Baseball BeatFebruary 16, 2005
Clemens Rocketing Up the All-Time Charts
By Rich Lederer

Lee Sinins, in an Around The Majors report late last month, suggested that Roger Clemens has a chance to set the modern-day record for career Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA).

The Rocket is 23 RSAA behind Lefty Grove. How many is 23? Well, Clemens has had 23 or more in 14 of the 18 seasons in which he has pitched 162 or more innings. As such, one would think that Roger has a pretty good shot at surpassing Grove during the 2005 season.


 1 Lefty Grove                 668
 2 Roger Clemens               645
 3 Walter Johnson              643
 4 Greg Maddux                 553
 5 Grover C Alexander          524
 6 Randy Johnson               511
 7 Pedro Martinez              477
 8 Christy Mathewson           405
 9 Tom Seaver                  404
10 Carl Hubbell                355

Clemens is fourth all-time (including the 19th century), behind Cy Young (813), Kid Nichols (678), and Lefty Grove (668). The top 16 pitchers in RSAA are all in the Hall of Fame. I won't mention who ranks 17th. OK, I will. Bert Blyleven.

In any event, it just so happened that Lee also reported that Clemens had 645 RSAA in 640 games. That made me wonder how many pitchers had averaged at least one RSAA per game. Using the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, I sorted all the pitchers (including those from the 19th century) with 200 or more games to determine just who and how many qualified for this feat.


   Pitcher           RSAA      GAMES   RSAA/G
 1 Pedro Martinez     477       388 	1.23
 2 Kid Nichols        678	620	1.09
 3 Lefty Grove        668	616	1.08
 4 Randy Johnson      511	489	1.04
 5 Roger Clemens      645	640	1.01
 6 John Clarkson      508	531	0.96
 7 Greg Maddux        553	608	0.91
 8 Cy Young           813	906	0.90
 9 Walter Johnson     643	802	0.80
10 Amos Rusie         370	462	0.80

The answer is five. As shown, Clemens ranks fifth -- behind Pedro Martinez, Nichols, Grove, and Randy Johnson.

* * * * *

Speaking of Sinins' ATM reports, Lee also reported last week when Carlos Zambrano signed with the Chicago Cubs that the big right-hander ranked 12th in RSAA through the age of 23 over the past half century.


 1 Bert Blyleven               137
 2 Don Drysdale                122
 3 Dwight Gooden               110
 4 Frank Tanana                 96
 5 Bret Saberhagen              78
 6 Gary Nolan                   74
 7 Herb Score                   72
 8 Dennis Eckersley             70
 9 Dean Chance                  68
10 Mark Buehrle                 65
11 Dave Rozema                  64
12 Carlos Zambrano              63
13 John Candelaria              61
14 Roger Clemens                59
15 Mark Prior                   58

Damn, there's that Blyleven guy again. This list would suggest that young Bert was the best pitcher in the post-World War II era through the age of 23. And therein lies one of his problems when it comes to the Hall of Fame. I believe it is human nature for voters to discount a player's record from the early years of his career and place too large a premium on the tail end of one's career. (Fred McGriff will be hurt and Rafael Palmeiro will be helped by this phenomenon, in my opinion.)

* * * * *

And while we're on the subject of ATM reports and Blyleven, how about Lee's latest RSAA table? When reporting Johan Santana had signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the Minnesota Twins, Lee pointed out that the Cy Young Award winner ranked fourth on the Senators/Twins single season RSAA list.


                            YEAR      RSAA
 1 Walter Johnson           1913       75
 2 Walter Johnson           1912       74
 3 Walter Johnson           1918       56
 4 Johan Santana            2004       54
 5 Bert Blyleven            1973       53
 6 Walter Johnson           1919       52
T7 Walter Johnson           1910       49
T7 Walter Johnson           1911       49
T7 Walter Johnson           1915       49
10 Frank Viola              1988       45

I find it amazing that Johnson, as great as he was, only had three years in which he had more RSAA than Blyleven had in 1973 in what was and still remains one of the most underappreciated seasons ever. Bert, in fact, finished second in the A.L. in RSAA that year (one behind Jim Palmer), yet he placed seventh in the Cy Young voting.

As I explained in Answering the Naysayers, Blyleven "might have been the best pitcher in all of baseball that year. He led the A.L. in K/BB (3.85), SHO (9), ERA+ (158), and -- for 'cybergeeks' like me -- neutral wins* (26); was 2nd in ERA (2.52), K (258), WHIP (1.12), and RSAA (53); 3rd in CG (25); 4th in IP (325); and 7th in W (20)."

