Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Old School Thought and The Phillies Four Aces

With every passing generation the older ones become more vocal about the "good old days" of how things were done and that they are not done the same way today.  There are older generations right now that claim things are worse today then they ever have been in the past.  They claim that values and hard work are forgotten and that the current generation knows nothing of them.  Yet they forget that those great values of the past were in a time when people of a different color couldn’t ride in the front of a bus, couldn't vote and had to drink from a different water fountain.  The hard work of the past for most was 8 hours a day with an hour long lunch and at least a family vacation every year.  The good old days saw the world at war and the biggest extermination of a people since the slave trade.  As history gets older, the bad is forgotten and the so called good becomes the permanent memory.  The hope and the ideal is that with every passing generation things change for the better, the new learn from the mistakes of the old and the human race becomes better for it.  I would argue that as desperate as things seem today, it is not the end of the world and in a lot of ways things are much better then in the past. 

Enter in the sport of baseball.  In no other sport does the above thought process translate.  The elders of baseball claim a greatness that has been forgotten.  They claim that today’s players couldn’t hold a match to the players of the past.  In that mind set lays Pat Jordan, a former minor league pitcher of the late 50's and early 60's.  He never made the majors and he retired after three seasons of minor league ball to pursue his writing career.  Mr. Jordan wrote sports classics such as The Wit and Wisdom of the White Rat (1993), Behind the Icy Glare (1995) Belittled Big Men (1996) The Lion in Late, Late Autumn (2005) and Chasing Jose (2010).  His latest piece in New York Times Magazine The Phillies Four Aces, calls into question just how great is the Phillies starting rotation? 

Throughout the article he brings up pitchers of the past, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and John Smoltz to name a few.  He compares the Phillies starting pitchers, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt to rotations of the past.  If the Phillies are to be considered great they will have to be compared to great past rotations.  What he fails to do is recognize what the now Phillies pitchers have accomplished in their careers.  He states that none are imposing and not one is feared by hitters.  He states that none is a power pitcher and that things have changed so that "today’s pitchers have been forced to evolve from predators to jackals."  Today’s pitchers are more deceptive then intimidating.  He may be right in the fact that none is a power pitcher, but all four have fastballs in the low to mid 90's, the guys that throw 100 are now called closer's. 

Here is what the four Phillies pitchers have accomplished so far in their careers. 

Roy Halladay:  Two Cy Young awards and 6 top five seasons in voting.  He's 169-86 with a 3.32 ERA and 1720 strikeouts.  He has won 20 + games three times in his career.

Cliff Lee: One Cy Young award to his credit.  He is 103-61 with a 3.85 ERA and 1,096 strikeouts. 

Roy Oswalt: 151-83 career record with an era of 3.18 and 1,672 strikeouts.  He has won 20 games in a season twice in his career.
Cole Hamels:  The youngest of the four is 60-45 with a 3.53 era and 897 strikeouts in 5 seasons. 

Here are some stats of the pitchers that Pat Jordan mentions in his article. 

Sandy Koufax won 20 + games three times in his career.  He left the game with a 165-87 career record and an era of 2.76.

Nolan Ryan finished his career with a 324-292 record and an era of 3.18.  He won 20 + games twice in his career, the last being in 1974, 19 seasons before he retired. 

John Smoltz was a 20 game winner once.  He retired with a 213-155 record and an era of 3.33.

The thing that bothered me is that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt all have somewhat similar numbers to the great ones of the past.  Was Nolan Ryan a great pitcher?  No doubt about it, but he also only won 20 games in a season twice when he started 773.  Roy Halladay has won twenty games in a season three times and Roy Oswalt has done it twice in a combined 625 starts.  That's three more 20 game winning seasons in 148 less starts.  Sandy Koufax has 165 career wins, Roy Halladay has him by 4 games with 169 and Roy Oswalt is right on his tail with 151. 

My point here is that there are great players in the past and today.  Comparing the two is futile, the game is different today and the players are different.  Pitchers are now placed on pitch counts and rarely pitch a complete game.  So racking up wins and strikeouts today is a lot more difficult then when guys were starting 40 + games a season and pitching every inning of every start.  Mr. Jordan may want to compare and state that this group does not stack up, that they are a "one trick pony" but the truth is the stats speak for themselves.  Pitchers are supposed to get wins while allowing very few runs and all four of these guys can do that with the best. 

I understand that Mr. Jordan is fond of the past and he may think that today’s game is not the game he once played and enjoyed.  He's right it is different, but he is wrong if he thinks the past was better.  Today’s game has evolved to be much more difficult then in the past.  There was no film watching of batters and pitchers in 1959.  The scouting of players pitching and batting tendencies were jotted down on paper in Pat Jordan’s day, today they are put into a computer and stats that give the average person a headache pop out.  Individually the Phillies four aces are very good to great pitchers, together they could match the 1971 Baltimore Orioles of 4 twenty game winners; to accomplish a feet such as that in today’s game would be far greater then any rotation of the past.  The good old days are not as good as everyone claims and today is not the end of the world...at least I hope not. 

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