The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Pitchers Who Lost the Most Games in the 1980’s

As you know if you’ve been following the Hall of Fame discussions recently, a certain starting pitcher has been touted as a deserving Hall of Fame player because he won more games in “his decade” than any other pitcher in the Major Leagues. Setting aside the obvious arbitrariness of how one decides the parameters of a particular decade (isn’t 1978-87, inclusive, also a decade?), how seriously should we take this argument?

Suppose, for example, that this allegedly Hall of Fame-worthy candidate also led his decade in a much less impressive statistic?  Would that take some of the sheen off the glow of a vaguely flickering candidacy?

First, let’s define the decade of the 1980’s, which, of course, is the decade that fans of Jack Morris claim he dominated because he won the most games.  It’s common to find that people will define the decade as 1980-1989 because, well, each of those numbers have an 8 in them.  It just sounds correct.  Except that it isn’t.

A true decade (if we must refer to decades at all) begins with a 1 and ends with a number divisible by ten.  Thus, my oldest son turned ten last July, meaning he completed his tenth year of life on his tenth birthday.  You don’t end a decade with a 9 (as in 1989), you end it with a ten (as in 1990.)  Therefore, the decade of the 1980’s mathematically occurred from 1981 to 1990.  These are the years which we will analyze in this post.

Specifically, which I’m sure you’ve gathered from the title of this post,  we will be taking a look at which pitchers lost the most games during the 1980’s (as I’ve defined that decade.)

Question:  If you are the “best” pitcher if you win the most games (Morris won 161 games from 1981-90) in an arbitrary ten-year time-frame, can you simultaneously be the worst pitcher if you have also accumulated the most losses over that same period of time?

Most Losses in Major League Baseball, 1981-1990:  (Minimum – 90 Losses)

Kevin Gross – 90

Tommy John – 90

Bob Welch – 90

Dennis Martinez – 91

Neal Heaton – 92

Bruce Hurst – 93

Mark Langston – 93

Shane Rawley – 93

Mike Boddicker – 94

Dennis Martinez – 94

Bill Gullickson – 95

Rick Rhoden – 95

Floyd Bannister – 96

Jose Deleon – 96

Bert Blyleven – 97

Dave Stieb – 100

Walt Terrell – 100

Richard Dotson – 103

Nolan Ryan – 103

Mike Scott – 104

Bob Knepper – 105

Frank Viola – 110

Mike Witt – 113

Fernando Valenzuela – 116

Jim Clancy – 118

Frank Tanana – 118

Charlie Hough – 121

Mike Moore -122

Jack Morris – 122

It should be pointed out that Mike Moore generally pitched for teams far inferior to the teams for which Jack Morris toiled.

So, if being the leading winner of the decade is one of the primary arguments for Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame candidacy, then shouldn’t his decade-leading loss total perhaps negate some (if not all) of that line of reasoning?

I’ll leave it to you, oh gentle reader, to decide for yourself.

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13 thoughts on “Pitchers Who Lost the Most Games in the 1980’s

  1. Leaving aside the “decade” issue — the year system we have in place is arbitrary and unreliable, as we’re currently in the 2014 anno domini but the domini in question was born in 4 or 6 BC, which means it’s really 2018 or 2020, and the year numbers were retroactively imposed centuries later so nobody at the time was celebrating “The Year One!” — um, where was I…. so, anyway, I consider the “eighties” to be ’80 to ’89, but I doubt your list would change significantly if you removed ’90 and added ’80 to the list, so we’ll just go with it.

    Oh yeah, losses. You have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games, they used to say (which doesn’t explain Brian Kingman or Mike Maroth, but there you go). It’s funny how the biggest “losers” of the 1981 – 1990 bracket — were perennial All-Stars, some of the best pitchers of their time, and many (Morris, Fernando, Witt), with no-hitters to their credit. Even with Viola, Scott, Tanana, Knepper, Ryan, Rhoden — you’re looking at an elite list of guys who were #1 or #2 starters for most of the ’80s!

    • Ah, but only two guys on the list are in the Hall of Fame! And both of them (Blyleven and Ryan) often pitched for average to below-average teams, while Morris generally pitched for average to above average teams. I think the fewest games the Tigers lost while he was pitching there was 84 games. He was generally as good as the team he pitched for, which makes him a good pitcher (like most of the ones on the list), but not a great one.
      I just saw that Glavine got voted into the HOF along with Maddux and Thomas. I guess that means Morris’s case will eventually come up with the Veteran’s Committee. Maybe they’ll see things differently.

  2. 1979 or 1980. It’s all the same. We’re obsessed by numbers with wins, years, decades, salaries, pitch counts, velocity. There’s bound to be all kinds of double standards until we get closer to measuring productivity with some of the stats you highlight here; WAR and what not.

    I’m gonna browse game summaries of Morris from the early 1980’s. How in the hell did he lose double figure games four consecutive years on those Tiger teams? I guess that’s the entire point. The wins and losses don’t mean squat and yet a huge majority focus on them.

    Stiff and close minded old farts is what they sound like to me… refusing to take the time to learn what will be remembered as a revolution to our baseball perception. It probably already is. I’m still in nursery school in my sabermetrics education, but I sit in on a lecture from time to time and nurture my despicable math IQ.

    • Steve, a while back (and I wish I could find my notes on this), I went through every single box score of every playoff game Morris pitched. In general, as you would expect, he got worse as he got older. Still, people tend to only remember his best games, and disregard the rest (sounds like an old Simon and Garfunkle song.)
      My least favorite phrase that I’ve been seeing more an more online at the end of an argument is “Enough Said.” Nice try, Jack, but if I’ve gotten this far, I can always think of something more to add to the discussion. In general, Americans love to argue, but they hate to debate.
      Take care,

      • Now there’s a debate proposition for you–“Resolved; That It Is Perfectly Acceptable To Change One’s Opinion When Presented With Facts And Logic.” Now if we can only find someone to argue the affirmative…

      • I’m liking it. But isn’t changing one’s opinion a sign of weakness? We can’t have that.

  3. I love this post. And I wholeheartedly agree with your math on the decade thing. In like manner, I refused to celebrate with all the people who tried to start a new millennium in the year 2000. :p

    • Hey Jeff, Remember the whole Y2K thing that was going to lead to global panic and ruin?
      Cheers, Bill

      • Haha!! Yes! I was both amused and horrified at all the people who were panicking about that! Ironically, the computer where I worked at the time crashed that night!! 😀 But it had nothing to do with the date. It seems the hard drive got full. 😀

  4. Well, this certainly helps to buttress the petitions I’ve been sending to the Veterans Committee in support of Neal Heaton’s candidacy.

    • LOL! Personally, I found it interesting that Ryan, Scott and Knepper follow each other consecutively on this list, and they were all teammates for a time in Houston. And the Astros were a pretty good team at the time. I was disappointed that Jim Deshaies didn’t make the list along with them.
      Take care,

  5. Glenrussellslater on said:

    Well, Bill, I think it’s the same thing as what they always said about Mickey Mantle. He once held the record for most strikeouts, either in a season or in his career or both.

    Whatever. Whether it was Mickey Mantle or whoever isn’t important. What I’m saying is that if you go up to bat a large number of times and swing for the fences every time, you’re going to strike out a lot.

    I think it’s the same thing with pitching. The most outings you have, the more losses you’re going to pile up. But, as in the case of a lot of ’em, Morris apparently being one of them, you’re also going to WIN a lot.

    It’s like the commercials for the New York State lottery: “You’ve got to be IN it to WIN it”. By the same token, you’ve got to be IN it to LOSE it, as well. That’s the law of percentages.

    I don’t have the most logical baseball brain, but I hope that makes sense.

    Does it???


    • Certainly there’s some truth to that, Glen. After all, Cy Young lost the most games in baseball history, and he has an award named after him. Morris was a very durable pitcher, that’s for sure. On the other hand, his .569 win-loss percentage during that decade is reasonably good, but not at all historically good.
      Thanks for reading, and for the comment,

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