The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Nolan Ryan”

Saves, No-Hitters and Homers: Oh, My!

Consider this a follow-up to my last post.

Several of my readers made many fantastic additions to my previous list of players who had thrown a shutout and earned a save in the same season.  One of my readers wondered how often a pitcher tossed a no-hitter, (as opposed to merely a shutout), and earned a save in the same campaign. So, of course, I did a little more research.

Let me say, once again, that I don’t pretend that my research here is necessarily comprehensive.  I may have missed a few guys, but I hope not very many. Here are a couple of dozen pitchers who, at the very least, pitched a no-hitter and earned a save in the same season.  As you’ll see, I broke them down into a bit more specific categories.

Also, I’m only going back as far as 1900.  And no, chronological order doesn’t much interest me.

Pitchers Who Threw a No-Hitter and Earned a Save:

1)  Nolan Ryan:  Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career, four with the Angels.  The first two of those no-hitters occurred in 1973.  Also that same year, Ryan earned a save, one of just three he would record in his 27-year career.

2)  Jeff Tesreau:  Tesreau was an excellent rookie pitcher on the great 1912 New York Giants.  He tossed his only career no-hitter that year, and earned a save.

3)  Jim Bunning:  Bunning threw two no-hitters in his career.  The first one was when he was a member of the Tigers in 1958.  His second no-hitter came against the Mets, while pitching for the Phillies, in 1964.  He also earned a pair of saves in the 1964 season.

George Leroy "Hooks" Wiltse, of the ...

George Leroy “Hooks” Wiltse, of the New York (NL) baseball team, winding up for pitch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4)  Chris Bosio:  Bosio pitched the second no-hitter in the history of the Seattle Mariners franchise, in 1993.  Later that same year, he also earned a save.

5)  Hooks Wiltse:  Wiltse, a left-handed pitcher out of Hamilton, NY, enjoyed his finest season in 1908, recording a 23-14 record for the Giants.  He no-hit the Phillies on the 4th of July that season, one of his career-high seven shutouts on the year, and recorded a couple of saves along the way that season.  In his career, he threw 27 shutouts and earned 33 saves.  

6)  Dean Chance:  On August 25, 1967, Dean Chance of the Minnesota Twins defeated the Cleveland Indians on the road by the score of 2-1.  Oddly, Chance actually pitched a complete game no-hitter that day, but his five walks, a wild pitch and an error by Twins third baseman Cesar Tovar led to the lone Indians run in the first inning.  Tovar later scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a balk by Indians pitcher Sonny Siebert.  Chance also acquired one save in ’67.

7)  Allie Reynolds:  If there is such a thing as an underrated Yankee, I submit Allie Reynolds as Exhibit A.  Reynolds tossed a pair of no-hitters in the 1951 season, about ten weeks apart.  Already 34-years old that season, Reynolds won 17 games for the Yanks in ’51, leading the A.L. with seven shutouts.  He also recorded seven saves that same year.  In 1952, he led the A.L. in ERA (2.06), won twenty games, and led the league, again, with six shutouts.  He matched those six shutouts by registering six saves.

8)  Gaylord Perry:  Facing Bob Gibson in Gibson’s unbelievable ’68 season (1.12 ERA), Perry actually bested him by no-hitting Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals.  (How would you like to have been anywhere near Bob Gibson in the Cardinal’s clubhouse after that game?)  Perry also earned a save that year.  He didn’t hit a homer in ’68, but he did hit exactly one homer in ’69, ’70, ’71 and ’72.

9)  Carl Hubbell:  In just his second Major League season, Hubbell tossed the only no-hitter of his fine career, an 11-0 victory over the Pirates at the Polo Grounds in 1929.  He also saved a game that year.

10)  Paul Dean:  Like Jeff Tesreau 22 years earlier, Paul (Daffy) Dean, (brother of Dizzy Dean),  pitched a no-hitter in his rookie season (1934.)  Paul won 19 games in each of his first two Major League seasons, then won just 12 more in his career.  He also saved two games in 1934.

11)  Dutch Leonard:  Leonard tossed a pair of no-hitters in the early years of the Boston Red Sox, one in 1916 and one in 1918.  In addition to his six shutouts in ’16, he also saved half a dozen games.

12)  Carl Erskine:  “Oisk” tossed a couple of no-hitters for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first one in 1952 and the second one in 1956.  In ’52, he also saved two games, but he saved none in ’56.  His one career homer came in 1955.

English: Pitcher Jimmy Lavender of the Chicago...

English: Pitcher Jimmy Lavender of the Chicago Cubs at the Polo Grounds in New York City, 1912. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

13)  Jimmy Lavender:  Nope, I’d never heard of him before, either.  Lavender was a decent pitcher on a mediocre Cubs team in 1915, but he did have one big day.  He fired a no-hitter against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds, defeating them 2-0.  Former Giant Roger Bresnahan was his catcher, and his manager.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem was behind the plate.  Lavender also earned four saves in ’15.

Those Who Did a Bit More:  A no-hitter, a save, and a home run (or two.)  

14)  Bob Feller:  Feller hurled three no-hitters in his legendary career.  The first one occurred on Opening Day, 1940 (the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history.)  His second no-hitter was in 1946, after he arrived home from WWII.  His third and final no-hitter was recorded in 1951.  Feller also earned four saves in both 1940 and ’46.  In 1940, Feller also slugged two home runs.  He was one of only six pitchers on this list to toss a no-hitter, earn a save and hit a home run in the same year.

15)  Walter Johnson:  You might think 1920 was one of Johnson’s best years because he accomplished what Feller did, pitching a no-hitter, earning three saves and hitting a home run that season.  But 1920 was otherwise a rare bad year for Johnson, as he posted just an 8-10 record.  A fine hitting pitcher, he slugged 24 homers in his career.

"Smokey" Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball)

“Smokey” Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

16)  Smoky Joe Wood:  As a 21-year old stud on the Red Sox in 1911, Joe Wood would pitch a no-hitter and save three games.  The following year, he would enjoy his legendary 34-5 season, leading the Red Sox to a World Series triumph over the Giants.  Oh, and he also hit a pair of homers in ’11, and two more in ’12.

17)  Lew Burdette:  The best player ever to come out of Nitro High School, West Virginia, Milwaukee Braves pitcher Burdette pitched a no-hitter on August 18, 1960 against the Phillies, winning by a score of 1-0.  Burdette also led the N.L. with 18 complete games, won 19 games, saved four games, and hit two home runs in 1960.

18)  Warren Spahn:  That same 1960 season, Burdette’s teammate, Warren Spahn, virtually matched Burdette’s trifecta.  Spahn pitched the first of his two career no-hitters at age 39, saved a pair of games, and hit three homers.

19)  Phil Niekro:  Thirteen years after Burdette and Spahn, Atlanta Brave Phil Niekro did his best to emulate those Braves pitchers of the previous generation.  Though 1973 wasn’t one of Niekro’s very best seasons, he did toss the one and only no-hitter of his career, (his only shutout of 1973), recorded four saves, and even hit one of his seven career home runs.

One of a Kind:  a perfect game and a save.  

20)  Addie Joss:  On October 2, 1908, Joss pitched the second perfect game in American League history.  It came against the Chicago White Sox.  He also earned two saves that season.  Less than two years later, in April of 1910, he again no-hit the White Sox.  He won both games by the score of 1-0.  Almost exactly one year later, on April 14, 1911, Joss died of meningitis.  Until Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum no-hit the Padres last week for the second time in his career, Joss had been the only pitcher in history to toss two no-hitters against one team.

From Another Dimension:  a perfect game, a no-hitter, saves and homers.

21)  Sandy Koufax:  Koufax was the first pitcher to throw four no-hitters.  He tossed one each over four consecutive seasons beginning in 1962.  His final no-hitter in ’65 was also a perfect game.  In ’62, in addition to his first no-hitter, he also saved a game and hit a home run.  In ’63, he threw a no-hitter, won 25 games, and hit a homer.  In ’64, he threw a no-hitter and saved a game, but didn’t hit a homer.  In ’65, Koufax enjoyed his perfect game, saved two additional games, but did not hit a home run.  All in all, not a bad four-year stretch.

