The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Steve Carlton”

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.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Cy Young

This is Part 2 of the series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic about that player that isn’t widely known.

The particular fact I wanted to discover about Cy Young was, how many Cy Young awards would Cy Young have won?

Cy Young.

Cy Young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cy Young pitched for 22 years, from 1890 to 1911.  Many, perhaps most, baseball fans know that his 511 career wins are the most in baseball history.

Though he is not usually considered the greatest pitcher in history, it is the Cy Young award (and not the Walter Johnson award) which is awarded annually to the best pitcher in each league.

So how often was Cy Young the best pitcher in his league during those 22 years?

Young won at least 20 games in a season 15 times, and he topped 30 wins five times (twice after 1900.)

He led his league in wins five times, in ERA and win-loss percentage twice, in complete games three times, and in shutouts seven times.  Additionally, he paced his league in both strikeouts and ERA+ twice.

Cy Young won 511 games during his career, 94 m...

Cy Young won 511 games during his career, 94 more than second-place Walter Johnson. “Career Leaders & Records for Wins”. Baseball-Reference.com . Sports Reference LLC . . Retrieved March 26, 2010 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As measured by WAR, Young topped all pitchers in his league a remarkable seven times (the same as Roger Clemens; one less than Walter Johnson.)

Certainly, then, a case could be made that Cy Young should have won the award as the best pitcher in his league seven times.

But should have won is not the same as would have won.  No one was measuring a player’s WAR in those days.  Wins would have been the primary stat.  Some combination of ERA, strikeouts, complete games, win-loss percentage and shutouts would have been the secondary stats considered.

Of course, if a pitcher led the league in virtually all or most of those stats, then, as today, he would likely have won his league’s best pitcher award.

There are four seasons that I am confident Cy Young would have been officially recognized as the best pitcher in his league.

In 1892, pitching for Cleveland, Cy Young posted a 36-12 record, a 1.93 ERA, 9 shutouts, and he tossed a career high 48 complete games and 453 innings.  He led the league in wins, win-loss percentage, shutouts, and ERA.

1901:  33 wins, 1.62 ERA, five shutouts, 158 strikeouts.  Each of those stats led the league.  (Young pitched for Boston from 1901-08.)

1902:  32 wins, 43 starts, 41 complete games, and 384 innings pitched, all of which led the league.

1903:  28 wins, .757 win-loss percentage, 34 complete games, 7 shutouts, and 341 innings pitched.  Again, each of those stats led the league.

Young also may have been voted league’s best pitcher in 1895 when, pitching for Cleveland, he led the league in wins (35), lost just ten games, and tossed a league-high four shutouts.

My original question was, “How many Cy Young awards would Cy Young have won?”  The best answer is that he would probably have won four or five awards, about the same number as Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson.

That’s not bad company to keep, especially if you have an award named after you.

Phil Humber’s Perfect Game: How Perfectly Rare

Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox has just tossed the 21st perfect game in Major League history, defeating the Seattle Mariners this afternoon, 4-0.

Philip Humber

Philip Humber (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

To put this extremely rare event into perspective, more people have orbited the moon than have thrown a complete perfect game, and no pitcher has ever thrown two of them.

Among the pitchers who never threw a perfect game are Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Carl Hubbell, Bob Feller, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez.

Twenty perfect games have been pitched during the regular season.  Two perfect games were pitched in the 19th century, 14 were tossed in the entire 20th century, and now five have already been hurled in the 21st century.

Six pitchers who pitched a perfect game are currently in the Hall of Fame:  Montgomery Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax and Catfish Hunter.  At least two more pitchers — Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay — will eventually be enshrined as well.

Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his 2009 perf...

Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his 2009 perfect game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eight of the 21 perfect pitchers were left-handed:  Lee Richmond, Tom Browning, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Dallas Braden, David Wells, Mark Buehrle, and Kenny Rogers.

The most common score of a perfect game has been 1-0.  This has happened six times.  The greatest amount of run support pitchers have received while tossing perfect games has been six runs.  David Cone won 6-0 in 1999 while pitching for the Yankees, and Jim Bunning received six runs of support in 1964 while pitching against the Mets.

May has been the most common month for perfect games (7), while none have ever been pitched in the month of August.

Thirteen perfect games have been thrown by A.L. pitchers, while only eight N.L. pitchers have ever pitched one.

Here is a complete list of pitchers who have tossed a perfect game prior to Humber’s masterpiece today, as well as the date on which it was thrown, and the score of the game:

Roy Halladay
Philadelphia Phillies at Florida Marlins, 1-0
May 29, 2010

Dallas Braden
Oakland A’s vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 4-0
May 9, 2010

Mark Buehrle
Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 5-0
July 23, 2009

Randy Johnson
Arizona Diamondbacks at Atlanta Braves, 2-0
May 18, 2004

David Cone
New York Yankees vs. Montreal Expos, 6-0
July 18, 1999

David Wells
New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins, 4-0
May 17, 1998

Kenny Rogers
Texas Rangers vs. California Angels, 4-0
July 28, 1994

Dennis Martinez
Montreal Expos at Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-0
July 28, 1991

Tom Browning
Cincinnati Reds vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 1-0
Sept. 16, 1988

Mike Witt
California Angels at Texas Rangers, 1-0
Sept. 30, 1984

Len Barker
Cleveland Indians vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0
May 15, 1981

Catfish Hunter
Oakland A’s vs. Minnesota Twins, 4-0
May 8, 1968

Sandy Koufax
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs, 1-0
Sept. 9, 1965

Jim Bunning
Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets, 6-0
June 21, 1964

Don Larsen
New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, 2-0
Oct. 8, 1956
(World Series)

Charles Robertson
Chicago at Detroit (AL), 2-0
April 30, 1922

Addie Joss
Cleveland vs. Chicago (AL), 1-0
Oct. 2, 1908

Cy Young
Boston vs. Philadelphia (AL), 3-0
May 5, 1904

Prior to Modern Era

John Montgomery Ward
Providence vs. Buffalo (NL), 5-0
June 17, 1880

Lee Richmond
Worcester vs. Cleveland (NL), 1-0
June 12, 1880

They say nobody’s perfect, but 21 pitchers can say they have been perfect for a day.  And that’s something no one can ever take away from them.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 5 – The Phillies

Let’s begin with a trivia question.

How many Phillies pitchers have ever won a Cy Young Award?

O.K., so you got Steve Carlton (4).  Good.  Anyone else?

Let me give you another minute…

Give up?  How about John Denny in 1983. This is surely one of the Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons of all time.

Let’s talk about John Denny and the ’83 Phils.

In 1982, Steve Carlton won the last of his four career Cy Young Awards.  Apparently, his teammate John Denny was paying attention.  The ’83 Phils were a very good team, going 90-72 that season.  They beat the Dodgers in the N.L.D.S., but lost to the Orioles (remember when the Orioles were good?) in just five games in the World Series.  It was Denny’s first season with the Phillies.

Denny had previously won an ERA title pitching for the Cardinals in 1976, so he did have a history of effectiveness prior to coming over to Philadelphia.  But 1983 turned out to be the best season in his career.  At the age of 30, he posted a record of 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA.  The wins were the most in the N.L.  His ERA was second best.

He pitched 242 innings, had a WHIP of 1.162, fanned a career high 139 batters, and surrendered only nine home runs all year.  His 0.3 home runs per nine innings led the league.

Strangely, he made eight errors, the most of any N.L. pitcher.

Outside of 1983,  Denny was one of those pitchers who never enjoyed a great deal of run support in his career.  In ’76, for example, his record was just 11-9 in 30 starts despite winning the ERA title.  And in 1984, the year after he won his Cy Young, his record was just 7-7 in 22 starts.  His ERA in ’84 was 2.45.

In his 13 year career, Denny posted a modest record of 123-108.  He managed only seven seasons of 10 or more victories.

While some pitchers are just getting started at about age 30 (Dazzy Vance, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer), others hit a wall.  At age 33, just three years after winning his lone Cy Young Award, John Denny retired from baseball.

So who is the only other Phillies pitcher to win a Cy Young Award?

The answer (enjoy an extra one of your favorite beverages tonight on me if you got this one correct) is Steve (Bedrock) Bedrosian in 1987.

Other than to say that this was certainly the single most absurd Cy Young choice in the history of the award, I won’t spend too much time of Steve Bedrosian.  He won the award that year because The Save, the single most overrated stat baseball has ever developed, was just coming into vogue back then.

Bedrosian saved 40 games in ’87, the only time in his career that he would lead the league in saves, and the only time he would ever top 30 saves in a season.  The Phils were just 80-82 that year, so I guess having saved half of his teams wins impressed a great many voters that year.

But we’re not here to talk about Steve Bedrosian.

The (other) player on the1987 Phils who had one of this team’s Best Forgotten Seasons was Juan Samuel.

Sorry, Mets fans.  You can come up from under the table now.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, bringing up Juan Samuel’s name without warning to a Mets fan is akin to a soldier who suffers from PTSD suddenly hearing a car back-firing.

You see, on June 18, 1989 (exactly 21 years ago today), Juan Samuel was traded from the Phils to the Mets for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell.  This obviously qualifies as one of the worst trades in team history.  Dykstra became an integral part of the Phillies for the next several years, helping lead them to the 1983 World Series.

Roger McDowell was a competent relief pitcher for the Mets 1986 World Championship team.

Juan Samuel was, uhm, Juan Samuel.

Adding insult to injury, Samuel only played on the Mets for the second half of ’89, posted a horrific .228 / .299. / .300 triple slash, then the Mets traded him away to the Dodgers.

So why am I including him here?  Because in 1987, Juan Samuel had one very impressive season.  Playing second base that year (in later years he would move to the outfield), he played in 160 games, leading the N.L. in plate appearances (726), at bats (655), and triples (15).  He also led the league in extra base hits with 80.

His power numbers represented career highs.  He hit 28 home runs and drove in an even 100.  He also scored 113 runs and had 35 stolen bases.  He had 329 total bases, and made the All-Star team.

He also struck out more times than anyone else in the league (162).  The player that Samuel most resembles is a young Alfonso Soriano, when Soriano played for the Yankees.

Samuel was one of those middle infielders who had good range, but who also made quite a few errors.  He led all second baseman in put outs with 374, and his range factor of 5.05 was 4th best in the league.  But his 18 errors were also the most of any second baseman in the N.L.

He led all second baseman in errors three times in four years, which is why by 1989, he had been moved to the outfield.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a feel for that position, either, so the Dodgers moved him back to second for a while in the early ’90′s.

Juan Samuel ended up having a respectable major league career, being named to three All-Star teams, twice leading his league in triples, and stealing almost 4oo bases.  He hit over 160 homers and 100 triples, and scored over 100 runs three times.

Just don’t ever say his name in front of a Mets fan without warning, or it could get real ugly.


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