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I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and Executive Director of a non profit missions agency working primarily in the Mexican cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Ensenada. I've been married for over 30 years to Chelle, and we have one grown son, Joseph, a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

I'm Calling for a Change Up

[One of my favorites, Juan Marichal, had a great year in 1968, but does not make the cut]

That's right, a change up. We are streaking towards Memorial Day, the proverbial beginning of summer. But more than that, Memorial Day also means it is time to start thinking seriously about baseball.

When I was younger, the first weekend in February was when pitchers and catchers showed up to spring training. It gave them a few extra days to get some work in before the rest of the team showed up. In that vein, today we are going to take a look at some of the best years by a starting pitcher in the last 50 years.

So here's my list, in no particular order.

1. Sandy Koufax 1966 - Even though he toiled in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium, his year represents a career for some people today. 27 wins, 27 complete games. Need more? Over 300 K's, an ERA under 2.00, and only 77 walks in 323 innings pitched. All with arthritis in his pitching elbow.

2. Bob Gibson 1968 - Maybe the greatest single pitching year ever. His dominance caused MLB to lower the mound to give hitters a better chance to actually hit the ball. 22 wins, and 1.12 ERA, and 29 complete games. Over one 10 games stretch, he allowed only 2 runs.

3. Vida Blue 1971 - This Oakland A's rookie set the baseball world on fire, and then just as quick, his fire dimmed, never again matching the brilliance of his rookie year. But for one shining year, he was phenomenal. 24 wins, 24 complete games and an ERA under 2.00. All with those white shoes Charlie O made his team wear. Did I also mention that he struck out over 300 batters?

4. Denny McLain 1968 - For some reason McLain gets left off a lot of these lists. Maybe it's because his year was just so sick, it is almost hard to believe. 31 wins and 28 complete games in a not to be believed 41 starts. Sadly, he only had one more dominant year before his personal demons caught up with him.

5. Ron Guidry 1978 - Louisiana Lightning. His year in 1978 was what was needed to propel the Yankees over the hated Red Sox. Guidry was the last pitcher to pair 25 wins with an ERA under two [1.74]. This guy was money on the mound losing only 3 games all year.

6. Dwight Gooden 1985 - New York was his apple. As a lanky 20 year old, Gooden finished 24 -4 with a 1.53 ERA. Throw in 16 complete games, 8 shutouts, and an undefeated September and you have one of the best years of the modern era.

7. Steve Carlton 1972 - Unlike today, back then the Phillies were an embarrassment, winning only 59 games all season. But Carlton was on the mound for 27 of those wins. Lefty, as he was known, finished the year with one of the worst teams in history with an ERA of 1.97, 30 complete games, and 310 strike outs.

Honorable mention...

Randy Johnson 2002 - I can admit it was a great year. But I have always had a bias against carpet baggers.

Greg Maddux 1985 - Another great year, but sorry Greg, you gotta win 20 or you don't make my list.

Pedro Martinez 2000 - 20 wins baby! Sorry, but it was a dominant year for him. Martinez has possibly the strongest argument for being part of the list, but again, ya gotta win 20!

Roger Clemens 1997 - Another carpet bagger, and a steroid user to boot. Sorry Roger.

Wild Cards - because I grew up in Los Angeles watching the Dodgers.

Orel Hershiser 1988 - 59 1/3 scoreless innings. That stat alone makes him worthy of the list. But he also won 23 games, the Gold Glove, and led the Dodgers to the World Series title.

Fernando Valenzuela 1981 - Fernandomania was born that year as he threw 8 shut outs in a strike shortened year. But the importance of that year had immense ramifications in the Latino barrio known as Chavez Ravine.

Here was one of there own doing battle against the established powers of baseball and winning. With his arm, with his glove, and with his bat. When was the last time you saw a pitcher used as a defensive/hitting replacement late in a game?

So there you have it. Now... who did I miss?

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Comments on "I'm Calling for a Change Up"


Blogger BB-Idaho said ... (10:45 AM) : 

Well, the 'Big Unit' was sure fast and accurate
...IMO, Nolan Ryan spent a long career throwing a very fast pitch. It is very difficult to compare
BB players given the changes in the game over a few generations. As far and wins/losses for pitchers, the stat is partly reflective of the
team (Whitey Ford, Yankees-how would he have been with
oh, the Senators?)


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (1:34 PM) : 

BB, good point about Whitey, which is why Carlton's year with the hapless Phils was such a great year.

He basically had to shut the other team out, or lose. Same with Fernando that year with the Dodgers.

Those teams had no offense so the pitcher had to throw a shutout and hope for tie.

I saw Ryan pitch with the Angels. He was basically a .500 pitcher then. But the team was horrible. He was still somewhat wild, but they never had a bullpen, and could give up runs on errors faster than Saddam gave up Baghdad.


Blogger BB-Idaho said ... (11:41 AM) : 

Hoyt Wilhelm..carpetbagger.
Heck he was even wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.
Fun (or frustrating) to watch-no one, not the batter, not the catcher, not the umpire, or even old
Hoyt-knew where the knuckle
ball was going. But, he still holds the record for most games won in relief!


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (1:00 PM) : 

I remember Hoyt... the perfect example of a person who could not continue to start becoming a reliever...

Long before the age of the specialist...

Remember that in those days, long relievers were washed up starters...


Blogger Doug said ... (1:47 PM) : 

As much as I hate to vote for a Yankee, I'd have to go with Ron Guidry as one of my favorites and certainly most memorable.

But, as a DC Fan, perhaps you have the wrong Johnson listed up here.

Walter Johnson is consistantly on the top XX lists of pitchers.

But a good change up post!


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (1:54 PM) : 

Yeah, WJ was great, but not in my lifetime...

Ya gotta limit these type of lists, or there is virtually no way to fit folks in.

Plus, I think most of these guys are pretty much of the same era. Certainly there have been changes, most notably 5 man rotations and very few complete games, but over all, very similar.

Guidry was huge that year. Many people assume the SOX choked, but in reality, those "Damn Yankees" just chased them down on the strength of Guidry's pitching.


Blogger Doug said ... (5:25 PM) : 

Before my lifetime too :-)

I agree on the same era. I grew up watching these guys.


Blogger Z-man said ... (10:48 AM) : 

I remember all these names. Steve Carlton with his wicked slider was sad in the end, held on too long and wasn't even a shade of his former glory. He had a weird year once, won 20 games and lost close to 20, something like that.


Blogger Z-man said ... (10:58 AM) : 

Fun topic. What, no Tom Seaver?


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (12:20 PM) : 

Tom Seaver was indeed a great one, but his best year, 1969, while propelling the Mets to the title just didn't quite get him there.

Another name from that era is Jim Palmer. Like Fergie Jenkins of the Cubs and Rangers, he had a string of great years beginning in 1970. In 7 of the next 8 years, he won 20 games.

That will never be matched.


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