Cy Young.

Cy Young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All That, and a Bag of Chips:  A perfect game, a save, and a home run.

22)  Cy Young:  Like Bob Feller, Cy Young recorded three no-hitters in his career.  He tossed his first one in 1897, his second one in 1904, and his last one in 1908.  But his ’04 no-hitter was also a perfect game.  He earned a save as well in ’04, and a couple of more saves in ’08.  In ’04, he also hit a home run.

23)  Jim “Catfish” Hunter:  Before he was Catfish, he was just a young phenom pitcher named Jim Hunter.  In 1968, he actually matched Cy Young’s ’04 performance.  Hunter tossed a perfect game, earned a save, and hit a home run.  Young and Hunter are the only two pitchers I’m aware of who accomplished this feat in one year.     

If you can find more pitchers to add to this list, O Faithful Readers, I welcome any and all additions.  I’m sure there are a few more out there.

Greatest Pitchers vs. the Greatest Hitters

What happens when you put a pair of superstars on opposite teams on the same field?  One superstar happens to be a pitcher, and the other one is a batter.  How well do some superstars perform against others?

I decided to take a look at some of the best pitchers of all-time, and see how well they performed against high level competition.  Specifically, I have listed the stats of a fine hitter a pitcher performed well against, and a HOF-caliber batter who hit them hard.  Although there may be individual batters who hit certain pitchers even better than the ones I’ve listed, generally speaking, those hitters weren’t normally considered superstar level performers.

Here are the results:  (Minimum of 50 at bats.)

1)  Sandy Koufax vs. Hank Aaron:

116 at bats, 42 hits, 6 doubles, 3 triples, 7 homers, 16 RBI, 14 walks, 12 strikeouts.  .362/.431/.647  OPS:  1.077

2)  Sandy Koufax vs. Lou Brock:

65 at bats, 12 hits, 4 doubles, 0 triples, 0 homers, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .185/.232/.246  OPS:  .478

3)  Bob Gibson vs. Eddie Mathews:

95 at bats, 31 hits, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 4 homers, 13 RBI, 21 walks, 14 strikeouts.  .326/.448/.526  OPS:  .975

4)  Bob Gibson vs. Roberto Clemente:

125 at bats, 26 hits, 1 double, 2 triples, 4 homers, 16 RBI, 2 walks, 32 strikeouts.  .208/.219/.344  OPS:  .563

5)  Tom Seaver vs. Joe Morgan:

109 at bats, 32 hits, 8 doubles, 0 triples, 5 homers, 11 RBI, 23 walks, 17 strikeouts.  .294/.415/.505  OPS:  .919

6)  Tom Seaver vs. Johnny Bench:

84 at bats, 15 hits, 7 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 8 RBI, 11 walks, 27 strikeouts.  .179/.271/.333  OPS:  .604

7)  Warren Spahn vs. Stan Musial:

291 at bats, 95 hits, 21 doubles, 6 triples, 14 homers, 45 RBI, 43 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .326/.417/.584  OPS:  1.001

8)  Warren Spahn vs. Duke Snider:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 4 homers, 12 RBI, 8 walks, 18 strikeouts.  .238/.315/.425  OPS:  .740

9)  Robin Roberts vs. Ernie Banks:

121 at bats, 41 hits, 4 doubles, 3 triples, 15 homers, 31 RBI, 7 walks, 22 strikeouts.  .339/.377/.793  OPS:  1.170

10)  Robin Roberts vs. Orlando Cepeda:

63 at bats, 16 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 11 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .254/.262/.397  OPS:  .658

11)  Steve Carlton vs. Gary Carter:

116 at bats, 36 hits, 9 doubles, 0 triples, 11 homers, 24 RBI, 18 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .310/.400/.672  OPS:  1.072

12)  Steve Carlton vs. Tony Perez:

108 at bats, 21 hits, 5 doubles, 0 triples, 3 homers, 10 RBI, 16 walks, 26 strikeouts.  .194/.294/.324  OPS:  .618

13)  Nolan Ryan vs. Carl Yastrzemski:

50 at bats, 17 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 14 RBI, 12 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .340/.469/.600  OPS:  1.069

14)  Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Yount:

69 at bats, 16 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 homers, 10 RBI, 8 walks, 16 strikeouts.  .232/.329/.406  OPS:  .735

15)  Greg Maddux vs. Tony Gwynn:

94 at bats, 39 hits, 8 doubles, 1 triple, 0 homers, 9 RBI, 11 walks, 0 strikeouts.  .415/.476..521  OPS:  .997

16)  Greg Maddux vs. Mike Piazza:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 10 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .238/.247/.400  OPS:  .647

 

The Future of Innings Not Yet Melted

Years ago, a friend of mine and I were making lists of the best players who played for each of our favorite teams.  Mine, of course, was the Mets.  His was the Red Sox.  We made our lists in the L.L. Bean warehouse, Zone 21, amidst the cardboard dust and broken yellow straps that littered the floor.  We had another two hours until the end of our shift.  No windows through which to notice the snow.

His list had many of the predictable names:  Teddy Ballgame, Yaz, Fisk, Clemens…he even added Babe Ruth to his pitching staff.  I granted him that one.  The old pig-farmer was once a kid lefty with promise.  Then, panic-stricken into silence, I noticed that his list of the greatest Red Sox of all-time included Tom Seaver.  He had shoplifted Tom Terrific right out of the store under his coat, much as the Reds had done in ’77.  This couldn’t stand.

Yagottabefuckinkiddinme, I blurted out.  Seaver?  He threw what, maybe 90 pitches in his entire Red Sox life?  That’s like me accidentally walking into a wedding ceremony, and emerging with a ring.  It just don’t work that way.  I slowly crossed Seaver’s name off his list.  Looking up at him, I said, “try again.”  I wrote, “Calvin Schiraldi” in small, neat letters over smudged Seaver.

But rules are rules, and we had none when we set up our lists.  My friend saw the loophole, and pounced.  That’s how winners happen.  When the Reds scammed Seaver from the Mets for a broken harmonium and a box of confiscated Turkish porn films, Mets fans knew they’d been had.  But losers always find a way to lose; it’s as irresistible as running a tongue over a broken tooth.  Still, Dan Norman?

Up to that point, I had left Nolan Ryan off my list of Mets, along with Ken Singleton, Amos Otis, and Paul Blair, as well as Snider, Mays, and Ashburn. I topped off my updated list with Bret Saberhagen.  But then so did he.  Going for the kill, I scribbled Jimmy Piersall’s name down, Mets class of ’63.  Clearly, that was below the belt.  My friend groaned.

Nothing left to do but gloat as I leaned on the pallet jack, waiting for the fork-truck driver to come back around.  Forty more cases of fleece jackets to load, then home to an Old Thumper and some chow.  Should be about 4:30 by now.  Not that it mattered.  The cold apartment on Spring Street was dialed up to December Maine Cold, frost on the handrails and black-slick death ice on the stairs.

The click of cleats on hardwood floors was still months away.  Leather glove smell of organic dirty perfume hidden in closet under box of wide-ruled college notebooks, stats of ’73 Mets in the margin of Sociology 101 scribbles.  Invertebrates and Mollusks in red notebook between columns of stadiums I’d meant to see.  Most are gone now, but the notebooks remain, hostage facts squeezed and forgotten in boxes.

My friend on my second-floor landing now, semaphore scorecard waving like a warning, his evidence of a 1986 Houston Astros ballgame.  Mike Scott and his vanishing split-finger optical illusion.  Beat the Mets twice in the playoffs. Not pitching, but counting coup.

I added Mike Scott to my list.  Drafted by the Mets in 2nd round, 1976.

