Models of consistency, dependability and endurance

Originally Published: January 26, 2005
By Rob Neyer | ESPN Insider
The most durable pitcher in major league history? The obvious answer is "Cy Young." But the obvious answer isn't always the best answer, so let's work through the issues raised by the question.

If we use games started or innings pitched to judge durability, you might assume that pitchers from Cy Young's era will dominate the rankings, since in those days pitchers started more games and nearly always finished what they started. You'd be wrong, though. In fact, it's the pitchers of the 1970s who dominate such rankings. Fourteen pitchers have started more than 615 major league games, and all but two of them pitched in the 1970s and/or the 1980s.

So if we look just at starts, or innings, it'll just be the guys we middle-aged sorts idolized in our misbegotten youth. Clearly, some sort of era adjustment is necessary. For example, one could, given a reasonable amount of skill and data, compare every pitcher's innings or starts to the league maximum in each season. But I have neither the skill nor the data, so we'll have to try something else.

And the something else is a close approximation of comparing games started to the league maximum. For each pitcher-season, I awarded one "Durability Point" for ranking in the top 10 in the league in games started, an additional point for each season in the top five, and one more point for each season leading the league.