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Lefty Grove, the best of his era.

In the first installment of  “The Great Lefty Pitchers”, I wrote that Rube Waddell was the best lefty of the deadball era, with Eddie Plank a close second. This time I’m going to discuss the next general era of baseball: the beginning of the Liveball Era to the end of World War II (1920-1945). These are the pitchers that would have had to face all-time great hitters like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx and Joe DiMaggio.

It is apparent after a quick glance that the famous Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell were in fact the best lefties of their time. Both players started over 400 games and completed more than 250 of them, including more than 30 shutouts. Grove lead all pitchers (not just lefties) of the era in both ERA- and FIP- (69 and 77). Hubbell wasn’t quite as impressive, with rates of 77 and 89, neither near the top of the time. Yet Hubbell had the lowest BB/9, K/BB and WHIP of any lefty (1.82, 2.31, 1.17). Those rates were also 5th, 3rd, and 2nd best (respectively) of all pitchers.

To put their dominance in a season-by-season perspective: Lefty Grove lead the AL in ERA nine times, in strikeouts seven times and WHIP five times. Hubbell lead the NL in ERA three times and in WHIP six times. Grove won one MVP award, while Hubbell won two.

Carl Hubbell, Giants superstar.

When I took a look at their post season numbers, I found nothing that would dramatically separate them. They were both phenomenal in the World Series. Grove pitched 51.1 postseason innings, Hubbell 50.1. Their ERA/FIP numbers were both fantastic too, Grove tossing a 1.75/2.21, Hubbell 1.79/3.29. Perhaps the biggest difference was Grove’s brilliant 1.05 BB/9, which was less than half of Hubbell’s still good 2.15.

To me, Grove’s dominance was clearly elite, so I’m going with Lefty Grove as the best of the era. In addition to being superior in the two best available indicators of runs allowed (ERA- and FIP-), Grove also had a higher K/9 and lower HR/9 rate than Hubbell, and of course the impressively low postseason walk rate. Carl Hubbell was no doubt great, but in this case, he is a close number two to Grove.

Lefty Gomez

Lefty Gomez of the Yankees and Max Lanier of the Cardinals were also effective lefties in their time, Gomez sometimes reaching elite levels. Gomez had an ERA- of 80 or under seven times and got his FIP- under 90 four times. His final career rates don’t rank very high, but he certainly ranks in the top handful of lefties of the time. His fame grew considerably because he performed admirably in seven World Series starts (a career postseason 2.86 ERA) for the powerhouse Yankees. Gomez’s BB/9 rate of 3.94 is likely what kept him out of superstar levels throughout his career.

Lanier didn’t play long enough to garner all-time great status, but just before WWII he was developing into a fine pitcher. From 1940-1944, Lanier had FIP- scores ranging from 70-77 (Grove’s level) and threw 30 complete games in the 1943 and ’44 seasons combined. Lanier then made the mistake of taking more money to join the Mexican baseball league, where he was swindled and treated badly and then barred from return for several years by MLB. He was never quite the same when he was finally reinstated.

1. Lefty Grove






2. Carl Hubbell






3. Lefty Gomez






4. Max Lanier