My buddy just shook his head, but he had brought along an extra pair of six-packs and some egg rolls, so we were good for the evening.  Steel winter morning was still twelve hours away, and the inside of our souls were calm with pencil-mark scorecards and dog-eared almanacs, becalming order to the ordinariness of existence, waiting for the next hot prospects to melt in toaster-oven future, promise of a 44-double season mounting with the death of each winter day.

Was spring really true?  Who could say?  Future inning snow-flakes shadowed the night sky, blinding us from the moon’s faint light.  Floating to earth, all of next season, a snow carpet, tranquil and smooth, yielding nothing but the quietness of expectation.

 

 

 

 

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Those Who Caught the Great Pitchers: Part 2 – Jerry Grote

This is the second installment of this series.  You can read Part 1 here.

As a young boy growing up a Mets fan in the 1970’s, I always liked Jerry Grote.  Looking at the back of his baseball card, I realized he wasn’t going to ever win a batting title, but watching him play on WOR-Channel 9, I watched him catch enough to know that he was a true professional behind the plate.

Even with the advances made in modern statistical calculations, including dWAR, it is difficult to put a real value on how much a catcher like Jerry Grote was worth to the Mets while he was their primary catcher from the late ’60’s through the mid ’70’s.  Thumbing through a copy of the 1974 Mets yearbook, I found this entry:

“Fortunes of Mets continued to revolve in great measure around availability of bulldoggish, fiery competitor ranked with elite N.L. receiving corps; Shea troupe’s decline began to set in after Ramon Hernandez pitch fractured his right arm bone in Pittsburgh May 11, while pennant push coincided with return to steady full-time duty July 21.”

Perennial stolen-base leader Lou Brock considered Jerry Grote the toughest catcher he ever tried to steal off of, and Johnny Bench himself once remarked that if he’d been on the same team as Grote, he (Bench) would have been relegated to third base with Grote being the regular catcher.

Joe Torre, who both played for and managed the Mets, once compared Grote to Johnny Bench and Ted Simmons.  He said that while Bench and Simmons were hitters that caught, Grote was a catcher who hit.  While that may have been an oversimplification of the abilities and careers these three fine players enjoyed, it does reflect on the high level of respect accorded to Grote by his contemporaries, especially concerning his defense.

Tom Seaver worked with a total of 25 catchers during his MLB career, including Grote, Bench and Carlton Fisk.  No catcher caught Seaver more than Grote did.  Grote was behind the plate for a Seaver start 239 times.  Bench was a distant second at 94 times.  Mets backup catcher Duffy Dyer caught Seaver 55 times.  Seaver made 395 starts as a Met.  Grote was behind the plate in 60% of those starts.  It’s hard to imagine Seaver developing quite the way he did without the defensive prowess of Jerry Grote.

Grote was the Mets starting catcher 1,105 times during his 11 1/2 seasons as a Met (1966-77.)  During that time, he was named to two All-Star teams, led N.L. catchers in putouts in 1970 and ’71, in Range Factor / Game six times, and in Fielding Percentage once.  He never led N.L. catchers in runners caught stealing largely because most base-runners just wouldn’t test his arm.

A .252 career hitter with just 39 career homers, Grote was never a great hitter, but he always viewed his defense as his primary job.  With Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and, a bit earlier, Nolan Ryan to catch, the question is, was his reputation partly enhanced by having the good fortune to catch those excellent pitchers, or were those pitchers so highly productive at least in part because they were lucky to have Jerry Grote behind the plate?

Certainly, a young pitching staff has a lot to learn, and a catcher as assertive and competent as Grote could only have reinforced their development.

Grote’s toughness behind the plate was legendary.  Out of San Antonio, Texas, Grote was an old school guy who was not afraid to call out Seaver or any of the other pitchers when they made a mistake.  He often had run-ins with umpires who earned his wrath, including one alleged incident when he allowed a pitched ball to hit an umpire in the mask.

Pitchers who shook him off could expect him to come barking out from behind home plate, so it didn’t happen very often.  And in 1988, seven years after he’d retired as an MLB catcher, Birmingham Barons manager Jerry Grote inserted himself into a game as his team’s catcher when no one else was available.  At age 42, it was the final time he suited up for a game.

Perhaps we should allow Tom Seaver to have the final word regarding the career of Jerry Grote.  Seaver once remarked on national television that even having had Bench and Fisk behind the plate at one time or another in his career, the finest catcher he ever enjoyed as a battery-mate was Jerry Grote.

If Jerry Grote  was good enough to win high praise from none other than Tom Seaver, who are the rest of us to judge?

The Greatness of Clayton Kershaw

Is it possible that a 25-year old starting pitcher, with barely a half-dozen seasons under his belt, is already one of the most taken-for-granted veterans in the Majors?

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m writing, of course, of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

As a Mets fan, I’ve been in awe of our own great pitcher, Matt Harvey (The Dark Knight of Gotham.)  Every pitching performance of his is an event to be savored.  I can think of perhaps only two or three other pitchers in Mets history who’ve generated this kind of buzz and displayed such overwhelming dominance at this point in their careers.

Then I recall that Clayton Kershaw is just a year older than Matt Harvey, and has already been just as dominant, perhaps more so, for about six years now.

Kershaw made his MLB debut at age 20 on May 25, 2008 against the St. Louis Cardinals.  In six strong innings, he struck out seven, walked just one, and surrendered five hits and two earned runs.  Of his 102 pitches, 69 were strikes.  His ERA after that first start was 3.00.  He has not posted an ERA that high in any of his past five seasons (including this one.)  His lone mistake that day was a double to some guy named Pujols.

Through 1,142 career innings (a fair sample size), Kershaw’s career ERA+ of 146 ranks 5th best all-time among starting pitchers since 1900, behind only Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood.  Including this season, he is enjoying his 3rd straight year with an ERA+ of at least 150.  By way of comparison, Sandy Koufax reached that level of dominance in each of his final four seasons.

Speaking of Sandy Koufax, until this year, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax ranked #1 and #2 in fewest hits surrendered per nine innings in their careers (6.555 and 6.791, respectively.)  This year, Kershaw has squeezed in between Ryan and Koufax, now claiming second place all-time at 6.767 per nine innings.  Granted, Koufax tossed about twice as many innings in his career as Kershaw has to date, but, then again, Kershaw has been a much more dominant pitcher in his first half-dozen seasons than Koufax was.  In fact, Koufax was about Kershaw’s current age before he finally began to turn the corner in what had been to that point a very mediocre career.

Kershaw, with a career record of 74-44, has already won one Cy Young award, was the runner-up last year, and has an excellent chance to win another this season.  He is on his way to winning his third consecutive ERA crown, and will probably lead the league in WHIP this year for a third straight season as well.  He has also given up an average of just 5.8 hits per 9 innings this year, one hit per nine below his already fantastic career average.

Astonishingly, in his 1,142 career innings pitched, Kershaw has surrendered just 859 hits.  Another way of looking at this is that Kershaw has tossed 283 hitless innings in his career, the equivalent of pitching an entire season, and then some, without giving up a hit.

And lest you think that perhaps Kershaw has a walk rate that might not be quite as impressive as his hit rate, Kershaw’s career mark of 3.0 walks per nine compares favorably (though very similarly) to Koufax’s career rate of 3.2 walks per nine (not to mention Nolan Ryan’s much higher rate of 4.7 walks per nine innings.)

Since his rookie year of 2008, Kershaw’s WAR has gone up virtually every season as well:  1.4, 4.7, 5.5, 6.5, 6.2, 7.1 (thus far in 2013.)  His 31.4 career WAR (generally a cumulative stat), works out to an average of around 5.5 per season.  I’ll leave it to you to estimate where he might finish among the all-time WAR leaders if he enjoys perhaps another decade of good health.

There’s a real chance that before he’s done, Clayton Kershaw will rate among the top five left-handed pitchers in baseball history.  It would be unfortunate if, outside of L.A.,  baseball fans failed to notice Kershaw’s greatness due to our sports media’s current obsession with scandal, blame and shame.

