Thankfully it’s now almost embarrassing to reference “wins” and “losses” when discussing the performance of a Major League starting pitcher.
Even “back of the baseball card” grumps and “I-know-what-I-know” former ballplayers are beginning to understand that a “win” tells you virtually nothing about a pitcher’s individual performance.
Increasingly on the MLB Network, ESPN and even (occasionally) on TBS and FoxSports baseball broadcasters talk about WHIP, Fielding Independent Pitching, BB/9 and SO/9, and of course ERA, and less about wins and losses.
As Brian Kenny of the MLB Network noted, no other professional sport awards a statistical “win” to an individual player when their team chalks up a victory.
Which brings me to a new virtual baseball museum I recently opened in a dusty loft in the seedy part of town just across the railroad tracks from about a hundred auto body shops.
It’s called the Hall of Twenty Game Losers.
As we say “adios” to meaningless stats like RBIs and saves, and one dimensional stats like batting average and errors, let’s take a final look at the one stat pitchers traditionally feared more than anything else: becoming a twenty game loser.
There have been 499 twenty loss (or more) seasons pitched in baseball from 1872 through 2003, when the most recent 20 game loser, Mike Maroth of the Detroit Tigers, went 9-21 with a 1.45 WHIP.
Over 145 years (to date) that’s an average of 3.4 twenty loss performances a year. Which probably doesn’t ring quite true with contemporary baseball fans. That’s because 409 of those 499 games were pitched from 1872 through 1920, the “pre-1900” and “dead ball” eras of baseball.
Since 2003 only three players have come close joining the 20 loss club: in 2004 Darrell May of the Royals went 9-19 and just last season James Shields of the White Sox and Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer both lost 19 games.
While the Hall of Twenty Game Losers seems to be about really terrible pitching, it’s important to know that a whopping seventeen of those 20 game losers would end up being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
(So add that to the long list of reasons why wins and losses have zero connection to pitching performance.)
If there is one superstar in the Hall of Twenty Game Losers it has to be Pud Galvin. Appropriately, his statue in the Hall is hand-carved solid bronze and weighs over 17 tons.
James Francis Galvin pitched from 1875 through 1892 for the St. Louis Brown Stockings, the Buffalo Bisons, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (who became the Pirates in 1891), and the Pittsburgh Burgers.
Amazingly Galvin lost at least 20 games ten times over his fifteen year career, including going 20-35 in 1880 with a 1.221 WHIP. This was a time when most teams had a two-man pitching rotation and it was not uncommon for pitchers to start over 50 games a season and complete virtually all of them.
Pud Galvin‘s most astounding performance has to be the 1883 season when he went 46-29 in 75 starts with 72 complete games. He pitched 656.1 innings, striking out 369 batters and allowing 9 home runs. All with a 2.72 ERA and 1.106 WHIP.
The Veterans Committee voted many of the 19th century’s best ballplayers into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the 1960s, 70s and 80s after their body of work was finally recognized.
For example, Pud Galvin (he was nicknamed “Pud” because he made batters look like pudding) won 365 games in his career, finishing with a 1.191 WHIP. He was voted into that other Hall in 1965.
Notable Hall of Twenty Game Losers awards:
The MLB team that contributed twenty game losers like no other:
The Boston Beaneaters. In the 23 years from 1883 through 1906, Beaneater pitchers produced 18 twenty game loss performances.
Late 20th Century Twenty Game Loss Contributions:
We have two winners.
> The 1964 New York Mets produced three 20 game losing pitchers– Jack Fisher (8-24); Al Jackson (8-20), and Larry Jackson (14-21).
Best Nicknames Among 19th Century Players Who Lost at Least 20 Games:
1. Ice Box Chamberlain.
Elton P. Chamberlain went 22-23 in 1891 for the Philadelphia Athletics, and 19-23 in 1892 for the Cincinnati Reds. His nickname reflected his cold and calm demeanor on the mound.
2. The Only Nolan.
Edward Sylvester Nolan pitched for five teams in his five year career, going 13-22 for the Indianapolis Blues in 1878. Apparently he was the only MLB player at the time with the first or last name of “Nolan”.
3. Pretzels Getzien.
Charles H. Getzien pitched in the Majors for nine years. He went 12-25 in 1885 and 19-25 in 1888 for the Detroit Wolverines, following that up with a 18-22 record in 1889 for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. His famous “pretzel” curveball was aided by his jerky delivery. Getzien pitched six complete games for Detroit in the 1887 World Series, which the Wolverines won 10 games to 5 over the St. Louis Browns.
4. Egyptian Healy.
John J. Healy lost twenty games four times– 17-23 in 1886 for the St. Louis Maroons; 12-29 in 1887 and 12-24 in 1888 for the Indianopolis Hoosiers; and going 22-21 in 1890 for the St. Louis Maumees of the American Association. His birthplace of Cairo, Illinois inspired his nickname.
5. Brickyard Kennedy.
William Park Kennedy, with a nickname inspired by his off-season place of employment, made significant contributions to the Hall of Twenty Game Losers. He lost twenty games five times for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (25-20 in 1893; 24-20 in 1894; 17-20 in 1896; 18-20 in 1897; and 16-22 in 1898). Brickyard Kennedy also won 20 games four times.
6. Phenomenal Smith.
Before becoming “Phenomenal”, John Francis Gammon first became John Francis Smith. In 1887 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles Smith put up a 25-30 season, starting 55 games and completing 54.
Smith rightly earned his nickname after he threw a no-hitter as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics. On October 3, 1885 Smith no-hit the Baltimore Orioles; only two Oriole hitters reached base– one on a walk and one on an error. Smith picked them both off first base.
Earlier that season Smith was a member of the Brooklyn Grays. On June 17, 1885, his teammates apparently deliberately committed 14 errors because they were fed up with Smith’s cocky attitude. He was quoted as saying he was so good he didn’t really need teammates behind him. Brooklyn lost the game 18-5.
Some of the pitchers who lost at least twenty games in one season also include Steve Carlton, Mickey Lolich, Don Larsen, Denny McLain, Phil Niekro, Cy Young, and Robin Roberts. A pretty good group of hurlers.
I expect interest in the Hall of Twenty Game Losers will peak sometime next week and very soon I will be virtually evicted and have to put most of the Hall’s virtual hardware up on eBay.
But it was a wonderful place to visit.