The expectations of a starting pitcher have changed radically over the last 50 years.
We’ve likely seen the last 30-game winner in the major leagues (Denny McLain won 31 in 1968.).
It looks more and more like no pitcher is ever going to toss over 300 innings in a season again (Steve Carlton was the last to do it, with 304 in 1980.).
And 20 complete games? These days, a pitcher who throws seven or eight CG’s is considered a workhorse (Can’t remember the last pitcher to go the distance 20 times in a season? It was Fernando Valenzuela, with 20 in 1986 – which is almost three decades ago!).
There’s one more pitching landmark that likely has gone the way of the Blackberry. It’s the 20-game loser. And the Detroit Tigers may just have the last one in Mike Maroth.
The 2003 Tigers were a dreadful cabal disguised as a major league baseball team. The numbers are forgettable: One hundred and nineteen losses. Forty-seven games behind the division-leading Minnesota Twins. Twenty-five games behind next-to-last Cleveland, which lost 94. Detroit scored an American League-low 591 runs; the next-lowest was the Indians, at 699, a whopping 108 more than the Tigers.
The team had a starting rotation of 19-game loser Jeremy Bonderman, 17-game loser Nate Cornejo, and the immortal Adam Bernero, who went 1-12. They also had Maroth, who appeared in the “L” column 21 times that summer.
Will there be another pitcher to approach the 20-loss mark?
It certainly can happen. Since Maroth, one pitcher has lost 19 games (Darrell May with the Royals in 2004). Several have lost 18, most recently A.J. Burnett with the Phillies in 2014. The old saying goes that in order to lose 20 games in a season, you have to be pretty good or they wouldn’t keep throwing you out there.
Maroth was in only his second big-league season in 2003; he’d gone 6-10 with a 4.48 ERA as a 24-year old rookie the year before. In his 21-loss season, Maroth surrendered more earned runs than any other American League pitcher, with 123. He also was prone to giving up the long ball, as his major-league high 34 bombs indicate. But pitchers who give up a high number of home runs often do so because they tend to be around the plate, preferring that batters hit their way on, rather than walk. That was true with Maroth; he issued only 50 free passes in 193 innings.
Can a pitcher with an ERA of 5.73 claim, with a straight face, to be a victim of non-support? Perhaps not. But it is true that in 10 of Maroth’s losses, the Tigers scored two runs or less. Offensively, the 2003 Tigers were pussycats.
Who were the Tigers’ other 20-game losers in their long history? Would you be surprised if I were to tell you that they were all exceptional moundsmen? Let’s take a look at them:
Mickey Lolich (1974): It was Al Kaline’s final season, and manager Ralph Houk’s first. The Bengals lost 90 games, finished in last place, and Lolich went 16-21. The best pitcher on a bad starting staff, the former 1968 Series hero threw 27 complete games with three shutouts in 1974. Like Maroth, he also gave up more earned runs and homers than anybody else in the American League.
Art Houtteman (1952): For the first time ever, the Tigers lost over 100 games (104). Houtteman was coming off an All-Star campaign in 1950, winning 19 at age 22 as the Tigers contended until the end. After missing all of the 1951 season due to time spent in the military, it was a different story in 1952. He plummeted to 8-20, although oddly enough his WHIP actually lowered from 1.296 to 1.281, an indication that wins and losses are overrated stats for pitchers.
Bobo Newsom (1941): Like Houtteman, Newsome was coming off a fantastic season in 1940, which included 21 wins, an All-Star berth, and two wins in the World Series that the Tigers ultimately lost to Cincinnati. In 1941, the pitcher known affectionately as “Buck” simply was not as effective, as his ERA ballooned from 2.83 to 4.60. By season’s end, he had won only 12 of 32 decisions.
Hooks Dauss (1920): In a 15-year career in Detroit from 1912 to 1926, Dauss was a very good hurler. His 223 victories remains the franchise record, and he won 20 games three times. Dauss was a much more effective pitcher in the Deadball Era. Before 1920, his ERA was 2.85 and his WHIP 1.233. From 1920 on, the numbers were 3.86 and 1.425. He turned 30 years old in time for the 1920 season, in which he went 13-21.
George Mullin (1904, 1905, and 1907): We’ll give Mullin a break here, since it was the Deadball Era and 20-loss seasons were no big thing. “Wabash George” was an excellent pitcher, topping 20 wins five times, including 29 in 1909. His records in his 20-loss seasons were 17-23, 21-21, and 20-20.
Ed Killian (1904): “Twilight Ed” went 15-20 in 1904, his second season in the major leagues. By the time he retired at age 33, he’d won 20 games twice. Killian rarely gave up a home run. Again, it was the Deadball Era, but surrendering only nine lifetime home runs in nearly 1,600 lifetime innings is still pretty nifty. From September 9, 1903, until August 7, 1907, a period spanning 1,001 innings, Killian did not give up a four-bagger.
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