TOUGH-LUCK PITCHERS, Harvey & Marcum & Hefner: You Got Nothing On This Guy . . .

The key to being a tough-luck pitcher, if that’s indeed your aspiration, is that it really helps if you’re on a team with a miserable offense.

A team where no matter how many pitches they take, no matter how many fastballs they ignore, no matter how deep into the count they toil, the club doesn’t seem to get many hits. Weird, I know. If the 2013 Mets stay on this pace, they will have the 4th-worst team BA in Mets history — and we’ve had a lot of bad teams over the years. We are talking: historically bad.

Matt Harvey, Shawn Marcum, Jeremy Hefner: We’ve got you covered!

Let’s take a quick gander:

Shawn Marcum’s W-L record currently stands at ZERO WINS and 7 LOSSES. The overall ERA of 4.96 does not, at first blush, make him a strong candidate for The “2 Guys” Tough Luck Award.

Shaun Marcum, no wins so far despite some strong efforts of late.

Shaun Marcum, no wins so far despite some strong efforts of late.

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However, as we know, Marcum was rushed up after an injury before he was ready. He basically started pitching in real games without benefit of spring training. It did not work. And by “did not work” I mean: If that was an 8th-grade science experiment, we just blew up the middle school.

In Shawn’s last 4 losses, the Mets scored 7 runs. Last outing in relief, he pitched 8 innings, gave up a run, and lost. On 5/31, he pitched 6 scoreless frames, ran out of gas (and luck, which he has in short supply), and gave up 4 ER in the 7th. One thing with Marcum, he’s not a 100 pitch guy anymore, and may never again be. Go too long with him and the Mets get burned. Hopefully Terry catches on to that at some point. But still: 6 IP, 0 Runs.

  • May 26: 7 IP, 2 ER, No Decision.
  • May 20: 6 IP, 4 ER, Deserved to Lose
  • May 15, 6.2 IP, 2 ER, Lost

I can’t give Shaun any awards as a tough-luck guy just yet, but we’ll monitor the situation.

Jeremy Hefner would make a good long man, spot starter for a smart team. Even as a back-of-the-rotation guy, he’s been about what you hope for: 7 Quality Starts in 13 Games Started, not amazing, but third on the team behind Matt Harvey and Jonathan Niese. To show for it, he’s got 1 victory this season.

Next up, Matt Harvey!

On the Sandy 3.0 New York Mets, not losing has become sort of a victory.

On the Sandy 3.0 New York Mets, not losing has become sort of a victory.

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Matt is 5-0 with an ERA of 2.10. He’s made 13 starts and should have about 10 wins by now. In May, Harvey started 5 games, held hitters to a .190 BA across 37.2 IP for an ERA of 2.15. He won one stinking game.

  • June 8: 7 IP, 1 ER, No Decision
  • May 28: 8 IP, 1 ER, No Decision
  • May 12: 7 IP, 2 ER, No Decision
  • May 7: 9 IP, 0 ER, No Decision

That’s four starts, 31 IP, 4 ER, No Wins. Incredible. So much for the club playing better behind their ace. It’s become “Don’t Show Up” Day! Of course, with this Mets team, Sandy 3.0, not losing has become something of a victory.

I thought of this post when reading an old Bill James essay, “The Turk Farrell Award,” from The Bill James Gold Mine 2008. In the piece, James focused on good pitchers pitching for bad teams. In 1962, Farrell threw 242 innings, was 4th in the league in K’s, walked only 55, and posted a 3.02 ERA (7th best in NL).

1962' s unluckiest pitcher, Turk Farrell.

1962′ s unluckiest pitcher, Turk Farrell.

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Turk lost 20 games. He pitched for the expansion Houston Astros. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

It takes a hell of a pitcher to lose 20 games, folks.

Bill James created a mythical award in tribute to the tough-luck pitcher each year who “best represents the idea that a really good pitcher doesn’t have to have a really good record, necessarily.”

In the history of this make-believe award, there has only been one back-to-back winner. And there has only been one three-time winner, who earned the pretend trophy for his ’77, ’78, and ’81 seasons with a collective record of 15-48.

I am talking about my childhood hero, the pitcher after whom I modeled my windup as an 8-year-old Little Leaguer, my all-time favorite guest on Kiner’s Korner, the star of the 1969 World Series, none other than Jerry Koosman, the greatest LHP in Mets history and starting pitcher for our Mets All-Time “2 Guys” Team.

Everybody always talks about Seaver's dirty knee, but check this drop-and-drive delivery.

