Spahn’s 300th, 52 years ago tonight

On Aug. 11, 1961, 40,775 Milwaukee fans watched 40-year-old Warren Spahn become the first, and last, pitcher of the modern era to win 300 games as a Brave, defeating the Cubs 2-1. All but 7 of his 363 wins came in a Braves uniform.

Spahn entered that game vs. the Little Bears 11-12 with an ERA near 3.50. He would go on to win 10 of his next 11 starts en route to his 12th season with 20 or more wins. He would top 20 victories 13 times, matching Christy Mathewson’s MLB record. The last came in 1963, the same year the 42-year-old southpaw combined with Juan Marichal in what is widely recognized as the greatest masterpiece ever twirled. The WWII hero’s 201st pitch was hit out of the park by Willie Mays, breaking a scoreless tie in the 16th. Five days later, Spahn shut out the Colt 45s, who at the time were playing outdoors. In Houston. In the middle of July.

But I digress, which is easy to do when discussing Spahn, easily Buffalo’s greatest export. It goes without saying that Spahn went the distance for win Number 300, one of 382 starts he completed over his 21-year career. No surprise, either, that the unassuming lefty drove in the first of 2 runs scored by Milwaukee that night. Spahn hit .194 with 35 homers — an NL record for pitchers, and 1961 was his best at the plate: .223-4-15.

The golden anniversary of the greatest game ever pitched

Thanks to Chris Jaffe at Hardball Times for reminding me today is the 50th anniversary of the epic mound duel between Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal.

(excerpted from a 2011 Office remembrance) 

262. That’s how many pitches were thrown by 42-year-old Warren Spahn 48 years ago today. On the 262nd, Willie Mays homered to break a scoreless tie. In the bottom of the 16th.

“He ought to will his body to medical science,” said Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell, who was in attendance at Candlestick Park for the epic duel won by Juan Marichal, who hurled 16 shutout innings.

There were seven Hall of Famers on the field that day: Sphan, Marichal, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. Those five hitters were a combined 4-for-26 against the starting pitchers.

That may all sound impressive but, in Spahn’s case, it really wasn’t. The Buffalo-born southpaw recorded only two strikeouts, and, according to advanced metrics, he should’ve given up 6 runs and 18 hits.

What a joke. If Spahn, who averaged 4.4 K’s/9 innings in his career, pitched today he’d get zero respect from the statistically inclined.

Postscript: Five days later, Spahn shut out the Houston Colts. And yes, he went the distance.

Maddux slighted again, and was Smoltzie better than Glavine?

I’m thrilled that the last pitcher chosen in ESPN’s ranking of the 100 greatest players in MLB history is the perpetually underrated Knucksie, #100 overall.

Not so much with the highest-ranked pitcher: Roger Clemens.

ESPN cautions its list is a “judgment-free zone where Barry BondsRoger Clemens and even Pete Rose are welcome.” (Rose debased the game but earned every one of his 4,256 hits. He shouldn’t be lumped together with players who came upon their stats dishonestly.)

I don’t understand how you overlook the cheating, which allows ESPN to rank Barry Bonds ahead of The Hammer and Ted Williams. But those who do so will never convince me that Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball history. He wasn’t even the best of his generation.

His ranking, at #7 overall, speaks to to the most overrated stat in all of baseball: the strikeout. If Warren Spahn was pitching today the stat geeks would insist his 363 wins were attributable mostly to luck, as he averaged only 4.4 K/9 IP.

Strikeouts are about all that Clemens has over Mad Dog, who ranks at #13, third among pitchers (Walter Johnson finished 12th). I’m repeating myself but apparently some people refuse to listen.

Maddux has had as many dominant seasons as Clemens, finishing with an ERA under 3.00 nine times. Granted, Clemens did it 12 times, but in two other years Maddux finished with ERA’s of 3.00 and 3.05. And no pitcher in modern history (Pedro in ’99 was close) can match Maddux’s 1995 campaign: 19-2 with a 1.56 ERA and an 0.811 WHIP. Even though strikeouts were not his bread and butter he had more K’s that year (181) than hits and walks combined en route to his fourth consecutive Cy Young.

Maddux was more durable, totaling 200 innings or more 18 times. Add three more innings over two seasons and Maddux would have 20 seasons of 200 or more IP. Clemens topped 200 innings 15 times.

My favorite Maddux stat? From July 31, 1993, through August 4, 1995, a two-year period, Mad Dog had 56 quality starts in 57 games pitched.

And Maddux has been better in October, with a 3.27 ERA, compared to 3.75 for Clemens. His first Fall Classic appearance might have been his best; the fearsome Indians (with Manny Ramirez hitting seventh) managed to get but FOUR balls out of the infield in Game 1 of the ’95 Series. Time of game: 2:37.

Maddux had one more win and a better WHIP (1.143 to 1.158). Clemens had a better ERA (3.12 to 3.16) even though Mad Dog had ERA’s of 3.96 or higher in each of his last six seasons. Conversely, three of Clemens’ worst years came between his 30th and 34th birthdays, a period when most pitchers are at their best, or close to it. It’s reasonable, then, to conclude that had Clemens not cheated he wouldn’t have made it into the Top 100.

Oh, and Maddux was the best fielding pitcher of his era, if not ever.

If only he had juiced, or pitched for the Yankees and Red Sox. Or had a strikeout ratio like Tommy Hanson’s and John Rocker’s.

They didn’t make the list, of course, though Smoltzie and Glavine did. Some may quibble with Smoltz ranking 18 spots higher than his former teammate, but I’m good with it. Glavine had more wins and one more Cy Young Award, but Smoltzie had a better ERA and WHIP and, for three years, was as dominant a closer as the game has seen. And he had no  peer in October. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but they’re typically the same people who say cheaters deserve a pass.