A great among greats
One of the great things about the Internet is that, just by surfing around, you can always find something interesting or creative to do (excluding dumb video games, which will turn your brain to mush).
I bring this up for your edification and delight, as the late, great Bob Erdman used to tell us in second period trigonometry class, because, as I was puttering around the net the other day at work, something very interesting popped up on one of the web's best sites, BaseballReference.com. That site carries the career statistics of every player and manager who ever set foot on a big league field, and most minor leaguers too. The site has other features too, one of which is called the MLB EloRater.
Briefly, the Elo rating system, as the site explains, "is a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in two-player games. The creator of the system, Arpad Elo, was a professor of physics at Marquette University who wanted an improved chess rating system."
Elo's system is now applied to other games and BaseballReference.com applies it to baseball players to determine the best hitters and pitchers in baseball history. Players have to meet certain criteria in terms of plate appearance, innings pitched, games played, etc., and then Elo's very complex mathematical formulas (explained on the web site, but not that I can understand - sorry, Mr. Erdman, wherever you are) are put to work in two-player matchups which ultimately determine rankings.
What makes this of interest to us in this particular corner of the world is that Shamokin's own Hall of Famer, pitcher Stan Coveleski, is ranked the 23rd best pitcher of all time according to the formula. In fact, Coveleski's ranking is better than the ranking for at least 39 other Hall of Fame pitchers, according to my count.
Not too shabby, huh?
Some of the names Coveleski beats may surprise even the most ardent baseball fan. For example, Coveleski probably isn't even considered the greatest pitcher in Cleveland history by most Indians fans. That title would probably fall to Bob Feller. But Feller is ranked only 32nd according to the system. Carl Hubbell is 24th, Ferguson Jenkins 33rd, Phil Niekro 37th.
Nolan Ryan, he of the 5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters, is only ranked 53rd. Early Wynn is 73rd, and Coveleski's contemporary spitballers, Burleigh Grimes and Waite Hoyt, are 75th and 77th, respectively.
Without going into the mathematical gizzards too much, Coveleski's high ranking probably stems from his legendary control. In posting a 215-142 career record, Covey had a 2.89 career ERA and only walked 802 batters in 3,082 innings, or about one batter every four innings. And to be sure, there are players in the rankings (we're talking only pitchers here; the hitting rankings are really ripe for arguments) who seem to have taken one on the chin.
For instance, Juan Marichal is only ranked 102nd. For persons of my generation, that's ridiculous. Marichal had a 243-142 career record, was a six-time 20-game winner, had a high (.631) career winning percentage and the same career ERA as Coveleski.
Robin Roberts, who had six straight 20-game winning seasons for mostly mediocre Phillies teams in the 1950s, is ranked 116th. He led the league in wins four straight years, complete games five straight years, innings pitched five straight years and strikeouts twice. His Achilles heel is that he gave up a lot (505) of home runs. Recent Hall inductee Bert Blyleven is ranked 140th.
Yankee fans will grouse that Whitey Ford (236-106 for an amazing .690 winning percentage and 2.75 ERA) is only ranked 147th. Perhaps he is penalized for playing on teams that were too good (11 pennants, six World Series wins).
Hall of Fame relief pitchers don't get much credit, either. Dennis Eckersley and Goose Gossage are 100th and 114th, respectively, and they both spent much of their careers starting. Pure relievers Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter rank 210th and 241st, respectively.
The lowest ranked Hall of Famer I found was Satchel Paige (261st) and his numbers are skewed because of the relatively little time he spent in the major leagues after his Negro Leagues career, as are those of other Negro Leaguers.
The great thing about the rankings is that they're always changing because active players are considered as well. No active pitchers are ranked ahead of Coveleski; the closest is Tim Hudson (25th). Johan Santana is 48th, Roy Oswalt 67th, Roy Halladay 78th. All three were probably ranked higher at the beginning of the season.
Orel Hershiser (15th) and Jack Quinn (19th) are the only pitchers ranked in the current top 20 who are eligible for the Hall of Fame and not yet in. Randy Johnson (7th), Greg Maddux (8th), Pedro Martinez (17th) and Tom Glavine (20th) are waiting their turns. Some other highly ranked guys who aren't in the Hall include Luis Tiant (27th), Jerry Koosman (29th), Jim Kaat (30th) and Bret Saberhagen (31st).
Walter Johnson and Cy Young are ranked 1-2, followed by Lefty Grove, Grover Cleveland (now known as Pete for some reason) Alezander and Christy Mathewson in the top five. Tom Seaver is sixth, Sandy Koufax 10th, Bob Gibson 14th, Steve Carlton 16th and Jim Palmer 18th.
As for hitters, Ted Williams is currently ranked first over Babe Ruth, who was ranked No. 1 the last time I took a good look, with Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron rounding out the top five. Musial's recent death may have bumped him up; I don't think he was that high last time I checked. Much as I liked him, Mike Schmidt (10th) is somehow ranked above Ty Cobb (13th), whose batting average was 100 points higher. The highest current player is Miguel Cabrera (25th).