Monthly Archives: May 2012

Any player/Any era: Nolan Ryan

What he did: I always thought Nolan Ryan got screwed playing nine seasons on the Houston Astros. That’s what I used to think at least, looking at years like 1987 when Ryan led the National League with a 2.76 ERA but finished 8-16. Certainly, those Astros went 76-86 and scored two runs or less in about half of Ryan’s starts with him going 1-13 in those games. But there’s a silver lining from 1987, Ryan’s 2.21 ERA at home. In fact, I doubt he’d have won the ERA title with a different home ballpark. Ryan benefited from good pitchers’ parks much of his career, going 59-44 with a 2.77 ERA in the Astrodome, 85-58 with a 2.36 ERA at Angel Stadium, and 180-190 with a 3.66 ERA elsewhere. And the Astros weren’t that bad while Ryan was in town: They had a record above .500 six of the years he played for them.

The Ryan Express has a reputation as one of the best pitchers in baseball history, though some of his success may have been due to luck — good home ballparks, a .269 opponents’ batting average on balls in play, and the fortune to play in an era that mostly favored pitchers. Take these things away, and Ryan may have faced a longer road to Cooperstown, nothing close to the coronation he received with 98.8 percent of the vote on his first ballot in 1999. Sure, he might still have the 5,000 lifetime strikeouts and seven no-hitters, but I doubt it’d be enough for some Hall voters, at least not his first few times on the ballot. I assume he’d be enshrined at some point, it just might take awhile. Look what happened to Bert Blyleven, who needed 14 ballots for his plaque.

So while Ryan’s combination of legendary power and durability makes him a rare pitcher I have no problem projecting across any number of different eras, finding him a point in baseball history where he could’ve boosted or at least maintained his case for Cooperstown is tricky. Put Ryan in Coors Field in the late 1990s and he’d be the second coming of Mike Hampton, Darryl Kile, or some other hapless free agent ace lured to Colorado. Put Ryan in the Baker Bowl, Fenway Park, or another offensive launching pad in the late 1920s or early ’30s, and I assume his ERA would wind up somewhere near 5.00, win-loss record equally garish. But I can think of at least one place where he might have shined.

Era he might have thrived in: The story of Ryan’s rise to greatness is well-told, detailing how he debuted as a wild young reliever with the New York Mets in 1967 before being traded to the Angels in December 1971 and finding command enough to become an ace (though he led his league in walks eight times.) So there are two options: Find Ryan a similar formative environment; or, place him in a free-swinging era where batters walked far less, where the few Hall of Fame pitchers were either fireballers or on great teams or both. I’m speaking of the 1930s. Playing then, on a ball club like the New York Giants, Ryan may have excelled.

Why: The Giants ballpark, the Polo Grounds was the Astrodome of its era, center field a place where home runs went to die. Pitching there, Ryan could make a more-than competent sidekick to Carl Hubbell, and with the ’30s Giants, he’d have the elite caliber of club he rarely found himself on in 27 seasons, a chance to go the World Series in his prime. And if his power translated to the era, Ryan could bring unprecedented strikeout totals, perhaps breaking the dry spell between 1912 and 1946 where no hurler had 300 K’s. Ryan could be the Bob Feller of the National League.

Could this help Ryan’s legacy? Consider that in 1962, Feller and Jackie Robinson were first-ballot inductees for Cooperstown, the first time any player earned a plaque without multiple tries since 1937. It’s not to say Ryan would’ve automatically been enshrined through acclimation, facing consideration in an era of Hall voting where dozens of future honorees generally got at least one vote. Hubbell needed three tries before he was inducted, Lefty Grove four, Dizzy Dean nine. And Rapid Robert was and maybe still is the greatest teenage player in baseball history and a war hero to boot. I don’t know what kind of comparable PR that Ryan might have generated with voters. Still, I assume he’d have had as good a chance as any to do so.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Other ’30s pitchers written of in this series: Bob FellerLefty GrovePaul DerringerSatchel Paige, Wes Ferrell

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Billy Pierce

Claim to fame: About a month ago I visited Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field for a White Sox game and throughout the game studied their ten retired numbers and corresponding faces decorating the left-centerfield wall. Six of the players honored on that fence are in the Hall of Fame (including Jackie Robinson, whose number is retired throughout baseball), and a seventh, Frank Thomas, will join them shortly. Of the three non-Hall of Famers, Minnie Minoso has come closest to Cooperstown, receiving nine of a possible 16 Veterans Committee votes last year when 12 were required for induction. Then there’s Harold Baines, who hung on the BBWAA ballot for several years before garnering only 4.8% of votes in 2011 and falling off subsequent ballots.

The tenth retired White Sox number: Billy Pierce. I was not entirely unfamiliar with Pierce. In December, while preparing by ballot for BPP’s Top 50 Players Not in the Hall of Fame, I had considered him for the final spot on my list, even checking his name off on the ballot before changing my mind last minute and granting my final vote to Robin Ventura. Still, as I sat at U.S. Cellular Field and stared at those faces, I felt uneducated on the career of this apparently-heralded lefty, knowing significantly less about him than I did about his retired number peers.

So I did my research. Pierce pitched in the Majors in 18 seasons, throwing 89% of his career 3,306.2 innings for the South Siders. He retired with a 119 ERA+ and 1.260 WHIP, having made seven all-star games, led the American League in complete games three times, in WAR for pitchers twice, and, in 1955, in ERA, ERA+, and WHIP.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Pierce never received more than 2% of votes on the BBWAA ballot in his five appearances there. He was eligible to be selected to the 2011 Golden Era Veterans committee ballot but was not chosen and will not again be eligible until 2014.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Historically, those who’ve thrown 3,000 innings with an ERA+ above 120 have done very well in Hall of Fame voting. Among those who meet that threshold and have appeared on a Hall ballot, only Kevin Brown, Will White, and Silver King have failed to garner induction.

Alas, with that 119 ERA+, Pierce falls just short of that admittedly arbitrary mark. This of course doesn’t mean he isn’t Hall-worthy, but it is somewhat representative of how I view his career in regards to Cooperstown. The lefty was often an all-star and award vote-getter, but rarely the dominant pitcher in his league. He had one excellent season but was otherwise merely above average. No statistic of his stands out as spectacular; his ERA, ERA+, WHIP, strikeouts, and even WAR are nice but nothing shiny enough to anchor a Hall of Fame candidacy. By any measure he was a very good pitcher, and by no measure was he a Hall of Famer.

In the end, Billy Pierce just missed earning a spot on my ballot for the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame, just missed earning a spot on the list of 3,000 IP/120 ERA+ hurlers, and falls just short of deserving a spot in the real-life Hall. He seemed just qualified enough to write about here but turned out not interesting enough to say much about; no one will comment here claiming Billy Pierce’s lack of induction a travesty, and no one will comment here claiming me crazy for considering his worthiness. Long-tenured guys who last with one team and post impressive but unspectacular numbers get their faces displayed on their team’s outfield wall, but they don’t always get (or deserve) their faces carved into a Hall of Fame plaque.

Status

Anyone who reads here regularly may have noticed that the posting schedule has slowed a bit lately. My apologies. My laptop is currently in the shop, I’ve been dealing with a little BPP burnout, and I’ve been preoccupied writing for other outlets. I should have my computer back sometime this week, and I intend to get back to business here shortly thereafter. I apologize again for my lapse in output and thank everyone for their patience.

Any player/Any era: Kenny Lofton

What he did: Kenny Lofton finished his career with 1,528 runs, the 33rd most by a lefty in MLB History. In 2000, his run scoring was at its zenith as he scored a run in 18 consecutive games, tied for the seventh longest streak since 1893.

While a player needs someone to knock him in to score, the player does have to get on base. Lofton’s career .372 OBP is ahead of Roberto Alomar, Bobby Grich, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, George Brett, and a whole host of other players.

Of course, once Lofton got on base, he knew what to do. He stole 622 bases, the 15th most in MLB history and almost halfway to Rickey Henderson. He also was efficient, posting a 79.5% success rate, just behind Ozzie Smith and in the top 30 in MLB history. As a rookie, Lofton stole 66 bases, the fifth most prolific rookie season in MLB history.

Lofton played for 11 teams, although the Indians were the only club he played for more than one season with. He hit a HR for every team except the Houston Astros. Only seven players in MLB history have hit HRs for nine different teams. Todd Zeile leads the way, hitting HRs it for 11 teams, while Rickey Henderson (and others) did it for nine squads.

In 2007, his final season, a 40-year-old Lofton batted .296/.367/.414 with 23 steals in 30 chances. In fact, his age 37-40 seasons produced a .303/.367/.409 line with 84 SBs and 18 CS.

When his Hall of Fame candidacy comes up, there will be a heated debate over whether he belongs. While it might not be a no-brainer, the Hall will be a better place with players like Lofton in it.

In addition to the steals of home and other acts of brilliance, I’ll remember that Lofton was the first batter in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history. He led off with a short fly to right. Rick Sutcliffe pitched a complete game shut-out for the win. Same Horn and Leo Gomez scored for the Orioles with Chris Hoiles and Billy Ripken knocking them in. Charles Nagy went eight strong for the Indians.

Era he would have thrived in: It’s hard to imagine Lofton not thriving in any particular era. That said, starting Lofton’s career more recently would have helped him get the recognition he deserves. Lofton wasn’t just another Otis Nixon or Juan Pierre, he would be the closest we have in the modern game to Tim Raines. For reasons you’ll see, Lofton probably belongs on the Boston Red Sox of this era.

Why: With Lofton’s ability to get on base and steal efficiently, he would fit perfectly into the “modern” game of baseball. Lofton would fit nowhere better than on the Boston Red Sox. If you normalize Lofton’s numbers to the 2008 Red Sox, you get a .312/.386/.442 line with 692 steals.

Those numbers would compare incredibly favorably to Raines and would create this modern Tim Raines dynamic. As Raines continues to fight or writers continue to fight for for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, Lofton would be the perfect reminder of how great Raines was.

Beginning in 2002, it wouldn’t be that difficult to get Lofton significant at bats, with him moving Trot Nixon to the bench predominantly, but also Coco Crisp, Gabe Kapler and others. It would reunite Lofton with Manny Ramirez and let Lofton bat ahead of Manny, Ortiz, Nomar, etc. In short, he’d score a bazillion runs and be appreciated for all his hustle and brilliance.

Lessons from my mom

Mothers Day is the most important day of the year.  Sure we love our fathers but it’s mom who rules the roost and it’s mom who we all have to do right by.  Everyone knows this and everyone does their very best to make certain that mom is happy. None of us want to make our mother cry or hear that she is disappointed.  None of us want to feel her wrath or see her tears. You just don’t mess with them.

With that in mind, here are two players in 2012 thus far who have made their mom unhappy, angry or happy as in that’s my boy and I’m proud of him.

Josh Hamilton likely caused his mother some consternation while constantly running afoul of the law and running with some unsavory types a few years ago. The story of his lost three years is well-known. There was no way this kid could miss being one of the elite in baseball if only he could straighten up his act and find someone who could set him once again on the straight and narrow.Tampa Bay in those days, were the laughing stock of baseball and could ill afford to waste a first round pick. Hamilton was going to be their savior and the first in a long line of great players who would lift the franchise not only to respectability, but to success.  Those hopes seemed dashed as Hamilton time after time became involved in criminal activities and seemed to be easily influenced by the wrong type of people. Hamilton turned things around in a big way.

Now, I don’t know if his mom or a motherly figure in his life helped turn him around. I know little of his personal life or his upbringing and I do know that even kids raised with dignity and respect can go bad. I do know that if he has a mom, she would have been secretly crying in her pillow at night and hoping against hope that Hamilton would one day pull himself together. Not for any baseball rewards, but simply for his own good.

