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Dave Stieb was named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago, and that seemed a good enough reason to look back at one of the greatest Blue Jays of them all.

Those of you not old enough to have seen him in his prime, from 1981 through 1985: trust me. You really missed something. No one else quite like him.

He was a very different kind of pitcher than the other outstanding right handers who have played in Toronto. Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay are both much, much bigger men than Stieb and they both throw quite a bit harder. Stieb was a power pitcher with a good fastball, but his hard one was never as overpowering as the ones delivered by Doc and the Rocket. Clemens and Halladay are imposing and intimidating on the mound, a presence that derives from their physical attributes, their sheer size and strength, as well as the zip on the fastballs.

Stieb was utterly different. Stieb was restless on the mound. He was intense and impatient, fidgeting, adjusting his cup, firing the rosin bag to the ground. He was in a hurry; he wanted to get on with it. His very pitching motion was brisk and impatient. Rock, pivot, kick, throw the damn ball... get it back... rock, pivot, kick, throw. He seemed almost to hold the hitters in contempt; he seemed almost irritated that they thought they could possibly hit him. The presumption! He was demanding and dissatisfied. He wanted perfection on every pitch and every play, from the men behind him and from himself, and he was always upset when he didn’t get it. And you could always tell. He wasn't exactly shy about expressing his disappointment, or frustration, or anger. He was... difficult? The people who dealt with him every day, from his team mates to the media, actually had a rich variety of other words to describe him. However, there could be impressionable children reading this, so I won't repeat them here.

He had a good fastball, and later on he developed a sweet 12-6 curve; but his main pitch was always as good a slider as any of us will ever see. It was a filthy, filthy pitch. He threw it directly at the hitter, and it would bore in straight for the right handed hitter’s belt. You could see the hitter fighting his body’s instincts, trying desperately not to bail on the pitch - because it was going to break, suddenly and sharply, at the very last millisecond, and cut across the inside corner at the knees. And if it didn't break - he drilled the guy. He didn't care. He never beaned anybody, he started no memorable brawls, but he hit 129 batters in his career. He led the league five times, and is actually 20th on the all-time list. The people ahead of him all either started their careers before 1920, or pitched significantly more innings. Or both.

Oh, I admit it. I am partial to Dave Stieb. I never had to deal with him. The Roster (there is no Cabal) here at the Box provides a little background information on the various band of misfits who write all of this material. One of the items everyone has provided is the “Best Game Attended In Person.” This year’s rookies, myself among them, are not yet listed (eventually we’ll get that page updated!) so I’ll tell you about it right now. I’ve had the STATS gig for a long time, and I've been lucky enough to be at some of those games: Joe Carter’s 1993 homer, Gruber’s 9th inning blast off Curt Schilling in 1990, Halladay’s one-hitter against Detroit in 1998, the rally against Bryan Harvey to clinch the division in 1991. I was there when Jeff Frye hit for the cycle; I was there when Greg Myers hit an inside-the-park homer. And they were all great, but the night Dave Stieb gave me on August 4, 1989 was absolutely the best, most intense, most gripping experience I have ever had at a baseball game.

That’s the one known as “The Roberto Kelly Game” - the perfect game lost with two out in the ninth inning. Around the fifth inning, we all started to wake up to what was happening. I had spent the early innings moaning, wondering why Stieb just didn’t throw his fastball anymore. Then I started to notice what his slider and curve were doing. He was throwing absolutely unhittable pitches; curveballs that started out higher than the batter’s eyes and then just plummeted across the plate, knee-high. He mixed those up with that savage slider. There was no point in even trying to swing at pitches like that, and the Yankees for the most part didn't bother. As a result, they were hitting 0-2 all night long. When it was over, Stieb had needed just 89 pitches to strike out 11 batters.

It’s called the “Roberto Kelly Game” to distinguish it from the “Julio Franco Game” and the “Jim Traber Game.” Because if there was anything else that Dave Stieb was famous for, it was his luck. As in if it wasn’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have had any luck at all. He was famous for his bad luck long before he started losing no-hitters with two out in the ninth inning. As early as 1985, Roger Angell wrote of “Stieb - a hard-luck pitcher (and legendary moaner), whose record at the moment stood a bare 6-5, despite an earned-run average of 2.16."

His luck was always awful, and he was always moaning about it. In 1985, Dave Stieb had the best ERA in the American League. He did this pitching for a team that won 99 games, more than any other team in the American League. His record? 14-13. And so... there were always questions and doubts about Stieb. He’s no Jack Morris - he doesn’t know how to win. Those doubts are reflected most clearly in the Cy Young voting during his peak years.

So one of the things I want to do here is stroll back through the data, and see if we can get a better handle on how good Stieb actually was; how he measures up against his contemporaries; and generally, Where He Stands in the great scheme of things. Was he a great pitcher? Could he have been a Hall of Fame candidate if he’d caught some better breaks? We have the tools and we have the technology - we have Retrosheet, we have spreadsheets, we know the questions to ask. Dave Stieb started 408 games for the Toronto Blue Jays between 1979 and 1998, and I’ve got them all.

Stieb's career falls very naturally into five acts. Act I is the Young Pitcher (1979-1980): the tale of the converted outfielder who joined an absolutely awful team and still refused to get comfortable losing. Act II are the years when he was simply The Best Pitcher in the American League (1981-1985). Act III covers The Bad Years (1986-1987), when he endured a career crisis and was , for a moment, a below-average pitcher. Act IV is the Quest for the No-Hitter, having re-emerged as a fine pitcher, if not the dominant force of his early years. And finally, Act V is his Decline and Fall, and A Brief Curtain Call. (1991-1993, 1998). Much of my focus here will be on Act II, naturally, but Act IV had its moments as well. And he was never dull, ever.

Stieb arrived in a hurry. He was drafted in summer 1978, pitched briefly in the Florida State League at the end of the year. He opened 1979 in Dunedin, and shot through the system. By July, he was in the major leagues. On a truly terrible ball club.

But luck was on his side as a rookie. Stieb's Blue Jays, on their way to losing 109 games, averaged just 3.78 runs per game. Nevertheless, they overachieved on Stieb's behalf. They were only able to do this one other time in his many years here. In 1979, they provided him with a leaue average 82 runs to work with, much better than the 68 one would have expected. Stieb's ERA of 4.31 was very close to the league average of 4.22, so given league average offensive support, he actually had a chance to battle the league to a draw. Which he did, going 8-8.

1980 was his first full season in the rotation, and July 22, his 23rd birthday, he had a 10-6 record and a 2.61 ERA. From that point the wheels fell off. He had never pitched anything close to 200 IP in a season before; he was still an outfielder when he had been drafted just two years earlier. He was also working for a 67-95 team. He went 2-9 over the rest of the season, losing each of his last five starts, to finish at 12-15. But he had served notice on the American League, and the very next year he began his quest for the Cy Young.

In 1981, Stieb arrived as an outstanding pitcher on an absolutely awful baseball team. When the strike hit in June, there were audible sighs of relief: the Jays were 16-42 at the time. The leadoff hitter (Alfredo Griffin) hit .209 with a .289 OBP. Griffin was actually better than the guy beside him at 3B, who hit .187 and slugged .228. Clearly, it's a good thing Danny Ainge could play basketball. The top slugger in the outfield was a 21 year old kid named Moseby. He had a future, but the future hadn't arrived: Moseby hit .233 and slugged .357. He was the best of the three outfielders.

Oh, they were terrible. Stieb started 25 games, and they gave him 68 runs to work with. Less than 3 per game. They scored zero runs for him five times.

He went 11-10 anyway. When the Jays managed to somehow score two or more runs for him, he was 11-3. It was an amazing performance. The Cy Young voters didn't notice; he didn't even register on their radar. He did not appear on a single ballot. For some reason, the award voters were bedazzled by Rollie Fingers' mustache, and handed him the Cy Young and the MVP. It is one of the great unexplained mysteries of our time, although Fingers did have a good year. In fact, it was almost as good as the year Goose Gossage had in the Yankees bullpen.

Nevertheless, Stieb did not deserve the 1981 Cy Young - Steve McCatty of Oakland was clearly the best pitcher in the AL that year. It's arguable, however, that Stieb was the best pitcher in the AL in each of the next four years.

1982 is the one year when Stieb was clearly, beyond any doubt whatsoever, the deserving and obvious pick for the Cy Young. This was Bobby Cox's first year in Toronto, and the team improved enormously. They still finished last, they still lost more games than they won, but they were clearly moving forward. Stieb was 17-14 with a 3.25 ERA; the top man in ERA was Rick Sutcliffe at 2.96. Stieb worked 288 IP, however; Sutcliffe just 216. Nobody won 20 games in the AL that year. Stieb led the league in IP, CG, and shutouts.

He was fourth in the Cy Young voting. He finished behind Jim Palmer who had a 3.13 ERA over 227 IP, and won fewer games than Stieb; runner-up Dan Quisenberry, who gave the Royals 137 superb innings in relief... and Pete Vuckovich?

Never underestimate the impact of a shiny win-loss record. Here endeth the lesson.

Vuckovich went 18-6 for the AL champion Brewers, largely because the Brewers scored more runs in his 30 starts (157 runs, 5.23 per game) than Toronto gave Stieb to work with in 38 starts (149 runs, 3.92 per game). Vuckovich won with Game Scores of 48 (twice), 42 (twice), 34, and 29 - that's 6 Cheap Wins. He had one Tough Loss, with a Game Score of 56. His ERA of 3.34 was the worst ever posted by a Cy Young winner, although he wouldn't hold that distinction very long.

Stieb in 1982 had no Cheap Wins. Zero. Nada. He got tagged for 6 Tough Losses, with Game Scores of 58, 57, 56, 55, 53, and 50. Both men pitched very well three times without getting a decision, but Stieb's work on September 16 1982 especially leaps out at you. He pitched 11 innings and gave up just 3 hits and a single run. No decision.

However strange Vuckovich winning the Cy Young looks in hindsight, Stieb did get support from the voters; he did get five first-place votes and tallied 36 points. Maybe 1983 or 1984 would be his year. However, despite the fact that Stieb would actually pitch better in future seasons, he would tally just five more Cy Young points over the rest of his career.

In 1983, the Jays made their great leap forward. They won 89 games and were in the thick of the pennant race until a series of late-inning misadventures in late August. The Jays had the league's third best offense (4.91 runs per game), and while they gave Stieb only league average run support (4.53 runs) it was the most he'd ever had to work with over a full season.

While there were four 20 game winners in the AL in 1983; Stieb wasn't one of them. He won 17 and lost 12. There were the usual 5 Tough Losses (this time at least he had a couple of Cheap Wins). There were also some very irritating no-decisions: the day he shut out the Orioles for nine innings, for example. While his run support was now up to league average, it was often feast or famine. Stieb had 10 starts when he was supported with 2 runs or less (he went 0-8); he had 8 starts with 7 or more runs (he went 6-1.)

How do you lose when your team scores 8 runs? How do you not get a decision? Glad you asked. It happens when you come out of the game down 5-4; your bullpen then gives up another nine runs, and then your offense scores four more. And you get a no-decision when your team scores a bunch of runs after you leave the game, and win it for the reliever, Jim Acker, in this case.

Still, Stieb had worked 279 IP, second in the AL; his ERA of 3.04 was third best in the league, and the two men ahead of him (Honeycutt and Boddicker) both worked 100 fewer innings. Stieb was, once again, probably the best starting pitcher in the league. However, LaMarr Hoyt's W-L record was even better looking than Pete Vuckovich's. Hoyt won 24 games, and went 13-0 from late July to the end of the season. The White Sox supported him with 198 runs in 36 starts, 5.5 per game. He won twice while allowing 5 runs, once while allowing 6 runs. His ERA of 3.66 was, and remains, the worst of any Cy Young winner.

Bill James has always maintained that the 1983 Cy Young should have gone to Dan Quisenberry. James was saying that long before he met and became friendly with Quisenberry, who was by all accounts what the Irish call "a lovely man," as well as a genuinely talented poet. Really. Go read his poems. Anyway, Quis had a tremendous season in 1983. The 45 saves established a New World Record, but it was the 139 IP with a 1.94 ERA that truly constituted his value. Stieb wasn't that good - but on the other hand, Stieb did pitch twice as many innings.

Whatever. Stieb was mentioned on no one's ballot. Not first, not second, not third. Zilch.

Let's try again in 1984, shall we? Stieb led the league with 267 IP, and his 2.83 ERA was just behind the leader, Mike Boddicker (2.79). Boddicker actually gave up more runs in fewer innngs than Stieb, but 14 of Boddicker's runs allowed were unearned, and just three of Stieb's. He was second in the league in strikeouts with 198, just 6 behind league leader Mark Langston. He allowed the fewest hits per nine innings of anyone in the league.

It was a strange year for Stieb. He had 27 starts when he allowed 3 runs or fewer, but could only pick up the win 13 of those games. He actually lost 5 of them. He had 13 starts when the Jays scored 3 runs or less: he went 4-6 in those games, which is sensational. But in the 22 starts when they scored 4 runs or more, he went 12-2, which is very puzzling.

Typically, Stieb would pitch seven strong innings, and not be around for the resolution. On April 13, Stieb went 7 and left with the game tied 2-2. On May 10, he went 7 and left with a 3-0 lead. The bullpen blew it. In his next start, May 15, he went 7 and left trailing 0-1; the Jays scored 5 after he left the game. On August 12, he left with a 4-0 lead after 7; Roy Lee Jackson and the bullpen instantly surrendered 5 runs. In his very next start, August 16, Stieb led 5-2 after 8; Dennis Lamp came in to pitch the 9th and coughed up 4 runs.

Stieb finished with a 16-8 record. Willie Hernandez and Quisenberry were 1-2 in the Cy Young voting. Bert Blyleven, who went 19-7, 2.87 for Cleveland, was probably the best starter in the AL other than Stieb. Blyleven came in third. Stieb was tied for 7th. He received one third place vote. Hernandez, who was not expected to be a closer, worked more high-impact innings than relievers normally do; he pitched a lot (140.1 IP) and he pitched very well (1.92 ERA). Does that have more value than 267 IP of 2.83 from a starter? The voters thought he was the Most Valuable Player, not just the best pitcher.

Oh well, try again. In 1985, Stieb pitched the best baseball of his career. He lowered his ERA some more, down to 2.48, good enough to lead the league. He worked 265 IP, third in the league. His team won 99 games, most in the AL. They scored 160 runs in his 35 starts; not quite league average, but close.

He won 14 and lost 13.

Needless to say, that took some doing. Let's see how it happened.

Apr 8 - LOSS 2-1 to KC.

Apr 13 - ND. Turned a 6-2 lead over to the pen. They couldn't hold it.

Apr 22 - LOSS 2-0 to KC.

May 2 - LOSS. Took a 2-1 in the 9th. Gave up the tie and left the winning run on base. The pen couldn't strand it.

May 17 - ND. Turned a 6-0 lead over to the pen. They couldn't hold this one, either.

Jun 12 - ND. 2-2 tie after 9, bullpens decided it.

Jun 17 LOSS. Pitched a 4-hitter, lost 2-1.

Jul 3 - ND. See June 12. A 2-2 tie after 9. Game went to the pen.

Jul 17 - ND. Turned a 3-2 lead over to the pen in the 8th. Bad idea.

Jul 30 - ND. Turned a 3-2 lead over to the pen in the 9th. Still a bad idea.

Aug 28 - ND. Turned a 5-2 lead over to the pen. Whoops. At least they won in extra innings.

Sep 12 - ND. Ahead 4-1 in the 7th, when first the defense and then the pen imploded.

September 22 - LOSS 2-1 on an unearned run.

He lost 4 games when his team scored 0, 1, 1, 1 run for him. His bullpen coughed up 7 leads he had turned over to them. That's why he won 14 instead of 21. If his luck had been just average, he would have gone around 18-9. If his luck had been good, he might have won 23 or 24 games. If Tom Henke had just arrived a few years earlier...

In the latter part of 1985, it seemed that all of this nonsense was starting to prey on Stieb's mind. He was beginning to come unglued on the mound. In the September 12 game, the defense botched an inning-ending DP. Stieb walked the next guy and was pulled. Gary Lavelle then lost the game. Against Boston, in his next start, Stieb was in a jam but was set to escape - they had the third out of the inning trapped in a rundown. But a Cliff Johnson error (Yes - Heathcliff was playing 1B) kept the inning alive. Stieb instantly gave up a 3-run homer. In the September 22 game, with two outs and a man on 1st, Stieb picked off the baserunner. This time Cecil Fielder made the error, to keep the inning alive. Paul Molitor then doubled in the winning run.

His season of frustration ended on a chilly October evening, with a routine fly ball to right blowing and blowing and blowing... off the top of the wall for a triple. With the bases loaded. In Game 7 of the LCS.

And that was that. It was the last we ever saw of that guy. He was never the same pitcher again. He came out in 1986, and was actually bad - he lost his first 6 decisions, and got to celebrate his 29th birthday with a 2-10, 5.70 record. He wasn't much better in 1987, but for the once his team's offense saved his mediocre butt. They scored almost 6 runs a game for him, and carried him to a 13-9 record. It was reported that his elbow was damaged and needed surgery. He actually received considerable criticism one off-season when he decided not to go under the knife and instead go to spring training with everybody else. It was regarded as a selfish decision that would hurt the team.

It didn't hurt the team, because in 1988 he re-emerged as a good pitcher. He wasn't the dominating force of his earlier years, and he was no longer one of the league's elite. He was just a very good starting pitcher; one who never missed a turn and won twice as often as he lost. He even seemed a little different, somehow. He seemed a little more resigned to misfortune, rather than enraged by it. Perhaps the two years of scuffling had changed him a little.

He had channelled his old kind of bad luck into a new kind - the epic we now remember as Chasing the Elusive No-Hitter. It's a strange thing - he didn't look nearly as impressive on the mound as he had back in 1984; but nonetheless, some nights he was quite literally untouchable.

He began indulging his new hobby on May 31, 1988. With one out in the 4th, he gave up a single to Surhoff. And that was all. It was his first career one-hitter.

He faced the Indians on September 24. He had shut them out on 4 hits the week before. This night he gave up no hits until two were down in the 9th. That's when Julio Franco hit his grounder straight to Manuel Lee at 2B. Until it hit a pebble, or the edge of the dirt, or whatever, and bounced up and over his head. That was the second one-hitter.

That was so much fun he did it again five days later, this time for the home folks. Once again he took it until there two out in the 9th. This time Jim Traber hit a little flare off his fists beyond Fred McGriff's reach. And that was the third one-hitter. He had finished the season with three straight shutouts; he had become the first pitcher to lose two no-hitters with two out in the 9th since 1909. And he'd put together a nice 16-8 season.

In 1989, he wasted little time picking up right where he'd left off. On April 10 against the Yankees, he allowed just a 5th inning single by Jamie Quirk. Career one-hitter number four. On August 4, he gave us "The Roberto Kelly game" - not a one-hitter, not even a shutout, but clearly cut from the same cloth. Three weeks later, against Milwaukee, Robin Yount managed an infield single in the 6th. Gruber tried to plead error, but no one was buying. Career one-hitter number five. He was 17-8 for the year - he was not a Cy Young candidate, but he was an All-Star again.

In 1990, he made a real bid to settle a lot of unfinished business. He had never pitched a no-hitter; he had never won 20 games. He finally nailed the no-hitter on September 2 - and after all the close calls, it was more a relief than anything else. And a week later, after he beat Chicago with 8 scoreless innings, his record stood at 18-5. It was a career high. He had five starts left, but he wouldn't win again in 1990.

He was pitching well early in 1991, when on May 22 he stumbled covering first base against Oakland. He landed on his shoulder, and after facing another couple of batters came out of the game. He missed his next start, and then his next. He went on the DL for the first time in his career.

Which is a remarkable thing. How many pitchers have never been on the Disabled List? And if you do find some, how many of them are in their 13th season?

While he was on the shelf, he started experiencing back problems, a herniated disk, that eventually required surgery. He didn't pitch again in 1991. Juan Guzman had come up from Syracuse to take his spot in the rotation. In the off-season, Toronto signed his old rival, Jack Morris. Just in case they needed an ace.

And they did. Stieb returned to the rotation in late April 1992, and simply couldn't get it done anymore. His stuff had changed, maybe his body felt different, and his elbow was definitely barking at him again. Gaston kept him in the rotation until late June before giving up and sending him to the pen. He made a couple of emergency starts before the elbow forced him to the shelf for the rest of the year.

He was around for the celebrations in October. He didn't contribute as much to Toronto's first World Championship as he probably expected to. At least, he was the only guy on the staff to beat the Brewers twice. It mattered; if he loses those two games, we've got ourselves a playoff for the division title.

The Jays declined his option that winter; he signed on with Chicago. He made four starts for them and was released. Kansas City signed him to a minor league deal. He spent the rest of 1993 pitching in Omaha. When it was over, he packed it in. He had won 175 games, all but one as a Blue Jay.

Most of us remember the 40 year old who made the quixotic comeback in 1998. He wanted to see if he could still get big league hitters out. He could, as it turned out, but just one time through the lineup. His three starts were all poor, but he was fine in relief. Here are his 1998 numbers coming out of the bullpen:

16 34.2 35 17 14 12 20 3.63

He resigned himself to his new role as a relief pitcher and actually signed a contract with Toronto in December 1998, planning to return for another year in the bullpen. But he changed his mind and decided to retire, this time for keeps.

Was he just unlucky? We could look at his Run Support. Over his Toronto career, in his 408 starts, he could have expected a league average offense to have scored 1823 runs. As it happens, the Jays scored 1816 in his games, which is about as close as you can get. But that doesn't mean much. If the league average is 4 runs per game, your team can get shut out in two games and score 12 runs in the third. That's league average run support, but there's no way you can win more than one game in three. And yes... Stieb had seasons like that.

We could do a head-to-head comparison with the man who is often regarded as his Rival: Jack Morris of Detroit. Their careers overlap. Morris was in the Detroit rotation during all 11 of Stieb's full seasons in Toronto, 1980-1990. Morris, as his advocates are always quick to remind us, won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s. He won another 15 in 1990, so adding that year to the comparison doesn't hurt him too much.

On Opening Day 1980, Morris was 24 years old and had joined the Tigers rotation for keeps the previous May. Stieb was 22; he had become part of the Toronto rotation two months later, in July. Their teams, over the next 11 years, were as evenly matched as one could ask. Over those 11 seasons, the Tigers were 918-810 (.531); the Blue Jays were 903-822 (.523) Here are Stieb's and Morris' total numbers for those 11 seasons.

Jack Morris3682693.1 2443290122911209551791177137.563 11.353.74
Dave Stieb3642518.0 218319310209228741494158115 .57910.933.30

Morris won 19 more games over the 11 years; but he lost 22 more. Stieb's winning percentage was actually better. Stieb allowed fewer baserunners, and much more important, fewer runs. Morris gave his team more innings and more decisions, but that is more likely to be a indication of how the manager uses his pitchers rather than anything about the pitcher.

