Guest post: Another look at Ron Guidry’s Hall of Fame case

I recently read Harvey Araton’s 2012 book, Driving Mr. Yogi. While the book focuses primarily on the friendship between New York Yankee greats Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry, it stirred up a question for me on why Guidry is not in the Hall of Fame. In the book, Berra (who was enshrined in 1972) offers that perhaps Guidry did not play long enough to receive serious consideration, though he certainly played a very high level during his career. In my opinion, Guidry’s more than earned his place in Cooperstown.

Guidry’s Hall of Fame merits have been the subject of discussion at this website before. I’d like to take another, longer look and offer a number of reasons auguring for Guidry’s enshrinement.

Here are several things that make him worthy:

  • For nine seasons, 1977 through 1985, Guidry was the leading winner in all of baseball with 154 wins and registering a 0.694 winning percentage. Overall, his career win total of 170 generated a 0.654 winning percentage.
  •  These numbers are even more impressive because Guidry’s winning percentages exceeded those of his team by a factor of +0.115 during 1977-85 and +0.088 over his entire career. In other words, despite playing for baseball’s most victorious team, Guidry’s winning percentage was significantly greater which infers that he was truly adding value to his team. Many of Guidry’s peers from that same era, as well as others in the Hall of Fame, have peak-and-career winning percentages that are either in line or below their team average.
  • Guidry’s dominance was also reflected by leading the American League in major pitching categories on nine different occasions: wins (2), shutouts (1), earned run average (2), complete games (2) and winning percentage (2).
  • Guidry won 20 or more games three times, and this number might have been higher had he not played in the era where five and six-man rotations were the order of the day for Yankee teams. Not only did Guidry end up starting five-six fewer games per year due to the rotation, but he also gave up multiple starts because he did relief duty to help his team remain rested for the pennant stretch drives and/or postseason play. Given his very high winning percentage, one can infer that the cumulative effect of fewer starts may have prevented Guidry from not only exceeding the 20-win threshold more, but also may have kept his career wins below the vaunted 200-game level.
  • Guidry achieved a pitching milestone by twice recording seasons where his total bases allowed (hits + walks) were less than innings pitched.
  • Guidry’s peak and career earned run averages, respectively, were 3.19 and 3.29, and this was all during the era of the designated hitter. Bill James has noted that the designated hitter factor would account for about 0.50 earned run average points, which imply that Guidry’s numbers would be less than the 3.00 level typically regarded as the threshold between excellence and dominance.

Ultimately, Guidry’s career, like so many who have worn the Yankee pinstripes, was defined by winning the biggest games when they counted most.

  • His overall World Series win-loss record in three Fall Classics was 3-1 as he helped lead the Yankees to back-to-back WS Championships in 1977-78. Of note is that all those World Series were against the hated Dodgers, and Guidry’s average runs allowed in those four games was exactly 2.00.
  • In 1978, he won his 25th game of the season with a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park despite starting on only two-days of rest; that was the 163rd game of the regular season as an extra game was necessitated by a 1st place tie between New York and Boston.
  • Earlier that year he struck out 18 Angels, a game that marked the beginning of a tradition where fans begin to clap once a pitcher gets a 2-strike count on the batter.
  • In addition to being a 2-time World Series Champion, Guidry was a Yankee team captain (1986-88), Cy Young Award Winner (1978), 5-time Gold Glove Winner, 4-time All Star, Roberto Clemente Award Winner (1984) and had his jersey number (#49) retired by the Yankees.

As a final note, Guidry possessed a sense of strength and quiet confidence associated with the best Yankees, regardless of era. When Guidry pitched, there was no doubt of who was in charge, even when the opposition had the seeming advantage. The prime example occurred in the aforementioned 163rd game of the 1978 season in which the Boston Red Sox would host the Yankees in the winner-take-all game for the American League East Division. Despite coming in on an eight-game winning streak and possessing home field advantage, the Red Sox wryly noted that the Yankees had Guidry. When asked if he thought it fair that an entire season come down to a single contest, Guidry reportedly said that it was because he could only pitch one game.

The ultimate compliment from a historic peer may have been during the 1981 World Series when retired Hall of Fame Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax exchanged signed baseball caps with his fellow southpaw. Reportedly this was initiated by Koufax himself who had expressed admiration for Guidry’s pitching excellence.

17 Replies to “Guest post: Another look at Ron Guidry’s Hall of Fame case”

  1. Growing up in the early – mid-80’s in NY, Guidry was my favorite pitcher. Well, maybe my 2nd fav, ’cause I always wished the Yanks would trade for Dave Steib. Still, I think the only reason people didn’t get Louisiana Lightning into Cooperstown is ’cause he didn’t have the counting stats that voters felt made a pitcher great. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, despite the lack of counting stats.

  2. Not being a Yankee fan, I never thought about it much (Guidry in the HOF) but upon further consideration, I think he belongs. If guys like Koufax and Dizzy Dean can make the HOF with 3-5 years of absolute greatness, (including great post season performance which I’ve felt doesn’t get enoght consideration) but not much else, then Guidry belongs.

  3. From Baseball Reference, career WAR with rank

    Koufax: 50.3 (78th)
    Guidry: 45.4 (104th)
    Dean: 41.3 (T128th)

    Peak value. Here are the number of times they were in the top 5 in WAR for pitchers, their best consecutive streak in being in the top 5, and their best WAR over any 3 year period:

    Total top 5: 1,1,2,2,3
    Cons. top 5: 1-2-3-1
    Best WAR for 3 cons. yrs.: 24.9

    Total top 5: 1,3,3
    Cons. top 5: 1-3
    Best WAR for 3 cons. yrs.: 20.1

    Total top 5: 1,2,3,3,3,3 (he was hurt this last year in the All-star game and had 197 IP)
    Cons. top 5: 3-3-1-3-2-3
    Best WAR for 3 cons. yrs.: 21.5

    It looks to me that Dean and Koufax have more peak value. They got into the top 5 more often and kept it up longer. They both had very specific physical issues that ended their careers early. I don’t think this is the case for Guidry. At 104th in Career WAR, he would need to have a great peak value. I think 1978-9 is pretty good, but not Hall of Fame caliber given his low overall rank in career WAR.

  4. While he may not be quite at hof level, we can never forget his 25-3 record, which as remarkable as it is all by itself, were he to have lost one extra game and have finished at 24-4, would have cost the Yankees the one game playoff, the pennant and the world series.
    It always amazed me that he didn’t win the MVP that year. What more could he have done to have been more valuable?

  5. This was a fun article — from both a research and writing perspective. I am so happy the article was released on 8/29 (my birthday) — which is one day after Guidry (8/28). He was not only a wonderful player, but a person of integrity and honor. My sincere thanks to all who have shared their thoughts and memories in response to our article. This is perhaps one of the nicest aspects about baseball — sharing treasured memories that span the different generations and helping to build new and lasting friendships.

  6. I too am a Guidry fan, but I do not see him as a Hall of Famer. If Guidry were selected to the Hall of Fame, he would fall in at the margins of the population of pitchers enshrined.
    Below is a set of comps, including three already in the Hall (Gomez, Eckersley and Blyleven), one who will stand a good chance when he becomes eligible (Hudson), and one who fell off the ballot after one year of eligibility (Stieb). Please note that this list is not the result of any specific database search; rather it’s just a gathering of similar players whose accomplishments might lend some perspective to Guidry’s career.
    Guidry’s numbers compare well to Gomez’, but Gomez is far from Inner Circle by most people’s criteria. Eckersley (still not Inner Circle) and Stieb had somewhat longer careers than Guidry while producing at about the same rate. Hudson falls into the same category, although he’s still active and still productive late in his career.
    Finally, Blyleven (who required 14 years on the ballot before election) had a career that was more than twice as long as Guidry’s while producing at about the same rate. Some critics claim that electing Blyleven “lowered the bar,” but in my estimation, probably not low enough for Guidry.

    Player ERA+ IP WAR WAR/9IP
    Ron Guidry 119 2392 45.4 .171
    Lefty Gomez 125 2503 39.3 .141
    D Eckersley 116 3285 58.6 .161
    Bert Blyleven 118 4970 90.7 .164
    Tim Hudson 126 2644 51.0 .174
    Dave Stieb 122 2895 53.5 .166

  7. The suggestion that Guidry missed out on 5 or 6
    starts per season due to the Yankees use of a
    5 or 6 man rotation is invalid.

    I made a list of each team’s leader in games
    started for each season from 1976 thru 1988
    and calculated the average games started for
    each team’s leader.

    For example, the average number of games started
    for the Braves’ leader in starts for the period
    was 36.6. That was the highest of all the teams
    and was no doubt due largely to the presense of
    knuckleballer Phil Niekro who led the NL in starts
    for times during that period.

    The mean for all teams was 33.7 starts per season by
    their leader in games started.

    The Yankees leaders averaged 32.8 starts per season, which
    is only about 1 fewer start than the average team during
    this period. So clearly, the Yankees’ pitching rotation
    was right in line with that of most teams during this
    period and did NOT cost Guidry the 5 or 6 starts per
    season that you claimed.

    Furthermore, from 1977 thru 1988 the Yankees were 2nd only
    to the Red Sox in runs scored, indicating that Ron Guidry
    had exceptional run support during his career. Without
    that support he probably would not of led the majors in
    wins for the 9 year stretch that you cited. If you’re going to
    try to blame the Yankees for depriving Guidry of starts then it
    is only fair to recognize that their great offense inflated his
    win totals and helped him achieve the high winning percetages
    that you cited.

    Don’t get me wrong, Guidry was an excellent pitcher and
    if he’d had 2 or 3 more seasons of winning 18 or 20 games
    I’d call him a legitimate candidate for the HOF. But
    your attempt to portray him as a victim of Yankee pitching
    rotation patterns doesn’t hold water.

  8. Baseball is so much fun and a wonderful conversation starter — especially when looking at the numbers! 🙂

    From Charmed Circle: Twenty Game Winners in Baseball’s 20th Century, by Mel Freese:

    The average number of starts per season for all 42 Twenty-Game Winners from 1977-1985: 36.

    Reviewing Ron Guidry’s average number of starts per season for the same period: 29.

    Guidry started 7 fewer games per season versus his peers during the period in which he led the MLB with 154 wins.

  9. George, you’re only digging yourself in deeper!

    The fact that Guidry had fewer starts than the average 20 game winner in no
    way supports your contention that the Yankees’ use of a 5 or 6 man rotation was
    somehow responsible for him having fewer starts. The most likely explanation is
    that he missed starts due to arm problems or other ailments.

    Again, if the Yankees rotation patterns had been responsible for Guidry getting
    fewer starts, then the number of starts made by ALL Yankee starters who pitched
    during the same period as Guidry would also be reduced by 6 or 7 games. And that
    didn’t happen.

    We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own FACTS.

  10. I don’t think that wins are a good way to judge a pitcher since they are at least partly team dependent. Anyway, using Retrosheet data, I calculated Guidry’s run support from 1977-86. It was 4.81 runs per game and the league average in runs per game was 4.47. So he got a little more help from his teammates than the average starting pitcher. It would be even more if I dropped of 1986, when his run support was only 4.07 per game.

    According to the Lee Sinins database, Guidry gave up 226 HRs in his career and the average pitcher would have given up 235. So he was just a bit better than average and he was a lefty pitching in Yankee Stadium where it was tough for righties to hit HRs. Hed gave up .69 HRs per 9 IP in home games and 1.03 in road games. His park may have helped him, too. Home ERA was 2.90, road 3.72. I have not checked but I think that is a better than normal differential.

    Guidry was very good at his strikeout to walk ratio. It was 52% better than the league average and that is 23rd all-time among pitchers with 2000+ IP. But, it was 3.09 at home and 2.53 on the road. Again, I don’t know, but being 22% better at home than on the road seems like a bigger than normal split.

    He only had 2392 IP. That is 263rd all-time. Even since 1900, it is 216th. He had 1 great year and not a very long career by Hall of Fame standards

  11. Guidry gave up 3 starts to pitch in relief in 1979 when Gossage got hurt. He ended up with 18 wins and 2 saves. In 1980 Guidry started only 29 games and pitched in relief 8 times, and finished with 17 wins. So because of his willingness to pitch out of the bullpen, its fair to say that he gave up the chance for two more 20 win seasons, which would have given him five 20 wins seasons for his career. And then there’s 1977 where he started the season in the bullpen until Billy Martin realized he was great and moved him into the rotation.

  12. Gator is a legitimate hall of fame candidate. Not only a great athlete who did not get started until his mid 20’s due to all the Yankee free-agent acquistions, but also was a great leader and inspiration to his team, always known for his integrity and quiet class. His record speaks for itself. Without him on the Yankees, they would not have won the 1977-78 World Series. Not to mention according to the MLB channel, he had the greatest slider of all-time in baseball.

  13. this has long been a pet peeve of mine.ron guidry absolutely should be in the hall of fame.his stats compare favorably with several pitchers there-most notably koufax.i wonder if theres ever been a petition to the veterans commitee.i would love to see it-would sign 100 of them.a shame he never received nearly enough votes.hard to figure.

  14. there are two yankees who i anticipate will have a similar problem-andy pettite and jorge posada,both of whom i feel should get in but very well may not.

  15. Thought this had been posted earlier, but better late than never! 🙂
    According to Baseball, the 1979 Yankees lists six (6) starting pitchers (SP) on the roster for that year. Here is that list of Starting Pitchers with the number of starts for each.
    > Tommy John (36)
    > Rog Guidry (30)
    > Luis Tiant (30)
    > Catfish Hunter (19)
    > Ed Figueroa (16)
    > Jim Beattie (13)

    In his autobiography, Catfish Hunter notes in recounting the 1979 season that for a period of time there was a 6-man rotation in effect for the Yankees but did not provide a detailed or specific breakdown as to its duration.

    As a part-time closer for a brief span in the 1979 season Guidry posted two saves in two appearances. His win-loss record as a starter was 7-7 through July 21, but then he “ramped-up” to go 11-1 the rest of the way to finish at 18-8 and winning the American League ERA title for second consecutive year.

    Guidry was a significant contributor and a good team player for an iconic franchise. 🙂

  16. 170-91 is a Hall of Fame record. It’s extremely hard to rise above the level of a great team.

    Yes, the Yankees scored a lot of runs, but even with that run generation level, their winning percentage wasn’t that high.

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