*a projection of the number of wins the pitcher would have been credited with if he was given average run support.

Blyleven's 1973 season was essentially on par with Santana's 2004 campaign. However, the modern-day Twin was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner whereas Bert garnered one third-place vote out of 24 ballots.

I apologize, folks. I didn't mean for this to be an article about Blyleven. But, gosh, it's just difficult writing about the best pitchers in the history of baseball without running across Blyleven's name more often than not.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]


Blyleven's 1973 season was a great season indeed, but it's not really comparable to Santana's 2004. It was closer to Halladay's 2003-significantly more work than other starters, superb control.

He did suffer from poor run support, and I imagine that he was particulary affected (in a way that Santana would probably not have been) by Carew's poor defence at second.

That Catfish Hunter received more votes than Bert Blyleven in the Cy Young voting is just one more black mark on the voters. It's by far not the only one.

Thanks for the interesting article. Just a comment on your Top 10 RSAA/Game. I respect what the old timers accomplished but -

In 1881, the mound was moved from 45' to 50 ' - approx. from today's little league distance to today's Pony league distance, through not exact. I think Pony might be 53'.

In 1893, it went from 50' to the current 60' 6", which is the distance at the high school, college, and pro levels.

In looking at their careers, Clarkson played from 1882-1894, so he played mostly at that 50' distance. Rusie played from 1889-1901, so the 1st third or so of his career was at the 50' distance. Kid Nichols played from 1890-1906 so just the first couple of years of his career were at the 50' distance.

So I would say we need to keep that perspective in mind.

It's a shame voters are only able to comprehend things written on paper and won't be exposed to your info about Bert.

You're right, Mike. Although Blyleven and Santana had comparable RSAA totals, Santana (182 ERA+) was a more effective pitcher per inning than Blyleven (158). Bert made up that qualitative differential by pitching significantly more innings (325) than Santana (228).

The extra 100 innings of pitching at a 2.52 ERA (in the context of a 3.98 league ERA) vs. 2.61 (in the context of a 4.73 league ERA) is worth quite a bit though and that is why their quantitative values are approximately the same.


Good point, Lou. Clarkson, Rusie, and Nichols pitched under (much) different conditions than those from 1900-on. However, in their defense, the RSAA stat takes that into consideration because it is a measurement of runs saved vs. the league average.

If one was comparing raw totals, then adjusting for the change in pitching distances from the 19th century to the post-19th century would definitely be in order.

I'll have more to say on the subject of context in another soon-to-be posted article.


Bill, I think more and more mainstream media writers are being exposed to the research and analysis online. I have received positive feedback from several voters, and I sense our work is far from going unnoticed.

1.31 ERA, 171.1 IP (24 GS), 94 H, 12 HR, 35 BB, 216 K

Those are Santana's numbers from June 9th onwards (including his two post-season starts).


Rich, I was wondering how historically significant that stretch is? Say, what is the greatest ever streak of more than 20 starts in terms of ERA? Is it possible to answer that?

John, I don't have access to a database that could answer the question you posed. I would imagine Santana's run last year was among the greatest outside the deadball era and 1968.

In a totally unrelated email, Brian Gunn has informed me that John Tudor went 20-1 with a 1.37 ERA and 10 shutouts after June 1st through the end of the 1985 season.

Im from Houston and I just learned that Johan Santana was in the Astros minor league system. It's a shame we lost him considering our sruggle to find our 5th starter. With spring training already here, I guess we will see.

Dwight Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA in 1985. He had 8 shutouts, and allowed 198 hits in 276 innings. That was a pretty dominating season. I remember that season well, as I was in NY and the Mets were in a race with the Cardinals that ended with both teams winning 95-plus games. I remember Tudor being awesome, but I don't know if he went 20-1. Tudor finished the season 21-8, so does that mean he was 0-7 in June?

He had a 1.93 ERA, allowing 209 hits in 275 innings. He did finish the season with 10 shutouts.

As for the Cards, on June 1st, according to, they were just 24-22.


The player who changed the game Curt Flood + two other pitchers Koufax & Ryan

Blyleven was on the mound for 2 world series game seven wins in both leagues. I thought post season efforts weighed heavily on world series votes? Also, can we fix the statistics to disregard his competitive nature? You see, Bert would rather you hit a homer off him than give you a walk.