Everybody always talks about Seaver’s dirty knee, but check this drop-and-drive delivery.

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Across two full seasons, 1977 and ’78, Jerry Koosman pitched 462 innings, started 64 games (for an astonishing average of 7.2 IP per outing!), with a combined ERA under 3.70, and came away with this record for the New York Mets:

11 WINS, 35 LOSSES!

Talk about tough luck. The guy couldn’t win. Honorable Mention: Roger Craig went 15-44 during back-to-back seasons (’62-’63), but did not pitch as effectively as Kool Koos.

In 1979, Koosman went to the Minnesota Twins, tossed 263 innings, and went 20-13. It helps when your team doesn’t completely abandon you. Of course, he  didn’t get much help in ’81, a season split between the Twins and White Sox, but did Jerry ever complain?

Nope, nay, never. He was made of stauncher stuff.

Pitchers used to lose 20 times in a season fairly often, back in the way back. It’s happened 499 times in MLB history. Hell, it happened 295 times before 1900. 418 times before 1926. Since then, not so much.

Beginning in the year of 1962, a date significant to Mets and Astros fans, pitchers have lost 20 games or more in a season precisely 30 times. Amazingly, 5 guys did it in 1974. Due to lighter work loads — fewer starts, less innings — it’s happened just once in the last 33 years. Here’s the list:

  • YR: Player, Team, W-L, ERA
  • 2003: Mike Maroth, DET, 9-21, 5.73
  • 1980: Brian Kingman, OAK, 8-20, 3.83
  • 1979: Phil Niekro, ATL, 21-20, 3.39
  • 1977: Jerry Koosman, NYM, 8-20, 3.49
  • 1977: Phil Niekro, ATL, 16-20, 4.03
  • 1975: Wilbur Wood, CHW, 16-20, 4.11
  • 1974: Bill Bonham, CHC, 11-22, 3.86
  • 1974: Randy Jones, SDP, 8-22, 4.45
  • 1974: Mickey Lolich, DET, 16-21, 4.15
  • 1974: Steve Rogers, MON, 15-22, 4.47
  • 1974: Clyde Wright, MIL, 9-20, 4.42
  • 1973: Stan Bahnsen, CHW, 18-21, 3.57
  • 1973: Steve Carlton, PHI, 13-20, 3.90
  • 1973: Wilbur Wood, CHW, 24-20, 3.46
  • 1972: Steve Arlin, SDP, 10-21, 3.60
  • 1971: Denny McLain, WSA, 10-22, 4.28
  • 1969: Clay Kirby, SDP, 7-20, 3.80
  • 1969: Luis Tiant, CLE, 9-20, 3.71
  • 1966: Dick Ellsworth, CHC, 8-22, 3.98
  • 1966: Mel Stottlemyre, NYY, 12-20, 3.80
  • 1965: Jack Fisher, NYM, 8-24, 3.94
  • 1965: Al Jackson, NYM, 8-20, 4.34
  • 1965: Larry Jackson, 14-21, 3.85
  • 1964: Tracy Stallard, NYM, 10-20, 3.79
  • 1963: Roger Craig, NYM, 5-22, 3.78
  • 1963: Orlando Pena, KCA, 12-20, 3.69
  • 1962: Roger Craig, NYM, 10-24, 4.51
  • 1962: Dick Ellsworth, CHC, 9-20, 5.09
  • 1962, Turk Farrell, HOU, 10-20, 3.02
  • 1962, Al Jackson, NYM, 8-20, 4.40

 

Baseball's all-time tough-luck pitcher. Courtesy of the great Charles Schulz.

Baseball’s all-time tough-luck pitcher. Courtesy of the great Charles Schulz.

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REMEMBER, IT TAKES A HELL OF A PITCHER TO LOSE 20 GAMES!

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2 comments

  1. My money’s on the Cubs Edwin Jackson this year to be the next pitcher to lose 20 games, though he’s not exactly unlucky. He’s just getting hammered out there.
    Also, as for tough luck pitchers, how about Nolan Ryan in 1987? At the age of 40, he led the N.L. in strikeouts with 270, and in ERA at 2.76, and he ended up with a record of just 8-16!

  2. Dave says:

    Koosman, Carlton, and Wilbur Wood are also on the fairly short list of modern pitchers who had 20 win and 20 loss seasons back to back. Wood had an astounding 48 starts the year he lost 20 (while winning 24!). Koos was more typical with 34-35 starts per year in his 20 win/20 loss seasons with the Mets.

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