We all know people, ordinary people like you and me, who have wasted any talent they might have had for whatever reason and fell into the depths of crime and/or addiction. Those of us who have kept our nose to the grindstone have usually had a mom who we hoped never to embarrass no matter if we were only the lowest level office worker or the most famous person on the planet. She always seemed proud of us as long as we were productive members of society and respected others and became responsible adults.

It was always important to my mom that if I made a commitment, I honored that commitment no matter how things were going at any particular time. You signed on and had to see it through, good times and bad.  That was part of being an adult.

Moms make the world go round. I lost mine in 1973 but I still hear her voice when I do something stupid, which, sadly, is a full time job for her. Love you mom– always.

Any player/Any era: Josh Hamilton

What he did: Every so often, baseball gets a great hitter who debuts late. The 1920s had Lefty O’Doul failing as a pitcher with the Yankees, reinventing himself in the Pacific Coast League as a batter, and hitting .398 with the Phillies in 1929. Josh Hamilton might be O’Doul’s modern equivalent, following his selection as the first pick in 1999 draft with a descent into drug addiction. It took him until 2007 at 26 to reach the majors, and it will be interesting to see if, as it’s been with O’Doul, the lost seasons keep Hamilton from the Hall of Fame. This begs the question: What might Hamilton have done with those seasons?

Era he might have thrived in: A fellow baseball blogger, Bradley Ankrom of Baseball Prospectus tweeted something interesting a few days ago. Using the age 21 to 25 totals for players who had comparable stats to Hamilton between 26 and 30, Bradley (@BradleyAnkrom) came up with projected splits for Hamilton for 2002 to 2006. I took a look and have some stats of my own, which I’ll offer momentarily. While I doubt Hamilton would have been the second coming of Mickey Mantle had he debuted in 2002 with his draft team, Tampa Bay, he might have a better shot at Cooperstown.

Why: I went off Bradley’s idea, albeit with a few of my own wrinkles to adjust for different offensive conditions and ballpark effects that Hamilton’s statistical doppelgangers may have encountered. First, I looked at players who had close to a 135 OPS+ for their age 26 to 30 seasons, as Hamilton did. Then, I looked among this group for players who debuted at 21 and found Jim Rice, Darryl Strawberry, Kent Hrbek, and Scott Rolen. Here’s where this gets fun and, perhaps, a little unorthodox.

With the help of the Baseball-Reference.com stat converter, I ran numbers for Rice, Strawberry, Hrbek, and Rolen playing their age 21 to 25 seasons at Tropicana Field from 2002-2006, and I averaged their totals. I then multiplied the averages by .8974, the number of plate appearances the sometimes-brittle Hamilton had between ages 26 and 30 relative to them. When all was said and done, I got the following totals for Hamilton with Tampa Bay from 2002 to 2006:

G P AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG
2002 49 185 164 22 44 8 2 8 29 5 17 41 .268 .341 .488
2003 132 560 495 82 146 26 3 22 92 13 56 106 .295 .368 .493
2004 127 548 478 86 143 30 5 24 89 13 60 97 .299 .378 .533
2005 125 542 473 76 140 26 5 27 90 11 59 104 .296 .376 .543
2006 135 593 521 96 159 28 7 31 104 12 64 97 .305 .383 .564

(For those interested, here are the slash lines Bradley offered for Hamilton: 2002: 284/344/478, 2003: 281/345/483, 2004: 304/374/526, 2005: 294/365/507, 2006: 307/377/536. Bradley looked for players who were similar to Hamilton between ages 26 and 30, batting at least .300, with an OBP of .350, .530 slugging percentage, and 2500 plate appearances in this time. He then averaged those players’ age 21 to 25 seasons.)

