Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The HoG25: The 25 Best (Starting) Pitchers of the Last 25 Years

The Iron Triangle of the House of Georges took a break from this series, but in the end it was inevitable: We are qualified, more than anything, to not be in agreeance. Sometimes, as evidenced by our efforts in the departments of NFL quarterbacks, American cinema, hey batter-batters, readin' books, and now, with pitchers, we are forced to come to some sort of consensus. We don't like it one bit, but we do it, nonetheless.

As I mentioned, today's topic for dispute is pitchers. Starting pitchers, to be exact. These guys have been, at some point or other(s), part of pitching rotations in the Bigs in the last 25 years. They are, as we so gloatingly determined, the best of the best. I mean, not to get all "Top Gun" here, but come on: If your guy's not on here, chances are he's like Slider: He stinks. Today we bring you numbers 25-11, and we know you don't need a reminder. We're certain you'll be back for tomorrow, and the top 10.

25. Jack McDowell

Cecil:
I can't really lie about this -- Jack McDowell does not deserve to be on this list, not when Barry Zito and Jake Peavy and a whole fucking bunch of other worthy guys aren't. But I'll try and justify my pick anyway.

Black Jack McDowell. Do you think more of the pitching or the ill-considered rock & roll career? Of the intimidating mound presence for the Chicago White Sox or the bad guitarist? It's a tough call, unless you're from the South Side of Chicago, in which case you probably still wash yourself daily in a plastic commemorative Jack McDowell KFC bucket.

Jack McDowell's career statistics do not warrant inclusion, here. He won 127 games and lost 87. He only played for 12 years, the last three of which he spent stealing money in Cleveland and Anaheim. Aside from one Cy Young Award, in '93, he never won a thing. But he was, at one point -- and not every great pitcher gets to say this at the end of his career -- the most feared mound presence in the game.

From '90 through '93, McDowell was one of baseball's top three pitchers. Maybe the best. He won 73 games and only lost 39. He twice led the Majors in complete games and once in wins; he was an absolute draft horse of a pitcher. A draft horse with a mean streak, a draft horse that would kick you right in your stupid face. McDowell was the pitcher that guys created 24-hour illnessess to avoid.

Sure, that spurt of greatness proved to be nothing more. But it's enough that, for a little while, he was the Best.

24. Jimmy Key

Cecil:
Jimmy Key. What, really, can any of us say about Jimmy Key? Jimmy Key pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays, mostly, but also the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. Jimmy Key was a lefthander. Jimmy Key was the subject of an ESPN promo right about the time ESPN was becoming insufferable. Jimmy Key has a fun name to say and write.

Jimmy Key also finished as one of the best 25 pitchers we've seen over the previous two and a half decades. Jimmy Key won no fewer than 12 games annually between '85 and '94 -- that's a pretty solid skein of quality pitching. During that stretch, Jimmy Key also took home an ERA title in '87, a year wherein he also led the American League in ERA+, WHIP and hits per nine innings. Good stuff, but Jimmy Key saved the best for the end, when Jimmy Key won Game 6 for the New York Yankees in the '96 Series and took home the lone championship of Jimmy Key's career.

Jimmy Key was never one of those guys who'd just blow your eyebrows off with heat. That's fine with me. My deepest sympathies lie with pitchers who get it done with guile; thus, Jimmy Key makes my team.

23. Dennis Martinez

Cecil:
Dennis Martinez gets the hey-yo because he started off hot, cooled down thanks to the cocaines, regained his pitching mojo and ended up with 245 wins, a perfect game and a lasting legacy as a mound-bound badass. El Presidente.

Were the lifetime totals necessarily all that great? Nope. He never won a Cy Young, didn't hit any of the big career pitching milestones and didn't pitch in the only World Series any of his teams achieved, the Orioles '83 championship set. But his career win percentage is a respectable .559, he led the league in shutouts and ERA in his 15th season and, most importantly, we baseball fans remember him.

Now, that's not such a small thing, is it? There are plenty of players with great stats who are celebrated to greater and lesser degrees in greater and lesser cities across the country, but few and far between are the fellows who make it to that spot where, when you bring up his name in a bar among strangers, everyone says ah man, that dude. Dennis Martinez, yoked though he was to the Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians, was one of those guys. We remember his Perfecto, his big-ass moustache. We remember that he played extraordinary baseball for 23 seasons. Dennis Martinez was the Motts.

22. Kenny Rogers

Cecil:

Love him or hate him, The Gam-- wait, what the fuck am I saying? No one loves Kenny Rogers, Baseball Player. Not his mom, not his high school coach, not any of his managers or teammates. The Earth will not love Kenny Rogers when it welcomes him to its sweet grasp, and might well spit his pudgy corpse right back upon a heretofore relieved and celebratory funeral party. Kenny Rogers is no good. Kenny Rogers is not welcome.



But, yet, he was a good pitcher. A consistent pitcher. A consistent pitcher with flashes of greatness. A consistent pitcher with flashes of greatness who happened to share a name with a famous pop-country singer who later opened a chain of chicken-roasting joints. Both men brought pleasure to the masses, but only one used pine tar.

Kenny Rogers, Baseball Player, won two World Series titles with two different American League squads, the Tigers and the Yankees, but I'll always think of him as a Texas Ranger. He was the epitome of the crafty soft-tosser, and did so well enough to pitch a Perfect Game. He played for 20 big league seasons. He was caught cheating on camera. That by itself should allow his inclusion here.

21. Andy Pettitte

Old No. 7:
Pettitte has 227 wins and is 37 years old. Anytime a pitcher gets to this stage in his career people speculate about whether or not he can reach 300 wins. The conventional wisdom is that Pettitte is at the end of the line (he’s already contemplated retirement several times and has earned tens of millions of dollars in salary). If his body holds up and he chooses to keep pitching, there’s absolutely no reason he can’t hit 300.

Greg Maddux won 66 games after his 37-year-old season to finish with 355. Roger Clemens ended up with one fewer win and had 88 from 38 on. Nolan Ryan was a physical freak and pitched until he was 46, notching 93 of his 324 career wins after age 37.

Among fellow lefties, Randy Johnson has won 103 games since his 37-year-old season, Steve Carlton 44, and Warren Spahn tallied 111 wins after celebrating his 38th birthday.

Pettite has very good lifetime numbers. Along with that 227-133 (.631) record, he’s pitched almost 3000 innings, recorded 2134 strikeouts, and crafted a 3.90 lifetime ERA. Pettitte’s place in history, though, is based primarily on his excellence in October.

In post-season play, Pettitte has gone 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA. Those 14 wins are second-most all-time after John Smoltz, and Pettitte will get another crack at the playoffs this year (it looks like Smoltz will too, but it might not be as a starter). He’s tied for first in career playoff innings pitched and games started with Tom Glavine, and his 139 postseason strikeouts rank fifth all-time. Now obviously guys like Pettitte, Smoltz and Glavine (as well as guys like Jeter, Bernie Williams, Manny Ramirez and Dave Justice) are going to rank high on those lists—they played on perennial playoff qualifiers in the wild-card era. But Pettitte has been an October ace for the Yankees and the Astros, a guy you want on the mound in a big game.

And, if you believe Rocket, he never took performance-enhancing drugs. That’s the character witness I’d want in my corner. Baseball history will not misremember Andy Pettitte.

20. Dave Stewart

Cecil:
Something I learned about Dave Stewart, stalwart of the late '80s Oakland A's staff that sliced 'n' diced the American League: his nickname, at least at the beginning of his career when he was still a reliever/occasional position player, was "Smoke." Maybe because he walked around the clubhouse with a Meerschaum pipe?

Whatever its provenance, the nickname fit -- the guy was an intimidating mound presence with wicked stuff who always showed up large on the biggest stages*, won a few World Series titles as the staff ace of a great team and, most interesting to my mind, reinvented himself more than a decade after he was first drafted -- in much the same way that his teammate, the former drunken starter Dennis Eckersley, became a dominant closer in the twilight of his baseball career.

Stewart's overall numbers aren't necessarily thrilling -- 168 career wins, lifetime ERA near 4 -- but his short stretch of brilliance, specifically the years 1987 to 1990, merits inclusion on this list. He won 20 or more games every single one of those seasons, led the league in numerous categories and was generally thought of as topping the short list of the game's best arms. Not bad for a dude who started off as a catcher.

*If you are allergic to cliches, please inject yourself with the House's complimentary syringe full of synthetic adrenaline. You're welcome.

19. Johan Santana

Old No. 7:
As one of the myriad Mets to get hurt and miss the remainder of this season, Johan Santana is easy to think of as just another old, injured, massively overpaid big-city ballplayer. Appearing on the roster of the 2009 New York Mets will do that to a guy. Take a look at his body of work, most of which was posted as an underpaid and incredibly effective Minnesota Twin, and you’ll realize just how great Santana is.

He won the American League Cy Young award in 2004 and 2006. In the latter year he also took the pitching Triple Crown, leading the AL with a 2.77 ERA, 19 wins and 245 strikeouts. Santana’s 2006 Triple Crown is one of only eight such seasons since the mound was lowered in 1968, and the first by an AL lefthander since Detroit’s Hal Newhouser took advantage of rosters depleted by World War II in 1945.

Santana was completely dicked out of another Cy Young in 2005, when he finished third behind Los Anaheim’s Bartolo Colon and Yankee Mariano Rivera. Johan’s ERA was almost a full run lower that Fat Bartolo’s, and he led the league in strikeouts, WHIP, ERA+, and both hits and strikeouts per nine innings pitched. But Fat Bartolo won 21 games to Johan’s 16, giving the sweat machine the Cy. Just watch what happens in the Al this year -— C.C. Sabathia will win 20, while Zack Greinke finishes with 14 or 15, and C.C. will take the trophy despite Greinke being far better in every other statistical category. Cy Young voting is one of many fucked-up things about recognizing the best baseball players.

Had Santana rightly won that ’05 Cy Young, it would have been three straight. The list of pitchers who have accomplished that feat is incredibly short: Greg Maddux won four in a row from 1992-95, and Randy Johnson took four consecutive Cys from 1999-2002. No American League pitcher has ever won more than two Cy Youngs in a row.

Assuming Santana can recover from his surgery and wash the stink of the ’09 Mets off his career, he’s a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

18. Bret Saberhagen

Bankmeister:
I’ve tried to avoid homer picks here in this series of posts, but I couldn’t leave home without lighting the Sabes lamp. Does Bret Saberhagen deserve to be in the conversation with the rest of those included in here? If you responded that no, he did not, I would respect that answer. And I would respectfully disagree. To those of you that answered such, however, I would say that Bret Saberhagen was not your lights-out, kick-ass-and-take-names kind of pitcher. But he was pretty damn good for a decent stretch, good enough for three All-Star Games, two Cy Youngs, and a World Series MVP. In addition, he, for a little while, had a fairly decent mullet. And he played for three of the four favorite House of Georges ball clubs: the Royals, Rockies, and Red Sox. The Iron Triangle, in case you’re wondering, has forgiven him for that stint with the Mets. We know he didn’t really mean it.

I don’t mean to imply that two solid seasons makes a career for a guy, but I am interested in looking, for a moment, at those two Cy Young seasons, 1985, and 1989. In the first, Sabes pitched for 235 innings and earned himself a 20-6 record with a 2.87 E.R.A. He struck out 158 batters, walked 38, and tallied an impressive 1.058 WHIP. Four years later, he again lost six contests, but added three wins to ‘85’s total, shaved .77 from his E.R.A., struck out 35 more while walking all of five more. He managed this while tacking on 30 more innings and knocking .097 from the ol’ WHIP. Plus, he was still rockin’ the mullet.

All told, Saberhagen hung it up with 76 complete games, 13 shutouts, a career E.R.A. of 3.34, 167 wins, and over 1700 Ks. He didn’t accumulate all of those numbers with the mullet, but he was a pretty darn good pitcher, nonetheless.


17. David Cone

Cecil:
David Cone has a simple name. David. Cone. Not too many syllables, there. Not too much to trip over. Say it quietly to yourself -- enjoyable, yes? David Cone.

Maybe that's why the Kansas City Royals selected him in the third round of the '81 amateur draft -- his pellucid name. Or, possibly, perhaps, it was they felt that he might become David Cone, death-dealing cyborg with the horsehide who would finish his career as one of the best strikeout artists of his generation. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt, because back then, they knew what they were doing.

Cone threw pure cheese, heat that could singe wood and cripple batting averages. He threw one of the only two perfect games in interleague history (the other being Don Larsen's '56 World Series win), struck out 19 batters in a game and his strikeouts-per-nine innings are in the top 20 in Major League history. He won 20 in a season two times -- including a ridiculous '88 season that only saw him take three losses -- led the majors in strikeouts twice, took home 5 Series titles with the Blue Jays and Yankees and the Cy Young Award in '94. He won that, by the way, whilst pitching for the same Kansas City franchise that had traded him to the Mets nearly a decade earlier. It was a strike-shortened season and he still won 16 games.

He was also, as I discovered in the course of doing my Coneian research, once traded for Jeff Kent and another guy. I didn't know that. David Cone was one of the best pitchers of the last 25 years, indisputably; the question is whether he was one of the best of the 20th century.

16. Orel Hershiser

Bankmeister:
Orel Hershiser, to me, is a lot like Pedro Guerrero. He’s a household name, he was a member of some of those awesome ‘80s Dodgers teams, and he, in some regards, is underrated. I imagine that most baseball fans, if asked to list great Dodgers, would mention Hershiser before Guerrero, and perhaps that’s rightfully so. Statistically, the guy was a monster. In addition to being in three All-Star Games, winning a Cy Young, earning himself MVP awards in both League Championship and a World Series, Hershiser simply dominated batters.

The guy struck out over 2000, walked exactly half of those in which he fanned, and averaged 218 innings pitched across his 18-year career. Only twice in that span did he finish with a won-loss record below .500, and one of those times was in his final year in the Bigs, 2000, where he only pitched 24 innings. Throw a guy, a 17th-round draft pick no less, in a rotation with Rick Honeycutt and Fernando Valenzuela, and get production out of each of them, and you, my friend, will have a baseball team that’s very difficult to defeat. That’s just what some of those Dodgers teams were. Hershiser was also, as I recall, one of the first, along with Tommy Lasorda, to really begin doing endorsements, which kind of makes his face and name even more memorable. But that’s not what we’re focusing on. The rough focus of this post is to discuss great pitchers over the last quarter century. If you assemble a cast of the greatest pitchers of the last century, I’m confident he would make that list as well, ‘cause hey -– everything’s better when there’s a little Orel involved.

15. David Wells

Old No. 7:
The lineage of fat players in baseball is long and distinguished. Babe Ruth was certainly the most accomplished fat guy in the history of the game, and fellow tubbies Tony Gwynn and Kirby Puckett join him in the Hall of Fame. Both Cecil and Prince Fielder combined big-time power with big-time big. John Kruk, Mo Vaughn and Dmitri Young manned the fat man’s favorite position, Fat Base. Most catchers are a little fat, which is fine. It’s rare to see a fat middle infielder, but Juan Uribe and Jhonny Peralta do their best to bring obesity to premium defensive positions.

Being chubby on the mound is apparently no detriment, because the list of overweight pitchers is as long as CC Sabathia’s belt. Sir Sidney Ponson, Sid Fernandez, Dennis Reyes and Rich “El Guapo” Garces put a lot of pressure on the rubber. Antonio Alfonseca had a serious spare tire, and the added weight of 12 fingers and 12 toes didn’t hurt -- Mark Grace calls him “El Pulpo.” Two of the fine nicknames in baseball lore are Hippo Vaughn and Jumbo Brown -— as you might expect, they were fat pitchers. In the running for greatest plus-sized hurler (excluding The Babe) is Fernando Valenzuela, and you can’t mention Fernando without his equally girthy imitator Teddy Higuera.

Which brings us to David Wells, both great pitcher and great eater. For a big fat fatty, Wells had tremendous balance. He could manipulate his boiler around his core to create maximum spin. Unlike merely chunky pitchers Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, Wells did not have sizzling heat. His calling cards were his curveball, his control, and his extremely large trousers.

Wells played for nine teams over 21 major league seasons, and he never walked more than 62 batters. His career BB/9IP is 1.9, a brilliant figure. For a guy that threw so many breaking pitches, Wells painted corners like a guy who lived on a fastball. He was a winner, pitching for the Toronto team that won the Series in 1992 and the Yankee championships in ’98 and ’99. He appeared in 17 postseason series.

Let’s give a big fat round of applause to David Wells.

14. Bert Blyleven

Bankmeister:
Bert Blyleven is an odd inclusion in this list because, when we were examining hitters, it was determined that hitters that played in most of, or all of the 1970s, should be, well, not quite avoided, but justified by their non-‘70s production if they’re to be included. Some were left out for this reason, while others simply could not not be included. Blyleven falls into this latter category. Hell, the dude was drafted in 1969, and already had a 15-year career under his belt by the time the time to be eligible for this selection came around. But that’s okay. He’s one of those guys whose late-career campaigns are noteworthy enough to include in such splendid company.

