Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Ex-Cub Watch, Vol. 2: Mr. 260 (and counting)

Posted by dannmckeegan on April 26, 2010

Jamie Moyer

Jamie Moyer's rookie card, from the 1987 Topps set. Three teammates were in diapers when he made his debut against Steve Carlton. Photo image found at homeruncards.com

A quick salute to Jamie Moyer to start off the week.  Moyer is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies starting rotation and recently recorded career victory number 260.  Moyer is now 2-1 in the young 2010 season, and his first win of 2010 allowed him to join a short list of pitchers to have recorded a victory in four different decades.  Win number one came all the way back in his major league debut, going 6 1/3 innings against the Phillies on June 16, 1986.  Quite appropriately, he was up against future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton that day, and Cubs closer Lee Smith sealed the victory with a save.  Win #260 doesn’t have that same poetic feel as #1, but a man who hasn’t donned the blue pinstripes since 1988 certainly deserves some attention.  #260, you see, is actually a significant number.Jamie Moyer’s most recent win ties him for 40th on the all-time wins list with Hall of Famer and White Sox legend Ted Lyons.  Lyons, who pitched from 1923-1942 and 1946, amassed a 260-230 career record with a 3.67 ERA in just under 4,200 innings pitched.  He was a one-time All-Star and a 9-time MVP vote recipient, with placings ranging from 3rd to 27th.  He was able to do rather well on some pretty dreadful White Sox teams.  In fact, one might look at Lyons as a sabermetric victory for the BBWAA all the way back in 1955, his year of HoF induction.  He was 1 of 52 eventual Hall of Famers on his first ballot in 1948, earning 12.4 % of the vote (good for 22nd place on that ballot; Herb Pennock and Pie Traynor were the only inductees).  With 86.5% of the vote by 1955, Lyons joined Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, and Dazzy Vance in Cooperstown.  The Veterans Committee added Home Run Baker and uninvolved Black Sox catcher Ray Schalk to the class of ’55.

I bring up many of those names in addition to Lyons simply to point out the free-swinging nature of the BBWAA in the middle of the 20th century.  Rather than having stringent standards for greatness, the BBWAA looked at any very good career as worthy of commemoration.  With this in mind, let’s take a look at what’s next for Jamie Moyer.

It is completely realistic to imagine a 12-12 season for the 47-year-old Moyer in 2010 given the strength of the Phillies offense.  To do this would give him 270 wins at season’s end, placing him in a 3-way tie, with recently retired Mike Mussina and another Hall of Famer, “Ol’ Stubblebeard” Burleigh Grimes, for 33rd on the all-time wins list.  Mussina, who spent his entire career in the AL East, put together a 270-153 career record and 3500 innings pitched over 536 starts in an 18-year career.  Most impressively, Mussina only walked 785 hitters, total.  Grimes pitched for 18 seasons, largely with Brooklyn, between 1916 and 1934, going 270-212 in about 600 games and 500 starts.  Control wasn’t his forte by any means, but his stick-to-it-iveness helped him put together some numbers that hollowly look gaudy to a modern eye.  Moyer’s loss total slides right between these two pitchers’ career tallies, though his overall numbers and accomplishments aren’t at the same level as Mussina.

But what names lie in wait?  Whom will sportscasters and ESPN B-team anchors be naming on occasion as the season progresses and Moyer slowly creeps forward from 40 to 33?  At 39 and 38, Gus Weyhing (active 1887-1901) and Jim McCormick (1878-1887) recall the pre-modern era, when a 20-40 season made a man out of you and prepared you for a 45-28 turnaround.  At 36, Moyer would have 266 wins and find himself tied with a pair of Hall of Famers: Bob Feller (active 1936-1946) and Eppa Rixey.  Of course, Feller lost 4 years of his prime to World War II and almost assuredly would have met 300 wins otherwise.  Rixey, on the other hand, had an underwhelming 266-251 career record in about 4,500 innings tossed between 1912 and 1933.  Really, Rixey is one of the “boys” that the high-clout Cincinnati ownership foisted upon baseball posterity in an undeserving manner.

Two wins later, at #35, comes Jim Palmer and his 268-152 record.  Pitching from 1965 to 1984, Palmer came up just short of 4,000 innings and allowed fewer than 3,500 hits in an illustrious career.  That he could get to the same number of wins as Palmer, who started 521 games, is a testament to Moyer’s longevity and level of skill.

It is from here that he would jump to Moose and Ol’ Stubblebeard.  And it is from here that I would like to examine further a handful of names above and below this cross section of baseball history, as well as go into the active leader list a bit, but we can save that for another day.  Just remember this in case Moyer takes the mound against Tim Lincecum at any point this season: sure, the young buck might have all the talent in the world.  But, as P.J. O’Rourke once told us, “age and guile beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut.”

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