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These are the best seasons by Blue Jays pitchers. Something to cheer us up in these dark times. Thank you. I feel much better now.

I had to call it something, but we're still using the Suckage Index formula. I'm just dividing the final number by 10 so the Index number isn't so ridiculously large. Consequently this calculation is: a) (ERA+ minus 80 b) multiply by IP; c)  divide result by 10. I will happily pretend that this little tweak is sufficient justification for  the new moniker.

There are 726 Jays pitcher seasons to sort through in this decidedly unscientific manner. By imperial fiat, it is my wish to disqualify any pitcher who didn't throw at least 100 innings. B.J. Ryan was so good in 2006 that he actually cracks the Top 10, despite working just 72.1 IP (9th place, in fact, with a Wonderfulness Score of 1839.) Whatever. My DNA doesn't allow me to believe that a mere relief pitcher could possibly belong on such a list. As you've surely heard me say, over and over: it is my conviction that relief pitchers grow on trees. That is now a core of my Faith, another Unshakeable Baseball Belief.

This still leaves us 183 Jays pitcher seasons to work with. And it allows us to start with a holdover from the Suckage Index.

15. Ricky Romero (2011) 15-11, 2.92 Wonderfulness: 1485
It's kind of awesome, or maybe just frightening,  that Ricky went from this list to the other one in consecutive seasons. Some of you suspected that Romero was just a little bit lucky in 2011, and you were pretty clearly right. He wasn't really that much better than he had been in 2010 (which was a fine season and all, but it comes in 61st place here, and 79th on the Big List). And it still doesn't explain what happened to him. Nothing explains that. And maybe nothing ever will... (cue eerie organ music here.)

14. Dave Stieb (1982) 17-14, 3.25  Wonderfulness: 1504
Stieb was obviously - obviously - the best pitcher in the AL in 1982. It wasn't even close. He pitched far more innings than anybody else and he pitched quite a bit better than anyone else. His 19 CGs and 5 SHOs led the majors (and are still the franchise records, along with the 288.1 IPT.) He went 17-14 for a last place team that scored 651 runs. The Cy Young went to the guy who won 18 games for the first place team that scored 891 runs. Yup. This was your life, Dave. He came fourth in the voting, and did get the only first place Cy Young votes he would ever receive in his career. Which is something, I guess. I always suspect that modern fans look at Stieb's strikeout numbers and think he wasn't that much of a power pitcher. If you do, think again. He was. It was much harder to make contact against Stieb than it was against Halladay. It's the hitters who were different back then. Nowadays they all grip the bat at end, swing from the heels, and accept all the extra strikeouts that result. If hitters in the early 1980s struck out as often as they do today...  Stieb would likely have cleared 250 Ks a couple of times.

13. Juan Guzman (1996) Wonderfulness: 1533
When, after twelve seasons in the rotation, Stieb went on the DL for the first time in his career in June 1991, it was Juan Guzman who replaced him. Guzman looked at first like just another hard thrower with no idea of what he was doing, or in which area code home plate might be located. But after scuffling for a couple of weeks, Guzman just exploded on the AL. I think a lot of this had to do with Pat Borders (or Galen Cisco or Cito Gaston or somebody) figuring out that Guzman's ball moved so much on its own that trying to hit spots with it was a losing strategy. Better just to have him aim right for the middle of the strike zone and let nature take its course. Not too many pitchers can get away with that. Guzman could. Over the next three months and change, Guzman simply dominated, winning 10 straight decisions to finish 10-3, 2.99 - and the following year he was even better. He started to slip in 1993 (a powerhouse offense carried him to a 14-3 record anyway), he was downright mediocre in 1994, and positively bad in 1995 (4-14, 6.32). I thought his violent, maximum effort motion had simply worn him down - although he was a splendidly conditioned athlete, he wasn't particularly big or strong. Throwing as hard as he did was hard, which may be why it always took him almost a minute to gather his strength sufficiently to throw the next pitch. Which could get pretty tedious indeed.  But in 1996, he climbed up off the canvas, held himself together long enough to make 27 starts, and put together one last outstanding the season, leading the AL in ERA and ERA+.