Addendum:  I just learned a couple of hours ago of the elbow injury that Matt Harvey has suffered.  The brittleness of pitchers is something that we are constantly reminded of and, despite our hopes going forward, obviously no pitcher is guaranteed a long and healthy career.  Not Matt Harvey, not Clayton Kershaw, not any of them.  All we can do is enjoy their talent while we have them.  

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Pedro Martinez

This is Part 7 of the series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  If you’ve missed any or all of the first six,  you’ll find them under “Recent Posts” over to the right.

Recently, I read that Pedro Martinez lost only 100 games in his entire career in over 400 starts.

English: Pedro Martínez

English: Pedro Martínez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Losing just 100 games out of 409 career starts (against 219 wins) is a pretty remarkable statistic.

It led me to ask the following question:  What was the greatest number of games Pedro lost in any one season?

Indirectly, this also led me to wonder, if wins are an overrated statistic that don’t often reveal the true value of a pitcher, then how about losses?

In other words, are the number of losses a pitcher suffers in a particular season fairly representative of his overall performance?

Lists are often my favorite visual aid, so of course you know what’s coming.  Here’s a list of 26 pitchers, (do we always have to work with multiples of five?) and the highest number of losses they suffered in a season, from fewest to most.

Every pitcher on this list made at least 300 career starts, the vast majority making over 400. The number in parentheses indicates the number of seasons the pitcher lost that many games.  A number in bold print indicates they led the league in losses that season.

1)  Pedro Martinez – 10  (2)

2)   Ron Guidry – 12 (and it wasn’t until he turned 35 that he lost that many.)

3)  Lefty Grove – 13  (2)

4)  Sandy Koufax – 13  (2)

5)  John Smoltz – 13

6)  Roger Clemens – 14

7)  David Cone – 14  (2)

8)  Randy Johnson – 14  (2)

9)  Curt Schilling – 14

10) Tom Seaver – 14  (2)

11) Bob Feller – 15  (2)

12) Dwight Gooden – 15

13) Greg Maddux – 15

14) Mike Mussina – 15

15) “Pete” Alexander – 17

16) Bert Blyleven – 17  (4)  (Led league in losses in one of those four 17-loss seasons.)

17) Tom Glavine – 17

18) Catfish Hunter – 17

19) Christy Mathewson – 17

20) Ferguson Jenkins – 18

21) Jack Morris – 18

22) Nolan Ryan – 18

23) Don Sutton – 18

24) Steve Carlton – 20

25) Luis Tiant – 20

26) Walter Johnson – 25

Boy, that Walter Johnson was a lousy pitcher, wasn’t he?

Actually, the year Johnson lost 25 games he was just a 21-year old kid still learning his craft.  Although his ERA that year was a sparkling 2.22, his ERA+ was just a mediocre 111, meaning that lots of pitchers had very low ERA’s that year.  Easy to see why this was the Dead Ball era, right?

So, do the number of losses a pitcher suffers in their “worst” season tell us much in the way of useful information?  Is it possible for a pitcher to have an excellent year (as measured by other reliable stats) yet come away with a relatively high number of losses?

Well, we just saw that Walter Johnson was not yet a great pitcher when he lost those 25 games.  Similarly, Tom Glavine was just a 22-year old with an ERA+ of just 80 when he lost his career high 17 games.  In other words, it would not be inaccurate to say that he truly did “earn” those losses.

Although Nolan Ryan was already 29-years old when he lost 18 games in 1976, his ERA+ that year was only 99, and he was still walking far too many batters.  In other words, those 18 losses can’t simply be written off as a lack of run support, or an unlucky “good” pitcher on a bad team.  Ryan pretty much deserved to lose 18 of his 39 starts that year.

Don Sutton, like Bert Blyleven, is in the Hall of Fame due to a long career of notable, yet unspectacular, consistency.  They are baseball’s equivalent of the 35-year career insurance salesmen who never miss a day of work, but of whom the best that can be said is that they never knowingly, intentionally, sold a questionable policy.  They each stuck around long enough to earn their gold watch, enjoy their retirement party, and retire to Miami Beach to play golf, bare white legs set against the over-manicured greens draining into dying swampland.

So what of their 17 and 18 loss seasons?  In 23 seasons, Don Sutton never led his league in ERA+, and in ERA just once.  In 1969, his fourth season in the Majors, he posted an ERA+ of 96 in 296 innings.  Durable?  Sure.  But it is clear that those 18 losses were generally representative of his pitching performance that particular year.

Bert Blyleven’s four 17-loss seasons, three of which occurred consecutively from 1972-74, were more of a mixed bag.  In two of those seasons, (1973-74) Blyleven posted ERA+’s of 156 (which led the league) and 142, respectively.  In 1972, his ERA+ was a decent 119, and in his final 17-loss campaign, 1988, his 17 losses led the league in a year in which his ERA+ was only 75.

When Luis Tiant and Steve Carlton each led their respective leagues with 20 losses (Tiant in ’69; Carlton in ’73), neither pitcher was better than league-average that year.  Tiant’s ERA+ was just 101, and Carlton’s was only 97.

Long-time Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martíne...

Long-time Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martínez returns to Fenway Park in 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally speaking then, what is clear from this admittedly abbreviated list of pitchers is that great pitchers don’t tend to lose very many games, unless they are having an off-year, or unless they are still refining their craft.

Now, that may sound like the least surprising bit of information you’ve ever received.  But what it means is that, although a pitcher can have a great year and not win very many games (see the list of recent Cy Young winners), it is not at all common for a pitcher to have a great year and still end up with a lot of losses.  

Notice that only four of the 26 pitchers on this list ever led their league in losses, despite the large number of combined seasons represented here.

Therefore, although it is true that you should generally ignore a pitcher’s win totals when evaluating his actual value in any one season, the converse is not so true.

A pitcher’s loss totals are generally representative of what you would expect, given other statistical measures of performance.

By that measure, then, one can argue that Pedro Martinez was one of the top ten, if not among the top five, starting pitchers of all-time.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis – Final Thoughts

By my count, there are just over 200 former Major League baseball players in the Hall of Fame.  This does not count players who were eventually elected to The Hall not for what they did on the field, but for what they later did as coaches, managers, or even team owners.

Satchel Paige

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I also did not count former Negro League players like Satchel Paige who, though he did spend some time in The Majors, is actually in The Hall primarily for his vast accomplishments as a Negro League pitcher.

After having written well over 15,000 words on this subject, I have come to several conclusions.

First, there is broad consensus on the top 40-50 players of all-time.  I don’t mean that you and I would come up with exactly the same list of players on such a list, just that if you polled a room-full of those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time on this stuff, our lists would not vary greatly.

So far, so good.

There are 23 players who have a career WAR over 100.  These are the shoo-ins.  There are another ten players who accumulated WAR between 90-99 in their respective careers (interestingly, this is one of the smallest cohort groups in the HOF.)

Among the players in the 90+ range include Christy Mathewson, Jimmie Foxx, and Al Kaline, so I think it’s probably safe to assume that expanding the Hall to at least the top 33 players would be acceptable to a reasonable person.

Yet, if we limit Hall membership to this elite group of 33 players to ensure that only the “best of the best” are included, we have slammed the door shut on Cal Ripkin, Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, and a dozen other players who generated 80-89.9 WAR in their careers.  And I know you’re not up for that, are you?

Now that I have strong-armed you into accepting the top 50 players, (as measured by WAR), into The Hall, I’m sure you feel like you can rest on your laurels here.  Just keep these 50 plaques in The Plaque Room in the HOF, and eliminate all the others.  Then you’ll have a TRUE Hall of Fame where only the best of the best are honored.

But we still have a couple of problems here (three actually.)  The first thing you might be forgetting is that baseball is constantly generating new players, some of whom are pretty damned good.  Albert Pujols, for example, is already approaching 90 WAR.  What happens when he is elected into The Hall?  To keep Hall membership exclusive by limiting it to just the 50 top players, whom do you then kick out of The Hall?  Wade Boggs?  Steve Carlton?  Good luck on that.

