Turns out Jim Palmer sucked

If only I could've pitched more like Aaron Myette

Baseball Neanderthals point to his 268 career wins and 2.86 lifetime ERA as proof that the retired Oriole was a top-flight major league pitcher, but those of us who appreciate the value of stats know better. In 3948 career IP, Palmer struck out only 2212. In 1976, the last of his three Cy Young Awards, Palmer averaged 4.5 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. In 1978, when he won 21 with a 2.46 ERA, Palmer averaged a paltry 4.2 K’s per 9 IP. Obviously he wasn’t very good.

Obviously I’m kidding, but some sabermetricians would defend such nonsense. They are the same people who dismiss Huddy‘s outstanding start because he’s averaging only 4.1 K’s per 9 IP. Tommy Hanson, whose ERA now stands two runs higher, is the unquestioned ace due to his higher strikeout ratio, they contend. Never mind that Hanson has pitched less innings and allowed more hits. (Those same people also downplay JJ’s contributions because “his peripherals haven’t been particularly good throughout his major league career (K/BB < 2!), which indicates he’s due for some bad regression.”)

This is madness. Tommy certainly has better stuff, but he’s yet to prove he’s an elite hurler. I wouldn’t classify Huddy or JJ as elites, but strikeout totals have nothing to do with it. Ask Aaron Myette, who struck out 134 hitters in 154 innings over six seasons with the White Sox, Rangers and Reds. One of the worst pitchers ever, Myette left the game with a 8.16 career ERA.


22 thoughts on “Turns out Jim Palmer sucked

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  1. I think the point is not that Hudson sucks (he clearly doesn’t), but the low strikeout numbers point to the likelihood of declining traditional stat numbers (ERA, Wins, etc) due to his unusually low BABIP.

  2. I was being purposely absurd to make a point: Hudson is, right now, a much better pitcher than Hanson. I can’t predict the future, nor can numerology.

  3. Those numbers are going to get Palmer in trouble one of these days…

    Hudson has unusually low BABIP because he’s throwing the ball where he wants to and getting it hit on the ground. Is that really so hard to grasp?

  4. strikeouts are fascist, groundballs are more democratic – Crash Davis.

    I make people very very angry when I say this, but, Nolan Ryan and his 9 gazillion strikeouts were overrated. He walked everyone. He gave up a lot of hits. He had an almost 500 record over 27 seasons.

    Huddy’s win pct. is phenomenal. So is Whitey Ford. Neither strikeout a lot of dudes. Give me a guy who keeps the bases clean and throws fewer pitches and I’ll show you a good pitcher.

    just for giggles, I called my dad, who saw a lot of Palmer’s starts. His exact words : “Palmer got guys out, and he won all the time. I hated the Orioles but liked him and wished the Yankees or the Braves could have had him in the 70s.”

  5. over the long run, at least, a low BABIP should be an indicator of good control (such as Tim’s), not an indicator of good luck.

  6. Whitey is another sabermetric whipping boy. They all think he was just lucky to be on the Yankees.

    Which of course explains why Turley, Raschi, Reynolds and Larsen all had .690 winning percentages, since they were on those teams, too.

    Tommy’s point about Ryan is dead on. He was never half the pitcher that Carlton or Seaver were.

  7. Frankly, I don’t think Hanson’s recovered from last year’s pig flu. That, or something long-term (or Farnsworth-esque boozing) is going on. Dude’s endurance is fleeting.

  8. Hanson’s ERA is now higher than either Lowe or KK. Something needs to be addressed.

  9. As for Ryan, his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved as he got older. I just don’t think he ever learned to throttle back on the fastball the way Koufax and Carlton did. Those Texans can be stubborn.

  10. Please, don’t mention Tommy Hanson and Kyle Farnsworth in the same sentence. As for Tommy, he’s a young pitcher. Verlander was 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA in his third season. Today’s loss wasn’t as distrubing as last time — lots of singles, though he did show a lack of focus after not getting that call on Cabrera. He lacks that Glavine/Maddux/Smoltz-like ability to not dwell on the previous AB. It took a bit for Smoltize to get there, and I trust Hanson will, too.

  11. I’ve long made the point that Ryan was never the best starting pitcher on a good team. When he was with the Mets, they had Seaver. When he was with the Astros, they had Joe Niekro or Mike Scott. And when he was with the Angels and Rangers, those teams weren’t very good. His last three seasons with the Rangers were particularly egregious, as he pulled down top starter money while averaging about 130 innings per season. But hey, he was still getting a lot of strikeouts, so who cares if he only average about 7 wins a season. And George W. Bush loved having him as an employee.

  12. Ryan is perhaps the most overrated pitcher in baseball history. He was a barnstormer, the pitching equivalent to Bo Jackson. His won loss record mirrored that of his teams, which pretty much says everything.

  13. I wouldn’t downgrade him that much. Ryan got better as he got older, and his durability and work ethic are to be commended. Was he the best pitcher of his generation? Not by a long shot, but I don’t quibble with him being in the HOF.

  14. Hansons’s day/night splits are eye opening. He’s the Anti-McCann.

    As basic as it sounds, maybe the guy just doesn’t like the heat.

  15. I think I heard the most insane stat-geek argument of all on 790 AM yesterday afternoon. One of the hosts actually said the Nationals are a better team than the Braves, even though the Braves are in first place, “for now.” You know, the present, the past, a better record by 11 games — meaningless. It’s all about what MIGHT happen.

  16. I cheer for the Braves and the yankees so I have gotten to see the yin and the yang of Javier Vazquez. Javy strikes out a lot of dudes. Last year he was excellent with the Braves and still only won 15 games. He’s never been a 20 game winner and he’s a .500 pitcher over 13 seasons. He couldnt handle Ozzie Guillen’s pressure in Chicago and he can’t handle the NY Yankee bs either.

    Huddy and Jim Palmer gget and got people out. Their winning pct.’s are excellent. I would rather have this pitching line – 7ip 6h 3er 1bb 4k 91 pitches than this line – 5 2/3 ip 6h 3er 4bb 9k 109 pitches any day of the week.

  17. That is why Sabrmetricians wear on me. To them it’s not about appreciating a player, it’s about being smarter than everyone else and predicting an outcome. Fantasy baseball had helped these guys gain greater weight.

  18. I am not sure the stat geeks take into consideration the way a pitcher handles the bat, or his fielding. Plus that indefinable thing we refer to as attitude. Opposing teams just didn’t want to hit against Bob Gibson or Greg Maddux.

  19. SO, which one of you is Joe Morgan, and which is Tim McCarver?

    This is fun!

    Seriously. People can enjoy baseball at different levels. When I was young, I just wanted to see guys hit and runs score. Then as I got older, I really enjoyed learning about the working of a hitter, the importance of the count at the plate, guessing along with the hitter and trying to figure out what the pitcher should do.

    There are people who take the most enjoyment from guessing outcomes, trying to imagine perfect roster constructions, perfect batting orders, pitching rotations.

    I don’t know how you can deny that pitching wins are relient on luck. Kawakami has been better than Lowe this year, but the team hits when Lowe is pitching. That’s luck. Remember when Russ Ortiz won 20 games as a Brave?

    The fact of the matter there is, the fact that Kawakami is 1-9 doesn’t make you any more likely to LOSE his next start, than the fact that the number 19 came up in the lottery last week means it will or won’t come up again this week.

    Now I agree, I think too often the concept that ‘Batting average on balls in play has a lot to do with luck’ is reduced to ‘batting average on balls in play is based on luck.’

    Obviously, guys with higher groundball percentages give up fewer extra-base hits; few gappers and no homeruns are hit on groundballs.

    You’re basically arguing, Timmy gets the grounders, he locates well. Those OUGHT to become a lot of outs, THAT’s why his BABIP is so low. I can agree with that. That makes sense to me. But maybe we can agree on THIS, that allowing 95 percent of hitters to put the ball in play may not be ‘relying too much on luck,’ but perhaps, relying too much on the absence of UNLUCK.

    Luck and Unluck happen. Huddy was undone by Unluck in the 7th inning in Minnesota. Six balls in play, 5 went for singles. Only one ball was hit hard.

    Conversely, he did strike two out in that inning. Also, Tommy Hanson has had 2 innings similar to that in his past two starts, and he IS a strike out pitcher. Mechanical flaw? Fatigue? Unluck? Perhaps a bit of unluck rattling him, causing him to slip out of his mechanics, flatten his pitches, get no swings and misses, have longer AB’s, and get fatigued and then beaten? Probably.

    I, frankly, don’t know why you keep bringing this up. No one is arguing with you that what Tim Hudson has done this year doesn’t count. But people, on their own blogs, have expressed a fear that his results won’t continue to be so good, given his performance.

    He’s not necessarily relying on luck. He’s getting the groundballs. He’s winning games, and keeping his era incredibly low. But there’s no reason to ridicule a person for saying ‘Here’s a pitcher with the lowest era of his career, who’s walking MORE men per 9 innings than he has since his first full season, is striking out FEWER men per nine innings than he EVER has, and he’s doing it by having a BABIP that’s 55 points lower than his career average. I don’t think he can keep that up.’

    Because that’s what Hudson is doing. His K/9 is 4.1, a career low. His career average is 6. His BB/9 is 3.4, against a career average of 2.8. That number has not been higher since his rookie season, a half year, and his first full year, when it was 3.6. His Batting Average on Balls In Play is .232, compared to a career average of .287. He’s never finished a year lower than .261.

    And all of this has led a 2.54 ERA, almost a full run better than his career average of 3.44. He’s had one season of 2.70, and another of 2.98. Besides these three, he’s always been over 3.00.

    Can he do that for 20 more starts? Well, yes. He’s done it for 15 so far. But is it likely? No, what he’s done so far is rare. To strike out the fewest in your career, walk the most in your career, and give up the fewest runs of your career is not easy to do. I’d say to do it, you’d have to have a BABIP of around .250. Which means you better keep dodging unluck.

    The point is, a pitcher has a lot more control over how many guys he walks or strikes out than he does over where the ball is hit.

    If I had to come up with a REASON this is happening, I’d say he’s refusing to give in. He’s walking more guys because if they’re going to hit it, it’s going to be his pitch. If he can’t get them to hit his pitch, he’ll walk them, rather than giving up a line drive. ‘Hit me a grounder, or take first base. But you sure ain’t getting anything to drive.’

    Tom Glavine made it work. Maybe Hudson can too. But it isn’t ridiculous to fear that Hudson is not Tom Glavine.

  20. JJ, you guys make baseball less fun. Go predict the stock market or something. And though I’m not a big fan of McCarver or Morgan, they know more baseball than stat geeks have forgotten.

    Statistical analysis has its place, but it doesn’t trump all.

  21. J.J., I’m okay with about 85% of your post.

    I do feel compelled to note that what I’ve mostly seen, and what CB seems to be railing against, is less people “express[ing] a fear that his results won’t continue to be so good, given his performance” and much more boldly predicting that it’s a fait accompli that he won’t. Generally, they don’t stop there and argue further that if you don’t agree with that, you’re a moron and, additionally, that all of his results so far are, essentially, blind, dumb luck. I even saw a guy who wrote that Hudson hadn’t thrown the ball this poorly (literally in those words) in his career.

    You seem like a reasonable man with a point of view that I can take into consideration but far too many sabermetrically inclined analysts are more like neo-Jacobins, out to force the world to be more to their liking.

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