12. Dave Stieb
(1983)  17-12, 3.04  Wonderfulness: 1724
For the first time in his life, Dave Stieb had a decent team behind him. It wasn't exactly a complete team - meet Randy Moffit, bullpen ace! - but they did give him a better chance to succeed than he'd ever known. Stieb became the first Blue Jay to start an All-Star game; he finished the season second in IP, third in ERA, CGs, and Ks. For his trouble, he couldn't get a single vote on the  Cy Young  ballot. Not even for third place. The winner was the fat guy with the 3.66 ERA. the one who pitched for the first place team that led the league in runs scored. Hell, Lamarr Hoyt was the third best starter on his own team.

11. Roy Halladay (2003)  22-7, 3.25  Wonderfulness: 1729
This was Doc's Cy Young season. He was coming off his 2002 breakout season, but he didn't exactly come out of the gate like anything special (0-2, 4.89 in April.) But by then he had figured out that American League hitters were little more than putty in his mighty hands, to be swept away like the lesser creatures they were. Petty mortals! So Doc went 15-0, 2.84 over the next three months, losing exactly zero games between April 16 and the beginning of August. As September rolled around, some fools - I pity them still - begin talking up Lord Voldemort's case for the Cy Young. Yes, this really happened. So Doc rang up four straight CG victories, two of them shutouts, to put an end to that nonsense. Hey, remember the game against Tampa in the final week? Doc with a 21-6 record, chasing his Cy Young - and Phil Cuzzi tossed him after he hit Baldelli. Trailing 1-0 in the 6th, with a runner on first? There's even a Box Game Thread, and bonus moaning about Phil Cuzzi here! And for those of you don't remember - that's why us old-timers hate Phil Cuzzi with a deep and unrelenting passion. That, and the fact that he's a lousy umpire.

10. Dave Stieb (1984)  16-8, 2.83  Wonderfulness: 1762
Another outstanding season, leading the AL in IP,  ERA+, and - of course - Hit Batters.  Stieb led the league in hitting batters five times; he's 37th on the all-time list although there are 149 pitchers who threw more innings. He never threw at anyone, and no hitter ever challenged him about it.  He just aimed his slider at a RH batter's body and  usually watched it break, viciously, into the strike zone. But sometimes it didn't. I think the hitters were happier getting hit by the slider than trying to hit it.  Anyway, Stieb was the AL All-Star Game starter for the second year in a row. He missed out on the ERA title because the official scorers gave Mike Boddicker enough of a boost (14 unearned runs) to drop his ERA to a couple of points below Stieb's. (Boddicker actually allowed more runs than Stieb in fewer innings.) And twenty-eight men cast ballots for the AL Cy Young, and one of them gave Stieb a third-place vote.

9. Roy Halladay (2008)  20-11, 2.78  Wonderfulness: 1771
The Jays fancied themselves contenders in 2008 - they really did - but David Eckstein wasn't up to playing shortstop on turf. The offensive performace was - well, it was offensive. It was so horrendously dysfunctional that John Gibbons had to walk the plank in mid-June, along with half his coaches. Cito Gaston got the hitters sorted out, and the team played exceptionally well over the final three months. But by then it was too late. As for Doc, after what you might call a shaky start (but only if we're applying Doc's own rather lofty standards - in mid-May, he was 4-5, 3.49 , had pitched 4 CGs and lost three of them) - he simply put the hammer down and stomped all over the the rest of the American League (16-6, 2.53 in his final 24 starts) for his second 20 win season, and the runner-up spot for the Cy Young.

B.J. Ryan
(2006) would go here, if I allowed such things. It's certainly better than his 2009 season, which comes in 624th.

8. Roy Halladay
(2002)  19-7, 2.93  Wonderfulness: 1841
More Doc! This was his breakout season, the first season he was Roy Freaking Halladay from April through October. Really, he was just picking up from where he'd left off the year before. That year, of course, had begun with Doc wandering the Underworld like some lost soul. Which I suppose he was. After three months in the netherworld, in the dread lands of Dunedin, Knoxville, and Syracuse - he emerged! Yea, he did. From that darkness into the sunlight of the majors in mid June did he emerge, a great epic hero. A veritable Cyborg of the Mound unlike anything we'd ever seen. Ready to lay waste to American League hitters far and wide. Which is what he did. (Alina read that and asked "Are you writing about Roy Halladay or Jesus?" To which I naturally replied "This is Toronto. Roy Halladay is Jesus.")

