Culprit one (1946-81)by Brandon Isleib
April 30, 2009
If after ten times
He still does not get you wins
Do not try again.
In the last senryu-initiated article, I outlined the methodology of the series along with its intent: to find pitchers at least five games under .500 who, with their records removed from their teams' records, would unpitch their teams to a pennant (or close to it). The cases, at least in small sample, appeared to be the manager's fault and luck/nobody's fault in even amounts. We'll see if it holds up this time for our next contestants.
This time, the table below will only hit the pitchers who weren't on pennant-winning teams. Thirty-nine pitchers met the criteria this time, but producing a 39-name table would be just a tad unwieldy. So instead, I've listed the pitchers were who were five games or more under .500 for a playoff team in the References/Resources section in nonchart form.
Our field of eligibles include:
Name Year Team W-L Team GB New GB Max Lanier 1952 NYG 7-12 -4.5 +0.5 Joey Jay 1959 MIL 6-11 -2 +3 Bob Friend 1959 PIT 8-19 -9 +2 Warren Spahn 1964 MIL 6-13 -5 +2 Bruce Howard 1967 CHW 3-10 -3 +4 John Buzhardt 1967 CHW 3- 9 -3 +3 George Brunet 1967 CAL 11-19 -7.5 +0.5 Tony Cloninger 1969 CIN 11-17 -4 +2 Joe Decker 1970 CHC 2- 7 -5 +0 Bill Singer 1971 LAD 10-17 -1 +6 Pat Jarvis 1971 ATL 6-14 -8 +0 Chris Zachary 1971 STL 3-10 -7 +0 Balor Moore 1973 MON 7-16 -3.5 +5.5 Steve Blass 1973 PIT 3- 9 -2.5 +3.5 Luke Walker 1973 PIT 7-12 -2.5 +2.5 Milt Pappas 1973 CHC 7-12 -5 +0 Sam McDowell 1974 NYY 1- 6 -2 +3 David Clyde 1974 TEX 3- 9 -5 +1 Joe Decker 1976 MIN 2- 7 -5 +0 Jim Hughes 1976 MIN 9-14 -5 +0 Roger Erickson 1979 MIN 3-10 -6 +1 Rick Sutcliffe 1980 LAD 3- 9 -1 +5As with last time, many close races are presented here, particularly the 1959-1967 battles, the slo-mo of the 1973 NL East, and the highly underrated 1974 AL East race. A lot of the difference this time is that divisional play opened the door for teams with big flaws to thrive, making these decisions a bit more important yet more difficult. The 1973 Mets had two pitchers five games under .500; if we removed them from the record, then all the '73 pitchers listed above wouldn't have mattered anyway. The 1976 Twins were a good team, but since the division was weak, the Decker/Hughes performances wound up hurting them. The next year, the Phillies would win 101 games while Jim Kaat and Wayne Twitchell would combine for a 6-16 record. When mediocre teams sniff October, weird things can happen (*cough* 2007 Mariners *cough*), and this list reflects the oddities that divisional play conferred upon the baseball world.
Joey Jay, 1959 Milwaukee BravesWhat went wrong with the '59 Braves would fill a long, long list, but when you're staring at a young pitcher with an 87 ERA+ and a 6-11 record on a team that tied for the pennant, the mind naturally focuses there. Jay had enough cups of coffee to get a permanent buzz; he was 23 in 1959 but spent parts of five previous seasons in the bigs, peaking with a 2.14 ERA with great peripherals in 1958. At that point, of course you give the kid a chance for a full season. But his season started disastrously; even with a one-run complete game thrown in there, his ERA stood at 7.04 on June 10. Jay got his act together in the second half, posting a 3.09 ERA (although to a 3-6 record), so Fred Haney deserves some credit for sticking with him and reducing his role appropriately and effectively.
Before you think I'm giving Haney the pass here though, I'm not; he just handled Jay correctly, so we'll call it neutral for those purposes. He gave the most innings to his most effective guys; that's not a problem either. Where the pitching staff makes no sense is in its lack of personnel change over the season. Ten pitchers twirled for the Braves that year; only four had an ERA+ above 94. The rotation was a four-man one, with Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette taking their turns to good effect, and some combination of Jay, Bob Buhl, Carl Willey, and Juan Pizarro shuffling through the other two spots. While all four were reasonably talented, only Buhl was certifiably good that year.
Meanwhile, the Triple-A Louisville Colonels went 97-65 with Georges Maranda (18-6, 2.48 ERA, 7.4 H/9), Don Nottebart (18-11, 3.52, 8.7), and Bob Hartman (10-3, 3.36, 9.1) headlining their rotation. Of these, only Hartman was called up, and he wasn't any good when called (three undistinguished relief appearances in April and June). You think any of these three could have offset a team loaded with three-star arms but needing a four-star? You think it was at least worth a peek when Jay's ERA stood at 7? You do if you think like me.
