 in that 25-win season for the Red Sox in 1935. He was second among his peer pitchers four different seasons, and 106th all time under the WAR rankings.
So does that make him a Hall of Famer? Not according to the committee and not according to the writers, who never gave him more than 3.6 percent of the vote when he was on their ballot. I think he deserved the Veterans’ selection but I can’t say it is an outrage that they took a pass on every candidate. You are welcome to your own opinion, too. I just hope you agree that he was more than just a meatball pitcher who picked up wins he didn’t deserve. Like every pitcher who ever played the game, his goal was to walk off the mound a winner and he did just that.