Maddux, Clemens, Pedro… Brown?

Mike Mussina officially called it quits this week, finishing his career up with a 20-win season that saw him post career highs or lows in several statistical categories. He was hands down one of the best pitchers of this generation, one which featured four of the best pitchers in the history of the sport. Mussina routinely finds himself mentioned on the list of this generation’s top pitchers that includes: Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Curt Schilling. This post isn’t about Mussina, though, who is usually nestled between Glavine and Schilling on this list. No, instead, I am focusing on the starting pitcher that concludes this list: Kevin Brown.

Whenever most people see this list of nine starting pitchers, Brown tends to be the only player that raises eyebrows or conjures up questioning. For whatever reason, the vast majority of fans forget how great he was, for a significant period of time. Perhaps it serves as a testament to how amazing Maddux, Pedro, Unit, and Clemens were, but Brown put together a remarkable career that all too often goes unnoticed or forgotten. When the Hall of Fame discussions sprout up, Mussina is routinely the equivalent of that team that goes 86-76 but misses the division and wild card by a couple of games, a very good team but just not on par with the playoff teams. Brown, however, tends to be like this year’s version of the New York Yankees: a team with a good, winning record, that finishes in third place, unnoticed behind the bigger winners ahead of them.

The only legitimate reason I can come up with to explain why Brown is not thought of as highly as some of these other guys, not including any type of post-season performance or in-season awards, is that he continued through five injury-plagues seasons following the end of his peak, essentially leaving an extended poor aftertaste. From 1989-2000, though, Brown was by far one of the best pitchers in baseball. In fact, a look at some of the numbers allows him to stake claim as perhaps the fourth best in this 12-yr span, behind Maddux, Clemens, and Johnson.

Looking at those with at least 240 starts (20+ starts in 12 seasons), Brown posted an ERA+ of 130, behind just Maddux (158), Clemens (148), and Johnson (138). In terms of raw ERA, Brown and Johnson tied at 3.20. And in terms of OPS against, Brown’s .646 was topped by nobody outside of Maddux, Clemens, Johnson, and Smoltz; and Smoltz was virtually identical with his .643.

Here is what an average season looked like for all four of these pitchers:

Maddux:  33 GS, 240.0 IP, 211 H, 47 BB, 174 K, 2.62 ERA, 2.99 FIP
Clemens: 31 GS, 219.2 IP, 186 H, 76 BB, 210 K, 3.08 ERA, 3.21 FIP
Johnson: 30 GS, 206.0 IP, 159 H, 90 BB, 251 K, 3.20 ERA, 3.21 FIP
Brown:   31 GS, 219.1 IP, 205 H, 60 BB, 158 K, 3.20 ERA, 3.35 FIP

Now, clearly, the first three posted superior numbers to Brown in this span, but not numbers so incredibly better that, at the end of 2000, they were sure-fire Hall of Fame pitchers while Brown was only considered very good. In fact, looking at WPA/LI, from 1989-2000, Brown’s 30.55 was within striking distance of Johnson’s 31.84, and not too far behind Clemens’ 38.23. As mentioned before, though, Brown’s career did not end in 2000, and things went downhill from that point on. From 2001-2005, he made 30+ starts just once, injured his hand punching a wall, and underwent intense scrutiny from the Yankees fanbase. Those five years basically erased a large portion of the reputation he built with brilliant performance the previous twelve seasons.

All told, Brown finished his career with a 3.28 ERA and 3.33 FIP. Greg Maddux, assuming he retires this season, will end up with a 3.16 ERA and 3.26 FIP. Clemens, a 3.12 ERA and 3.08 FIP. And Johnson, a 3.26 ERA and 3.14 FIP. There are many more important statistics than ERA and FIP, and nobody is debating that Maddux, Clemens, Johnson, and Pedro (who, for the record, isn’t included here because he did not become a legit starter until 1994) are far superior to Brown, but looking at all the numbers really makes me wonder why such a gap seems to exist between Brown and the likes of Moose, Smoltz, Glavine, and Schilling.

Any thoughts? Brown has pretty much no shot at the Hall of Fame, but his numbers deem him worthy of being remembered as much more than – “Oh yeah, he was pretty good back in the day.”




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

18 Responses to “Maddux, Clemens, Pedro… Brown?”

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  1. dan says:

    Media perception. He wasn’t a nice guy, so the media didn’t make him into a hero. I remember him struggling in the playoffs, so that doesn’t help. I don’t want to look up whether or not that last part is true–that’s just the image I have of him. Just like people have the image of Jack Morris being invincible in the playoffs despite getting bombed a few times.

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  2. BraveBronco0121 says:

    It’s an interesting thing – I hadn’t thought of him in years until you brought him up. Looking at the numbers and racking my memories, he was clearly better than your average fan thinks. He never won a Cy Young, only won 20 games once (already sounds like Moose, huh?), only won 201 games, didn’t pitch nearly as well in October, made a ton of money when he was over the hill – it’s almost a perfect recipe for being forgotten about in an era with guys like Maddux, Clemens, Pedro, The Unit, Glavine, and Smoltz, all of whom are locks for the hall of fame (except perhaps Smoltz – the BBWAA has done stranger things).

    He also lost time in 1994 and 1995 during his peak due to injuries, and that doesn’t help but I don’t see it hurting him a lot either. Guys like him really buck the conventional Hall of Fame wisdom, but he probably deserves to be in.

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  3. VoiceOfUnreason says:

    It’s not clear to me that he has 12 brilliant seasons, rather than six, but ok…

    One thing that leaps out at me, examining bb-ref, is that at age 35 he is similarity comped with a bunch of guys who are enshrined in the Hall of Almost, and then he falls dead center of the distribution going forwards. Should he really be getting more attention than David Cone or El Tiante?

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  4. He did have 6 extremely good season and you could make a very strong case that he should have won the Cy Young award in 1996. To be honest, his 6 best seasons I think were probably better than any one of Moose’s seasons, but when looking at overall wins:

    In terms of WPA/LI from 1988-2008 onward, there’s a clear drop-off with Brown, but Glavine is a sure Hall of Famer.

    Greg Maddux (60)
    Roger Clemens (59)
    Randy Johnson (53)
    Pedro Martinez (51)
    Curt Schilling (42)
    Mike Mussina (42)
    John Smoltz (38)
    Kevin Brown (32)
    Tom Glavine (29)

    If you look at REW 1988-2008:

    Roger Clemens (60)
    Greg Maddux (54)
    Randy Johnson (51)
    Pedro Martinez (49)
    Curt Schilling (40)
    Mike Mussina (39)
    John Smoltz (35)
    Tom Glavine (32)
    Kevin Brown (30)

    I think without a doubt he’s one of the top 9 starting pitchers in this 20 year period, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Maybe you draw it after him and not before him.

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  5. Oh and interestingly enough. Mariano Rivera is #10 on both these lists and that’s without factoring in the high leverage situations he almost exclusively pitches in.

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  6. Justin says:

    Somewhat off topic, but regarding David’s comment that “you could make a very strong case that he should have won the Cy Young award in 1996,” has there been any publication (online or in print) that has reviewed previous seasons’ awards and objectively decided who actually deserved the hardware from each year?

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  7. tangotiger says:

    David,

    Can you also show WPA? For pitchers especially, since they control their environment far more than hitters, WPA may be more appropriate than WPA/LI.

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  8. Yep!, WPA from 1988-2008

    Roger Clemens (63)
    Greg Maddux (56)
    Randy Johnson (54)
    Pedro Martinez (50)
    Mariano Rivera (44)
    Mike Mussina (39)
    John Smoltz (39)
    Curt Schilling (36)
    Trevor Hoffman (33)
    Tom Glavine (30)
    Kevin Brown (30)

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  9. Jason T says:

    That’s a pretty impressive list of pitchers one way or the other.

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  10. Rich says:

    The problem with restricting the seasons to ’89 – ’00 is that you’re including only Brown’s best seasons and ignoring the fact that all the other pitchers pitched well after ’00. All except Clemens pitched in ’08 and of course Clemens won 2 cy youngs prior to ’89. Similar to some “Jim Rice” arguments I’ve seen…

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  11. Eric Seidman says:

    Rich, actually, if you read the whole article, I mentioned that the major reason for Brown’s exclusion from our minds with regards to lists like these is that the others continued to be very successful after 2000, while Brown was injury-plagued and not very effective.

    So, no, there’s no problem restricting the seasons given that the whole point of the article is that from 1989-2000 he was right on par with others, but from 2001+, not even close.

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  12. Bob Warja says:

    You know you bring up a valid point – he was a much better pitcher than I gave him credit for. Another 2-3 solid years and he’s a HOF’er. The poster that talked about perception inadvertintly brought up a good point – Brown, in fact, had 2 real good stints in the playoffs but he is remembered for 2004 when he got hit hard.

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  13. Douglas says:

    The real problem is counting stats. It’s not the bad taste left in the mouth. It’s not that Kevin Brown wasn’t a nice guy. He just didn’t pitch at a high level for long enough.

    211-144 3.28 ERA 127 ERA+

    Compare to the only pitcher I can think of who pitched a shorter amount of time and still made it into the hall: Koufax

    165-87 2.76 ERA 131 ERA+

    Better winning percentage, better raw stats, better comp stats, and better story (as Rob Neyer noted about Pedroia’s MVP, it’s all about the story). There’s no doubt the Kevin Brown was good. There’s also no doubt in my mind that had his best years been with the Yankees rather than his worst years, he’d be getting more talk. But that’s not the case, and he’s not a hall of famer.

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  14. Alex says:

    This is what I found, and posted on Pos’s site in response to one of his Mussina posts.

    *****************

    I like Mussina, but I want to throw out a counter argument: It’s all about peak v. average.

    In Mussina’s best ERA+ was 163, and that was in the strike shorted 1994 season. Baseball-Reference lists the top 500 ERA+ season, cutting off at 149. Mussina has two (2) of them, none in the top 50.

