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.”