Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Masses Weigh in on Goalies

And it looks like I may have to keep spreading my message for quite some time. According to a current TSN poll asking visitors to rank the top 3 goalies of this generation (Hasek, Roy, Brodeur), 54% picked Roy first while 38% picked Brodeur. Just 8% picked Hasek. Not only that, but a full 75% of respondents ranked Hasek 3rd out of the 3. The results are similar in American polls: Voters on NBC Sports have the all-time goalie rankings going 1. Roy, 2. Sawchuk, 3. Brodeur, 4. Hasek, 5. Dryden, while at ESPN it goes 1. Roy, 2. Brodeur, 3. Sawchuk, 4. Hasek, 5. Plante.

A lot of European fans on Internet hockey message boards often throw out accusations of "Canadian bias" or "North American bias". Most of the times these claims are absurd, but I think it may not be too far from the truth in this case. The reason is that many of the arguments against Hasek have nothing to do with his performance, but attack his durability, his flakiness, or an alleged lack of character and reliability. Quite frankly, the reaction towards Hasek from many hockey fans can be described as bitterness. I'm not going to dispute that he was a jerk at times, but I just don't see how that has anything to do with how good he was. Patrick Roy was a jerk as well who bailed on his team in Montreal as well as his country in the 2002 Olympics, but that doesn't seem to stick to him like more minor transgressions seem to stick to Hasek.

I think for many fans the Olympics have had a significant subconscious impact in the way they view the careers of Brodeur and Hasek: love for Brodeur because he won in Salt Lake, dislike of Hasek because he foiled Canada in Nagano. If Hasek had done what he did in 1998 playing on Team Canada, I somehow doubt that he would be seen as taking a clear backseat to the two other guys that he outplayed and owned in terms of individual awards during his career.

There are arguments that can be made for ranking Patrick Roy ahead of Dominik Hasek, primarily based on Roy's excellent playoff career. I don't see them as particularly convincing arguments, but if you place a heavy emphasis on playoff play and career longevity then there is at least a rationale to preferring Roy to Hasek. But I will never understand how people rank Marty ahead of the Dominator. That is like rating Ron Francis ahead of Mario Lemieux. You would probably have been laughed at for taking Brodeur over Hasek in 1999, but for some reason almost a decade later everything has flipped around. As always when evaluating goalies, it should be the goalie's performance that matters not the performance of the rest of their team, and that leads to Hasek-Roy-Brodeur as the only reasonable outcome.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Vezina Trophy, Top Goaltender
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

After spending most of his career being overlooked for the Vezina, Brodeur now has become the incumbent contender, notching three of the awards over the past four seasons.

There's no reason the New Jersey mainstay won't win it again, as his solid season behind one of the least potent teams in the league helped the Devils finish with 99 points and in fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Brodeur notched 44 of the Devils' 46 wins, second in the league only to Evgeni Nabokov, and also added in a solid 2.17 goals-against and a .920 save percentage over the campaign. While not as dominant as his 2006-07 campaign where he set a new record for 47 wins in a season and edging out the equally dominant Roberto Luongo, Brodeur still gets the nod over Nabokov and the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist.

Brodeur at times single-handedly kept the Devils in the race for the East's top seed despite being one of just two teams in the conference to not crack the 210-goal mark (the other, the Islanders, finished 13th).

The star netminder should win another Vezina, edging out Nabokov and Lundqvist for his fourth Vezina, making him the second goaltender in the last 11 years to claim four of the honors.

Anonymous said...

How's another Vezina for ya???? Obviously you know so much more than all the coaches and GM's.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to reading the next post which is sure to state the numerous reasons Brodeur should NOT have been the recipient of this years Vezina Trophy. :oP

Anonymous said...

Anonymous says, "How's another Vezina for ya???? Obviously you know so much more than all the coaches and GM's."

Oh you're so right... coaches & GM's have never, ever made poor decisions before.

If that were true, every team would - relative to it's payroll & injuries - ice the same .500 team & all teams would be tied. Of course, it's not true, as numerous coaches & GM's make terrible decisions every year. Many of them are poor mathematically, & make mediocre "gut instinct" decisions based on human flaws.

