The All-Dome Team: The Starting Pitchers

We’ve got the starting nine set. Today I had planned to cover all the pitchers and the manager, but it turns out I had a lot to say about the starting pitchers. So I’ll stop there, and pick up with yet a fourth part in a day or two.

The ballot, for whatever reason, has room for three starting pitchers and two relievers. So that’s what we’ll be doing, too.

#1 Starter: Johan Santana (1308.2 IP, 93-44, 3.22 ERA, 141 ERA+, 1381 K)
Well, that’s not hard. Johan wasted away in the bullpen for what felt to many of us like a very long time, at least a year after everyone had figured out that he was the best pitcher on the team, but then stepped into the rotation in 2004 and immediately became the best pitcher in all of baseball. He won the Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006, and if you don’t think he also deserved it in 2005…well, I probably don’t want to hear it. Check out this comparison (FIP explained here, ERA+ here):

Name IP K ERA FIP ERA+
Colon 222.2 157 3.48 3.77 122
Santana 231.2 238 2.87 2.80 155

Just ridiculous. Every single thing that a pitcher even arguably has control over, Santana wins. No, Santana dominates. K/BB ratio? 5.29 to 3.65. HR allowed? 22 to 26. And so on. Santana was the best pitcher in the league by a very wide margin, and Colon didn’t have a particularly strong claim to being in the top five.

Yet Colon won the Cy Young, and for one reason: he pitched for a team with a better offense. Colon’s run support was an amazing 7.28, while the Twins managed a middling 5.71 for Johan. So Colon ends up with 21 “wins” against 8 losses, Santana with 16 and 7.

Now, I know I’ve cited pitcher wins a few times on here, because, well, they’re kind of fun to talk about, and easy to understand. But if you’re comparing two pretty good pitchers, wins and losses are of absolutely no use. None at all. I can’t stress that enough. Santana was your deserving Cy Young in 2005 (which would’ve made it back-to-back-to-back come ’06, and been pretty freaking cool), just as Nolan Ryan and his amazingly unlucky 8-16 record probably was in 1987. The award shouldn’t go to the pitcher whose offense outscores the other guys the most often when he’s on the mound–it should go to the best pitcher. (The killer is, Santana didn’t even come in second; Mo Rivera also impressed the voters more by appearing in roughly one-third as many innings as Santana did. I won’t even get into how ridiculous that idea is.)

I’m still a little mad about this.

Fun fact: in all his starts spanning his entire career with the Twins, the offense scored a total of exactly zero runs for him (just going by memory on that one–might be off by a couple). And yet he managed to win 67.8% of his decisions in those games. Johan is a special, special player.

#2 Starter: Brad Radke (2451 IP, 148-139, 4.22 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1467 K)
The dependable old pickup truck to Santana’s Aston Martin, Radke is another of my favorite Twins and was one of the most underrated pitchers in the game during his career. I think (without thinking about it too hard) that he’d have been #1 on many other teams’ lists from the last 20 years or so, considering especially his longevity with the team. Unfortunately for him, Johan is Johan.

I remember a very young Radke in a commercial for a baseball video game (I’m shocked that it’s not on YouTube like everything else that has ever been created, but I swear I’m not making it up). But anyway, the commercial mentioned that he’d given up a league-leading number of homers that year (which means it could’ve been after either of his first two seasons in the league, ’95 or ’96), and basically consisted of him snapping his neck around to watch the imaginary balls sail over the fence, while a literal parade of batters did kind of a conga line around the bases.

So he was a good sport, too…or else he was 22 or 23 and really needed the money.

#3 Starter: Frank Viola (1772.2 IP, 112-93, 3.88 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1214 K)
Here’s a lesson for all you aspiring little league pitchers at home about run-scoring environments: Viola’s ERA with the Twins was 34 points lower than Radke’s, but when you adjust them for the era and park and compare to league average, which is what ERA+ tries to do, they end up being almost exactly the same pitcher, with Radke just a tiny bit ahead (112 to 110).

Both Bradke and Sweet Music were changeup artists, and both were called up too early for very bad teams, putting up 5-plus ERAs at age 22 (though, again, 5-plus was a lot worse in 1982 than it was in 1995). Viola, unlike Radke, actually took a tiny step backward in season 2, but he broke out in a big way in season 3 (1984), going 18-12 with a 131 ERA+ and finishing in the top ten in wins, ERA, WHIP, IP, strikeouts, starts, complete games, shutouts, and the Cy Young voting.

His years to remember, though, were 1987 and 1988. In the first, he won 17 games with a 159 ERA+, finished 6th in the Cy Young voting (should probably have finished third, but it’s those pesky “win” totals again) and was named World Series MVP. In the second, he had almost the exact same year (four more innings, 12 fewer hits, six fewer walks, four fewer Ks, 153 ERA+), but:

(a) his ERA artificially looked better, because the league had had a sudden offensive spike in 1987 and came back to earth in ’88; and, more importantly,

(b) he won 24 games instead of 17, mostly because the 1988 Twins, who won 91 and missed the playoffs, were actually a much better team than the 1987 squad that somehow won 85 and the Series.

Viola ran away with the Cy Young Award in ’88, of course, with 27 of the 28 first-place votes (24 wins!!!!11!1!), and probably did deserve it — but that’s because the field was weaker, not because the 24-win pitcher was any better than the 17-win one from the year before. But they were both unquestionably great seasons. His ’82 and ’83 drag his numbers down (and he was roughly average in ’85 and ’86, which doesn’t help either), but he was one of the best pitchers in the league for four of the eight seasons that he wore the uniform, and that’s certainly something. So the similarities to Radke are actually pretty superficial. Radke’s great contribution was being consistently good, but he was never great, whereas Viola was never good, not once; awful and average and (especially) great, sure, but never “good.”

Even better: Viola’s midseason trade to the Mets in 1989 brought four young pitchers back, three of whom played vitally important roles in the 1991 Series championship: Kevin Tapani, David West, and someone who I’m very sure will make an appearance next time.

Runners-up: You know, no one else is even all that close. Consider: Allan Anderson, Eric Milton, and Jack Morris[‘ single season with the team] all make the ballot. And there are only eleven names on it! Tapani had his lights-out ’91 and four other average seasons, and two of Bert Blyleven’s three were pretty good (he had many more great years with the Twins, of course, but all in his first tour of duty, back at the old Met), and Scott Erickson’s first three were excellent.

In all, though, it’s a very good thing that the Dome-era Twins have had three really good pitchers, because there’s nobody else who (considering only Bert and Jack’s Dome years)) you’d want to see on an all-time anything anywhere. Absolutely nothing wrong with the top three, though.

Advertisements

One Response to “The All-Dome Team: The Starting Pitchers”

  1. The Common Man Says:

    I was going to be angry with you that you didn’t include Blyleven, then I remembered the Metrodome ground rules. I am scourging myself as atonement. Can I guess your relievers? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: