|Cy Young and The Clarke Conspiracy
Keith Glab to Asher B. Chancey
So when Scott first showed me his Top 100 list, he told me that a player had to play more than half of
his career in the 20th century in order to qualify for the list. Naturally, it didn't take long for me to point
out that Cy Young did not meet this qualification, whilst a talented little outfielder named Fred Clarke,
who did meet the qualification despite playing almost 800 games prior to 1900, got completely ignored
for consideration on the list.
Scott quickly backtracked, saying that Young had proven that he could succeed under post-1900
conditions. I think it's ridiculous to claim that he proved that more so than Clarke did (see messy
This isn't about Clarke or Young. It's about being consistent with both how we all evaluate our
pre-1900 players and how we individually evaluate our pre-1900 players.
I was not being sarcastic when I said that Ted Simmons should be on your list, Asher. No, I don't
agree with your lack of penalty for a player's harmfully poor seasons, but I'm far more concerned with
your being consistent WITHIN YOUR OWN RANKINGS than consistent with what Scott or I think is a fair
evaluation for a type of player. i.e. you cannot penalize Simmons without also penalizing Carlton.
Now, you seem to have taken the first step in making a consistent ranking of your 19th century players,
regardless of what Scott or I think of it. Personally, I don't like your treatment (why imagine what his
stats would have been rather than analyze what his stats actually were?), but I applaud your taking a
stance. I'm still wondering what the heck to do. Therefore, all I have for you is an all-over-the-place
scrutiny of Cy Young:
You have to era-adjust his IP even more for his pre-1900 period than his 1900-1910 period, which gets
a significant downward adjustment anyway. 19th century pitchers had the huge advantage of pitcing in
2 or 3 man rotations, and we have to adjust for that. Even when you make a significant adjustment,
he's right up there with Grove and Grover in contention for the #2 spot. Even when you make a
significant adjustment, Cy is one of the most durable pitchers of all time. There's no such adjustment
necessary for pre-1900 hitters.
Now, theoretically, establishing a foul-strike rule would be advantageous to pitchers, not hitters. Well,
Cy Young's best season with that rule in place was 1908, where he was only the 3rd best pitcher in the
AL. In his defense, he did not play with this rule until age 36.
(Clarke had 3 of his top 4 seasons in 1901-1903, just after the f-s rule was instated for him. However,
it is likely that both Cy & Clarke benefited from a diluted talent pool, as those years represent the most
extreme expansion era ever.)
Longevity vs peak value is another concern for Cy. Whom would you rather have on your ballclub: Cy
Young for 18 years, or the best of Maul, Willis, McGinnity, Joss, Waddell, and Overall for three years
each? I'm 100% certain that this Super Six would outperform Cy, yet I'm not certain that this is a fair
method of evaluation.
Another way of looking at Cy, which I did not think of until you split him in two, is to compare him to his
contemporaries twice. From 1890-1900, he was arguably the best pitcher in the league, with only
Amos Rusie and Kid Nichols at his level. From 1901-1910, Cy was again among the best pitchers in
all of baseball, with only Walsh, Brown and Matthewson competing for that title.
What does this mean? Essentially, Rusie + Brown = Young. Or Nichols + Matthewson through 1910 =
Young. If you think these equations are even close to being correct, isn't Cy pretty clearly the second
best pitcher of all-time?
I just don't know. Right now, I'm torn between having him as the second best pitcher ever because of
that, or taking him off of the list entirely since we don't have many meaningful stats of him playing
under modern conditions.
One thing that I do know, is that Cy & Clarke are each holding the ends of an approximately 65-slot
pole, and as one moves up or down on the list, the other one is dragged with him.