The Greatest Giants Pitchers

Matt-CainLast time, we looked at Giant position players who had led the team in WAR in every given ten-year period, from 1883-92 to 2005-14, from Roger Connor to Buster Posey. So today, I’ll reveal the list of pitchers who led all Giant hurlers in WAR for each ten-year period. (Remember, the years listed represent the FIRST year in the period, so, say 1914-15 would actually represent 1914-23 and 1915-24.)

1883-1884 (2 times): Mickey Welch (ahead of Tim Keefe and Amos Rusie)

1885-1894 (10 times): Amos Rusie (ahead of Mickey Welch, Tim Keefe and Jouett Meekin)

1895-1910 (16 times): Christy Mathewson (ahead of Joe McGinnity, Hooks Wiltse and Jeff Tesreau)

1911-1913 (3 times): Jeff Tesreau (ahead of Christy Mathewson and Fred Toney)

1914-1915 (2 times): Fred Toney (ahead of Jeff Tesreau and Art Nehf)

1916-1919 (4 times): Art Nehf (ahead of Fred Toney and Virgil Barnes)

1920-1922 (3 times): Freddie Fitzsimmons (ahead of Larry Benton and Carl Hubbell)

1923-1937 (15 times): Carl Hubbell (ahead of Freddie Fitzsimmons , Hal Schumacher and Cliff Melton)

1938 (1 time): Hal Schumacher (ahead of Carl Hubbell)

1939 (1 time): Cliff Melton (ahead of Hal Schumacher)

1940 (1 time): Dave Koslo (ahead of Larry Jansen)

1941-1944 (4 times): Larry Jansen (ahead of Dave Koslo and Sal Maglie)

1945-1948 (4 times): Sal Maglie (ahead of Larry Jansen and Johnny Antonelli)

1949-1955 (7 times): Johnny Antonelli (ahead of Sal Maglie, Ruben Gomez and Juan Marichal)

1956-1965 (10 times): Juan Marichal (ahead of Johnny Antonelli, Stu Miller and Gaylord Perry)

1966-1967 (2 times): Gaylord Perry (ahead of Juan Marichal and Jim Barr)

1968-1974 (7 times): Jim Barr (ahead of Gaylord Perry and John Montefusco)

1975-1977 (3 times): Gary Lavelle (ahead of John Montefusco and Vida Blue)

1978 (1 time): Vida Blue (ahead of Greg Minton)

1979-1980 (2 times): Greg Minton (ahead of Atlee Hammaker)

1981-1982 (2 times): Atlee Hammaker (ahead of Scott Garrelts)

1983 (1 time): Scott Garrelts (ahead of Atlee Hammaker)

1984-1992 (9 times): Bill Swift (ahead of Scott Garrelts, Rick Reuschel, Rod Beck and Shawn Estes)

1993-1994 (2 times): Kirk Rueter (ahead of Robb Nen)

1995-2000 (6 times): Jason Schmidt (ahead of Kirk Rueter, Robb Nen and Matt Cain)

2001-2005 (5 times): Matt Cain (ahead of Jason Schmidt and Tim Lincecum)

(The complete list of 1-2-3 finishers for any ten-year period can be found here.)

As with the hitters, this list shows us a lot about the history of the Giants. As the Giants have had three hitters — Ott, Mays and Bonds — who dominated the their leader board, so we have three pitchers — Mathewson, Hubbell and Marichal — dominating this one. The teams that won four straight pennants in 1921-24 did so without dominant starters, but still, with Nehf and the Barnes brothers and some others, they were good enough.

We see that pitching is always scarce, and was especially so for the Giants at certain points. Again, the World War II years are particularly tough for the Giants. We would expect Carl Hubbell and Hal Schumacher to have the highest WAR in ten-year periods that both cover the late 1930s and the war years, but we also see Dave Koslo, Larry Jansen and Sal Maglie all sitting atop decades that include the war, even though Koslo is the only one who pitched any during the conflict (78 innings in 1942).

From the trades of Marichal and Perry until the rise of the troika of Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner is a period when the Giants struggle mightily to have sustained good pitching. (By the way, I had not remembered that Jim Barr was consistently better than John Montefusco in the 1970s.) Greg Minton, a reliever, is actually the Giants’ best pitcher in the decades 1979-88 and 1980-89. Rod Beck and Robb Nen show up as second-best for ten-year periods during 1987-2007. Bill Swift, who was a Giant for only three years, and accumulated only 9.8 WAR in that time, dominates the years of the late 1980s and early 1990s with nine first-place appearances.


