Year Inducted: 1953 (BBWAA, ballot #9, 209/264)
Short careers can sometimes be tough to judge, particularly for pitchers. How does one compare a very brief career like Sandy Koufax to a very long career like Early Wynn? Wynn would beat Koufax in nearly any counting stat just due to the fact that he pitched longer, not necessarily because he was the better pitcher. With pitchers, a lot of counting stats, like losses, walks and homers, are negative so the longer pitcher picks up more positive value from stats like wins and strikeouts, but loses quite a bit due to nothing more than playing time. And yet, universally, Koufax is considered the better pitcher between the two, mostly because his name is associated more with dominance than Wynn’s name. Pitchers that have short careers, but are incredibly dominant, tend to be looked at higher than pitchers who pitch a long time and, to borrow a term from some of the BBWAA, are “compilers”. A classic case of this dominance would be Dizzy Dean.
Dean pitched in parts of only 12 seasons with the Cardinals, Cubs and Browns. He won 150 games against 83 loses, tossed less than 2000 innings and posted an ERA of 3.02. Along with being one of the more colorful pitchers in the game, Dean was a master on the mound where he struck out 1163 batters and walked only 453 while holding hitters to an average of .250. Dean managed to strike out more than 190 batters in each of his first five full seasons, and was on pace to do it again in 1937. However, during the All Star Game of that year, Dean was struck on the toe by a line drive. Normally, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but Dean wouldn’t just wait for the toe to heal. This resulted in him altering his throwing motion, so he could throw pain free in the toe. The altered motion put more strain on his arm and shoulder, which caused his velocity to disappear, and his dominance along with it. While with the Cubs he tried a few times to come back, but he just didn’t have the stuff anymore.
Dean’s peak years of 1932-1937 saw him rank first in wins (tied with Carl Hubbell), second in ERA (again to Hubbell), first in FIP, first in fWAR, first in K/9, and first in strikeouts. Dean absolutely dominated the game as few before him did, if only for a short time. Dean was fond of saying that, had he and Negro League legend Satchel Paige been on the same team, the Pennant would be won by July and they could spend August and September fishing.
There’s no denying that Dean was a great pitcher, and well deserving of his induction. Is he better than a lot of the pitchers lower on the list (such as Steve Carlton or Bert Blyleven)? “Better” is a subjective term, so it’ll be different for everyone. However, Dean did have fewer down seasons than they did, simply due to the shorter career. Dean had 46.3 RA9-WAR in 1967 innings (roughly 42.5 innings to accumulate 1 RA9-WAR), compared to 54.6 for Carlton (5217 IP/95.5 RA9-WAR) and 49.8 for the Dutchman (4970/99.7), so he was slightly more dominant in his time. But, better is also useless in this idea as a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer and they are all equals there. Dean was the best pitcher of his time, even if it was short.
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