    # Pitcher
    9 Clemmens (3 in top 50)
    9 Maddux (2 in top 50)
    8 Unit (3 in top 50)
    6 Pedro (5 in the top 50)
    4 Schilling (0 in top 50)

    The big four here (Clemmens, Maddux, Unit and Pedro) had lot of great seasons, and multiple unbelievably great seasons. Schilling had twice as many great season as Mussina (by this measure) and no unbelievably great seasons.

    And that is why there was never the fear. He — like Schilling, or Pettitte (2 in the top 500, 0 in top 50), Peavy (2 and 0), Cone (2 and 0), Tom Glavine (2 and 0) and others — never was one of the all time great best pitchers ever. Not even for a single season. He was a mortal, though a really really good one.

    (By the way, Walter Johnson had 9 in the top 500, with 4 in the top 50.)

    **************

    What about Kevin Brown? 5 of the top 500, and one in the top 50. That’s better than Moose. That’s better than Schilling. That’s better than everyone else in his era, other than that top 4, as best I can tell. But why didn’t it even occur to me to include him in my original list?

    His peak was not monstrously high, unlike Pedro, Maddux and Clemmens. His absolute peak was short — 1996. And his next level was not long enough. Sure, he pitched for 20 years, but he won more than 10 games barely half of them. Lots of not just average years, but kinda lousy years.

    Except that I don’t quite believe that. His ERA+ is WAY better than his wins. His K/BB is way better than his wins. His WHIP is way better than his wins.

    His problem is his win-loss record. If he was that good, how could he only have 3 seasons of 18+ wins? What if we lower the bar further? 15 wins. How many 15+ win seasons has a pitcher had since 1980. (I might have missed a pitcher or two, but this makes the point)

    18 Maddux
    12 Clemens
    11 Johnson (Unit)
    11 Morris
    11 Mussina
    10 Glavine
    8 Schilling
    9 Wells
    7 Finley
    7 Pedro

    6 BROWN
    6 Colon
    6 Gooden
    5 Halladay
    6 Hersheiser
    6 Hough
    6 Nagy
    6 Santana
    6 Smoltz
    6 Stieb
    6 Viola
    6 Welch

    5 Appier
    5 Cone
    5 Blyleven
    5 Buehrle
    5 Moyer
    5 Mulder
    5 Rogers

    As measured in wins, the most basic pitching stat — and likely the worst — Kevin Brown was a good pitcher, but not one of the top ten of his era. He’s in with another group of staff aces, but not the kind of guys who were really a threat to dominate every year. The best guys near him had only partial careers in this (1980-2008) time frame, derailed careers or some other exception (e.g. Pedro’s unbelievable peak, Smoltz’s years as a closer).

    Perhaps this could be put another way. Kevin Brown was the complement to to Jack Morris. Both had dominant decades (1990′s and 1980′s, respecitively), but one’s value is overstated by wins and the other understated by wins.

    I’ll shut up now.

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  15. SamoanRob says:

    Brown’s best years coincided w/my personal black period for baseball, the years following the 1994 fiasco, when I didn’t follow baseball much.

    He never had a great year on an east coast team. Does anyone really pay attention to good years from Rangers and Marlins pitchers? Not a countrywide fan base or major ESPN coverage there.

    He bounced around too much to build up a fan base. If you bought a Kevin Brown jersey, you wouldn’t be able to wear it for very long.

    He definitely needed a cool nick-name. Kevin Brown sounds so generic.

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  16. Jim says:

    The fact that a pitcher wouldn’t get into the Hall because he doesn’t have enough wins is disgusting. I do think though that the people who said KB didn’t pitch well long enough have a point. Most of the other guys on that list are still in the game today. Brown might as well have retired in 2000. Pedro is the durability exception on that list, but he had one of the most dominant 5-year stretches in the history of the game and that can’t be ignored. Brown wasn’t dominant enough to get into the hall for 12 good seasons.

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  17. Adan says:

    I agree with those who have said that Brown isn’t a HOFer. I think his career warrants consideration but I do believe he comes up short when evaluated in detail. What interests me most about guys like Brown is when we consider their career value as a pitcher against a pitcher like Bruce Sutter. I think its difficult to argue that someone like Sutter was more valuable as a pitcher, in which he only totaled 1042.3 IP over 12 years, than a guy like Brown who totaled over 3200 IP. Not only did he pitch more innings he had 12 seasons of good to great performances out of 19 years while Sutter only had 8 good to great years out of 12 total. I just find it ridiculous that a guy like Brown is likely and rightly to be on the outside looking in of Cooperstown while Sutter is safely inside. I thought Sutter’s election was a terrible mistake and guys like Brown just convince me more. Simply put if you had to select between Sutter and Brown when building a team who would you really take? I think its obviously Brown. Guys like Brown just convince me that relievers should have insanely good numbers to warrant election to the HOF if starters like Brown who’s career value dwarfs theirs are likely excluded.

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  18. Anthony says:

    I just saw this article. This site has Brown’s career WAR well in the Hall of Fame range and b-ref’s WAR has Brown in the HoF range as well. I think he deserves it. He at least deserves to make it to a second year on the ballot.

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