Posts Tagged Indians baseball

The best knuckleballer over the past 25-30 years….?

In the Blue Jays’ 10-2 victory over the Mariners on September 23, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitched a five-hitter through seven innings to thwart Seattle’s fading playoff hopes (while Toronto hammered M’s ace Felix Hernandez for eight runs).

For Dickey, he improved his record to 14-12 with a 3.78 ERA, the third straight season that he’s won at least 14 games.

Well, I was asked recently on Quora.com: Who was the best knuckleball pitcher in baseball in the last 25-30 years?

A lot of fans are going to come up with the names Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield. Some might even say Dickey, who won the National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012.

I’m going to, however, go with former Indians and Dodgers knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti, who was the most consistent knuckleballer over the last 25-30 years.

2012-R.A.-Dickey-213x300While Dickey had his one big season with the Mets (as well as a couple of other solid campaigns in New York where he pitched well but didn’t get much run support), he has not been that great with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013-2014. He hasn’t been able to duplicate his success from that 2012 season, which kind of makes him a one-hit wonder.

Wakefield will always be highly regarded in Boston because of his longevity and his being on two World Series championship teams with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but he had some very ugly seasons where he pitched poorly. In his rookie year with the Pirates, he was nearly unhittable and was a postseason star as he nearly pitched Pittsburgh into the World Series. However, over his postseason career, he was hit very hard and compiled an overall ERA of 6.75 in 18 career playoff appearances. In his final four career postseason starts, Wakefield was 0-3 with a 10.47 ERA. He especially struggled against Cleveland in the playoffs, allowing at least five runs in each of his three career postseason starts versus the Indians. Yes, he wound up winning 200 regular-season games over a 19-year career, but his ERA was over 4.00 in 15 of those seasons. He had six seasons where his ERA was over 5.00. However, he always seemed to win because of good run support with the Red Sox, as he was 14-13 with a 5.14 ERA in 1996 and 17-8 despite a 4.58 ERA two years later.

As for Tom Candiotti, he pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues, and though he finished with a career losing record and “only” 151 victories, he had an ERA over 4.00 only six times. Candiotti nearly won the ERA title in 1991, finishing with a 2.65 earned-run average that was second in the American League only to Roger Clemens (2.62). Had he allowed just one fewer earned run over the course of that season, Candiotti would have won the ERA championship. In 1993, he finished just 8-10, but suffered from atrocious run support while pitching for the Dodgers. That year, he was the ERA leader in the major leagues, pitching to a 2.43 earned-run average entering September before struggling in the season’s final weeks to finish at 3.12. In fact, for a full decade from 1986-1995, Candiotti had a 3.44 ERA, which was one of the best earned-run averages in baseball during that stretch. He also averaged 30 starts and over 200 innings during that decade, proving to be a very dependable pitcher for his clubs. He and Mark Langston were the only pitchers in the majors to work at least 200 innings in each season from 1986-1993, until the 1994 strike ended both streaks. His career ERAs after the 1995 season were 3.51 in the American League and 3.38 in the National League. Of his 151 career wins, 70 came in starts where he allowed one run or none. Even though he threw the knuckleball primarily during his career, he consistently had a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, meaning he consistently had twice as many strikeouts as he did walks.

Yes, R.A. Dickey was 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA at one point during the 2012 season, and Tim Wakefield started 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 1995. However, Candiotti had similar brilliant stretches of pitching…but not the gaudy won-loss records to show for them because the quality of his teams. In 1991, for instance, Candiotti had a 2.01 ERA in his first 19 starts…but only a 9-8 record and was left off the AL All-Star team. In 1993, he had a 1.53 ERA over a stretch of 17 starts, but was 6-1 with 10 no-decisions. The same summer when Wakefield made all the headlines in Boston with that 1.65 ERA in 1995, Candiotti had a stretch of 13 starts where his ERA was 1.74 for Los Angeles. Alas, the Dodgers gave him very little support, resulting in a 4-6 record in that stretch. Naturally, over time his accomplishments are no longer remembered.

Tom Candiotti never truly got any recognition because of the losing records he suffered while pitching for bad teams in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Had he gotten better support, he would have been better remembered. Or, if he had pitched today and gotten the same results, he would be talked about as a hard-luck pitcher because the baseball media now weigh more importance on other statistics and less on wins. During Candiotti’s time, it seemed that wins-and-losses were the be-all, end-all, and with his losing record he didn’t get as much press. Thus, he is forgotten today. On some lists on the Internet that talk about the best knuckleballers in baseball history, some bloggers cite Candiotti’s best season as 1988, when he was 14-8 with a 3.28 ERA. However, he won 15 games in 1990, nearly won the ERA championship in 1991, and from 1992-95 had the fifth-best ERA in the NL (behind only Greg Maddux, Jose Rijo, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz). People have forgotten that he was one of the best pitchers in baseball for a while, knuckleball or not.

To learn more about Candiotti and his career, check out his biography titled Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, which is available on Amazon.

Advertisements

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Sometimes zeroes don’t mean much…

Dan Johnson, called up by the Blue Jays from Triple-A Buffalo on July 11, made his Toronto debut that same night against his old team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and had the most interesting stat line in his new club’s 8-5 victory.

Johnson, probably best known for his ninth-inning homer for Tampa Bay against the Red Sox in September of 2008 in a contest which gave the Rays the AL East lead and then another dinger against the Yankees in the 2011 season finale to help the Rays clinch the wild card, posted the following line in his Toronto debut:

0 AB, 3 R, 0 H, 0 RBI, 4 BB, 0 SO.

Though Johnson couldn’t get a hit, he still made a huge contribution for Toronto. The Blue Jays’ newest DH was still was able to reach base in all four plate appearances and, more importantly, came around to score three times – including the tie-breaking run in the ninth inning after he had drawn a leadoff walk against the struggling Grant Balfour.

Definitely an odd and crooked-looking line score.

This reminds me of a couple of weird-looking stat lines for Tom Candiotti, where he lost a couple of games despite allowing zero earned runs. Same with John Smoltz, who lost a pivotal game to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Four of the 1993 NLCS.

Let’s start with the Smoltz game, with the Atlanta right-hander owning a career postseason record of 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA in nine starts heading into the October 10, 1993 contest against lefty Danny Jackson (a playoff veteran himself) and the Phillies. Thanks to a Mark Lemke error at second base in the fourth inning, the Phillies scored two runs off Smoltz to take a 2-1 lead. The Braves almost tied it in the eighth when they put two runners on with two outs and erratic closer Mitch “The Wild Thing” Williams took over for Jackson.

Lemke, looking to redeem himself for the earlier fielding error, took Williams’s second pitch to deep left – which would have tied the game but leftfielder Milt Thompson made a circus catch to end the inning.

Atlanta then put two runners on to lead off the ninth but Williams fielded Jeff Blauser’s sacrifice bunt attempt and threw out the lead runner at third base, before inducing Ron Gant – arguably the league’s best clutch hitter down the stretch – to hit into a game-ending double play. The Phillies won 2-1 to even the series at 2-2, and then won the next two games to clinch the NL pennant.

But here was Smoltz’s line in the game:

6.1 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 10 SO.

It was Smoltz’s first career postseason loss – despite the fact he struck out 10 Phillies and gave up zero earned runs. What was interesting too, was that reliever Mark Wohlers walked three and struck out five in two hitless innings, meaning Atlanta pitching struck out 15 Philadelphia hitters but the Phillies still prevailed [1].

Oscar AzocarThen, on to Tom Candiotti. On August 3, 1990, the Cleveland Indians knuckleballer took a no-hitter into the bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. He retired the first two batters and was four outs away from history, with a 4-2 lead. The Yankees had scored two runs in the first inning on a hit batsman, an error by second baseman Jerry Browne, a Candiotti wild pitch, and an RBI groundout by Mel Hall.

With two outs in the eighth, Steve Sax walked before Jim Leyritz reached on an error by shortstop Felix Fermin. Yankees rookie Oscar Azocar, in his first month in the majors, broke up the no-hitter with a single up the middle, cutting the deficit to 4-3.

At that juncture, Indians skipper John McNamara pulled Candiotti in favor of closer Doug Jones, who gave up a first-pitch home run to Hall, turning the 4-3 lead into a 6-4 deficit. That was the way the game ended, with Candiotti charged with the loss and the following line:

7.2 IP, 1 H, 5 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO.

All five runs off Candiotti were unearned because of the fielding errors by Browne and Fermin.

Then on June 30, 1995, Candiotti was pitching for the Dodgers against the Colorado Rockies, and gave up two first-inning runs because of an error by third baseman Tim Wallach. At the time, the two runs seemed insignificant because Rockies starter Kevin Ritz was just 11-24 with a 5.78 ERA going into the season, and you would figure a lineup featuring Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, and Raul Mondesi would do some damage against a mediocre pitcher.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers couldn’t touch Ritz, who gave up just three hits over six shutout innings (though he also walked five and struck out only one). Karros finally homered off Curtis Leskanic in the ninth to break the shutout, but the Dodgers couldn’t get the tying run home in the 2-1 loss.

The line for Candiotti:

7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO.

It was as good a start as Candiotti had had at Yankee Stadium five years earlier – but again only good enough for a loss. It would be that type of a season for the knuckleballer, who went 7-14 despite a respectable 3.50 ERA for a first-place Dodger team [2].

Funny stat lines – they happen in baseball from time to time, and thanks to Dan Johnson for reminding me of these couple of examples.

—————————————————————————————–

[1] Kent Mercker, who also appeared in the game for the Braves, recorded two outs but did not issue a walk or notch a strikeout.
[2] Teammate Ramon Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

And how do you score that one again?

On July 3, Minnesota’s Chris Parmelee extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a first-inning RBI double against Yankees rookie right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, but the Twins still went on to fall 7-4 to New York.

Parmelee, who is batting .440 during the streak and .286 on the year, was also tagged out on an unconventional 9-4-2-5-7 play when he tried to stretch his two-bagger but then stopped and tried to return to second base.

Sure, it was also a game which saw Tanaka (12-3) become the winningest Yankees rookie before the All-Star break, surpassing the 11 first-half victories collected by Spec Shea in 1947 (according to the Elias Sports Bureau), and fellow rookie Zelous Wheeler homered in his major-league debut after spending nearly eight years in the minors… but how often do you see a 9-4-2-5-7 play in a ballgame?

This reminds me of a strange play in an Indians-Royals game back on April 16, 1990, where an unusual 6-4-4-5 double play – with an assist to the umpire – took place on a rainy day in Kansas City.

Tom Candiotti was on the mound for Cleveland that afternoon, and though he often pitched in hard luck throughout his career, actually benefited this time – with help from this particular odd (and controversial) double play.

candiottiThere were two Royals runners on base – Jim Eisenreich on second and Kurt Stillwell on first – with nobody out in the second inning.

Because it was early in the game and Candiotti also couldn’t get a good grip of the knuckleball in the rain, the Indians ace wasn’t throwing his knuckler. With Candiotti tossing very hittable pitches, Willie Wilson hit a hard line drive that Indians shortstop Rafael Santana caught, but the ball dropped out of his glove. Second baseman Carlos Baerga picked the ball up, and stepped on the bag to force Stillwell out. But Baerga dropped the ball as well!

“This was a rainy afternoon in Kansas City,” Candiotti recalls years later, “and the field was wet, the ball was wet… everything was ugly out there.”

However, Baerga then alertly picked up the ball again and stepped on second base once more, beating Stillwell to the bag. For some reason, second-base umpire Rich Garcia missed the play and called Stillwell safe. And for some reason, Eisenreich was caught between second and third.

“Then Baerga saw Eisenreich, and threw to Brook Jacoby at third base,” recalls Candiotti. “They got the guy out. So, it looked like we got just that one out at third base, and there were still two runners on with one out.”

Third-base umpire Steve Palermo, however, overturned Garcia’s call and signaled Stillwell out, which was the correct play. So now there were two outs, and two pitches later Candiotti was out of the inning as he retired Frank White on a lineout to centerfield.

“It was a double play, but how do you score that?” asks Candiotti.

Simple: You score it Candiotti as the winner, as Cleveland went on to win 6-3 in the rain.

“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti, will be released in July of 2014. You may pick up a copy either from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Will anyone beat Candiotti’s Cleveland mark for 200-inning seasons?

Right-hander Corey Kluber, who worked 6.1 innings on June 4th in Cleveland’s 7-4 walk-off victory over Boston, has emerged as the Indians’ best pitcher in 2014, posting a 6-3 record with a 3.23 ERA through the club’s first 61 games of the campaign. With 86.1 innings so far through 13 starts, he is on pace to finish with his first career 200-inning season.

Kluber, who made 24 starts in 2013, pitched a career-high 147.1 innings for the Indians last year when he was 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA.

Last season, no Indians pitcher topped the 200-inning mark, with right-hander Justin Masterson (14-10, 3.45) leading the Cleveland staff with 193 innings. The hard-luck Masterson was on pace to surpass 200 innings until he was sidelined in early September with an oblique injury. At the time, he had already pitched 188.1 innings through 28 starts and would have easily gotten past the 200 mark.

Masterson was forced to leave his September 2nd start against Baltimore after only one inning. He was sidelined for the three weeks before returning on September 25th. He made only three appearances upon his return – all in relief.

The significance of Masterson’s injury – other than the fact that the Indians were hurting as they were battling for a wild-card spot then and couldn’t afford to have their ace out of the rotation – was that it stopped him from getting to 200 innings. Had he reached that milestone, it would have been his third straight 200-inning season. Masterson could have been gunning for his fourth consecutive 200-inning campaign in 2014. (As of right now, he is on pace to fall just short of 200 innings this season.)

Other than the fact that the more innings Kluber and Masterson pitch helps Cleveland win ballgames, why is the 200-mark significant? Well, the reason is that Tom Candiotti remains the last pitcher to register five consecutive 200-inning seasons in a Cleveland Indians uniform, having accomplished the feat from 1986-1990. Candiotti would have made it six seasons in a row except the Indians traded him to Toronto in June of 1991.

Think about it. If not for Masterson’s injury in 2013, he would have been more than halfway to Candiotti’s streak. If Kluber gets to 200 this year, it will be his first such season – and he will have four more to go just to match Candiotti.

nagy

Charles Nagy nearly matched Tom Candiotti’s record…but fell just short.

Even though the Indians have had Cy Young pitchers in the recent past – such as Cliff Lee (2008 Cy Young winner) and CC Sabathia (2007 winner) – nobody has been able to match that feat in a Cleveland uniform. Lee and Sabathia, both of whom were workhorses in Cleveland, couldn’t approach that streak. Lee, for instance, managed “only” three 200-inning seasons in a four-year span during his time with the Indians. Sabathia was close, as he pitched 210 innings as a sophomore in 2002 and then 241 in his Cy Young season in 2007. In between, Sabathia logged 197.2 (in 2003), 188 (in 2004), 196.2 (in 2005), and 192.2 innings (in 2006). He would then pitch a career-high 253 innings in 2008, but split that season with the Indians and Milwaukee Brewers.

Jake Westbrook, an All-Star for Cleveland in 2004, had three straight 200-inning seasons for the Indians from 2004-2006. Alas, he made only 25 starts in 2007 and threw just 152 innings. Prior to the streak, Westbrook had tossed 133 innings in 2003.

Going back a few years, Charles Nagy came the closest when he logged four straight 200-inning seasons for the Indians from 1996-1999.

Since no Indians pitcher got to 200 innings in 2013, Candiotti’s record as the last Cleveland pitcher with at least five consecutive 200-inning campaigns will last for at least five more years.

“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti, will be released in July of 2014. You may pick up a copy either from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment