What he did: Tomorrow marks the debut of a weekly feature Bill Miller and I will be doing for his blog, The On Deck Circle. We’re writing about good players on bad teams, with Bill featuring players from 1961 to present day and me covering people before then. Bill will write tomorrow’s piece, and I’ll have something up on his site the following Friday, with us alternating weeks, though this could double as my first column. There may be no finer example of a player done in by his team than Paul Derringer on the 1933 Cincinnati Reds.
Derringer won 223 games lifetime and played 12 more seasons in Cincinnati after his 1933 campaign. His fortunes improved as his team did, with Derringer winning 20 games four times and helping the Reds to the 1939 World Series, which they lost and the 1940 World Series, which they won. Both years, Derringer finished in the top four in National League MVP voting, and he also made six All Star teams in his career. In 1933, though, Cincinnati was 58-94 and Derringer bore the brunt, losing 25 games there after an early-season trade from St. Louis and going 7-27 overall.
Having won 18 games for the World Series-champion Cardinals in 1931, Derringer struggled for victories with a 1933 Reds team that managed just 496 runs. Derringer was otherwise decent besides his record, posting a 3.26 ERA and a not-terrible 1.26 WHIP for Cincinnati, and without checking, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the finest performance by a 27-game loser in the Modern Era. On a better team and in a better era for pitchers, Derringer could more than double his 1933 win totals.
Era he might have thrived in: In most other eras, Derringer probably could have boosted his career numbers to within striking distance of the Hall of Fame (in real life, he peaked at 6.2 percent of the vote in 1956.) Derringer would do his best pitching in the late 1960s.
Why: The 1960s were essentially opposite of the 1930s, a Golden Age for pitching instead of a dark time. It’s easy to pluck pitchers from bad teams in hitter’s eras and drastically improve their numbers by placing them on, say, the 1968 Dodgers. I doubt, though, that many hurlers could handle the 300-inning seasons expected from starters in the 1960s, when the schedule was newly expanded t0 162 games, four-man rotations were common, and relief pitchers weren’t yet regularly used. But Derringer averaged 240 innings a season, topped 280 four times, and went over 300 twice, so he might be up to the challenge.
I ran Derringer’s 1933 numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com, seeing how he would fare on the 1968 Tigers, Cardinals, and Dodgers. While Derringer wouldn’t approach Cy Young or MVP status in 1968, since Denny McLain won 31 games for Detroit and Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA for the Cardinals, he wouldn’t be a half bad third or fourth starter. Derringer would do best with the Dodgers, with the converter predicting a 16-13 record with a 2.55 ERA and 1.098 WHIP. All this from a 7-27 season.
There’s been movement within the baseball research community to de-emphasize win-loss records for pitchers. Most notably, Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young this year with a 13-12 record since he pitched for last-place Seattle and cleaned up in non-team-dependent stats. While I still kind of think it was crazy talk for the Baseball Writers Association of America to honor Hernandez, Derringer’s conversions are striking. Maybe the writers were on to something.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays