200 Best Major League Baseball Players Ever - #196 FRANK TANANA

Sunday, July 13, 2008

#196 FRANK TANANA LHP Angels/Tigers
PW 12.8
WARP3 106.5

The best criticism of this list is that the WARP3 number focuses on career value as opposed to peak value; which is why, as mentioned elsewhere, when Baseball Prospectus evaluates HOF candidates each year, they combine career WARP3 with the 7 top WARP3 seasons from each player. My use of the Baseball Encyclopedia number is a nod in that direction; you'll note there are guys on the list like Tanana with 100+ WARP numbers but sub 20 PW (Tanana has the lowest PW number on the list) one of those things reflected there is Tanana's main resume strength is he was able to pitch for 21 years. Only 3 of those years, '75-77 were premium years; Tanana was over 10 in WARP3 each of those seasons, almost a third of his career value coming in that stretch - in the rest of his career, he topped a WARP3 7.o just once and 6.0 just two additional times. That's years of mediocre pitching, which is why his PW is so low, and why he's at the bottom of the list.

But he is on the list - and Sandy Koufax isn't.

And that's intentional, that's a methodological choice that I've made in giving great weight to career value. On his best day, Frank Tanana was not as good as Sandy Koufax on his best day. For one game, take Koufax.

But Sandy Koufax only had 3 seasons above a 10.0 WARP3, just like Tanana. And while his best season (11.9) was better than Tanana's (10.8) those numbers aren't as far apart as one might think. And then the rest of Koufax's career was one year above a 8.0, another year above 7.0, and seven seasons that look a lot like the rest of Tanana's career - except Tanana had twice as many of them.

So, at their best, Koufax was better than Tanana, but not by a substantial margin - what is substantial is that nearly 2000 innings that Tanana pitched that Koufax didn't. Sandy Koufax retired after 12 years with a WARP3 of 68.3. Through Frank Tanana's first 12 years, his WARP3 was 69.5

If Frank Tanana had pitched for only as many innings as Sandy Koufax, he would have had the same career.

But Frank Tanana then pitched for 9 more seasons. Almost 2000 innings more than Koufax.

So, while I recognize that one is in the HOF, one made the ESPN list of the greatest 100 athletes of the century, one is revered, immortalized, considered one of the half dozen greatest pitchers ever - it's the other one who is on my list.

And should be. Frank Tanana was better than Sandy Koufax.

1 comment

Anonymous said...

Better than Koufax? There were a lot of major league batters who might differ with that assessment.

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