Bruce Howard and John Buzhardt, 1967 Chicago White SoxThe Red Sox had Bucky Brandon at 5-11, and no team was without their flaws in the four-team fracas that was the 1967 American League, but Howard and Buzhardt suffer extra ignominy as a pair of Pale Hose pansies. Howard was a 24-year-old righthander with reasonable promise and an excellent 1966 (9-5, 2.30, 1.034 WHIP) in the rearview mirror. Howard had succeeded to varying degrees when his K/9 and BB/9 were 7.3 and 4.4 in '65, or 5.1 and 2.7 in '66. You can succeed as a wild thrower with reasonable strikeouts, or a control pitcher. The middle ground, however, is untenable, and 6.1 K/9 with 4.2 BB/9 was a recipe for disaster, the 3-10 record serving merely as the garnish.
Howard wasn't without his bright spots, though; 27 strikeouts and 10 walks in June led to a 1.89 ERA and a genuinely good performance. By September, however, he had worn out his chances in the rotation, and it was the walks again (13 in 13 August innings). Nothing screams mismanagement on Eddie Stanky's part (aside from the near-criminal lack of run support the whole team got), but his wildness brought him down on a team whose pitchers had no room for error. When Howard got wild, more often than not Stanky sent him to the bullpen until he worked out the issues. This is how it normally works, and it's a perfectly reasonable way to handle a pitcher. No fault.
Buzhardt was a servicable pitcher in the Sox rotation for the previous four years (though the last one looked worse from bad luck) and started off there in '67. By June, it had gotten too ugly, and he was banished to the bullpen, where he gave some value before heading to the Orioles in August. Here, although Buzhardt's performance was pretty bad, Stanky pulled him early on and minimized his chances to deal further damage. This is what a manager should do. No fault again. As mentioned, if it's anyone's fault, it's the offense for giving the pitchers an amazing amount of nothing to work with. (My favorite tidbit here: pinch-runners scored 33 runs for the team. Shortstops scored 37. You have to lay on the pinch-running pretty thickly to get that close. Or your shortstops have to be miserable hitters. Both answers are accepted.) And if you blame Stanky for the offense, at least he wasn't sitting around waiting for them not to score. Stanky ran some of the most active, smallest-ball offenses in the universe, and this was the group for it. (Unlike the Braves, the talent at Triple-A was shallow.) I think on both fronts, Stanky did as well as he could with his parts. Neutral.
Bill Singer, 1971 Los Angeles DodgersAnd he was a loss away from making this list for 1972 as well, which would have been rather ignominious indeed. Singer was a young veteran with a 20-win season to his credit (1969), but in 1971 he became far more hittable (8.6 H/9 after two years of seven or under), and consequently his 1971 ERA+ was a frightening 78, the 77th worst since 1901 for all pitchers throwing at least 200 innings. (Since 2000, only '01 Livan Hernandez, '02 Ryan Dempster, and '03 Brett Tomko have met those "qualifications." It's that sort of bad.)
In all fairness, Singer was ace quality in the previous two years, and it's normal for a manager to have a long leash there. In even more fairness, he was loads better as the season went on, going 7-8 from June on and thus turning the season around right when managers typically would pull somebody. In the last bit fairness I could muster, there were some tough-luck losses in the beginning. But this one I put entirely on the manager. Singer made his 31 starts with complete regularity, missing only one in May, and the Giants, who looked invincible by starting off 27-9, spent the rest of the season frittering all but one game of that lead away. Those early games matter, and Alston may have been a tad too patient in the early going. May all who pass by note the gravestone of the 1971 Dodgers, and the Bill Singer who did them in.
1973 NL EastWhere do you begin to point fingers when the winning team went 82-79 and had two pitchers combine to go 5-15? On the chart above, the Expos trotted out Balor Moore a few too many times, leaving him with a 7-16 record and an 85 ERA+. The previous year, at age 21, the lefty Moore had acquitted himself rather well, with peripherals suggesting a bright future (7.4 H/9, 3.6 BB/9, 9.8 K/9). In '73, the strikeout rate went down by two and the walks up by two (he gave up exactly as many hits as he struck out batters, oddly enough), and Moore's career derailed. Perhaps it was the expectations that kept him on the team: Moore was the Expos' first first-rounder, and that carries quite a burden. Perhaps the fifth-year Expos didn't suspect that the division would be so awful that they'd be in contention. I wouldn't begrudge them this assumption, as the Pirates, Cardinals, and Mets were all relatively decent teams at that point. I call it neutral in Montreal.
In Pittsburgh? I think it's no one's fault. This was the year of Steve Blass Disease, which has been covered better by others. Suffice it to say that an undiseased Steve Blass would have settled the division pretty much exactly like it came out every year, which was with the Pirates getting around 90 wins. We wouldn't be talking about Luke Walker's 7-12 record while getting booted out of the rotation. The good news for is that sorting through the rubble found the Pirates one of their most dependable starters of the next few years: Jim Rooker. Slotting into the rotation in June, Rooker went 9-5 with 90 strikeouts and 29 walks as a starter. This could not have been foretold whatsoever, as Rooker had either been wild but average or downright terrible in his previous four seasons. Rooker was traded from Kansas City for Gene Garber straight-up, and while Garber didn't stay long in his new home, Rooker turned in four more years of #2 starter-level effectiveness. No one could have seen the Blass situation coming, regardless of what Walker did, but out of all these situations, the Pirates had the best on-field results form it.
Sam McDowell, 1974 New York YankeesI wouldn't have guessed this one at all. The perplexing McDowell was still young enough to bounce back from a few bad years, and the Yankees were starting to make some noise in the East. A healthy McDowell could have put them over the top in a year where nobody took control until the very end. (Ken Aspromonte's Indians were leading the East as late as July 8. Really. It was wide open that year.) An injured McDowell, however ... McDowell pitched sparingly through May, with the occasional start and mostly mop-up work, came back in July to start, and had tough luck when he was on and no luck when he wasn't. Seven starts, six relief appearances, and only one of those games was a Yankee win. He deserved a better record than 1-6, but not by much.
This was an intriguing Yankees team, with a rotation led by Pat Dobson and Doc Medich, and a breakout year from centerfielder Elliott Maddox, and they deserve better remembrance than they've received. McDowell's struggles kept them in second place, but I'm labeling it neutral because he didn't even pitch much and ran into some tough luck. If it's any consolation to them now, you can't expect somebody (namely, the Orioles) to go 28-6 down the stretch to snatch a pennant, so McDowell doesn't deserve much scorn. He couldn't help the Orioles deciding that winning was what they should do now.
Rick Sutcliffe, 1980 Los Angeles Dodgers
Chris Jaffe's covered Sutcliffe's career fairly recently, and 1980 is not listed as one of Rick's "healthy seasons." Sutcliffe's Rookie of the Year campaign of '79 as a solid starter was completely offset by his 1980 season, as he accumulated almost all his negative value in starting. Sutcliffe exhibits a split much like Bill Clarkson's from last article: 1-4, 7.51 as a starter and 2-5, 3.92 as a reliever. (Sutcliffe was used a bunch in the late innings, where relief losses are not uncommon due to the better pitchers coming in only for close games, so that 2-5 record is misleading). When he started, batters hit .333/.399/.495 (and this line includes a 3-hit shutout, amazingly enough); when he relieved, they hit .242/.337/.332. The problem to me is that the Dodgers didn't leave Sutcliffe in the bullpen all year once he failed as a starter. They kept getting him in one start every month, and that shutout excepted, they were ghastly. So, I'll fault the manager on this one. On the surface, it feels just a tad greedy to get your newly-settled reliever in for one start in the hopes it works. It reminds me vaguely of the Brett Myers yo-yo in Philadelphia over the last few years (is he a closer? A starter? A toaster strudel? A hand cart?). Leaving Sutcliffe in the 'pen for the year would have worked just fine. Pulling him out to let him get beat up did not work just fine.
Second Temporary ConclusionWe're seeing the same general spread of blame this time as last. I'm willing to bet it looks like that after 1981, but with the wild card involved, who knows? We should hit 1982-2008 to wrap this up next time.
References and Resources
Same as last time.
Now to the other list, the teams who won with a guy dragging their record down.
1947: Bill Bevens, NYY
1950: Ken Heintzelman, PHI
1951: Sheldon Jones, NYG
1959: Clem Labine, LAD
1967: Bucky Brandon, BOS
1970: Bob Veale, PIT
1973: Blue Moon Odom, OAK; Jim McAndrew and Buzz Capra, NYM
1974: Jim Palmer, BAL
1976: Marty Pattin, KCR
1977: Charlie Hough, LAD; Jim Kaat and Wayne Twitchell, PHI
1980: Don Sutton, HOU; Dan Larson and Randy Lerch, PHI
Brandon Isleib is a lawyer and writes about stuff sometimes. He can be reached via the electronic mails.
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