Baseball statistical alchemy aside, this exercise requires a few assumptions. It requires belief, first of all, that Hamilton could have found a way to play 2002 to 2006. I don’t know if he was in any condition to compete those years, but if a few things had gone differently for him, he may have been. Isn’t that how life goes so often? For purposes of this scenario, I have Hamilton not getting injured early in his minor league career, not finding himself hanging around tattoo parlors, not dabbling in powder and, eventually, rock cocaine. I figure he might realistically be drinking in this scenario, no great thing for anyone with budding alcoholic tendencies, but a slower means of destruction minus hard drugs. Mantle stayed functional through his twenties in this way, as did many other greats.

Life has a way of working itself out. Hamilton has righted course and, at the moment, is leading the American League in all three Triple Crown categories, even hitting four homers earlier this week. The Tampa organization that had to rid itself of Hamilton after his early disaster has become a contender, while Hamilton’s Texas Rangers have done likewise. Provided he stays sober and healthy over the next eight or ten years, Hamilton may have a chance at the Hall of Fame. Still, who knows what might have been.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature (generally) here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Al KalineAl RosenAl SimmonsAlbert PujolsArtie WilsonBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug Glanville,Ed WalshEddie LopatElmer FlickEric Davis, Frank HowardFritz MaiselGary CarterGavvy CravathGene TenaceGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack MorrisJackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Larry WalkerLefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Mark Fidrych, Matt NokesMatty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe JacksonSpud ChandlerStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

Willie Mays turns 81

On May 6, Willie Mays celebrated his 81st birthday. During those 1950s years the baseball world couldn’t resolve the debate about who was New York’s best center fielder, Mickey, Willie or the Duke. As sports writer Red Smith said:

“Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. You could get a fat lip in any saloon by starting an argument as to which was best. One point was beyond argument, though. Willie was by all odds the most exciting.”

At the time, I lived in Los Angeles and didn’t qualify to have an opinion. In those days, major league baseball hadn’t yet arrived in California so my limited knowledge was based on stories I read in the great old Sports Magazine or in late newspaper box scores. I did, however, see May’s 1954 legendary World Series catch on a tiny black and white television screen. In the Series first game, Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz launched a tremendous shot to deep center field, Mays, looking over his shoulder, caught the ball and fired it back into the infield. (See it here.)

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, Mays began the second phase of his outstanding career. After Mays retired, the Giants erected a statue of him outside AT & T Park, the address of which is 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

Not until 1972 did I watch Mays in person. Mays had agreed to return to New York as a Mets at owner Joan Payson’s behest. Payson had grown up rooting for the New York Giants; Mays was her favorite player. The 41-year-old Mays was washed up but he agreed to go to New York lured by the prospect that Mets had at least an outside chance of winning the World Series, an achievement that had eluded him since 1954

For parts of two seasons, Mays played like the roster liability he was. His hitting was negligible, his fielding erratic and his speed gone. Nevertheless, on September 25, 1973 at Shea Stadium the Mets held “Willie Mays Night.” Traffic, worse than for any visiting Pope, president or foreign head of state, was backed up from Queens to Manhattan. The Mets flew in Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial to be part of the celebration during which he was given three cars, plane tickets, a snowmobile and a mink coat for his wife.

Mays’ birthday celebration was more subdued. In the bottom of the second inning, Giants’ fans stood to sing “Happy Birthday” to Mays. And from the KNBR radio booth, announcers Jon Miller and Dave Fleming presented Mays with a cake.

For the next few innings, Miller and Fleming exchanged Mays’ vignettes. Time and again the announcers returned to Milwaukee where on April 30, 1961 Mays put on one of baseball’s greatest performances. That Sunday afternoon, Mays hit four home runs, two off Lew Burdette and one each off Don McMahon and Seth Morehead, and drove in eight runners. One of Mays’ titanic homers went so far into the stands that as play-by-play man Russ Hodges made the call, he noted that Henry Aaron—playing out of position in center field—never made a move for the ball as it soared above his head.

When the game ended, a 14-4 Giants rout, Mays was in the on deck circle. By that time, County Stadium fans hoped to see Mays get a shot at his fifth homer. When Jim Davenport grounded out, he got a lusty round of booing from the disappointed crowd.

Today, in addition to his responsibilities as an assistant to the Giants’ president, Mays also serves on the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping former major League, minor League, and Negro league players through financial and medical difficulties.

Six decades after the who-is-better Mays, Mantle or Snider argument began, most historians give Mays the edge.

An interesting footnote: the Giants’ winning pitcher was Billy Loes who tossed a complete game. Most have forgotten (I know I did) that Loes closed out his career with the Giants where he pitched respectably during 1961 and 1962 ( 63 games; 9-7, 4.50 ERA).

Any Player/Any Era: Larry Walker

What he did: Clearly, if Graham can do a Does he belong in the Hall column on Walker, he had a long and storied career. I also added a blurb on Walker for Graham’s 50 Best Players not in the Hall:

Larry Walker is one of the greatest left-handed hitters in the history of baseball. Walker is tied for the 38th best average by a left-handed batter at .313. He has the 46th highest OBP in MLB history and the 15th best slugging percentage all-time at .565…Sure it was helpful to Walker to have played his home games at Coors Field during his relative prime, but kudos to him for taking full advantage.

Going beyond that, Walker finished with a higher OBP than Joe DiMaggio, Cap Anson and many others. When you combine his power with his ability to get on base, you generate the 17th highest OPS in MLB history, a number Alex Rodriguez, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and others can only look up at. Adjusting his OPS for the era yields a 141 OPS+, tied for 69th all time and ahead of many baseball greats.

During his career, four times he would bat .300 with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs — that is tied for the 24th most seasons of all time. Walker is also one of just 24 players to bat over .300 and hit over 300 HRs in his career. Of all the left-handed batters in all the world that ever played baseball, Walker recorded the 16th and 17th highest slugging percentages in a season. The only immortals he trails: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. Those are the only lefties in baseball history to put up better slugging years.

Finally, he is tied with Carlton Fisk for 96th in wins above replacement (bWAR) — ahead of the likes of Eddie Murray, Pee Wee Reese, Craig Biggio, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire.

While it is hard to parse out the Coors effect and how that improved his numbers (and you’ll see my attempt a bit below), from ages 22 – 27, Walker played for Montreal and would accumulate a pretty decent line: .281/.357/.483.

Quite simply, Walker had one of the most devastating bats from the left-side in MLB history.

And his parents are Larry and Mary and his siblings are Gary, Cary and Barry. Something tells me his family liked to have fun!

Era he would thrive in: For a variety of somewhat selfish reasons, I’m putting Walker on the late 1930s St. Louis Cardinals. While he might not have “thrived” in the ‘30s/’40s (as his power and speed bulk numbers would suffer somewhat), they won’t be that much worse and we can ignore steroids, Coors and whatever the heck baseball did to create an environment conducive to hitting during Walker’s era. In short, his numbers won’t look that much different and we can superficially get at how Walker would do in a bygone time when everything was great.

Why: If you normalize Walker’s career to the 1936 St. Louis Cardinals, you’d end up with a .301/.386/.545 line with 354 HRs and 218 SBs. Placing Walker’s numbers in the context of a different era would make him a near no-doubt Hall of Famer. For example, just look at how his career would have stacked up against his “teammate” Johnny Mize.

Mize: .312/.397/.562 with 359 HRs and 28 SBs

Walker in the 30s: .301/.386/.545 with 354 HRs and 218 SBs

Walker in reality: .313/.400/.565 with 383 HRs and 230 SBs.

Mize on the ’95 Rockies: .352/.440/.630 with 394 HRs and 28 SBs

In addition, Walker would be another in the long line of storied World Champions on the Cardinals and help a team that frequently just missed the post-season reach the promise land. In ’36, the club finished second and got horrible production from Terry Moore. In ’39, the club again finished second with not overly great production from Moore. It was the same story in ’41.

In 1942, Mize would leave the club, but Stan Musial would start his career. Walker could easily slide to first base and buoy a team that beat the Yankees in the World Series. The following year, Walker could slide back to the outfield to let Ray Sanders get at bats at first and replace Harry Walker and Danny Litwhiler in the outfield.

The worst winning pitching performances

The impossible or at least the high baseball unlikely happened on Wednesday evening with 37-year-old vagabond pitcher Jeff Suppan winning his first game since 2010. Someone I follow on Twitter asked who must have felt worse, the Giants losing to Jim Bouton in 1978 or the Brewers falling to Suppan. I say the ’78 Giants. It was no great time to be a Giant then; Bouton was also playing just his second game back from an eight-year layoff after writing Ball Four when he combined with two others to three-hit the Giants on September 14, 1978.

I tweeted as much to my friend (@euqubud), who replied:

Probably. It makes me wonder who are the worst/unlikeliest pitchers to win a game. You’d think Bouton would be on it.

I did a few Play Index searches on Baseball-Reference.com, and for our purposes, Bouton comes nowhere close to infamy. Nor does Suppan, who managed to throw four-hit shutout ball over five innings. No, the men I’ll highlight did far worse.

Since 1918, 17 pitchers have won a game surrendering at least 10 earned runs apiece. Sixteen of these men did it in the days before use of relief pitchers was commonplace or sophisticated, when hurlers were expected to finish the games they started regardless of how they went. Then there’s Russ Ortiz, who got one of the ugliest wins ever on May 21, 2000, a landmark offensive season at the height of the Steroid Era.

A list of the 17 pitchers follows in chronological order:

Rk Player Date ▴ Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str BF
1 Gene Packard 1918-08-03 (1) STL PHI W 16-12 8.1 15 12 12 3 3 1 41
2 Ernie Wingard 1925-05-31 SLB CHW W 15-11 9.0 19 11 10 1 0 0 45
3 Bill Sherdel 1926-07-13 STL BRO W 12-10 9.0 16 10 10 1 5 4 42
4 Pete Donohue 1928-06-02 CIN BSN W 20-12 6.1 14 11 11 0 0 3 33
5 Elam Vangilder 1928-09-29 DET NYY W 19-10 9.0 18 10 10 1 3 2 46
6 Ray Moss 1929-05-18 (1) BRO PHI W 20-16 5.2 13 10 10 6 1 1 33
7 Herb Pennock 1930-06-26 NYY CLE W 13-11 7.1 16 10 10 1 3 3 38
8 Phil Collins 1932-06-23 PHI CHC W 16-10 9.0 14 10 10 3 2 2 40
9 Eddie Rommel 1932-07-10 PHA CLE W 18-17 17.0 29 14 13 9 7 0 87
10 Tommy Bridges 1934-09-26 (1) DET CHW W 12-10 7.0 11 10 10 3 7 1 35
11 Jack Knott 1936-09-02 SLB PHA W 13-11 9.0 12 11 11 7 2 1 43
12 Oral Hildebrand 1937-04-21 SLB CHW W 15-10 9.0 17 10 10 4 2 0 47
13 Buck Ross 1938-08-16 PHA BOS W 14-11 8.2 13 11 10 3 5 2 45
14 Thornton Lee 1938-09-28 CHW CLE W 14-11 9.0 16 11 11 6 3 2 49
15 Ralph Branca 1949-06-25 BRO PIT W 17-10 9.0 12 10 10 5 5 5 145 86 41
16 Bob Friend 1954-05-02 (2) PIT CHC W 18-10 7.2 14 10 10 5 6 4 42
17 Russ Ortiz 2000-05-21 SFG MIL W 16-10 6.2 8 10 10 3 7 2 132 81 32

This says nothing, of course, of the myriad of less physically-gifted pitchers who managed to win a game without getting torched. Surely in the distant annals of baseball history, some men who had no business pitching in the majors have won a game or two or more. As modern players continue to become better developed, the majors ever more densely packed with talent, I imagine their lesser pioneers will become ever more of bygone relics.

I’m not going too deep in my analysis here, though if anyone has any thoughts, please feel free to weigh in.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? J.R. Richard

Claim to fame: Richard may rank as another of baseball’s great What Ifs?, an ace pitcher for the Houston Astros whose career ended at 30 due to a stroke. He went 107-71 with a 3.15 ERA, winning at least 18 games four times, and it’s conceivable he might have gotten to 300 wins if not for his July 30, 1980 collapse during pre-game warm-ups. He’s set an admirable example, both as a player and as a survivor, someone who tried for years after his stroke without success to return to the majors, someone who wound up homeless and living under a highway overpass in 1994 and has since rebuilt his life.

The question for our purposes is if Richard did enough for a Hall of Fame plaque. Cooperstown has enshrined pitchers with truncated careers before, from Addie Joss to Dizzy Dean to Sandy Koufax, and Richard would have the fewest career wins of any of them. With a deeper look at his numbers, other factors come into play as well.

Current of Hall of Fame eligibility: Richard’s a candidate for the Veterans Committee, having made his sole appearance on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot in 1986. Pitchers glutted the voting that year, and to some extent, they may have cancelled one another out. Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, and Lew Burdette, among others, fared better than Richard though no pitchers were enshrined in 1986. Richard’s 1.6 percent showing was better only than Ken Holtzman, Andy Messersmith, Jim Lonborg, and Jack Billingham for former front-end hurlers.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I like Richard, and I’ll celebrate Richard as the very good player he was, but the flaws of his Cooperstown candidacy aren’t difficult to expose. Even if we set aside his underwhelming lifetime numbers, such as his 22.4 WAR as the byproduct of a shortened career, his 108 ERA+ and 1.243 WHIP don’t place him among the upper echelon of Hall of Fame pitchers. Richard’s an example of something else, too: Pitchers whose stats were bolstered by pitching in the offensive void that was the Houston Astrodome.

I’ve written here before how the cavernous dimensions and low run environment hurt the likes of Cesar Cedeno, Bob Watson, and Jim Wynn. The inverse may have been true for pitchers (and on a side note, if there’s a ballpark that’s confused more Hall of Fame cases, I’d love to know of it.) Richard wasn’t the most egregiously different pitcher between the Astros’ landmark former home and elsewhere, though his difference in splits is noticeable. Consider the following:

Player W-L ERA IP H ER BB SO SO/9 WHIP
J.R. Richard at the Astrodome 56-36 2.58 831 582 238 370 754 8.2 1.146
J.R. Richard, elsewhere 51-35 3.76 774.2 645 324 400 739 8.6 1.349
Larry Dierker at the Astrodome 87-49 2.71 1272 1100 383 361 882 6.2 1.149
Larry Dierker, elsewhere 52-74 4.02 1061.1 1029 474 350 611 5.2 1.299
Mike Hampton at the Astrodome 38-16 2.91 531.2 489 172 170 407 6.9 1.239
Mike Hampton, elsewhere 110-99 4.42 1736.2 1881 852 731 980 5.1 1.504
Darryl Kile at the Astrodome 35-35 3.51 630.1 565 246 282 534 7.6 1.344
Darryl Kile, elsewhere 98-84 4.37 1535 1570 746 918 1134 6.6 1.621
Nolan Ryan at the Astrodome 59-44 2.77 989.2 714 305 413 1004 9.1 1.139
Nolan Ryan, elsewhere 265-248 3.29 4396.2 3209 1606 2382 4710 9.6 1.272
Mike Scott at the Astrodome 65-40 2.70 937.1 741 281 244 729 7.0 1.051
Mike Scott, elsewhere 59-68 4.23 1131.1 1117 532 383 740 5.9 1.326
Don Wilson at the Astrodome 57-45 3.00 951 807 317 320 671 6.4 1.185
Don Wilson, elsewhere 47-47 3.33 797 672 295 320 612 6.9 1.245

If anything, Richard and others here are a bit overrated. Playing in a pitcher’s park and having tragic career-ending circumstances will do that for a man.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsAndy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises Alou, Omar VizquelPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSean FormanSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark