It all starts with Rick Reuschel, that hefty righty who threw for 19 seasons with the Cubs, Giants, Pirates, and Yankees. Reuschel won 219 games, struck out 2,015, and was an All-Star 3 times.In short, he had really nice career.

According to some though, Reuschel was among the best to ever play the game with a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 66.3, which makes Reuschel the greatest eligible pitcher not yet in the Hall of Fame. Stupefied? Me too but lets let Adam Darowski over at Beyond the Boxscore explains the case for Reuschel:

Reuschel was a big workhorse who threw over 3500 innings in his career. He won 210 games and lost 187 with just a .528 winning percentage. He posted a 3.37 ERA for his career, which gave him a 114 ERA+ (14% better than average). He was very good at avoiding home runs, allowing just 221 (0.6 per nine innings). In other words, he is 67th all time in innings pitched but just 156th all time in home runs.

Stat geeks love pitchers who don’t allow home runs. The FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) methodology states that pitchers have complete control over just three in-game outcomes—the walk, the strikeout, and the home run. Everything else leaves a pitcher leaning on his defense to get the job done.

The fact is some pitchers play in front of better defenses than others. Over his carer, Reuschel allowed 1494 runs (total runs, not just earned runs). According to WAR, during his career his defense was worth –66 runs. It is much better to use total runs and then give the pitcher back what the defense actually cost him than to use earned runs. A run is only unearned if there is an error involved—and we all know that a fielder can’t make an error on a ball that he’s too slow to even reach.

Reuschel’s Runs expected for replacement level is 2106 runs. In other words, a replacement level pitcher who threw the same number of innings as Reuschel, against the same opponents as Reuschel, in the same ballparks as Resuchel, in the same league as Reuschel, in the same game situations as Reuschel (by spending the vast majority of his career as a starter, Reuschel’s leverage index was 1.1), and with the same defensive support as Reuschel would give up 612 runs more than Reuschel did.

Running that number through the wins converter brings us to 66.3 WAR, which is an exceptional total. That actually puts him in the Top 30 all time for pitchers. Some things just are not captured in ERA.

Now, I understand and I respect Mr. Darowski’s argument, I just don’t agree with it or the methods used. Fact is, while Sabermetrics are a useful tool in the evaluation of players, it is not a perfect judge of a player’s past or present, and it isn’t a prognosticator of a player’s future. As someone said recently (and I forget who) “baseball is a human game, played by human men”, I’d add that it is best evaluated by humans who can weigh both traditional and advanced statistics and use their experience to make a full judgement of a player.

A man named Pud.

Rick Reuschel is not a Hall of Famer, call it the “eye test” or the “gut assessment” (no pun intended). Yes, he won 219 but he lost 191 and had a career winning percentage of .528. How many players are in the Hall of Fame with a win percentage that low? The answer is 5, Bruce Sutter (reliever), Rollie Fingers (reliever), Satchel Page (not including Negro League stats), Nolan Ryan (who struck out 5,714), and Eppa Rixey. Another stat about Reuschel — he gave up more than a hit per inning in his career and accomplished that ubiquitous feat in 10 of his 19 seasons. 11 men are in the Hall who accomplished that over a career, including Eppa, Pud Galvin, and Waite Hoyt, none of those 11 players has pitched since 1946 though and 4 threw their first pitch in the 1800s.

Reuschel was better than I had honestly thought he was, but I know in my gut that he isn’t an all-time great and the 471 (out of 473) writers who left him off their Hall of Fame ballots in his one and only year on the ballot (1997) knew it too. Now, some will say that those writers didn’t have all the evaluation tools and methods that people like Darowski do now, but they did have tools that a lot of the so called, “stat geeks” do not. They saw Reuschel throw, and they can weigh him against his peers on memory not just numbers. They’re also not slaves to those numbers and they aren’t of the mindset that greatness is achieved by occupying the top lines of a spreadsheet.

So much of baseball is about history and the past. It’s intimidating when you stare at the whole of the game, from the first ball tossed in Hoboken in 1846 to the last pitch thrown by Jason Motte in St. Louis last year, so I understand the desire to shrink it down to formulas, statistics, and historical comparisons. I understand it, I just don’t agree with it.

What do you think of Jason’s assessment? Should Reuschel be in the hall of fame? Let us know in the comments!