7. Roy Halladay (2009)  17-10, 2.79  Wonderfulness: 1888
Doc's farewell tour, on the infamous 2009 team. As you will recall, before it even started Marcum and McGowan had been lost for the season to injury. A.J. Burnett had signed with New York as a free agent. That's three starting pitchers down. A fourth starter (Jesse Litsch) joined Marcum and McGowan on the DL, also gone for the year, before the first week was out. As the GM had evidently given up any hope whatsoever of saving his job, he didn't bother to replace them. The other three guys in the rotation with Doc and the instantly injured Litsch - Purcey, Richmond, Romero - had combined for 17 major league starts coming into the season - fewer games than Doc had won the year before. Somehow this motley crew, while starting to struggle, was still fighting the league to a draw (43-41) when Halladay trade rumours exploded all over the baseball universe, a full month before the deadline. It was a flame fanned (a fan flamed?) by the GM himself. The team promptly collapsed, which is exactly what you would expect them to do, but Halladay stood apart among the rubble and rubbish all around him. He closed with a rush, with back-to-back shutouts (one at home, one at Fenway) to end his Blue Jays career. Because when it was over, he made damn sure he got the hell out of Dodge.

6. Pat Hentgen (1996)  20-10, 3.22  Wonderfulness: 2016
The 1996 team was a disaster, and everyone - with the possible exception of Gord Ash - knew it was going to be a disaster. This was clear long before they started actually playing the games. Roberto Alomar, Devon White, Paul Molitor, Al Leiter had all fled the scene. They didn't have a catcher or a second baseman, which somewhat compromised their strength up the middle. Joe Carter was 36 years old, and beginning to act his age. Promising sophomore Shawn Green, given a chance to take over the RF job full-time, gave the job right back by hitting .216 over the first two and a half months. Rather than trust top prospect Shannon Stewart with the vacant CF job, Ash had signed the ancient Otis Nixon - he was only 37, and he didn't look a day over 62 - to a two year free agent deal to play CF and steal bases. And the pitching - well, they had brought in Erik Hanson and Paul Quantrill to shore up the starting rotation. That worked exactly as well as you might have expected. (Gaston soon discovered that the Q had the makings of an extremely useful relief pitcher. So something was salvaged.) In the midst of all this nonsense, Pat Hentgen stood tall, taller, tallest. Hentgen was almost always a fine pitcher, but this really was a career year. He basically submitted a typical Halladay year from the mid 2000s, but with a much worse team behind him. Gaston worked him very hard (oh, I didn't tell you about the bullpen, did I?) and Hentgen would lead the majors in IP and CGs, and tie for the MLB lead in shutouts. He edged Andy Pettite for the Cy Young, and if you don't like the Yankees you can always amuse yourself by wondering just how much damage that's done to Pettite's HoF chances. But who cares. Hentgen won it because he deserved it.

5. Jimmy Key (1987)  17-8, 2.76  Wonderfulness: 2192
To our everlasting regret, Jimmy Key was lost to us in the aftermath of the 1992 championship. We knew it was coming, although we didn't know that Pat Gillick was about to decide that he didn't really need pitchers anymore. An unusual position, but there you go. Between the end of the World Series and Opening Day, the Jays lost Key, David Cone, Tom Henke, David Wells, and Dave Stieb - half the damn staff - while adding just the aging, and rapidly declining, Dave Stewart to replace them. (Fortunately, they found Danny Cox on the scrap heap, one of the many, many prodigal sons in Jays history - Tony Castillo - returned to the fold to help out, and a pair of unproven youngsters - Hentgen and Leiter - both stepped up. And they scored lots and lots of runs, of course.) Key had joined the Jays in 1984, and spent his rookie campaign in the bullpen. But he'd been a starter all along, at Clemson and in the minors, and he moved smoothly into the rotation in 1985. He was your classic crafty LH, even when he was 23 years old. He didn't throw all that hard,; he didn't strike out all that many although he did strike out enough to get by. But he didn't walk hitters, he kept the ball in the park, he fielded his position, he eliminated the stolen base, and kept his games under control. He worked a career high 261 IP for Jimy Williams in 1987, going 17-8, 2.76 and finishing second to that Clemens guy in the Cy Young vote. It was his best season by quite a bit. He hurt himself early the next season, and you will see reports out there that say he had Tommy John surgery that year. This, of course, would make Key the only man in history to return from Tommy John surgery in ten weeks. So don't buy that one, kids! (It was in 1995, while he was a Yankee.) He scuffled a little in 1989-90, but found his form again for his final two seasons as a Jay.

4. Roger Clemens (1998)  20-6, 2.65  Wonderfulness: 2201
This guy.  The Rocket may not have been quite as motivated as he was during his Vengeance Tour of 1997. But clearly his new training regimen was still working for him. This season would be the end of his Jays career, of course. Although actually, it was in the early spring, when flowers bloom and robins sing, when he decided he must Go Away. In the midst of the Tim Johnson fiasco, after the team's very disappointing performance in 1998 - which included the Great Trade Deadline Fire Sale (which drastically improved the team then and there, oddly enough) - Clemens engineered his way out of town, to the destination of his choice.

3. Dave Stieb (1985)  14-13, 2.48  Wonderfulness: 2412
Stieb's legendary 1985 season, when he led the AL in ERA (2.48) and ERA+ (171, 3rd best in the majors behind Gooden and Tudor), pitched 265 innings for a 99 win team - and somehow, somehow, went 14-13. Well, we actually do know how it happened - the four losses (three of them CGs) where he allowed just 2 runs, the seven - seven! - leads squandered by the bullpen. He could have easily gone something like 25-6 that year. It was the kind of season that could drive a man to drink heavily, which more or less describes how Stieb would pitch over the next two seasons. (That wasn't why, of course, but who could blame him.) This time Stieb received two third-place votes for the Cy Young, meaning he finished tied for seventh in the voting, with Britt Burns and Donnie Moore. The award was won by Royals phenom Bret Saberhagen, which was forgiveable - Saberhagen did have a hell of year. It's not like he was Lamarr Hoyt or Pete Vuckovich. Curiously, Saberhagen is credited with the best WAR among AL pitchers. I find that a little mystifying, seeing as how Stieb pitched a tiny bit better than Saberhagen over 30 more innings.

2. Mark Eichhorn (1986)  14-6, 1.72  Wonderfulness: 2606
A mere relief pitcher, true - but Ye Gods! What a relief pitcher. First of all - 157 innings? Seriously? With 166 Ks and just 105 hits? Come on!  An ERA+ of 246? From some failed minor leaguer, throwing in the low 80s tops, with this funky underarm motion that concluded with this weird little hop, toward third base? This really happened? It sure did, and it was just great to watch. It was also funny as hell. You saw some of the strangest swings imaginable from RH batters. They had no idea how to cope. It was awesome, I tell you.

1. Roger Clemens  (1997)  21-7, 2.05  Wonderfulness: 3749
I can't tell you how much it irritates me to acknowledge this guy and put this season first. But there's no possible way to deny it, and I have to admit - I sure enjoyed it watching it at the time.

Just missing the cut: Roy Halladay (2005 and 2006), Doyle Alexander (1984), Juan Guzman (1992), and Duane Ward (1992 - he just cleared 100 IP).

If we now expand the list to the full 726, we'll identify the highest scoring seasons from relief pitchers as well. After Eichhorn and Ryan, they would be 3. Quantrill (1997, 20th), 4. Ward (1992, 22nd),  5. Downs (2008, 30th) 6. Henke (1989, 34th) 7. Henke (1987, 39th) 8. Garvin (1980, 41st) 9. Koch (2000, 43rd), 10. Ward (1993, 44th).

The best work of some other pitchers of note: Jim Clancy (1980, 24th), David Wells (2000, 35th), Al Leiter (1995, 39th), Luis Leal (1982, 48th), John Cerutti (1989, 56th), Chris Carpenter (2001, 73rd), Shaun Marcum (2010, 76th), A.J. Burnett (2007, 84th)...

The best work of some of the men already immortalized in the Suckage Index: Josh Towers (2005, 50th), Todd Stottlemyre (1991, 70th) Dave Lemanczyk (1979, 107th), Jack Morris (1992, 113th), Jerry Garvin (as a starter in 1977, 117th).

How about same random samplings! The 100th spot goes to Jason Frasor (2009); 200 is Jim Clancy (1978); 300 is Frank Wills (1989); 400 is Jimmy Key (1984); 500 is Valerio de los Santos (2004); 600 is Chad Beck (2011); and 700 is Dana Eveland (2010).

Where might an average season - ERA+ of 100 - end up on this list? Almost anywhere - it all depends how many innings the guy pitched. Being average has very real value, and the more average innings, the more value. There have been exactly nine 100 ERA+ seasons from a Blue Jay pitcher, and they stand anywhere from 117th (Garvin 1977) to 378th (Williams 1993.)

And you met the guys who came in 712 through 726 yesterday.
The Wonderfulness Index | 7 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Chuck - Saturday, August 03 2013 @ 12:13 PM EDT (#277529) #
This really happened? It sure did, and it was just great to watch.

Eichhorn's 1986 season was ridiculous for all the reasons Magpie cited. Watching it, basking in the absurd improbability of it all, you knew that once the season ended, reality would just have to set in again, that the tear in the space-time continuum that allowed for this madness would be mended and order would be restored. It would have to be, or planet earth would have flown off its axis.
Magpie - Saturday, August 03 2013 @ 12:43 PM EDT (#277531) #
Eichhorn, of course, originally came up as a starter with a conventional delivery - he made 7 starts for the Jays at the end of 1982, when he was just 21 years old. Then he hurt his arm, and eventually started throwing submarine in a last-ditch attempt to keep his career alive.

Anyway, I was actually in the house for one of his 7 career starts. I remembered Eichhorn having a pretty decent game. It was the second-game of a double-header against Oakland I always went to double-headers back in the day, it was like free baseball. So these many years later, I'm looking at the game over at BB-Ref. And indeed, Eichhorn took an 11-2 lead into the 7th, one of the runs unearned, when he ran out of gas. He allowed three hits and a run without recording an out, and was relieved by Steve Senteney. The A's came all the way back to tie the game in the ninth, but the Jays scored in the bottom of the inning to get the win. And Eichhorn would have to wait until 1986 to win his first game.

Someone named Dave Baker, playing in his third major league game, was the Jays leadoff hitter and third-baseman. He made an error on the first ball hit to him, which led to an unearned run in the first inning. He made another error in the fourth inning - Eichhorn worked out of the second-and-third, one out jam without allowing a run. He made a third error in the 7th inning, which contributed to another run scoring.

Then he came up in the bottom of the ninth with Iorg on second, and delivered the walkoff hit to win it. Ain't baseball just great sometimes?

Baker played only 9 games in the majors, and I'll bet that's the day he remembers. Not to mention that earlier, in the first game of the DH, he had doubled for his first major league hit.
Magpie - Saturday, August 03 2013 @ 01:07 PM EDT (#277532) #
At this remote juncture, it's very difficult to tell when Eichhorn hurt himself or when he started throwing underhand. There he was in September 1982 throwing overhand - then he vanishes into the maw of the minor leagues, eventually reappearing in April 1986. Throwing submarine. And in between? He was bouncing back and forth between AA and AAA - but he was still pitching all along. There's no obvious period when he was hurt and off the mound. He probably started 1983 in AAA and stunk so badly that they sent him further down to AA - but he was still pitching (28 games, 25 starts.) He spent 1984 pitching badly for AAA Syracuse (36 games, 18 stars), which may have been why he spent most of 1985 in AA. But still pitching - in the two stops, 34 games and 17 starts. When did he hurt himself? When did he change the delivery?

You'd probably have to ask him.

Fun with the minor leagues. The 1983 Syracuse team had two young outfielders - a 22 year old who hit .272/.326/.433 and a 23 year old who hit .271/.318/.473. One of them grew up to be George Bell, and the other one - the younger one - grew up to be Ron Shepherd.
jerjapan - Saturday, August 03 2013 @ 02:06 PM EDT (#277537) #
Another great read Magpie! 

What was the great trade deadline fire sale?  I just recall a few old vets getting dealt off and the kids coming up to play, but I was busy backpacking around Europe at the time and don't have a clear memory. 
Magpie - Saturday, August 03 2013 @ 02:34 PM EDT (#277539) #
the great trade deadline fire sale?

They traded a bunch of guys that had regarded as key figures in their attempt to contend - but the team was 53-55 on July 29, so Ash gave up. The next day he traded DH Mike Stanley (signed that spring) to Boston; the next day he traded Tony Phillips, who'd been starting in LF; long-time 3B Ed Sprague, and SP Juan Guzman. A week later, Randy Myers didn't clear waivers, as the Padres were afraid of him ending up in Atlanta. So they were able to get trade their closer as well.

They didn't get anything that would ever be useful in return.

But it turned out to be addition by subtraction. The immediate impact on the team was to improve the defense enormously, at five positions. With Sprague gone, Fernandez moved over to 3b, with Craig Grebeck taking over at 2b. Two infield positions that had been manned by dreadful defenders (Tony was simply awful at 2b by that time) suddenly became downright competent. Even worse - the team had been playing Green in CF, Canseco in RF, and Phillips in LF. Worst Outfield Ever. You had to see it to believe how horrible they were. If you picked three random guys off the street you'd have at least an even shot at having a better defensive outfield. The trades of Phillips and Stanley got Phillips off the team and and Canseco out of the outfield. Which allowed Stewart and Cruz to play every day.

And the team went 35-19 the rest of the way. Hey Alex - defense matters! This ain't fantasy ball or Strat-o-Matic.
Chuck - Saturday, August 03 2013 @ 02:44 PM EDT (#277541) #
At this remote juncture, it's very difficult to tell when Eichhorn hurt himself or when he started throwing underhand.

Those of us old enough to have read Bill James in his upstart days, in the early 80s, will know the man to be something quite different from the difficult sourpuss he now portrays himself as. Back then he was a font of wisdom who afforded an insight into the game that many of us didn't have and that many now take for granted because those insights are simply part of the current zeiteist. But back then, those Abstracts got you thinking in new ways.

That said, he wasn't always right, even when it seemed that he should be right. He imagined a time that submariners would be ubiquitous because of the reduced strain on the arm that particular pitching style incurred and because of the new lease on life that could be achieved switching to sidearm as Plan B. Workhorse closers like Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry did not seem unusual at the time. And rather than being the norm, they almost seem unfathomable today.

Whether modern day hitters are just so good that heat is the only way to attack them is not as clear to me as many GMs would otherwise have me believe. Would Tekulve be successful today? Or would his act not play in today's game? I can't see that the quality of hitters has increased so greatly in the intervening three decades that the answer to this question is assuredly yes. The approach of the modern day hitter (all or nothing) is certainly different, as Magpie alluded to, but is the skill level that much greater?

Just where are the sidearmers (save for LOOGY slingers)? Is the man keeping them down?
Chuck - Saturday, August 03 2013 @ 02:56 PM EDT (#277542) #
defense matters! This ain't fantasy ball or Strat-o-Matic.

Sir, you take that back. As a long time, though now retired, Strat-O-Matic player, I can assure you that defense does matter and a great deal.

While Strat can certainly be criticized for the seeming arbitrariness of their range factors and their inadequately granular defensive ratings, any manager who did not build defense into their player evaluation models was doing himself a great disservice and would suffer the consequences in league play. Strong Strat teams were typically very strong defensively because defense was an undervalued asset (like in real life) and Strat heavily incorporated defense into its gameplay.

Further, it was the high caliber Strat players who were ahead of the MLB curve when it came time to properly valuating defense (more easily done in Strat, obviously, where a simple grasp of probability theory could allow you to model the game's events) and, for that matter, on-base skills (just ask any old Strat player who decided that Gene Tenace as a leadoff hitter wasn't such an bad idea).

Now fantasy baseball, feel free to disparage that as mercilessly as you wish. It is a blight upon our times.
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