Let's look at them another way. Let's see what they made of the support their teams provided. Here is what Morris did with what he received:

016118.2 109125853 5084016.0001.000 53.34.02
142310274341261171202335 35.125.95256.93.40
240313.1 27239137 123108206 926.257.85756.63.53
348337.2 32122169148 130204 1627.372.896 52.13.94
451380.2 33143155137 125254 2615.634.804 57.13.24
547342 28630146135 1342212910 .744.830 55.93.55
637291.2 25327111104 77191285 .848.892 58.83.21
723156.1 175279892 50107122 .857.609 46.45.30
8+64443 42256229211 161291521 .981.828 51.44.29

Most of these measures are well known - Dec% is simply the percentage of time Stieb or Morris received the decision; Avg GS is the average Game Score. We'll look at Game Scores in more detail later on.

Anyway, here is what Stieb did with what was given him:

015105106 13464432 64015 .0001.000 52.73.77
136260.1 24620111100 88136428 .125.889 53.63.46
251368 31534155151 126205 1530 .333.882 54.73.69
356405.2 34331151137 140254 1620 .444.643 56.93.04
445309.2 26333136122 118175 2115 .583.800 54.23.55
538251.1 215139480 80149 222 .917.632 56.12.86
642302.1 25416122103 97203 241 .960.595 57.33.07
734222.1188 14887478 123 232 .920.735 55.4 3.00
8+47293.1253 19117111115 185 332 .943.745 54.13.41

Well, no one wins with no runs; the Tigers were shut out in 16 of Morris' starts, the Jays in 15 of Stieb's. They both took the loss each and every time. Stieb may have pitched slightly better, but it wasn't going to make a lick of difference anyway.

Given 1 -2 runs to work with, they both pitched well under tough circumstances. Morris was 14-51, Stieb was 19-58. Stieb has far more decisions in the low-scoring games. Given 3 - 4 runs to work with, Morris was pretty good (42-42) and Stieb was a little better (37-35). Stieb had 20 no decisions in these outings; Morris just 5. Given 5 -6 runs to work with, Morris was OK (57-15) and Stieb was sensational (46-3). Morris has far more decisions in the blowouts. Given 7 or more runs to work with, they both got it done: Morris was a bit better (64-3) than Stieb (55-4) but he got a little more practise.

I'm glad to have dug up and assembled the data, and I'm happy to present it. Alas, I don't really think it tells us anything that significant. The fact that Stieb had many more decisions in low scoring games than Morris is more likely to be a reflection of how the Toronto managers ran their pitching staffs than anything else. For at least half his career, there was a huge dropoff from Dave Stieb to anybody in the bullpen - accordingly, his managers were reluctant to relieve him in tight low-scoring games unless absolutely necessary. Sparky Anderson generally had some options, if he wanted them.

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that Morris had many more decisions in high-scoring games. Stieb's performance level doesn't vary much no matter what level of offense he receives; Morris' appears to fall off somewhat when he has a lot of runs to work with. Maybe he really was just throwing fastballs down the middle when he had a big lead, and giving up a few extra runs because of it. But I'm not sure why he would get more wins as a result.

Anyway, I thought I'd also look at Game Scores over the 11 years. Game Scores were invented by Bill James in the 1988 Baseball Abstract. He introduced it as his annual fun stat, "a kind of garbage stat that I present not because it helps us understand anything in particular but because it is fun to play around with." Nevertheless, the little marker has found a niche - ESPN includes it in their boxscores. It's a handy way to group similar pitching performances, which is what I intend to do with it here.

You figure a Game Score by starting with 50 and then: a) adding 1 point for every batter the pitcher retires; b) 2 points for each inning the pitcher completes after the fourth inning; c)1 point for each strikeout; d) subtract 1 point for each walk, 2 points for each hit, 4 points for each earned run, and 2 points for each unearned run. An average start should score about 50. If a pitcher's average Game Score is above 60, you're probably looking at a Cy Young candidate. There were four games in the AL last year that scored better than 90 (two by Blue Jays, Lilly and Bush). Games that clear 100 happen about every 20 years or so, although Randy Johnson had one last year. It generally it takes a no-hitter or something very close, with lots of strikeouts. Or extra innings.

So here is Game Score data for Morris and Stieb. The ERA column should give you an idea of how well they pitched in those particular games. Dec % is once more the percentage of times the pitcher recorded a decision; RS is Run Support, the number of runs per game his own team scored for him in these particular games:


90-994 37 90 0 0 5 334 01.0001.0003.75 0.00
80-8926 23688 4 16 8 61 179 23 01.000 .8853.73 0.31
70-7967 576.2 34030 91 79 152 449 53 4 .930 .8514.79 1.23
60-6966 536 41339143132 177 342 4112 .774 .8034.76 2.21
50-5973 569.1 54360253224 201 361 2921 .580 .6854.58 3.54
40-4948 353.1 39152231208 134 212 2024 .455 .9175.58 5.30
30-3930 171.2 2264315814287 87418 .182 .7334.30 7.44
20-2939 164.1 3204823222493 98326 .103 .7444.59 12.27
0-19 1559 1131410510345 300 7 .000 .4675.20 15.71


90-99 5 47 7 1 2 28 40 4 01.000 .8003.40 0.38
80-8926233 802 7 4 4915625 01.000 .9625.120.15
70-7951429.1250 15 5346 11725342 3.933.8824.59 0.96
60-6986668.2495 32154 136 21643253 15 .779.7914.421.83
50-5965463.1430 30184 162 15625220 20 .500.6154.293.14
40-4953335.1382 43216 199 13018212 28 .300.7554.365.34
30-3941200.2268 34190 176 115113 2 26 .071.6833.907.89
20-2930121218 31168 151 67 55 0 19 .000.6334.6011.23
0-19 719.2 535 4646 16 11 0 4.000.5717.00 21.05

OK, first you're all wondering how Stieb actually gave up runs in a game that scored better than 90. He did it twice actually: the "Roberto Kelly Game" which I've already relived, scored a 90. And in September 1982, he pitched 11 innings of 3 hitter against the Angels. One of the hits was a solo HR, and he didn't even get the decision.

There are some interesting tidbits here that can be teased out of all this data. First, the old notion that Morris "pitched to the score" is supported by his performances when his Tigers were not scoring. Morris' best games coincide with his weakest offensive support. One could also account for his rather exceptional winning percentage in his below average games the same way, if one chose. This is open to debate, however. Morris was 20-24 when his Game Scores were a little below league average; his Run Support in those games was exceptionally high. If you like Morris, you can say he was pitching to the score; with a big lead, he simply challenged hitters and didn't worry if he gave up a couple of runs. And that's what Morris will say if you ask him. On the other hand, maybe he was just lucky to have so much offense on his side on days when he wasn't all that sharp.

The strange item in the Stieb line are the 65 starts that scored in the 50-59 range. Until then, the two pitchers' lines are very similar. Morris has 163 starts that score better than 60, Stieb has 168. Morris was 128-16 in these high-quality starts, Stieb was 124-18. Morris' edge comes partly because he turned in more exceptional performances in the 70-79 Range. The winning percentages at each level match each other.

But in the 50-59, their paths diverge. Let's be clear - this is a quality performance level. Morris' ERA in those games was 3.54. Stieb's was even better, 3.14. By happy coincidence, the difference in their performance is almost exactly offset by the additional offensive support Morris received during these games. Morris went 29-21 (.580) which is about exactly what we would expect to happen. Stieb, however, was just 20-20, and this is just inexplicable. These were well pitched games. He should have gotten more wins out of them.

We noted already Morris' exceptional 20-24 record in his mediocre 40-49 range starts; Stieb's 12-28 mark may be a little worse than one would expect. All told, Morris won 27 games when he didn't pitch all that well; Stieb won just 14.

Morris' exceptional performances tended to come when his his offense wasn't doing much to help him out, and he deserves a fair bit of respect for that. The most striking difference between the two are their results when they weren't having a good day. Under those circumstances, Morris was twice as likely as Stieb to come away with a win. And that... I think that's just luck.

What if, what if. Stieb quite obviously should have won the 1982 Cy Young Award. In 1983, 1984, and 1985, his case for the award is just as good as anyone else's. You could justify it going to Quisenberry, Hernandez, and Saberhagen; you could justify it going to Stieb.

He obviously falls short of the Hall of Fame, as we all know. His best years really are Hall of Fame quality; at his peak, he was the best pitcher in the league. However, he didn't even make it to 200 wins. If you don't make it that far, your best years need to be as overwhelming as Koufax's or Dean's. Stieb needed to post more wins in his prime years. He very well might have done so if someone like Tom Henke had arrived in Toronto around 1981. If a Henke had been there all along, I think Stieb would have had at least three 20 win seasons and around 190 career wins.

That still would not have been enough. He also needed to prolong his effectiveness for another three or four years, into the mid 1990s. He needed to pad his counting stats, and get his career win total up to about 240. That he couldn't do.

The Blue Jays record book belongs to him. That doesn't seem likely to change for some time. If Roy Halladay, who will be 28 in May, starts 35 games a year until he's 35... he won't catch Stieb. If he works 230 IP a year until he's 35... he won't catch Stieb. If he can win 15 a year until he's 35... he won't catch Stieb. He'll be really close, though. And if he can average 150 Ks a year until he's 35, he can actually pass Stieb.

We treat starting pitchers very differently these days. Roy Halladay, in his career, has 15 complete games and 5 shutouts. Stieb pitched 19 complete games and 5 shutouts in 1982; in his career, he pitched 103 complete games and 30 shutouts. It will be a long, long time before a Toronto pitcher even comes close to matching what he did here.

It was, for the most part, an entertaining ride. He was a piece of work. There were bumps along the way, but he provided some true thrills, and some genuine greatness. And there was never a dull moment.

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Chuck - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 06:53 AM EST (#105263) #
Nice tribute to Dave Stieb.

It's interesting how Canada's other team, the Montreal Expos, had their own hard-luck SP who's career started half a decade ealier than Stieb's: Steve Rogers.

Interestingly, the two logged almost exactly the same number of career innings (Stieb 2895, Rogers 2838).

Both had better support neutral W-L records than their actual records (Stieb 176 W compared to 185 NW, Rogers 158 W compared to 176 NW).

Each had very distinct, though different, mannerisms on the mound. Magpie has done an excellent job characterizing Stieb's fidgetiness (was there no one around to give him a live saver?). When Stieb finally took his hands off his cup (which apparently needed adjustment after every pitch), his pitching style was tight and compact. No wasted motion. Rogers, on the other hand, was arms and legs flying in all directions. He's listed at 6'2", but he was so thin and knock kneed, he always seemed taller.

Finally, each was plagued by 9th inning demons. Missed no-hitters by Stieb and, of course, Blue Monday for Rogers.
Dave Till - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 07:45 AM EST (#105264) #
Great article!

At the time, many people speculated that Stieb's poor won-loss record was because his team was pressing behind him. They blamed his attitude. I have no idea whether this was a factor; I suspect that it was not.

Stieb's absolute peak as a pitcher was in the early part of 1983. I don't have numbers handy, but at one point, well into late spring, his ERA was well under 2. He tailed off after that, which cost him the Cy.
Magpie - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 08:11 AM EST (#105266) #
Stieb's absolute peak as a pitcher was in the early part of 1983.

At the end of May 1983, he was 7-3 1.66 - I have figures handy! Nice memory, Dave!

braden - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 09:37 AM EST (#105269) #
Great article.

Though I was only nine, I remember Stieb's no-no quite well. I was scoring the game (really, I was) at home and in the fourth I told my mom that Stieb had a no-hitter going. She replied, "he always does at this point". When the ninth came, I was too nervous to watch and stood outside on the driveway while my mom yelled updates out the window. She coaxed me back in for the final out.

Great tribute to a great pitcher.
Gerry - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 10:02 AM EST (#105274) #
I remember Steib as being very enjoyable to watch. In ways he was like Pedro, not an imposing guy, but great stuff.

Steib's slider was one of the all-time great pitches.

Great story Magpie.
Matthew E - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 10:03 AM EST (#105275) #
I remember the two near-no-hitters at the end of '88. For some reason I had been out, or something, for the first eight innings of each game and turned on the radio just in time to catch the last inning each time. The second time, I thought it was a mistake, that they were replaying Stieb's previous start.

I also remember a game from '86. Stieb had been terrible to start off the year, as noted, and was pitching against Baltimore this day. He was throwing pretty well, but there was the sense that he was walking a tightrope. And when the game was delayed by rain in the middle innings, Stieb threw the rosin bag down in disgust, because he knew, just like everyone else in the ballpark, that when play resumed he wouldn't have it anymore. And he didn't.
TangoTiger - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 10:08 AM EST (#105276) #
Fabulous article! Just the right mix of love and cold-hard facts.

Jobu - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 10:42 AM EST (#105279) #
Fantastic work Magpie! A great read on a Wednesday morning, enough to keep me from studying for my exam in a few hours. Well done old bean.
Wildrose - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 11:13 AM EST (#105281) #
Fine work Magpie. I was always more of an Expo fan, so I didn't follow him that closely and as you point out, he always seemed to rub people the wrong way.

My memories of him, (besided the filthy slider) was that of a guy who was a really good athlete. Short in stature for a pitcher, he really seemed nimble and agile as a fielder. You really don't see a player switched to the mound so late in his career have such success that often. He was unique.
jsoh - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 11:16 AM EST (#105282) #

Stieb was probably my fav player on the Jays for years on end. I was a little too young to appreciate his genius between '81 and '85, but I have vivid memories of listening to his back-to-back one hitters on the radio.
Flex - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 11:29 AM EST (#105285) #
Thanks for the fine piece, Magpie. What a treat to read.

I was there for the Roberto Kelly game. Or at least for the last five innings of it. I was going out with a lovely redhead at the time and had to invest in a long dinner to get her to go to the game with me.

We got there and I realized to my horror that Stieb was in the middle of a no-hitter, and that I'd missed the first four innings of build-up!

I was there for the 6th game of the 1993 World Series too, but never have I spent a more electric night at the ballpark than that night in 1989. We were up on the fifth deck, so I couldn't see what was happening with Stieb's pitches, but I'll never forget being in the middle of 50,000 people, in Toronto, hanging on every, single, pitch. And cheering their lungs out with each strike.

Thanks for bringing it back to mind, and filling in the blanks with your lovely description of what was going on down there on the mound.
Nigel - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 11:30 AM EST (#105286) #
Great article. Stieb is still my favourite Jay for many reasons, not the least of which is that his rise to prominence coincided with the team's. One comment I would make about Stieb's stuff - you're right in saying that from a pure velocity standpoint his fastball wasn't overpowering (low 90's in his heyday) but there were some days that his fastball had so much movement his catcher had trouble catching it. At the end of the day, he was a very good pitcher (not truly great) who's career was too short to move into that category of very good pitchers that sort of become great through longevity (Kaat, John, even Blyleven to some extent). I know I'm biased, but Stieb's slider circa 1982 may still be the single best breaking ball I've seen in 30 plus years of baseball watching.
MatO - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 11:46 AM EST (#105287) #
Wow. Stieb's fastball did have a ton of movement in the early 80's. Too bad there were no radar guns being used at games in those days because I'm curious to know how hard he actually threw. What Stieb dosn't get enough credit for is turning himself into a completely different pitcher after 1985 when his best stuff left him. I think the massive amount of innings he had ptiched in the previous number of years took its toll, particularly on his fastball. He went from being a power pitcher in 1985 to a junkballer by 1988, firing an array of breaking stuff. I don't think we appreciate how difficult that is.
groove - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 11:48 AM EST (#105288) #
This was a fabulous waste of my time! Bravo. This is getting bookmarked. I really love the analysis of where his luck went a foul.

Shrike - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 12:08 PM EST (#105292) #
First-rate. Thanks!

I have fond childhood memories of my father taking me to see a game in 1982 where Dave Stieb pitched (I was 8 years old at the time). It wasn't hard to spot his excellence. So from then on I always used to ask him to take me to the Ex when Stieb was due to start.
Anders - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 12:21 PM EST (#105294) #
Fantastic article. Dave Stieb has had a tough time of it.

Bill James talks about Stieb getting the hard ride because he threw junk, so to speak. He wasnt a guy who came out and dominated with a brilliant fastball, a power pitcher.

James says that, by win shares, Stieb was deserving of the Cy Young in 82,84 and 85, and should have been the runner up in 83 and in the mix in 81. If he had won a couple of those awards and come through on another one of those no hitters, maybe hed be getting 20% on the hall of fame ballot. I doubt it though.
Brian B. - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 12:30 PM EST (#105296) #
Great article, Magpie.

I remember seeing Dave Stieb start a couple of times through the years at the CNE Stadium.

That "winning thing" whatever it is, always seemed to be bouncing *off* of him instead of exuding from him.

He was a great pitcher, and I think his conversion to Christianity near the end of his career, gave him some peace.
Brett - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 12:48 PM EST (#105299) #
Great article, Magpie.

My Jays' memories only reach back to 1985; I remember all of the near no-hit games in the late 80's, but the game I wish I could remember more clearly was Game 1 of the 1985 ALCS, one of the greatest games in Jays history.

Stieb was great, throwing eight shutout innings. Two famous images also emerged from that game; one, when Stieb was warming up in second inning, and a young woman ran onto the field and kissed him.

Then, in the sixth, the expression on George Brett's face after Stieb caught him looking with a sick slider.

George later got his revenge, but... that was one hell of a game.
John Northey - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 12:58 PM EST (#105302) #
Stieb is one of my favorites all time, thats for sure. I remember watching the Roberto Kelly game and yelling to my mom to come in and see the end, then seeing Stieb go to 2-0 and thinking 'oh no'. My mom swore she'd never again come into a room for the 9th inning of a no-hitter.
Pistol - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 02:09 PM EST (#105327) #
I remember the back to back one hitters. I want to say that the first one against the Indians was a Sunday afternoon. To get so close and to lose it on the final batter is tough to take, especially on a fluke play. And then the next time out he did the exact same thing. You just had the feeling that he would eventually get it.

What's interesting, at least looking at it now, is all the innings Steib pitched at a young age:

21 - 129
22 - 243
23 - 184
24 - 288
25 - 278
26 - 267
27 - 265

Statheads would be up in arms over that workload. He averaged 275 innings from age 24-27!
Wildrose - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 05:34 PM EST (#105354) #
Interesting question Pistol. You wonder what his game-pitch counts were like? Current thinking regarding arm injury seems to point to pitches per/game vs. high inning accumulations. Steib had an advantage as he came to be a pitcher relatively late in life( converted outfielder), but this was off-set by throwing so many sliders , a pitch believed to be quite stressfull on an arm.
Wildrose - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 05:39 PM EST (#105356) #
Steib did as Magpie pointed out, have a remarkable run of health early in his career, ages 22-32, but flamed out with injury relatively early for a pitcher. Too many pitches, too many sliders, not sure?
Named For Hank - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 05:47 PM EST (#105360) #
Geez, Magpie, that was terrific.
NDG - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 07:59 PM EST (#105368) #
Fantastic article Magpie. I started reading it at work this morning, realized I was wasted an immense amount of time, and just finished reading it now that I'm home. I'm going to have to pay attention to the word count before I click on the articles now..

Another note about Stieb. I remember when I was young, I couldn't really tell the difference between a fastball and an offspeed pitching when looking at it on TV. However, when Stieb pitched, it was easy. That slider he threw broke so aggrressively, it was impossible to not notice.
Cristian - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 08:35 PM EST (#105369) #
I too was caught by surprise at work with how long this article was. Of course, I loved every word of it. As someone who didn't become a hardcore Jays fan until Dave Stieb was finishing his career I never got to see him as much I would have liked and had not appreciated how good he really was. Although, with the horrible luck Stieb had I probably saved myself an ulcer by not being around during the 80s.
Rob - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 08:54 PM EST (#105371) #
Excellent job on what I'm sure is an excellent article, Magpie. I started looking over it, but realized Mr. Stieb deserved more attention than I could give, so a full read is forthcoming. What's also amazing is this will most likely end up as just your fifth longest story this week!

We're not alone in our praise for this article. It was linked over at Primer, where they echoed our glowing comments.

StephenT - Wednesday, March 09 2005 @ 10:04 PM EST (#105373) #
For reference, the top-10 in A.L. Pitching 'Wins Above Replacement' (the numbers in brackets are projected Win-Loss with Average Run Support):

1982: Dave Stieb 6.2 (20-12), Jim Clancy 4.7 (18-12), Jim Palmer 4.6 (16-10), Rick Sutcliffe 4.5 (15-9), Dan Petry 4.3 (16-11), Floyd Bannister 3.9 (16-12), Dan Quisenberry 3.6 (10-5), Bob Stanley 3.5 (12-7), Len Barker 3.5 (15-12), Luis Leal 3.5 (16-12) [Vuckovich wasn't even in the top-40]

1983: Dave Stieb 7.1 (21-10), Dan Quisenberry 5.2 (12-3), LaMarr Hoyt 5.0 (18-11), Jack Morris 4.7 (19-14), Mike Boddicker 4.6 (13-7), Richard Dotson 4.2 (16-11), Rick Honeycutt 4.2 (13-7), Charlie Hough 4.2 (16-12), Floyd Bannister 4.2 (15-9), Matt Young 3.9 (14-9)

1984: Dave Stieb 6.9 (20-10), Bert Blyleven 6.0 (18-9), Mike Boddicker 5.7 (18-11), Doyle Alexander 5.6 (18-11), Willie Hernandez 5.6 (12-3), Bud Black 5.4 (18-11), Frank Viola 5.2 (18-11), Storm Davis 4.3 (15-10), Frank Tanana 3.8 (16-12), Mike Witt 3.6 (16-12)

1985: Dave Stieb 7.7 (21-9), Bret Saberhagen 5.8 (17-9), Charlie Hough 5.5 (18-10), C Leibrandt 5.4 (17-10), Jimmy Key 4.8 (15-9), Tom Seaver 4.7 (16-10), Dan Petry 4.6 (16-10), Ron Guidry 4.5 (17-12), Jack Morris 4.5 (17-12), Mike Moore 4.4 (16-11)

I calculated these numbers 7 years ago. I believe the formula was as follows: The pitcher's equivalent runs was compared to the expected equivalent runs by a replacement player (15% worse than average) with the same number of outs. (Equivalent runs was 50% inferred from ERA and 50% from component ERA, with park-factor and league-average adjustments.) This number was divided by 9 to get Wins Above Replacement (since EqR was based on assuming 4.5 runs per 9 innings was average). (One glitch I remember is that that players on multiple teams weren't added together, so somebody good might be omitted or short-changed above if he was traded.)

Basically 'Wins Above Replacement' is a refinement for comparing pitchers of different innings pitched, ERAs, park factors, etc. It still has holes in it (it's based on averaging, etc.), so it's not meant to be definitive. But it obviously supports Magpie's claim about Stieb's ranking in 1982-85.
Gitz - Thursday, March 10 2005 @ 01:51 AM EST (#105380) #
Late as always ...

I've lived on the west coast of the U.S. all my life, so I didn't see much of Stieb, but when I did I saw what every one else did: a fantabulous pitcher who ... bah. Like I can add anything worthwhile. Terrific work, Magpie.
Keith Talent - Saturday, March 26 2005 @ 11:54 PM EST (#107632) #
I just came across this today. Wow, stunning work.

Dave Stieb will probably always be my favourite pitcher of all time; although I only caught him during Acts III and IV of his career, the bad years and chasing the no-hitter. I was actually disappointed when he finally got the no-hitter, because that game didn't seem as sharp as all the near misses.

Didn't Manny Lee jump super high to try to get that Julio Franco ball?
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