Hal Newhouser’s Peak

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

This post is a contribution to Did The Tribe Win Last Night‘s ’48 Replay project in which they are telling the story of the 1948 Cleveland Indians as if it’s happening live. They have game recaps, Twitter coverage, and a whole lot more. DTTWLN reached out to New English D a couple of months ago about contributing to the project and we’re suckers for baseball history. Whenever the Tigers are scheduled to play the Indians in DTTWLN’s way-back machine, you’ll hear from us.

The Tigers have never had a better hurler than the hometown lefty, Hal Newhouser. There are always debates when you make statements like that, but the facts back it up. In 373 starts for the Tigers (and 460 total appearances), Newhouser racked up 62.7 WAR, which is the highest mark ever for a pitcher in a Tigers uniform. He’s a couple wins ahead of Lolich. A couple more ahead of Bridges. A few more ahead of Dizzy Trout. Yeah, the Tigers once had a Trout!

After those four, the next name on the list is one you’ll recognize. Justin Verlander. In 2944 IP, Newhouser gave the Tigers 62.7 WAR. In 265 starts and 1766 innings, Verlander has provided 43.6. Verlander’s pace is better, but Verlander is just exiting his peak so his overall average hasn’t evened out with the inclusion of his later years. By raw numbers to this point, Newhouser is the best the Tigers have ever had.

Take it a step further and take a glance at his peak seasons, let’s say his best five years in a row, and compare that to the other Tigers greats. Newhouser’s peak extends from 1944-1948 and what a marvelous peak it was. In 1475.2 IP in that span, Newhouser had 39.2 WAR, a 62 ERA-, and 69 FIP-. Verlander’s peak isn’t terribly far behind as he has turned in 1166 IP and 33.2 WAR from 2009-2013 (entering Sunday’s start) to go along with a 72 ERA- and 71 FIP- during the same span.

Newhouser has the totals and Newhouser has the best multi-season run in Tigers history. Verlander might make a run at the first, but unless he adds 6 wins to his 2013 total in 9 innings on Sunday afternoon, he won’t match Hal’s five year peak.

As far as single seasons go, it’s Hal Newhouser on top again with his brilliant 1946 season in which he compiled 10.2 WAR in nearly 300 innings of baseball. That season he turned in a 1.94 ERA, 1.96 FIP and struck out more than 8 batters per 9 which was also good for a 54 ERA- and 57 FIP-. It might be more impressive to point out that the league average K/9 that year was 3.92. Meaning that the 2013 equivalent of that mark is something better than 16 K/9. No Tiger can touch what Newhouser did in ’46.

But if you’re going by one particular rate state, FIP-, which adjusts for park and league average, Newhouser has some recent company. In 1946, Newhouser was 43% better than league average using Fielding Independent Pitching. Second on that list is Anibal Sanchez’s 2013 season at 41% better (59 FIP-). That’s a razor thin edge for Newhouser, but an edge nonetheless, and speaks to the marvelous work done by Sanchez this year.

It would be hard to argue that Newhouser, who starts Sunday in DTTWLN’s #48Replay, is anything short of the best starter in Tigers history. He’s accumulated the most value, had the best five year peak, and has the best single season to his name. He peaked more than 60 years ago, so most of those who remember watching him pitch are gone, which is why he doesn’t get the kind of publicity that Kaline and Trammel get among the Tigers faithful, but as the ’48 season kicks off here on the internet, take a moment to appreciate the best starter to ever wear the Old English D and the recent pitchers who have tried to unseat him.

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