And Pujols won’t be the last player to top 80 career WAR in his career.

You also have another problem.  You still don’t have a catcher in the HOF.

WAR is tough on catchers (see Adam Darowski’s Hall of wWAR for more on this topic,) in large part because they just don’t play as often as other position players, and because the nature of the position takes a bigger toll on the human body, which tends to wear out faster than someone playing, say, first base.

Also, though this may be of lesser concern to you, there also aren’t any relief pitchers over 80.0 WAR in The Hall.

We can go on and on like this, adding now all players between 70-79 WAR (including Bench, Carew, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Mize, Robin Yount, etc,) and even dropping into the 60’s WAR (including Ernie Banks, Duke Snider, Tony Gwynn, Carlton Fisk, and some guy named Jackie Robinson, to name a few.)

Pick a random WAR cohort to eliminate, and I’ll tell you why you have a problem.  No players in the 40-49 range should be allowed, you state firmly, because now you’re shoving in guys with less than half the career WAR as the top couple of dozen players in The Hall.

English: Baseball pitcher Rube Waddell in 1901

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I’ve got two words for you:  Sandy Koufax.  Or, if you prefer, Dizzy Dean.  How about Rube Waddell?  He only led his league in strikeouts six straight season.  Sure there are players in the 40+ WAR cohort who don’t belong in The Hall, but where’s the cutoff, exactly?

Meanwhile, in the 20+ and 30+ career WAR groups of HOF players, you have some of the best relief pitchers of all time, including Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers.  What should we do about them?

If we ignore WAR for these players, plus the players like Koufax and Dean who burned brightly for just a few short years, and players like Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Ryne Sandberg and Willie Stargell (each in the 50+ WAR cohort) whose reputations somehow don’t mesh with what we’d expect their WAR’s to be, we are left with a bit of a mess of a situation.

Sure, in general, the lower the WAR, the worse the player is, but there are enough exceptions to make us consider, perhaps, what this all means.

What exactly is it we’re trying to accomplish here?  When we say that we want only the best players in The Hall, do we mean that we simply want the players, regardless of our emotional connection to them, and despite what their historic legacy might be, who meet the standards of a mathematical formula (however well put together), or are we looking for something more here?

Catfish, Billy, and Brad Gulden

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Catfish Hunter has one of the lowest career WAR of any starting pitcher in the HOF.  I concede, unconditionally, that he was an overrated pitcher who, if we wasn’t fortunate enough to have pitched for excellent A’s, then the Yankees teams in the ’70’s, he would have been more or less just another pitcher.

But I’m glad Catfish is in The Hall.  The fan in me just doesn’t give a rat’s ass what his WAR is (and I don’t consider myself a “traditionalist,” whatever the hell that means, when it comes to stats, either.)  I greatly respect modern statistical analysis, and I’m glad that I have a nice peg to hang my biases on when it suits me (WAR says Jack Morris doesn’t belong in The Hall, so screw him.)

Tommy McCarthy, Boston Reds, Albumen Print

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None of this changes the fact, however, that there really are players in The Hall who don’t belong there.  We could probably even agree on several of them.  I would take out Lloyd Waner, Tommy McCarthy, Freddie Lindstrom, Herb Pennock, and Dave Bancroft before breakfast tomorrow morning.  But they’re there, and I guess they’re not going anywhere.

Meanwhile, short of taking the vote away from the BBWAA and from the Veteran’s Committee (which has largely stopped electing former players just about all together anyway), what is to be done about Hall voting now and on into the future?  How do we eliminate mistakes, and get back to the Golden Age of the Hall of Fame?

Here’s the good news.  If it is exclusivity you seek, we are already swiftly sauntering down that street.  Here’s the evidence.

In each decade since the 1970’s, inductions of former MLB players into The Hall has declined for four straight decades.  The number of players inducted into the HOF in each of the past four decades is as follows:

1970’s – 36  (one of the worst decades in terms of quality of players inducted in history.)

1980’s – 29

1990’s – 24

2000’s (including 2011 inductees) – 22

And this is without yet knowing how the steroids controversy will affect several (otherwise obvious) potential HOF’ers like Bonds, Clemens, etc.  Almost certainly, in the very near future, there will be a huge backlog of historically significant players not in The Hall that will rival the untapped talent available to the first HOF election committees back in the 1930’s.  Whether this is a good thing or a tragic situation depends on your point of view.

But one thing’s for sure.  No one will be able to argue that too many mediocre players are being elected into The Hall.

Although no group of humans, and no statistical formulas, will probably ever solve the puzzle of how to create a “perfect” Hall of Fame, I believe that if you are looking for a time when there was something resembling a Golden Age for the HOF, you can stop looking.

We may already be there.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 6

When last we reviewed the inductees into the baseball Hall of Fame, we observed that during the decade of the 1980’s, Hall of Fame voters did a reasonably nice job with their choices.  Certainly, compared to the 1970’s and to some other previous decades we’ve looked at before, the 1980’s was something approaching a Golden Age for the Hall of Fame.

And a Golden Age for the HOF is what we’ve been looking for all along.  Has the baseball Hall of Fame, as some writers and fans seem to believe, ever enjoyed an era when only the best of the best were inducted?

In Parts 1-5 in this series, what we have found is that in virtually every decade outside of the 1930’s, the voters have made some highly questionable –in some cases just plain terrible– choices for the Hall of Fame.

Yet the decade of the 1980’s, in which only a couple of really poor choices were made, offers reason for hope that HOF voting is finally on its way to reaching that much spoken of, yet mysteriously elusive, Golden Age.

So let’s now turn to the 1990’s and see if the voters continued to build on this momentum, or if, instead, they reverted to form.  And once again, BBWAA is the Baseball Writers Association of America, while the V.C. is the Veteran’s Committee, a motley assortment of scruffy little elves who live in the bowels of the Hall of Fame.

Major League Baseball player Joe Morgan of the...

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1990:  BBWAA – Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer

Despite the fact that former 10 time All-Star and two-time N.L. MVP  second baseman Joe Morgan often embarrasses himself every time he opens his mouth as an announcer, he was one of top three greatest  second baseman of all time.  Ironically, despite his own egregious examples of ignorance regarding modern baseball statistics, it is precisely sabermetrics that holds Morgan’s career in highest regard.

Morgan’s career WAR of 103.5 is 20th best all-time among position players.  His career OPS+ of 132 rates him as high as Tony Gwynn and Al Simmons.  Otherwise, Morgan was just a career .271 hitter who never reached 200 hits, 40 doubles, or 300 total bases in a season.

So you see, Joe, sabermetrics are your best friend, if you would just stop talking long enough to allow the oxygen to enter your brain.

Jim Palmer was the ace of the Orioles pitching staffs once upon a time, but I remember him better, perhaps unfairly so, as the man who modeled underwear in magazines.  My own favorite pitcher of the era, Tom Seaver, modeled three-piece suits while pretending to throw fastballs (tacky, I admit, but at least he kept his pants on.)

1991:  BBWAA – Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Gaylord Perry  V.C.  Tony Lazzeri 

Busy year for The Hall.  Carew, Jenkins and Perry are all laudable choices.  Carew was one of the finest natural hitters of all-time.  He was voted onto every All-Star team from 1967-1984.  Carew won seven batting titles.  Strangely, despite all the times he reached base, only once did he top 100 runs scored in a season.

Jenkins, perhaps the greatest Canadian-born player in Major League history, reached 20 wins in a season seven times.  His career WAR of 81.3 is 20th best all-time among pitchers.

Perry topped 300 wins while leading the league in wins three times with three different teams.  He won two Cy Young awards (one in each league), and is 10th on the career WAR list for pitchers at 96.3.  One of the last of the spit-ball pitchers, it is interesting to me that MLB picks the rules it chooses to either ignore or enforce, apparently based on no particular guidelines other than will this be bad for P.R.?

English: 1933 Goudey card of Tony Lazzeri of t...

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Tony Lazzeri was a slugging second baseman for the Yankees in the 1920’s and ’30’s.  His huge RBI totals have led many to believe that he is one of the all-time greats at his position.  Between 1926-36, he topped 100 RBI seven times, and reached a .300 batting average five times.

His overall game, however, was simply good, but not great.  His career OPS+ of 120, and career WAR of 48.3 reveal a player who was, and remains generally overrated, though certainly not merely average.  A flawed, if somewhat defensible choice for The Hall.

1992:  BBWAA – Rollie Fingers, Tom Seaver  V.A.  Hal Newhouser 

Are you old enough to remember when the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year was a new award?  Do you remember when closers were called “fireman?”  Do you remember when these “fireman” used to regularly pitch over 100 innings per season?

Enter Rollie Fingers.  The Rolaids Relief award was created in 1976, and Fingers then went on to win the award four times, as well as a Cy Young and A.L. MVP award in 1981 for the Brewers.  He topped 100 innings in a season eleven times, and made five All-Star games.  He was most famous, of course, for his handlebar mustache while pitching for the great A’s teams of the 1970’s.

Some have argued that Fingers was a bit overrated, and that his reputation far exceeded his statistical excellence.  My response to that is, I’d like to care, but these are closers we are talking about, a position that just doesn’t interest me.  The “Save” stat is one of the most bogus of any major sport.  Therefore, if we have to put relief pitchers in The Hall, I’ll take the one with the best mustache.

Tom Seaver:  A reasonable argument can be made that Tom Seaver was the greatest pitcher of all time.

Hal Newhouser won consecutive MVP awards while pitching for the Detroit Tigers in 1944-45.  Incredibly, he also finished second in MVP voting in 1946.  Over a five-year period, 1944-48, he led the league in wins four times, averaging 25 wins per season during those four years.  His WAR of 56.3 (better than Whitey Ford) and his career ERA+ of 130 are HOF worthy.

English: Reggie Jackson signs with the New Yor...

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1993:  BBWAA – Reggie Jackson

Mr. October was one of the most conceited, brash, exciting and controversial baseball players ever.  In a way few other athletes have ever been able to do (Muhammad Ali comes to mind), Reggie Jackson could regularly back up his words with his performance.  Sure, he struck out a ton, but first in Oakland, then especially in New York City, Reggie defined the meaning of the word Super-Star.

If Reggie Jackson is not a Hall of Famer, then no one is.

1994:  BBWAA – Steve Carlton, V.C.  Phil Rizzuto

Steve Carlton had a running feud with the press.  Phil Rizzuto became a member of the press after he retired from baseball.  Carlton got into The Hall despite his poor relationship with the media. Rizzuto got into The Hall primarily because he worked in the media.  Carlton was a great pitcher who belongs in The Hall.  Phil Rizzuto was a decent shortstop who had one great year but who clearly does not belong in the HOF.  The BBWAA got it right, the V.C. got it wrong.

1995:  BBWAA – Mike Schmidt  V.C.  Richie Ashburn, Vic Willis

Eight-time Home Run champ, three-time N.L. MVP, ten time Gold Glove winner Mike Schmidt was the greatest third baseman in MLB history.  What I’ve never understood is how Pie Traynor of the old 1920’s and ’30’s Pirates was widely considered the best third baseman in history until Schmidt came along.  Anyone ever hear of a guy named Eddie Mathews?

Richie Ashburn played center field for the Phillies in the late ’40’s and into the ’50’s before finishing his career with the Cubs and the ’62 Mets.  Although he hit with very little power, he was an on-base machine, played hard, and was a Gold Glove caliber outfielder.  He knew what his job was, and he always did it well.  Solid choice for the HOF.

English: Portrait of former MLB pitcher Vic Wi...

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Vic Willis played in the National League the last two years of the 19th century, then 11 more in the 20th century.  He topped 20 wins eight times in 13 years, but he never led the league in wins.  He did, however, lead the league in losses twice, reaching a high of 29 losses for the terrible Boston Beaneaters in 1905.  His 249-205 record does not scream Hall of Famer, nor does his ERA+ of 118.  Still, he is at least a half-way defensible choice, if not an obvious one.

But what the hell was he doing wearing a catcher’s mask in this picture?  Looks a little creepy, doesn’t he?

1996:  V.C.  Jim Bunning

As a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Jim Bunning was not one of my favorite people. As a pitcher, though, Jim Bunning probably does belong in the HOF.

Career record: 224-184, ERA 3.27, ERA+ 114, WAR: 60.1.

1997:  BBWAA – Phil Niekro  V.C.  Nellie Fox

The knuckleball is one goofy pitch, but if you are the best knuckleballer of all time (96.3 WAR), you gotta belong in The Hall.  Niekro topped 300 wins over the course of a quarter century of baseball.  He led the league in complete games and innings pitched four times each, and in wins twice.  Pitching for some horrific Braves teams, he also led the league in losses for four straight years, 1977-80.

For whatever reason, there were a lot of pitchers who came up in the late 1960’s and pitched well into the ’80’s, tossing an enormous amount of innings along the way:  Seaver, Carlton, Blyleven, Perry, Niekro, John, Kaat, Sutton, Ryan, etc.

I’m not sure why that is, but I have a hunch that, as the Great Depression and World War II wound down, the average caloric intake and overall nutritional improvement (more protein, for example), in the diet of the youth of that era played an underrated role in the size, strength and stamina of these future Major League pitchers.  Knuckleballs and spitballs aside, this was one durable generation.

English: Chicago White Sox second baseman . Le...

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Nellie Fox had a girl’s name (sounds like a leading lady from the silent film era), but he played one helluva second base.  Fox just missed election by the BBWAA (74.7 percent) in his last year on the ballot in 1985, so give credit to the V.C. for correcting that oversight.

Fox led his league in assists six times, and, beginning in 1952, he led the league in putouts ten consecutive years.  His career d WAR: 10.0, is among the top ten all-time among second basemen, and he won three Gold Gloves.  Made every All-Star team from 1951-63.  Despite over 10,000 plate appearances, he never struck out as many as 20 times in one season.  Won A.L. MVP honors in 1959 for the Go-Go White Sox.  There’s enough there for induction into the HOF.

1998:  BBWAA – Don Sutton  V.C.  George Davis

Don Sutton snuck up on us.  In his first decade as a Dodgers pitcher, he was recognized as one of the most consistently good pitchers in the N.L., but few people would have guessed that one day, he would make the Hall of Fame.

In his 23-year career, Sutton never led the league in wins, win-loss percentage, or strikeouts.  He led the league in ERA just once.  He never won a Cy Young award (although five times he finished in the top five.)  But only Cy Young and Nolan Ryan started more games than Sutton, only six pitchers in history threw more innings, and Sutton stands at #7 on the all-time strikeout list with 3,574, two places ahead of Walter Johnson.

Sutton compiled a 324-256 record, despite enjoying just one 20-win season.  Sutton was never the best pitcher in the league, but, cumulatively, he was one of the best starting pitchers who ever lived.

English: George Davis, Major League Baseball H...

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George Davis broke in as a 19-year old outfielder with a terrible Cleveland Spiders team (44-88) in 1890.  Eventually, he shifted to third base, then shortstop (the reverse of the usual pattern) and got traded to the Giants, where he wound down the 19th century.  He finished out his career in the early aught’s of the 20th century with the White Sox.

Along the way, he amassed 2,665 hits, 1,545 runs scored, 619 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 121.  His career WAR was an outstanding 90.7.  He was the best player in the A.L. in 1905.

He also might just be the finest baseball player in history that almost no one has ever heard of.

1999:  BBWAA – George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount  V.C.  Orlando Cepeda

Are you kidding me?  This group has to go down as one of the finest in the history of the Hall of Fame.

The first thing that comes to mind about George Brett is how, when Yankees manager Billy Martin protested that Brett’s bat had too much pine tar on it in a game at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, the umpire ruled that the home run Brett just hit in the top of the ninth to put the Royals ahead was null and void.  Brett came storming out of the dugout like a wild man.

The umpire’s decision was later overruled by the A.L. President, the game was resumed, and the Royals later won the game three weeks later.

Brett also made an improbable run at becoming the first hitter to bat .400 since Ted Williams in 1941 when he finished with a .390 average in 1980.  Brett hit at least .300 eleven times, winning three batting titles along the way (his last in 1990 when he was already 37-years old.)  Brett ranks 6th on the career doubles list with an astounding total of 665, and he lashed 3,154 hits in his career. An obvious HOF’er.

How great was Nolan Ryan?  His 5,714 strikeouts are a record that I can’t ever see being broken.  He surpassed the great Walter Johnson’s once hallowed career strikeout total by over 2,000 strikeouts!  Ryan led his league in strikeouts a ridiculous eleven times, threw a record seven no-hitters and is tied with Bob Feller for the most one-hitters with 12.

Ryan’s 6.6 hits / 9 innings is the lowest (therefore, the best) rate in baseball history.  No one, including Sandy Koufax, was harder to hit.  Ryan also won 324 games in his career.  His 61 shutouts are tied with Tom Seaver for seventh place in baseball history.

Yet Ryan never won a Cy Young award.  He also never led the league in wins, but he did once lead the league in losses.  His career walk total, 2,795, is 50% higher than any other starting pitcher in baseball history.    In fact, he walked more batters in his career than Walter Johnson and Cy Young combined.

Ryan’s 292 career losses are the third most ever, and his .526 won-loss percentage is rather low by HOF standards.  His career ERA+ of 112 is the same as Derek Lowe, Juan Guzman and the immortal Ice Box Chamberlain.  Ryan’s career WAR of 84.8, is 16th best among pitchers.

Although it is somewhat difficult to gauge exactly where Ryan rates among the game’s greatest pitchers because he is so unique, I think it is safe to say he does not belong in the top ten.  Placing him in the middle or lower half of the top 20 sounds about right.

English: Major League Baseball Hall of Famer R...

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Robin Yount is the greatest player in Milwaukee Brewers team history.  Just an 18-year old kid when he came up in 1974, he played his entire 20-year career with the Brewers.  He was their starting shortstop through 1984, then at age 29 he moved into the outfield.

Yount is the Brewer’s all-time leader in at bats (11,008), hits (3,142), runs scored (1,632), doubles (583), triples (126), home runs (yes, home runs, 251), RBI (1,406), total bases (4,730), and WAR (76.9).  He also won two A.L. MVP awards.  He obviously belongs in the HOF.

Orlando (Baby Bull) Cepeda, the V.C.’s HOF offering for 1999, had one of the greatest starts to his career of any ballplayer in history.  Beginning at age 20 in 1958, Cepeda drove in at least 96 runs in each of his first seven years for the S.F. Giants, averaging nearly 32 homers per year while regularly batting over .300.  Yet he enjoyed only a couple of excellent years after that run, and he was essentially done as a ballplayer by age 33.

Cepeda was voted Rookie of the Year in 1958, and he won the 1967 N.L. MVP award.  His career WAR, 46.8, is a bit on the low side.  But during his peak years in his 20’s, he was one of the best players in the National League.  While his induction into the HOF can be viewed as questionable, it was not wholly undeserved.

The 1990’s, then, were the best overall decade for the HOF since the 1930’s.  Fully 83% of the players elected during this decade were very solid choices, and only one, Phil Rizzuto, was obviously a poor choice.

If, then, you are looking for the Golden Age of the Hall of Fame, the recent 1990’s might be your era.

Next time, in Part 7 of this series, we’ll look at HOF elections during the first decade of the 21st century.  Then we’ll see if we can draw any conclusions as we sift through the final overall numbers of Hall membership.

See the links below if you want to take a look at any of the first five installments of this series.

Baseball’s Statistical Oddities

Every once in a while, as I’m doing some research for this blog, I’ll come across a baseball statistic that catches me off guard.

I’m not suggesting that no one else has ever noticed any of these odd items before, but if they are new to me, they might just be new to you, too.

To begin with, which particular pitchers in baseball history do you think were the toughest to hit against (Hits / 9 Innings)?

Did you say Walter Johnson?  Well, O.K., he is 33rd on the all-time list having given up 7.47 hits per nine innings in his career.  Randy Johnson?  You’re getting warmer.  He is 22nd on the list.

Remember, we are not talking about WHIP here.  Just hits per nine.

Yes, of course, it was Nolan Ryan.  He was the Number #1 toughest pitcher to hit, having given up just 6.55 hits per nine.  Not a surprise.  But keep reading.

Sandy Koufax comes in at Number #2, posting a 6.79 hits per nine ratio.  Again, no surprise there.

Number #3 Toughest Pitcher to Hit, Ever?  Well, here’s the surprise:

Sid Fernandez.  Yes, that Sid Fernandez.  El Sid.  The Mets’ secret weapon in the bullpen against the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series.

Sid Fernandez posted an incredible 6.85 hits per nine innings in his career in 1866 innings.  He pitched in parts of 15 different seasons and made exactly 300 starts in his career.

So how many wins did El Sid record out of those 300 starts?  Just 114 wins, against 96 losses.  In other words, Fernandez ended up with a no-decision in 30% of his career starts, a rather high percentage.

So why didn’t he win more games?  Apparently, El Sid just couldn’t get much past the sixth inning.  In fact, he completed only 25 games in his entire career!  Thus, his bullpen mates ended up swooping down for the win, or they blew the game and took the loss.

Sid Fernandez’s idea of a workout routine was a 6,000 calorie breakfast, followed by long periods of rest and idleness.

Fernandez only reached double-figures in wins in five seasons; his best win totals were 16 (in 1986), 14 (twice) and 12 (twice).  That’s it.

Sid Fernandez was, then, one the greatest six- inning pitchers ever.  But even though one-inning specialists now routinely make it into Cooperstown, (they’re called “Closers”), El Sid will never get in without first paying for a ticket.

Now that’s a strange career.

Almost as strange was the career of a former teammate of Sid Fernandez:

David Cone.

At first glance you might not expect David Cone to have had a weird career, but let me throw some numbers at you.  I’ll do it in the form of a Table so you can more clearly see what I noticed.

The first number represents a season with exactly that number of wins; the second number directly to the right of it represents how many seasons Cone reached that number of wins.  So let’s take a look:

20  –  2  (Cone had 2 twenty win seasons)

19  –  0

18  –  0

17  –  0

16  –  1

15  –  0

14  –  3

13  –  1

12  –  2

11  –  1

10  –  0

Cone finished with nearly 200 wins in his career in over 400 starts.  His career win-lost percentage was a very nice .606.

But where did all those 194 career wins come from?  How does a pitcher have two 20 win seasons, but NO 15, 17, 18, or 19 win seasons, and still have an excellent career?

Cone is the antithesis of Bert Blyleven.  Blyleven won nearly 300 games (287) in his career, but his entire career was made up of exactly the kinds of seasons Cone NEVER even had once in his entire career (except for the one lonely 16 win season.)  For example, Blyleven produced five 17-win seasons.

There are two types of Hall-of-Famers, and two kinds of HOF voters.  One group prefers the bright shining stars that flame out fast, (but oh, what beauty when they shined.)

The other group prefers slow-and-steady-wins-the race.  Cone is not in The Hall; Blyleven is.  But they are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the kinds of careers a pitcher who could be considered for The Hall might have.

Now, how about a hitter.

The worst thing a hitter can do is make lots and lots of outs, meaning a low on-base percentage, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A, former infielder Alfredo Griffin.  Griffin played his first full season in the Majors in 1979, winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year award playing for the Blue Jays.  He retired in 1993.

Alfredo Griffin was, without doubt, one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball.

Now, I know, there have been lots of really bad offensive players throughout baseball history.  But this, as they say, you have to see.

Griffin’s highest single-season on-base percentage in his career was .333 in his rookie campaign of 1979 when he drew a career high 40 walks in 689 plate appearances.  He never walked as many as forty times in a season again.

But the season that truly boggles my mind was 1984 when in 441 plate appearances, Griffin drew exactly FOUR walks all year.

How is that even possible?

His batting average that season was .241; his on-base percentage was .248.  For his entire career, Griffin posted an OBP of .285 in over 7,000 plate appearances.

Folks, we are talking about a guy that played all 162 games in four different seasons, not some part-time late-inning defensive replacement.

He wasn’t even all that good defensively, although he managed to win a Gold Glove award.  But even fifteen Gold Gloves couldn’t justify those awful non-hitting skills of his.

You want to hear the best part?  In 1984, the year he drew just four walks, the year he posted an OBP south of .300, that was the only year he made an All-Star team in his career.

To at least partially make up for his terrible on-base skills, did he hit lots of homers?  No, just 24 in his entire career.

Did he score lots of runs?  Nope, he reached 80 runs scored only once, his rookie season.

Did he steal lots of bases?  Well, here’s the thing.  He did steal 192 bases in his career, but he was also caught stealing 134 times, a poor “success” rate of .588.  In fact, in a two year period, 1980-81, he successfully stole a paltry 26 bases in 61 attempts!

In November of 1988, the Dodgers, enamored by Griffin’s .199 batting average and .965 fielding percentage from the ’88 season, signed Griffin as a free-agent for one million dollars.

Am I missing something here?  Griffin retired after the ’93 season with a career WAR of -2.4.

The weirdest thing about Alfredo Griffin isn’t the numbers themselves, it’s that he was able to find steady work in the Majors for 18 seasons.

O.K.  Let’s follow Griffin up with a player who actually could hit.

Fisk in batting cage
Image via Wikipedia

Carlton Fisk was one of the best overall catchers in baseball history.  Although he suffered numerous injuries early in his career, he nevertheless ended up playing in 2,499 games, amassing 9,853 plate appearances.

Most of his career numbers are pretty standard (meaning very good) for a player of his caliber, especially for a catcher.

But one odd season late in his career when he played for the White Sox stands out.

In 1984, when Fisk was already 36 years old, he slugged a reasonable 21 home runs.  Now, normally when a player hits over 20 homers and plays more or less every day, their RBI total lands somewhere in the 65-85 range, give or take a few.

Yet somehow, despite hitting 21 homers, Fisk managed to drive in only 43 runs in nearly 400 plate appearances.  That means the vast majority of his RBI that year came directly as a result of those 21 homers.

I’m guessing that his RBI total that year has to be one of the lowest ever recorded, perhaps the lowest, for a player who hit at least 20 homers in one season.

I am not casting any aspersions on Fisk’s talent or on his career, but that is one fluky statistic.

Finally, there is the strange case of Storm Davis.

Davis was an extremely young man of 20 when he threw his first pitch for the Orioles in 1982.  By the age of 22, Davis had already pitched 525 innings in the Majors; there were no Joba Rules in those days.

By 1989, Davis was a member of a formidable Oakland A’s rotation.  In that year, his age-27 season, Davis enjoyed his career-year.  Despite tossing just 169 innings, Davis posted a record of 19-7.

It was the worst 19 win season in major league history.

Here are the ugly peripheral numbers behind that inflated win total:

ERA:  4.36, WHIP:  1.506,  Strike-Outs:  91,  Walks:  68,  K’s / 9 innings:  4.8,  Hits / 9 innings:  10.

In short, if Davis had pitched that year for virtually any other baseball team, he would have ended up with a sub-.500 win-lost record.

Of course, the Kansas City Royals, unable to see past Davis’ gaudy win total, signed Davis in the off-season to be the ace of their staff for over a million dollars (still big money in those days.)

The Royals were rewarded with a 7-10 season in 1990.

Davis’ career was strange because he was actually a pretty good pitcher who pitched terribly one season, still won 19 games, and was rewarded with a large contract as a free agent as a result.

Talk about pure, dumb luck.

There are, of course, many other players who experienced odd seasons, unaccountable success, or statistical anomalies in their careers.  Feel free to share others you can think of with me.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 20 – The Minnesota Twins

Rodney Dangerfield at the Shorehaven Beach Clu...

Image via Wikipedia

As with the late comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, twenty-win seasons just don’t get no respect anymore.  Case in point:  This season, C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees has 21 victories.

Meanwhile, a continent away, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners has just thirteen wins.  Yet many, perhaps most, baseball analysts / commentators are arguing that King Felix should win the A.L. Cy Young award on the strength of his peripheral numbers.

This is not the time nor the place to debate that argument, but it is worth noting that just a couple of short years ago, a twenty-win season was considered something special.

And despite my strong sympathies to the Wins-Are-Overrated crowd, I can’t help feeling that wins (as a measure of a pitcher’s relative effectiveness) have all too quickly gone from overrated to underrated.

While it is true that over the course of baseball history, some pitchers have won far more games in a single season than they “deserved,” (Storm Davis‘ 1989 season comes to mind), and others have won far fewer than they theoretically should have (Nolan Ryan in 1987), it has been far more common for outstanding pitchers to win lots of games, and for mediocre pitchers to garner average amounts of wins.

Which brings me to former Minnesota Twins pitcher Frank Viola.

Frank Viola, drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 1981 amateur draft out of St. John’s University, certainly was respected by most Major League batters for the vast majority of his professional career.

Unappreciated by many baseball fans then and now, however, Viola averaged 18.6 wins per season for five consecutive years (1984-88, inclusive.) He also pitched at least 200 innings for ten consecutive seasons beginning in 1983, and tossed at least 230 innings in nine of those ten years.

Viola also enjoyed two twenty-win seasons in his career.  His first was in 1988 with the Twins.  He also won exactly twenty games for the Mets in his first full season with that franchise in 1990.

But Frank Viola’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1988 with the Minnesota Twins.

In 1988, 28-year old Frank Viola won the A.L. Cy Young award.  He did not lead the league in strikeouts, innings pitched, WAR, WHIP, ERA+, or even that hoary old stat, ERA (although he did finish in the top six or better in each of them.)

His primary claim to fame, however, was an outstanding 24-7  record, good for a league-leading .774 win-loss percentage. As for his peripheral numbers, teammate Allan Anderson won the A.L. ERA title (2.45) and ERA+ title (166), but he pitched fifty fewer innings than Viola.

Roger Clemens paced the league in strikeouts, Complete Games, and Shutouts.  Teddy Higuera of Milwaukee led the A.L. in WHIP.  Dave Stewart of Oakland led in Games Started and Innings Pitched.  Mark Gubicza of K.C. led in WAR.

When you have that many outstanding performances in one season, it is (or was) unsurprising that the Cy Young voters would notice the impressive number of wins Viola accumulated in a very solid season.

For the record, Viola finished third in the league in strikeouts (193), third in ERA (2.64), sixth in innings pitched (255), and fifth in WHIP (1.136.)

Viola retired after the 1996 season with a record of 176-150. His career ERA was  a decent 3.73.

It is also worth noting that, over the past 22 years, only three other pitchers have matched or exceeded Viola’s 24 victories in ’88:  Bob Welch (27) in 1990; John Smoltz (24) in 1996; Randy Johnson (24) in 2002.  Welch was a good pitcher.  Smoltz and Johnson are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, you also have to go all the way back to Steve Stone of the 1980 Orioles to find a pitcher who exceeded (25 wins) Viola’s win total eight seasons later.

Clearly, then, a pitcher’s win total is not, as  some pundits have claimed recently, absolutely irrelevant.

It is a sensible, if imprecise and incomplete, benchmark by which we can gauge a given pitcher’s success to a reasonable degree.

After all, isn’t it more than a bit ironic that it is now argued that win totals should be irrelevant when deciding to whom the trophy for baseball’s best pitchers should be awarded, when that award just happens to be named after Cy Young, the pitcher who won more games than any other player in Major League history?

Surely, even Rodney Dangerfield would feel the implicit disrespect to Cy Young’s legacy.


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