Let’s then, start with 1984, when, no longer a Minnesota Twin, Blyleven went 19-7 as a Cleveland Indian. Or say, 1989, when he went 17-5 as a California Angel. Let’s stop there for a minute. At age 38 Blyleven logged 241 IsP, struck out 131, and only gave up bases on balls to 44. His earned-run average was 2.73. Those are some pretty tight numbers for a guy who was, well, older than all of us are now when he put them up, but they’re but a fraction of his career totals, which look like this: 287 wins, a 3.31 earned-run average, nearly 5000 innings pitched, 3,701 strikeouts, and, wait for it, wait for it…60 shutouts inside of 242 complete games. In post-season play, Blyleven went 5-1 with a 2.47. He struck out 36 playoff batters, and only walked eight. The numbers produced and longevity displayed by Blyleven suggest nothing more than Cooperstown. He lost his fair share of games and gave up plenty of jacks, but he belongs in the Hall, and if you disagree, I’ll circle you, jerk.

13: Josh Beckett

Old No. 7:
A baseball player can do a lot of cool things -— hit home runs, steal bases, save games, turn double plays -— but without a doubt the best thing he can accomplish is to win a World Series. A starting pitcher is in a unique position to do this almost singlehandedly.

Football teams have to win as a team. Great players, especially dominant running backs and quarterbacks, can get an inferior team most of the way there (see Elway, John) but can’t win it all without help. Great basketball players win championships, but the sport is littered with great players (Ewing, Barkley, etc.) that did not have the supporting cast to capture the ring.



Among major North American team sports, only a hot hockey goalie can influence a team’s championship hopes as much as a dominant starting pitcher. And among our 25 starters here, only Josh Beckett was the plow horse on two Series winners. Jack Morris pitched on three champions, but only in his 1991 postseason with the Twins could he be considered an indispensable element. The 1984 Tigers could have won with just about anyone in Morris’ rotation spot, and he was 0-2 in the 1992 Series with the Blue Jays.

Beckett was masterful in 2003 with the Marlins, at age 23. In the NLCS against the Cubs, he threw a complete-game shutout in Game 5 when Florida faced elimination. Following the Bartman Game (sorry Cecil), he came back on two days’ rest to shut down Chicago for four innings of relief as the Marlins came back from a 3-1 series deficit. In the World Series against the Yankees, he gave up only a bases-loaded walk in a Game 3 loss. But on three days’ rest he came back to win Game 6, the Series and the MVP with a complete-game five-hit shutout.

In 2007 he was even better with the Red Sox, going 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the playoffs, with 35 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched. After a complete game shutout of the Angels in Round 1, he beat the Indians twice in the ALCS to win the MVP and dominated the Rockies 13-1 in Game 1 of a World Series sweep. You might argue that the ’07 Red Sox were loaded and could have won without Beckett, but it needs to be noted that the pitching on that club was sketchy. Pedro was gone, and Curt Schilling was near the end of the line. Jon Lester had not yet matured, Daisuke Matsuzaka was erratic, and Tim Wakefield’s knuckler came and went. Boston’s second-most effective starter in the post-season was Paul Byrd. They needed Beckett to shoulder the load, and he did so.

As a regular-season pitcher Beckett has been sparkling as well, with 103 wins, a .602 career winning percentage, 8.5 K/9IP and 3.1 K/BB. He was completely dicked out of the 2007 American League Cy Young by CC Sabathia, but he so thoroughly owned Sabathia and the Indians in that year’s ALCS I doubt many people take that particular vote very seriously.

12: Dwight Gooden

Bankmeister:
When the New York Mets were on the clock in Major League Baseball’s 1982 amateur draft, they, with the fifth overall pick, took Dwight Gooden. When he debuted with them in April of 1984, it would be the first of eight consecutive seasons in which he finished above .500 for the team. His final three seasons with the National League New York team, as well as two two-year stints with the Yankees and Indians, weren’t bad, but the Doc had lost a tiny edge. His run of seasons with Los Mets, however, put him among the ranks of one of the best pitchers of the ‘80s. From 1984-1991, Gooden went 132-53, and while he pitched for some really good Mets teams during that stretch, it should be noted that, from ’91-94, those New York campaigns were nothing shy of awful. This is evidenced by his return to +.500 performances in the first three of his four seasons in the American League.

There’s always a conversation regarding starting pitchers and Hall-of-Fame eligibility, and it’s one that, more often than not, is hinged upon total wins. Gooden retired at six wins shy of 200, a healthy gap removed from that coveted, frequently shoe-in notch of 300. There might be reasons to consider Gooden for enshrinement in Cooperstown, and if you don’t buy that, that’s fine. You are required, though, to note the importance of his inclusion on this list.

In the aforementioned window, Gooden walked 505 batters, which isn’t great; it boils down to roughly one-third of a free base per inning pitched. When it comes to strikeouts, though, he averaged nearly one per frame. If you consider that many big-league hurlers can go seven innings and not even tally three Ks, then Gooden’s ability to get guys to fan was impressive, especially in his first two seasons when he struck out a combined 544 batters. Gooden made All-Star Games those first two years, and also earned himself a Rookie of the Year in ’84, as well as an N.L. Triple Crown in ’85, an award that looked nice on the mantle, right next to his Cy Young. That’s pretty awesome, even if you’re Gary Sheffield’s uncle, and your ball club is completely loaded up on the devil’s dandruff.

11. Jack Morris

Bankmeister:
Jack Morris was an American League workhorse. This is not to be confused with the warrior that was Steve McNair. No. It means that Morris, mostly as a Detroit Tiger, threw a hell of a lot of baseballs in his career, and did so with convincing success. The seven-time Cy Young candidate earned himself five All Star Game appearances, and a World Series MVP award after his lone season in a Minnesota Twins uniform. That post-season, he went 4-0 and fanned 22 batters while walking only 10 through 36 innings of service.

On the whole, however, Morris went 254-186 in his 18 major-league seasons. He struck out just shy of 2500 hitters, and from 1985-91, he pitched 91 complete games, 17 of which were shutouts. What’s more: he rendered nearly 1700 innings of service just in that span. Those, friend, are some mind-blowing numbers. In a seven-year frame, Jack Morris averaged nearly 243 innings per campaign, was good for roughly 13 complete games a season and a solid pair of shutouts. Considering that salaries were on their way, but not quite there, to the high numbers they are today, that is some serious work from one hell of a horse. And, you could argue that his earned income matched his production: as a 1985 Tiger, he earned less than 900 grand. That World Series MVP year? Close to a cool four mil. Morris made his cheddar in the early ’90s, but his entire career was a valuable asset.

There's that. If you enjoyed (Editor's Note: C'mon. You know you did.), stop back by tomorrow for the remainder.

4 comments:

Dylan said...

Good work. As far as I can tell.
Cone @ 17? I guess that will have to do.
Get that soft-throwng 'roider Petitte of the list though.
DKC

bankmeister said...

Yeah. Consensus. If there's anything you can say about Pettitte, it's that he has absolutely owned the Royals. And many other teams.

Cecil said...

When we drafted these guys, I had some doubts about my own picks--but now, I'm more convinced than ever that Cone deserves to be higher. Dennis Martinez, too.

I'd also bump McDowell and Key off completely and put Beckett around that general 20s region. #13 is way, way too high for that dude. We're giving him credit for being the ace of a pair of winning Series teams, but Cone won more than twice as many titles, including 20 wins for the '98 Yankees and 17 in '92 when the Blue Jays took it.

old no. 7 said...

Jimmy Key should not be here (Dave Steib should) but McDowell is deserving. He was very, very good for a healthy stretch of time.

I said it before and I'll say it again, if Roger Clemens says Pettitte didn't juice, that's good enough for me.

As for Beckett, we fall into the same trap we do for any active players in their primes--they feel either way too high or way too low. It's easy to assess guys who are done, even just recently done like Mussina or Glavine or Maddux. It's pretty easy to get a read on gentlemen such as Smoltz, Unit and Pedro, whose best days are clearly behind them.

But Halladay, Beckett and Santana (along with Peavy, Carpenter, Javy Vazquez, Webb, C.C., etc.) are very difficult to place. We automatically project where their careers will end up, discounting the fact that any of their careers could blow up with an elbow tendon, or they could develop a Doc Godden fondness for the crack rock.

I'm totally biased, but I personally feel that Beckett should get the same boost from playoff greatness that Jack Morris does--and Beckett has shown far better regular-season production thus far in his career than Morris did at a similar stage.