George Sisler, who hit .420 in 1922 and had a lifetime batting average of .340, "would simply feel a sense of sorrow," Branch Rickey once said, "for anybody who disagreed with him about hitting." The estimable Mr. Rickey did not live long enough to find out what Sisler and his son George Jr. felt about another of baseball's arts, pitching. It is a talent, they have concluded, that has been much misjudged.
For four years George Jr., who is president of the International League, has studied methods for evaluating the effectiveness of pitchers. He decided that there were few worse measuring sticks than the earned run average. "The ERA fools a lot of people," he says, "because in many cases it is affected by the manager. A pitcher might work for a manager who tends to go too long with him; the fate of another might rest in the hands of a man with a quick hook but a weak bullpen."
So Sisler and his father developed their own system for ranking pitchers. The results, which appear below and on the following pages, are somewhat startling. Herb Score, for instance, with barely more wins than losses, is seventh on the alltime list. Dick Selma, 8-9 with the Phillies in 1970, was the second most efficient pitcher in the National League according to the Sislers. The most efficient in either league in 1970 was a player who was almost unknown, Tom Hall of the Minnesota Twins. Hall won 11 games and lost six, but the Sisiers figured he was worth many more points than teammate Jim Perry, who was 24-12.
All of which might suggest that there is something frivolous about the Sisler ratings. But there isn't. The numerical values represent a combination of performance and potential. While the Sisiers will not divulge their precise formula, they admit that they take into consideration earned run averages and wins and losses. "But," says George Jr., "those only tell you what kind of team a pitcher plays for, not how good he is. But walks are important, very important." Beyond that he refuses to go.
Major league teams take the Sisler system seriously, especially the Baltimore Orioles. Harry Dalton, Oriole director of personnel, saw that the 1968 Sisler figures ranked Mike Cuellar, 8-11 with the Houston Astros, as one of the best pitchers in the National League. Baltimore got Cuellar in a trade and he responded by winning 23 games in his first season as an Oriole and 24 in the next. This year the Orioles traded for two more pitchers high on the Sisiers' list—Pat Dobson and Tom Dukes of San Diego. Dobson ranks 15th. Dukes does not appear because he worked fewer than 100 innings, but in those he had 1,130 efficiency points. The Sisiers suspect the well-padded Orioles may have feathered their nest again by heeding George Sr. and Jr.—and ignoring ERAs.