Sort of like your post.

Signed,
The Correct Anonymous Guy

Bruce said...

if you place a heavy emphasis on playoff play and career longevity then there is at least a rationale to preferring Roy to Hasek. But I will never understand how people rank Marty ahead of the Dominator.

Uhhh ... how about if you place a heavy emphasis on playoff play and career longevity?

I like the Dominator too, and have a grudging respect for Roy's accomplishments, but both guys came with plenty of baggage. One thing you can say about Marty is that he has never bailed on his team, unlike Roy in Montreal (or Salt Lake City), or Hasek in various locales (Buffalo 1997; Detroit 2004; Ottawa 2006). Whether he pulled the chute or whether his extraordinary groins had to be 100.0% for him to be effective, fact was he had major disruptive effect on those teams, esp. come playoff time. Whereas Brodeur's longevity, durability, and low-maintenance demeanour have delivered a decade and a half of stability in the Jersey crease. That's worth a few points in my personal rankings.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I give Marty a few points too for his longevity and durability and even his superior reliability. But those few points don't make up for the tens if not hundreds of goals that Hasek and Roy saved their teams compared to Brodeur over their careers.

Go ahead and weight playoffs more heavily. Which of Brodeur and Hasek has a higher playoff winning percentage AND a higher playoff save percentage? (Answer: not Brodeur). And how does a goalie who played until the age of 43 rank behind anyone in longevity? It's not Hasek's fault his birth country was communist.

I think players get too much credit for being one-team players. Yes, Roy and Hasek forced their way out of town, but they were at least in part motivated by dysfunctional ownership on weak teams. How can we be sure Brodeur wouldn't have done the same thing? Just because he decided not to leave one of the best jobs in the NHL with outstanding management and a perennially competitive team? I agree it is a point in Brodeur's favour, just not in my view a particularly important one.

Anonymous said...

to be honest, i dont know if the gm's should be choosing the Vezina...since i'm sure many of them haven't seen a lot of most other goalies, one would think they would take a quick look at the stat sheet, and match up what they think about the past performance and career of a goalie.

Bruce said...

how does a goalie who played until the age of 43 rank behind anyone in longevity? It's not Hasek's fault his birth country was communist.

CG: Good point. I used your words "career longevity" since you used that as a reason why perhaps Roy could be considered ahead of Hasek (???), but to me it's much more about durability, a related but different attribute.

Look at it this way: Hasek had a two-year head start on Brodeur, making the NHL as a back-up in 1991-92. Both became starters in 1993-94, Brodeur as a fuzzy-cheeked 21-year-old, Hasek a mature 29.

So how does that explain this?

Regular season:

Brodeur 968 GP
Hasek 735 GP

Playoffs:

Brodeur 169 GP
Hasek 119 GP

Since '93-94 Brodeur has played 1132 games; Hasek 794, just 70% as many. Even if Brodeur is a shade behind Hasek in 70% of his games, I reckon he's one hell of a lot better than Steve Shields, Manny Legace, Ray Emery etc. in the other 30%. That's a difference of tens if not hundreds of goals right there.

Meanwhile there's zero distractions in the Jersey room about the playing status, health, temperament, etc. of their goaltender. Their starting goalie is also their finishing goalie, every game, every playoff year. Zero controversy, mega stability. Give or take the ugly departure from Montreal, the same could be said about Patrick Roy ... Dominik Hasek, not so much. A truly wonderful goalie, but that was his Achilles heel.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

So how does that explain this?

Which of the following groups of goalies is better?

A: Grant Fuhr, Martin Biron, Andrei Trefilov, Steve Shields, Dwayne Roloson, Manny Legace, Chris Osgood

B: Chris Terreri, Corey Schwab, Mike Dunham, John Vanbiesbrouck, Scott Clemmensen

The A goalies played multiple seasons with Hasek, and the B group played multiple seasons with Brodeur. Does it not make sense that the first guys would play more games than the second guys?

Now that doesn't explain the entire gap of course. I think we've debated this point a lot without either of us moving off of our positions. I just think there are so many other factors involved that I don't feel it is fair to put a major weight on games played when comparing goalies. I'll listen to arguments and probably agree that goalies who play more games are more valuable to their teams, but I don't see how it makes a difference in determing who is better.

Even if Brodeur is a shade behind Hasek in 70% of his games, I reckon he's one hell of a lot better than Steve Shields, Manny Legace, Ray Emery etc. in the other 30%. That's a difference of tens if not hundreds of goals right there.

Hasek: .922
Brodeur: .913
Hasek's backups: .901

Let's just say my view of the relative differences between Hasek/Brodeur and Brodeur/Hasek's backups is substantially different than yours. Tens of goals is probably about right to account for the difference in the latter case. But just to frame the debate and express the ballpark we are in when comparing Roy, Hasek, and Brodeur, here are goals above average career figures for all three (from comparing save percentage to league average times shots faced):

Roy: 441.4 goals above average
Hasek: 408.1 goals above average
Brodeur: 216.5 goals above average

(Stats courtesy of the proprietor of hockeygoalies.org)

Those are career stats, so that is despite Brodeur's advantage in games played. Even in fewer games, Hasek vastly outperforms Brodeur by that metric. Dock Hasek maybe 50 goals for the extra games his backups played, and his teams are still far ahead of Brodeur's in terms of the contribution from their goaltending. Even factoring a sizable edge for intangible factors like Brodeur's puckhandling, rebound control, directing the defence, leadership, temperament, loyalty, poise, intimidating glare, etc., etc., I think the Dominator still wins convincingly.

A truly wonderful goalie, but that was his Achilles heel.

I'll agree with that. If Hasek wasn't a head case and an injury risk he would have had even more success, but no goalie is perfect. For instance, Hasek never lost a playoff series as a high seed against a much weaker team (like Brodeur and Roy did multiple times), or cost his team a Stanley Cup with weak goaltending in a Stanley Cup Final, like Brodeur did in 2001 and arguably Roy did in 1989. So let's deduct some points for Hasek's unreliability, but in my book he has enough points to give away that he's still the best.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, you should compare games played during certain age periods, not seasons. Hasek was probably past his athletic prime by his 3rd or 4th NHL season.

How many games will Brodeur play from age 36-43?

(Brodeur's style is less acrobatic so he probably uses less energy -- as well, he faced far fewer shots/60 than Hasek did when he played for Buffalo. That has to wear a goalie out - especially one in his mid30's.)

As for arguing that Brodeur is better than Shields etc. - who cares? If both Brodeur & Hasek had the same quality of backup, the question reverts to who is better - Brodeur vs. Hasek? Obviously it's Hasek.

Bruce said...

Hasek: .922
Brodeur: .913
Hasek's backups: .901


Well let's drink the Kool-Aid and assume Sv% is king, that all shots were created equal, that goalies have no effect on the flow of the game or the number of shots they face, that it's just as easy to maintain a high Sv% against 25 shots per game as it is 35, etc. Wave our magic wand and put all these guys on the same team, but where they maintain exactly their established Sv%. Brodeur plays 100 games, Hasek 70 and Hasek's backups 30. Hasek plus backups prorate to a shade under .916. Brodeur's 100 games is his career rate of .9135. And that gap of 9 percentage points is diminished to less than 3.

Let's just say my view of the relative differences between Hasek/Brodeur and Brodeur/Hasek's backups is substantially different than yours. Tens of goals is probably about right to account for the difference in the latter case.

From 1993-2008 Brodeur played 338 more GP than Hasek. For the sake of round numbers we'll assume an average of just under ~30 shots per game on their hypothetical same team for a total of 10,000 shots that Brodeur has faced that Hasek didn't but his backups did. At a difference in Sv% of .0125, that's 125 goals. Which is a lot of tens.

Bruce said...

Bruce, you should compare games played during certain age periods, not seasons. Hasek was probably past his athletic prime by his 3rd or 4th NHL season.

Anonymous: Given Hasek led the league in Sv% from his 4th through his 9th NHL seasons, I don't think he was past his physical prime. Having a slinky for a spine? Priceless.

But let's pick ages 29-35, since Hasek was 29 when he seized the #1 job in Buffalo and Brodeur is 35 now. To balance the scales at 7 seasons each I'll include Brodeur's 28-year-old season, since he missed his 32-year-old season due to the lockout (and was robbed of a year of his prime, lowering what will still be record-breaking career totals).

