Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 7 – The Los Angeles Dodgers
Sandy Koufax is the greatest pitcher in the history of the L.A. Dodgers. I’m not even going to pretend that there is a reasonable argument here to the contrary.
But who is the second greatest pitcher in L.A. Dodgers history?
There are, of course, a number of ways to define “greatest” in this context. Do we mean which pitcher won the greatest number of games in his career with the Dodgers? Are we going to use Cy Young awards, and / or the traditional annual leaders categories (wins / strikeouts / ERA titles) as our basis for comparison?
How utilizing using a more modern sabermetric approach such as WAR or Win Shares? Also, do we emphasize long-term reliability over relatively short-term greatness?
In part, these are some of the same criteria that are argued over when the decision regarding a certain retired player’s Hall of Fame worthiness comes to the fore.
In general, I’ve always believed that emphasizing a player’s greatest years of accomplishment should weigh more heavily than long-term statistics that reward reliability. Sometimes, long-term reliability is confused with greatness. And greatness, I submit, is what we are after when sorting through our Hall of Fame candidates.
Which brings me back to the original question. Who is the second greatest L.A. Dodger pitcher of all time?
I’ve decided to analyze the three best seasons of five different pitchers to attempt to answer this question.
The criteria I have settled upon are a mix of the traditional counting stats and some of the newer formulas: wins-losses, ERA+, and WHIP. The latter two categories will be averaged for the best three seasons. (Note: wins-losses will NOT necessarily be a particular pitcher’s best single season totals, but will be from that pitcher’s best ERA+ seasons.)
Now, let’s take a look at the pitchers.
Pitcher A: 53-30, ERA+ 137, WHIP – 1.082
Pitcher B: 47-42, ERA+ 139, WHIP – 1.034
Pitcher C: 57-26, ERA+ 156, WHIP – 1.088
Pitcher D: 49-30, ERA+ 133, WHIP – 1.116
Pitcher E: 50-24, ERA+ 157, WHIP – 0.961
It appears that the best pitcher on this list is Pitcher E who has by far the best WHIP, and just barely, the best ERA+. His win-loss record is also impressive. Pitcher E is, in fact, Hall of Famer Don Sutton who won 233 games as a Dodger, and 324 overall in his career.
Sutton, then, is one of those infrequent players who is one of the best players on his team measured in Both career reliability AND peak-years greatness.
Pitcher C might be the second best pitcher on this list because, although he has only the fourth best WHIP, he has the most overall wins and the second best ERA+. Pitcher C is Orel Hershiser, who won the 1988 Cy Young Award.
Pitchers A and B are pretty comparable, and Pitcher D isn’t light-years behind the others. In reverse order, Pitcher D is Fernando Valenzuela, the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 1981 (remember Fernando Mania?!) Pitcher B is Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, N.L. Cy Young recipient in 1962.
Pitcher A is, by far, the most likely to have been forgotten player on this list, despite three-year numbers comparable to two Hall of Famers and another pitcher who won a Cy Young award.
Pitcher A is Andy Messersmith.
Andy Messersmith’s Best Forgotten Season is 1975.
Andy Messersmith, from Toms River, N.J., was the first round pick of the California Angels in 1966.
Messersmith actually only pitched for the Dodgers for just three seasons (1973-75.) Previous to his Dodgers years, he pitched for the Angels for five years beginning in 1968. Upon leaving the Dodgers after the ’75 season as one of baseball’s first free agents, he pitched for the Braves and, briefly, for the Yankees before returning to L.A. to finish his career in 1979 at the age of 33.
Although Messersmith had a good year for the Dodgers in 1973, his two-year stretch from ’74-’75 was truly remarkable. His record was 39-20, averaging an amazing 307 innings per season. His ERA’s for 1974 and 1975 were 2.59 and 2.29, respectively. He started 79 games, completed 32 of them, and tossed 10 shutouts in that time frame. He also struck out over 200 batters in each of the two seasons.
In 1975, he led the National League in fewest hits surrendered per nine innings: 6.82. Even more impressively, his career rate of 6.93 hits per nine innings is 5th best among all starting pitchers in the history of Major League baseball.
In ’74, he finished second in the Cy Young voting. In ’75, he finished 5th. Messersmith made the All-Star team in both seasons, and, for good measure, he also won the Gold Glove at his position in each year as well.
Messersmith’s 40 starts, 321 innings, 19 complete games and seven shutouts all dominated the Senior Circuit in 1975. He also faced an N.L. high 1276 batters that season.
It’s no wonder, then, that although he hurled over 200 innings for the Braves in 1976 with an ERA of 3.04 and a WHIP of 1.158, he was considered one of baseball’s first free agent busts. He won just eleven games for Atlanta despite his respectable peripheral numbers. By 1977, the huge number of innings pitched in a few short years having taken their toll, Messersmith’s career was essentially over at the age of 31.
Andy Messersmith reunited with the Dodgers for just eleven more starts, finally retiring in 1979 with a career won-loss record of 130-99. He finished with nearly as many complete games in his career (98) as losses (99.)
One of the half-dozen best pitchers in the history of the L.A. Dodgers, Andy Messersmith’s Best Forgotten Season in 1975 is one of the most impressive seasons any pitcher has produced in the last thirty-five years.
The question is, will we ever see another pitcher for the Dodgers, or anyone else for that matter, who will be such a work-horse for their team?
What are your thoughts on the subject?