RSN: Who had a better season, Bob Gibson in 1968, or Steve Carlton in 1972?
RN: Gibson. I know 1968 was a pitcher™s year, and I know that Carlton won five more games than Gibson, and I know that Carlton pitched 42 more innings than Gibson. But as great as Carlton™s season was, I still would argue that Gibson™s 1.12 ERA makes his season somewhat better than Carlton™s.
RSN: How much would Carlton going 27-10 for a team that finished 59-97 factor into the debate?
RN: That tells us he must have pitched brilliantly, but there™s a big piece of information missing: run support. Though Gibson™s team won the pennant and Carlton™s team lost 97, it™s at least theoretically possible that Carlton actually got more run support than Gibson did.
RSN: Your book has a “Lucky Bastards” section, looking at actual won/lost records and calculating what the pitcher deserved based on his other numbers. How would you compare Luis Tiant’s 1969 season (9-20) with Catfish Hunter’s 1973 (21-5)?
RN: There™s not a lot of difference between them. Hunter™s ERA relative to his league was better, but not by a lot. Most people still don™t understand how much luck goes into individual pitchers™ wins and losses.
RSN: Along with Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox have two other knuckleball pitchers in their system, Charlie Zink and Joe Rogers. Considering how rare a breed knuckleballers are, do you think this is a coincidence or a calculated move?
RN: It™s no coincidence. If you™re going to complete your Class A rosters with a bunch of guys with no apparent ability to reach the majors, then why not make sure that a few of them might eventually develop the ability? Most knuckleballers took years in the minors to develop the pitch, and it™s worth trying to identify them before it happens. The chances are that neither Zink (above) nor Rogers will ever reach the majors, let alone win 100 games. But it™s an exceedingly low-risk investment, and certainly worth making.
RSN: Compare Bill Lee and Bruce Hurst.
RN: Their careers have completely different shapes. Lee, because of the shoulder injury, started 25 or more games in only four times. Hurst did it 11 times. Also, Hurst was a strikeout pitcher, and Lee wasn™t, at all.
RSN: How about Ron Guidry and Sandy Koufax?
RN: Koufax was fastball/curveball, Guidry was slider/fastball. Koufax was brilliant for five seasons while Guidry was Cy Young just once. But the difference between them isn™t nearly as large as people think.
RSN: Babe Ruth and David Wells.
RN: At his best, Ruth was better than Wells. Quite a bit better. Ruth had a good curveball, but was known for his fastball. Wells had a good fastball, but was known for his curveball. One thing about Ruth that a lot of people don™t know: He won 20 games only twice, and in his last couple of seasons as a pitcher his strikeout rate was so low that I™ve wondered if he might have been nursing an injury. Which is to say — I™m not convinced, as many are, that Ruth would have made the Hall of Fame as a pitcher if he hadn™t switched positions.
RSN: Carl Mays and Don Drysdale.
RN: Mays was the better pitcher, and wasn™t lucky enough to spend most of his career in Dodger Stadium. But it™s close, and Drysdale never killed anybody.
RSN: Dick Radatz and Joe Page.
RN: Radatz (above) was more valuable over a three-year span than any relief pitcher™s ever been. After that he was JAG (just another guy). Page was brilliant in 1947 and ™49, but he simply wasn™t as dominant as Radatz. Both of them threw very hard, of course, but I™m pretty sure Radatz threw harder. And you know, Page never had to face the best team in the American League (because he was pitching for the Yankees).