Regular season:

Brodeur 521 GP
Hasek 396 GP

Post-season:

Brodeur 85 GP
Hasek 54 GP

That's 87 (!) GP per season for Marty and 64 for Dom.

How many games will Brodeur play from age 36-43?

Probably fewer than he has the last 8 seasons, but I'd be surprised if it was less than the 286 + 58 that Hasek played during that stage of his career.

(Brodeur's style is less acrobatic so he probably uses less energy

So what's your point? Mine, all along, has been Brodeur is among the most efficient of goaltenders, which I see as a tremendous asset.

-- as well, he faced far fewer shots/60 than Hasek did when he played for Buffalo. That has to wear a goalie out - especially one in his mid30's.)

Facing more shots/60 wears a goalie out, but playing more 60s doesn't? During the 7 age-comparable seasons I reviewed, Brodeur faced 15,491 shots, Hasek 13,632. Marty seems to be standing up to the wear and tear pretty good.

As for arguing that Brodeur is better than Shields etc. - who cares? If both Brodeur & Hasek had the same quality of backup, the question reverts to who is better - Brodeur vs. Hasek?

That point is not about the quality of backup, but the fact that Hasek needed one from time to time, including playoff time; while Brodeur is a constant in net for the Devils, playing over 90% of all games and 100% of all playoff games year after year. All that "extra" playing time at a level far higher than the replacement level (Hasek's backups) closes some/most of the perceived gap between the two.

Obviously it's Hasek

As to who is the better pure goaltender, I agree, it's Hasek. But it's close.

Anonymous said...

So now Hasek is at fault because his backups don't have as high a save pct. as Brodeur?

Brodeur's save pct. has often been better than Hasek's backups... therefore, despite the clear superiority of Hasek's ability to stop the puck (save pct.) as compared to Brodeur, Hasek is not so superior after all.

?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Before I get into addressing your points, Bruce, I just want to say that I don't think this whole discussion is particularly important. Yes, Brodeur played more games than Hasek, you don't have to cite stats to prove that. Was that to New Jersey's advantage? Yes, since their starter was better than their backups it was to their advantage to have him in the game more often. However, I don't think that reflects very much at all on either of those two goalies. At best, you are proving that New Jersey's goalie utilization was more optimal than that of Buffalo or Detroit. We don't know that Hasek couldn't have managed to play 75-80 games per season, all we know is that he didn't. I'd say it is pretty unlikely that he could have played that many games a year, especially later in his career, but who knows? Grant Fuhr played a record 79 games in 1995-96 at the age of 33 after a number of turbulent and injury-filled seasons, and Glenn Hall played 503 games in a row without a mask. I don't doubt it is possible that a lot of modern goalies could play almost every game. None of them have, but that doesn't mean we can conclusively say they couldn't have.

To illustrate my view on this subject, let's say there is a goalie that plays 40 games a season, consistently posting stats of of 1.80 GAA/.940 save %. There is another goalie that plays 80 games a year and averages 2.40/.920. Assuming the team contexts are similar, who is better? Who would you rather have on your team?

I'd take the 40-game goalie every single time because he is better, and because when the playoffs start I'll put him in net and it won't matter much that the other guy is more durable. Will my team be better off with the other guy throughout the course of the regular season? Probably. So you could indeed make the claim that the second goalie is more valuable, but I don't see how you can possibly claim he is anywhere near as good as the first one.

This isn't just my view, it is a fairly common perspective across the sports world. Who was better, Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan? Jim Brown or Emmitt Smith? Bobby Orr or Ray Bourque? People usually take quality over quantity, except apparently when it comes to hockey goalies.

From 1993-2008 Brodeur played 338 more GP than Hasek. For the sake of round numbers we'll assume an average of just under ~30 shots per game on their hypothetical same team for a total of 10,000 shots that Brodeur has faced that Hasek didn't but his backups did. At a difference in Sv% of .0125, that's 125 goals. Which is a lot of tens.

I don't like the inclusion of playoff games in your comparison. The strength of the team has a big impact on those numbers, not just the utilization of the goalie.