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The Greatest Giants Hitters

willie-maysSo, I did this sort of meaningless baseball thing — not for the first time and not for the last. Here’s what I did: I looked at the Giants position players who were Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement leaders for every 10-year period. EVERY 10-year period. So I looked at the Giant who led the team in WAR from 1883-1892, from 1884-1893, and so on all the way to 2005-14. That’s 123 different time periods.

What you will find — or, anyway, what I will tell you — is that just 23 players in Giant history have been the best by WAR over any 10-year period. That’s fewer than I might have thought. It’s so few, in fact that I’ll just list them all. Here are the 23 players and I have included the second-best player in WAR over those years as well. (The years listed represent the FIRST year in the period, so, say 1922-23 would actually represent 1922-31 and 1923-32.):

1883-1886 (4 times): Roger Connor (ahead of Buck Ewing and Mike Tiernan)

1887-1889 (3 times): Mike Tiernan (ahead of Roger Conner and George Davis)

1890-1897 (8 times): George Davis (ahead of Mike Tiernan and George Van Haltren)

1898 (1 time): Art Devlin (ahead of Roger Bresnahan)

1899 (1 time): Roger Bresnahan (ahead of Art Devlin)

1900-1905 (6 times): Art Devlin (ahead of Roger Bresnahan and Larry Doyle)

1906-1908 (3 times): Larry Doyle (ahead of Art Devlin and Art Fletcher)

1909-1913 (5 times): Art Fletcher (ahead of Larry Doyle and George Burns)

1914 (1 time): George Burns (ahead of Art Fletcher)

1915 (1 time): Ross Youngs (ahead of Frankie Frisch)

1916-1921 (6 times): Frankie Frisch (ahead of Ross Youngs and Travis Jackson)

1922-1923 (2 times): Travis Jackson (ahead of Bill Terry)

1924-1925 (2 times): Bill Terry (ahead of Travis Jackson and Mel Ott)

1926-1939 (14 times): Mel Ott (ahead of Bill Terry, Dick Bartell and Johnny Mize)

1940-1942 (3 times): Johnny Mize (ahead of Mel Ott and Bobby Thomson)

1943-1944 (2 times): Bobby Thomson (ahead of Johnny Mize)

1945-1946 (2 times): Al Dark (ahead of Bobby Thomson and Willie Mays)

1947-1965 (19 times): Willie Mays (ahead of Al Dark, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey)

1966-1971 (6 times): Bobby Bonds (ahead of Willie McCovey, Chris Speier and Jack Clark)

1972-1979 (8 times): Jack Clark (ahead of Bobby Bonds, Darrell Evans and Chili Davis)

1980-1986 (7 times): Will Clark (ahead of Jack Clark, Chili Davis and Robby Thompson)

1987 (1 time): Matt Williams (ahead of Will Clark and Barry Bonds)

1988-2004 (17 times): Barry Bonds (ahead of Matt Williams, Jeff Kent, Randy Winn, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey)

2005 (1 time): Buster Posey (ahead of Pablo Sandoval)

(For those who want to see the WAR of the winners, runners-up and third-place finishers of any given ten year period, go here.)

We see a several truly great ballplayers here, and are reminded of how much Ott, Mays and Bonds towered over their peers. We also see that until Ott came along, no Giant led in WAR over a decade more than eight times. This speaks to the quality of the players (while good, they were not elite) and to the quality of the teams. In the 34 seasons from 1904 to 1937, the Giants finished first or second in the league 24 times and had only three losing seasons. After that, though, the team had some fallow years, and this list shows just how bad they were.

The World War II years were bad for all teams, with most good players in the armed forces for much of 1942-45. Johnny Mize, a Hall of Famer, led the Giants in WAR over three ten-year periods, from 1940 to 1951, even though he only played for the Giants in five of those years. The postwar period wasn’t much kinder to the Giants, either. We see Bobby Thompson leading in WAR for the ten years starting 1943 even though he wasn’t a Giant until 1946 (and that was only a cup of coffee) and Al Dark leading the periods beginning in 1946 and 1947 even though he had only 13 plate appearances in those two years — for the Boston Braves.

Similarly, the 1970s and early 1980s gave us some of the poorest Giants teams. Jack Clark’s years of WAR dominance begin in 1972, five seasons before he was a full-time Giant. Will Clark didn’t come up until 1986, but he is the Giant with the greatest WAR for the decade 1980-89. The Giants of the Barry Bonds years were generally competitive, but we see the signs of the poor teams of the 2000s in the fact that for 2001-2010, Randy Winn, with a Giant WAR of only 12.3 is second to Bonds’s 51.3. That decade was so bad for the Giants that, shades of the Clarks, Buster Posey has the highest Giant WAR in 2005-14 (and second-highest in 2004-13) even though he wasn’t a Giant regular until 2010.

