By Father Gabe Costa
One of the most talented people I have ever met is Dr. Michael Huber. Mike, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is a professor of mathematics at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. He is also an author, lecturer and a sabermetrician…not to mention a rabid Baltimore Orioles fan. He is our guest blogger for this episode of By The Numbers. I hope you enjoy the following essay.
Mike Huber: There are some records that baseball fans believe will never be broken. C’mon, you know what they are: Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941. Pete Rose’s 4256 career hits. Cy Young’s 511 career wins. The Mets’ 452 losses in their first four seasons…
In 1920, four hurlers for the Chicago White Sox set another record. Red Faber (23 wins), Lefty Williams (22), Eddie Cicotte (21), and Dickey Kerr (21) combined to win 87 of the Sox’s 96 wins. This was the first time that four pitchers on the same team each had earned more than 20 victories. Roy Wilkinson was the fifth starter and won 7 games, while George Payne and Shovel Hodge each notched a victory that season. Chicago would finish in 2nd place behind Cleveland, perhaps because Shoeless Joe Jackson hit “only” .382 for the season.
In 1971, four Baltimore Orioles pitchers – Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson – each won at least 20 games for the first-place Birds, tying the record for most pitchers with 20 or more victories in a season. I remember going to a few games in 1971, as a Junior Oriole, witnessing something Orioles fans took for granted then: Earl Weaver’s Birds had great pitching. Will that record be challenged this year?
At this year’s All-Star Break, the New York Yankees had three hurlers with more than 11 wins each (C C Sabathia with 12, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes each with 11). The Yanks had played 88 games at that point, so they had 74 more to go. In a five-man rotation, that’s 15 more starts per starter, give or take a few. With some days off in the upcoming schedule, or throw in a rain-out make-up, some of them could have 16 to 18 starts. New York’s Javier Vasquez and A.J. Burnett each have at least 7 victories. Winning 13 more games each is not impossible (although not that easy). New York’s winning percentage at the Break was .636, which equates to better than 5 of every 8 games won.
The 1971 All Star Game took place on July 13th, 39 years ago to the day of this year’s mid-season classic. At that time, Dave McNally was 13 – 4, Mike Cuellar was 13 – 1, Jim Palmer was 11 – 4, and Pat Dobson was 10 – 4 for the Orioles, who would win the pennant and lose to the Pirates in the Fall Classic. Cuellar led the staff with 38 starts, while Palmer and Dobson had 37. McNally, once voted the best ballplayer ever to come out of Billings, Montana, had 26 decisions in his 30 starts. Dick Hall was 5th on the club with 6 wins.
As I mentioned earlier, the Baltimore Orioles of the late 1960s and 1970s had great pitching. Those teams embodied the philosophy of winning the Earl Weaver Triple Crown each year: great pitching, great defense, and an occasional 3-run home run. We’ll save the Weaver Triple Crown for another blog. Back to pitching…Jim Palmer won 20 or more games 8 times with Baltimore, including four straight seasons from 1970 to 1973. Dave McNally won 20 or more games in four straight seasons from 1968 to 1971. Mike Cuellar won 20 or more games 4 times for the Orioles. For Pat Dobson, 1971 was the only season in which he reached the 20-win plateau. What this means is that the Orioles had a team that put up a lot of runs for their pitchers, and the pitchers had low ERAs (the Birds had the best team ERA for 7 of 8 seasons from 1968 to 1975 under Weaver and his pitching coach, George Bamberger).
What are the chances that this year’s Yankees can accomplish this feat of multiple 20-game winners? First of all, reaching 20 wins in a season these days is RARE. No one accomplished it last season, in either league (nor in 2006). C C Sabathia has won 19 games in a season twice in his career, leading the league last season. Andy Pettitte has won 21 games in a season twice for the Bombers. A.J. Burnett’s best is 18 in 2008 while with Toronto. With each victory this season, Phil Hughes sets a career best for victories in a single season. At the just-over-halfway point this season, New York’s 3.81 team ERA ranked second in the American League, behind the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay had two pitchers with at least 10 wins at the All Star Break (David Price with 12 and Matt Garza with 10), as did Boston (Jon Lester (11), Clay Buchholz (10), while John Lackey was close with 9). The Yankees have confidence, which comes from being the reigning World Champions.
In the National League, Ubaldo Jimenez, at one point, had an incredible 15 wins in 18 starts for the Rockies, with Jason Hammel, his closest teammate, logging 7 victories. No National League team had two pitchers with 10 or more victories at that point in the season.
This season may seem like the resurgence of the pitcher. We’ve seen no-hitters and perfect games. There are 14 pitchers in the majors with at least 10 wins. Will we see a 20-game winner? The All Star Game was a showcase for great pitching. In the remaining two months, as the dog days of summer take their toll on batters, we can only wait and see if four pitchers can join the Orioles and White Sox in the ol’ record books.
Next Blog: What is the Weighted Pitcher’s Rating?