Secondly, your save percentage assumptions are quite favourable to Brodeur. Hasek's teammates had a save percentage of .901 on his team, but they had a weighted average of .905 everywhere else, indicating that they were actually pretty decent goalies. Brodeur's teammates' numbers: .902 with Marty, .891 without. We don't know the shot-quality neutral numbers, but those differences certainly imply that the gap in SQNSV% (i.e. raw performance) between Brodeur and Hasek's backups is much smaller than you are assuming.

This leads to the third point: Brodeur's backups were significantly worse than Hasek's, which means that every game played by Brodeur's backups had a greater negative effect than every game played by Hasek's backups. This is one of my main arguments as to why games played is very team-dependent, and probably a major reason why Brodeur did in fact play so many games. If you wanted to compare Brodeur vs. Hasek and factor in everything, that should also be a consideration.

Fourthly, it is a bit disingenuous to compare games played numbers for Hasek to Brodeur past 2002, given that Hasek was "retired" for 2002-03, and was over the age of 40 for the 2006-08 seasons.

Fifth, Brodeur faced substantially fewer shots per game than Hasek, and assuming they faced the same number puts Brodeur artificially ahead.

So the 125 goals figure is overinflated. The difference is probably substantial, but I'd guess it is half of that at most.

In summary, I agree that the gap in "value to team" or "value over replacement" between Brodeur and Hasek is much closer than the gap in performance between them. However, I still maintain that Hasek is on a different performance level entirely, and that is what is really important in terms of identifying who was better.

Bruce said...

So now Hasek is at fault because his backups don't have as high a save pct. as Brodeur?

Anonymous: You're missing my point. The implied "fault" in Hasek concerns durability; when he can't (or won't) play, his team has to use an inferior goalie. This isn't limited to Game 63 in February, in Hasek's case his health has severely and negatively affected his team in three different playoffs. Brodeur's team never has to be concerned with such matters. In fact, throughout this thread I have really not considered Brodeur's backups or quality thereof as a factor, cuz they never play a meaningful game.
(Let's just say that NJ needn't make a big salary or cap investment in their bench-warmer; if Brodeur ever really does get hurt, they'll make a trade, but it hasn't happened yet. And with Brodeur's ultra-reasonable salary of $5.2 MM, the Devils cap hit on their strongest position is barely 10% of the payroll)

Thus Brodeur has a huge edge on Hasek in the categories of durability and reliability. Whether that is a point in his favour making him "better" or simply "more valuable to his team" is likely moot. It is, however, an important distinction which I will address further in an upcoming reply to CG's comment.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Brodeur does seem more durable than Hasek (even factoring in the age difference). I guess that is some comfort to Brodeur's team in that they can schedule him for 90% of the games & MB will not surprise them with an injury.

(I wonder if Brodeur would have a better save pct if he was limited to 60-65 reg season games per year?)

Still, Brodeur's shot-saving stats have not always been that great, & if NJ had ever a decent serious challenger (instead of brutal backups) perhaps Brodeur would've been traded long ago & even out of the league by now. Some luck involved. As I believe the site author discussed in the past, Brodeur's entire career has been a case of right-place, right-time.

Would most GM's want a .930 goalie who plays 60 games per yr, & most/all playoff games (at least, when he was younger than 35), & a decent backup to play 20 games?

Or, a .910 goalie who plays 70 games per yr, all playoff games, & a decent backup to play 10 games?

Any GM with a brain would pick the .930 goalie.

Bruce said...

Before I get into addressing your points, Bruce, I just want to say that I don't think this whole discussion is particularly important.

I do. To me quality and quantity are both of value, whichever of the two you happen to rank higher.

Yes, Brodeur played more games than Hasek, you don't have to cite stats to prove that. Was that to New Jersey's advantage? Yes, since their starter was better than their backups it was to their advantage to have him in the game more often.

So far we are in total agreement.

I don't doubt it is possible that a lot of modern goalies could play almost every game. None of them have, but that doesn't mean we can conclusively say they couldn't have.

No, we can just conclusively say that very few of them actually have. Brodeur, who is among the league leaders in GP every single year, is the exception. That adds (big) value.