Next: The Pitchers


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This Day in Giants History: December 3, 1960

Cleveland trades outfielder Harvey Kuenn to San Francisco for outfielder Willie Kirkland and pitcher Johnny Antonelli.

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This Day in Giants History, September 26, 1900: Christy Mathewson Blows a Lead

"<strongAt Boston’s South End Grounds, Giants reliever Christy Mathewson fails to hold a 7-4 lead, and Boston wins, 8-7. It is Matty’s third loss. The Giants will return the rookie to Norfolk of the Virginia League rather than pay the full $1,500 purchase price for Mathewson, and he will be drafted by Cincinnati for $100.


In June 1900, William Hannon, the owner of the Norfolk franchise in the Virginia League, gave his promising young pitcher, Christy Mathewson, a choice. There were three teams that wanted the pitcher’s services, each willing to pay Hannon a conditional $1,500 for the youngster’s contract. Hannon proposed to let Mathewson choose between the three — the Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants of the National League, and the Milwaukee franchise of the Western League. Thinking that it would be easier to impress from amongst New York’s weak pitching staff than from the strong staff Connie Mack was building in Milwaukee, Mathewson chose the Giants.

George Davis was the manager of the Giants, and he liked Mathewson’s stuff right away, and gave Mathewson’s signature pitch — the “fadeway” — its name. Used infrequently in the final weeks of the season, Matty didn’t seem prepared for the big time. He worked in five games, with no victories, and gave up 35 hits in 30 innings. Worse yet, walked 14 batters, proof that he hadn’t gotten hit pitches under control.

Andrew Freedman, the notoriously mercurial Giant owner, lost no time in returning Matty to Norfolk so he could get a refund on his $1,500. While Freedman appeared to care nothing for what happened to this pitcher, things were not what they seemed. Freedman had asked his ally, Cincinnati Reds owner John Brush, to draft Mathewson from Norfolk as soon as Freedman sent the young man back. Without notifying Mathewson of his machinations with Freedman, Brush did just that.

Convinced he was a failure, Matty was prepared to return to Bucknell and finish his college education. Instead, Connie Mack, now charged by Ban Johnson with organizing an American League club to begin play in Philadelphia in 1901, reached out to Mathewson, offering him $1,500 to sign with his club. Fond of college ballplayers, Mack was intent on acquiring more. Owing money for books and other items at Bucknell, Matty asked Mack for a $50 advance, and reached an oral agreement with him.

At the same time, however, by prearrangement, the Reds traded Mathewson back to the Giants for the washed up “Hoosier Thunderbolt,” Amos Rusie. Mathewson still considered himself the property of Milwaukee, notwithstanding the dealings of the Giants and Reds. Andrew Freedman, though, demanded that Mathewson come to New York immediately to explain why he had any conversations at all with the upstart American League, which he insisted wouldn’t last more than a few months. Every player who signed with the American League, warned Freedman, would be blacklisted — no small threat to a young player like Mathewson. Freedman, a litigious man, threatened the young pitcher with a lawsuit.

Promised by Freedman that his travel costs would be reimbursed, Mathewson went to New York and explained to Freedman that he didn’t want to go back on his word to Mack, and had taken a $50 advance from Philadelphia. Mathewson asked if Freedman would return the money to Mack if Mathewson signed with the Giants, and Freedman said he would. Of course, though, Freedman never did, and Mathewson paid Mack back out of his own salary. Mack, for his part, never responded to the letter Mathewson had sent asking if Mack would stand by him in the event of a suit by Freedman.

What Mathewson didn’t know was that Brush had already agreed to purchase the Giants from Freedman. By acquiring Rusie for the Reds, he’s already removed from the Giants a notoriously balky player known for haggling over salary and even holding out. For Brush, the trade was less about sending a promising Mathewson to the Giants than making sure he didn’t have the cantankerous Rusie waiting for him in New York. Mathewson was the unwitting participant in what passed for business dealings in the National League at the time, caught in a play conducted between two scoundrels.

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This Day in Giants History, September 23, 1908: Merkle’s Boner

Today is the 107th anniversary of Merkle’s Boner, which cost the New York Giants the 1908 National League pennant. In the aftermath of the game and umpire Hank O’Day‘s controversial ruling, Giants hurler Christy Mathewson, the pitcher of record that fateful day, said this:

If this game goes to Chicago by any trick of argument, you can take it from me that if we lose the pennant thereby, I will never play professional base ball again.

Thankfully this was that rare occasion when the famously upstanding Mathewson, nicknamed “The Christian Gentleman,” didn’t keep his word. Matty went on to pitch several more seasons, leading New York to pennants in 1911, ’12, and ’13.

For more on Merkle’s Boner, see this terrific comic by Molly Lawless.

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