To illustrate my view on this subject, let's say there is a goalie that plays 40 games a season, consistently posting stats of of 1.80 GAA/.940 save %. There is another goalie that plays 80 games a year and averages 2.40/.920. Assuming the team contexts are similar, who is better? Who would you rather have on your team?

Boy, that’s a tough one. :) If the backup is worse than 3.00/.900, then you’re better off with the durable guy, and you can count on consistent netminding in the process. But otherwise obviously the first guy is “better”.

I'd take the 40-game goalie every single time because he is better, and because when the playoffs start I'll put him in net and it won't matter much that the other guy is more durable.

It’ll matter a whole hell of a lot when your .940 guy goes down in the first round.

Will my team be better off with the other guy throughout the course of the regular season? Probably. So you could indeed make the claim that the second goalie is more valuable, but I don't see how you can possibly claim he is anywhere near as good as the first one.

This is semantics, and I don’t think we really disagree. I actually want the guy who is more valuable to his team. You know, that pesky criterion for the Hart Trophy.

This isn't just my view, it is a fairly common perspective across the sports world. Who was better, Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan? Jim Brown or Emmitt Smith? Bobby Orr or Ray Bourque? People usually take quality over quantity, except apparently when it comes to hockey goalies.

Who was better, Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky? Peak value is fairly close, but I’ll take Gretzky because he played 80 games a year.

//From 1993-2008 Brodeur played 338 more GP than Hasek. For the sake of round numbers we'll assume an average of just under ~30 shots per game on their hypothetical same team for a total of 10,000 shots that Brodeur has faced that Hasek didn't but his backups did. At a difference in Sv% of .0125, that's 125 goals. Which is a lot of tens.//

I don't like the inclusion of playoff games in your comparison. The strength of the team has a big impact on those numbers, not just the utilization of the goalie.


Whatever. I generally make a point of including playoff numbers, and have trouble understanding why they are usually excluded given their relative importance. The more successful players tend to play more playoff games, but I’m cool with that. Context, as always, is critical. FWIW, Hasek and Brodeur both went to four Stanley Cup Finals.

Secondly, your save percentage assumptions are quite favourable to Brodeur.

Simple prorating making a number of assumptions, which I stated.

This leads to the third point: Brodeur's backups were significantly worse than Hasek's, which means that every game played by Brodeur's backups had a greater negative effect than every game played by Hasek's backups. This is one of my main arguments as to why games played is very team-dependent, and probably a major reason why Brodeur did in fact play so many games. If you wanted to compare Brodeur vs. Hasek and factor in everything, that should also be a consideration.

Lou Lamoriello doesn’t spend a lot of time or money going after a decent backup. History has proven, he doesn’t need one.

Fourthly, it is a bit disingenuous to compare games played numbers for Hasek to Brodeur past 2002, given that Hasek was "retired" for 2002-03, and was over the age of 40 for the 2006-08 seasons.

Oh, there I go being disingenuous again. I specifically responded to Anonymous #13‘s point about that by comparing Brodeur to Hasek at the same ages, 29-35. In those comparable seasons Hasek was creeping up towards 75% of Brodeur’s playing time, slightly more than the career rate of 70% but not substantially different. But if you like, here are the exact comparisons – excluding playoff games! -- from the time Hasek took over as #1 in Buffalo to Brodeur’s current age:


Age | MB | DH
29 || 73 | 58
30 || 73 | 41
31 || 75 | 59
32 || lockout --
33 || 73 | 72
34 || 78 | 64
35 || 77 | 35
-------------------------------
Total 449 | 329 (73%)

Fifth, Brodeur faced substantially fewer shots per game than Hasek, and assuming they faced the same number puts Brodeur artificially ahead.

My assumption was, all goalies on the same team, carrying their own historic Sv%. If they are on the same team, they are going to face the same number of shots. Obviously it’s an hypothetical.

So the 125 goals figure is overinflated. The difference is probably substantial, but I'd guess it is half of that at most.

Well, I showed you how I arrived at 125, show me how you get 62.5.

In summary, I agree that the gap in "value to team" or "value over replacement" between Brodeur and Hasek is much closer than the gap in performance between them. However, I still maintain that Hasek is on a different performance level entirely, and that is what is really important in terms of identifying who was better.

Better … more valuable … better …
Just for the sake of (still more) discussion, let’s go back to your Koufax – Ryan comparison, only I’ll propose we compare a different, contemporary pair of great pitchers, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux. Both have won a bunch of awards, have been among the league leaders in various categories on a regular basis, and both are undeniably headed to Cooperstown. Here’s some of their career stats:

Martinez: 17 yr., 2694 IP, 211 W 93 L, .694 Win%
Maddux (since 1992) 17 yr., 3730 IP, 275 W, 155 L, .640 Win%


Let’s say that we agree over a nice drink o’ KoolAid that Win% is THE stat for pitching. I think it can be argued that pitchers have even more of an effect of the outcome of ballgames than goalies do on hockey games, and it’s possible for a great pitcher on a bad team to post a decent W-L record, just as it’s very possible for a goalie on a bad team to post a decent Sv%. Besides, it's a good illustration of my point.

The Win% category clearly shows Martinez with a big edge, in fact the best of any active pitcher and the third best ever. Other rate stats similarly favour Martinez, including ERA, WHIP, Opp. BA, K/9, etc. It’s a real one-sided comparison, obviously Pedro is the better pitcher.

Except … Maddux has kept going and going. He has pitched at least 198 innings for 21 years in a row. He has won at least 13 games for 20 years in a row. He’s out there on the mound every fifth day, year after year. He puts in the innings, and he puts in quality innings. All the while he has been, if not Pedro-dominant, an excellent pitcher. His Wins percentage is not quite so good, but he is 120 games over .500 whereas the great Pedro is “just” 118 games over. Assuming the replacement level pitcher is at .500 – in reality he’s probably well below that – a case can be made already that Maddux has been more valuable to his team.

Whereas Pedro is drop-dead dominant at times, at other times he is indisposed on the DL or nursing some injury and not really able to help his club. Four years (as a starter) he has failed to pitch even 150 innings, and he likely won’t again this year. Despite being over 5 years younger than Maddux, it’s even money that Pedro will be washed up first.

To extend the analogy, since baseball does such a wonderful job of compiling peripheral stats, let’s use them. Maddux might not have Pedro’s stuff, but he helps himself in other ways. In a career that will see him face his 20,000th hitter in his next start, Maddux has thrown just 3.30 pitches per hitter, compared to a league average of 3.80 … and Pedro’s average of 3.85. More efficiency means less wear and tear on the arm. He may strike out fewer but he also issues fewer walks/9 and yields fewer homers.

Maddux has a career fielding percentage of .970, much better than the league average of .955 and far better than Pedro’s .944. In fact he is considered an outstanding fielder, and has won the Gold Glove Award 17 times. Thus he might throw a bad pitch and save himself with a sharp fielding play. (e.g. In his career he has been involved in 96 double plays, Martinez just 9.) If he didn’t have himself in the field his ERA would likely be a couple of tenths higher, his winning percentage a few points lower … he’s really not that good of a pitcher, he just hides it well.

And when he gets his turn at the plate he hits a creditable (for a pitcher) .171 compared to Pedro’s .098. (Don’t know what the league average is, but I’d bet anything it’s somewhere between the two.) So in a small way he contributes to his own run support.

See where I’m going with this? Obviously the parallel isn’t exact, but Brodeur is in some ways similar to Maddux. He does the little things really well, he does the big things pretty darn well, he never gets hurt, and he soaks up the inni … er, minutes, start after quality start.

While it doesn’t show up in the boxcar numbers, surely we can agree Brodeur “fields his position” exceptionally well. Like Maddux this peripheral skill can get him out of jams, often before they ever start.

Just as you can make a case for Hasek or Roy over Brodeur, you might argue that Martinez or Clemens have been better pitchers than Maddux. What you can’t argue is that Maddux has won 350 games and earned a one-way, first-ballot ticket to Cooperstown (assuming he ever actually retires). He’s not as flashy, but he is efficient and effective, durable and consistent, and will go down as one of the great pitchers of the modern era.

I would choose the exact same words to describe Marty Brodeur.