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Some recent comments from reader Tommy Walker got me interested in finding the most inconsistent pitchers of all time. A simple way of looking at this is to find pitchers who’ve posted a lot of high and a lot of low ERAs.
Listed below are all the players with at least 3 seasons with an ERA of 6 or higher and at least 3 seasons with an ERA of 3 or lower. I thought about doing this with either a higher IP cutoff or just doing away with it altogether, but in the former case, I was ending up with too few players, and in the latter, I was getting way too many. So I settled on 20 IP as a mostly arbitrary threshold. The 20 IP cutoff applies for the “Total Yrs” column as well/
|Rk||Player||Yrs < 3||Yrs > 6||Extreme Yrs||Total Yrs||% Extreme|
You should be familiar with most of these guys. Arthur Rhodes, Jose Measa, LaTroy Hawkins, and J.C. Romero are all relievers of recent vintage. Interestingly, all 4 of these players started out in the majors as starters, failing miserably in that role before being moved to the bullpen, where they (mostly) thrived.
All 3 of Rhodes’ high-ERA seasons came while he was still at least a part-time starter, while all 6 of his low-ERA seasons came as a reliever. The same goes for Hawkins, whose 3 bad-ERA years were all as a starter and 5 good-ERA years were all in relief. Romero only started for 2 seasons, but both featured ERAs above 6. As a starter, Mesa had 1 ERA above 6 (and another of 5.97) with no ERAs under 3.
Between the 4 of them, Rhodes, Hawkins, Romero, and Mesa had 9 seasons with a high ERA and 0 seasons with a low ERA as starters. As a relievers, they had 3 high-ERA seasons and 18 good-ERA seasons.
The other recent pitcher, Kent Mercker, is a slightly different beast. He pitched mostly in relief for his first 4 full seasons, and did quite well (2.99 ERA overall and two seasons with an ERA under 3). Then he switched to being mostly a starter for the next 6 seasons, with some modest success but no seasons with an ERA under 3. His first 6+ ERA season came in this stretch of starting (though it was a year in which he only made 12 starts). He then went back to being a reliever, and struggled at first, posting 6+ ERAs in his first two years back in the bullpen (one of them in Colorado). But Mercker bounced back after that, putting up 1.95 and 2.55 ERAs the next two years as a LOOGY. So most of his success but also most of his failure came in relief.
Whit Wyatt pitched 16 seasons in the ’30s and ’40s. In his first 9 seasons, he was a reliever who made a fair number of spot starts (52 in the 9 seasons) but never had much success. Four of his 5 high-ERA seasons came during this stretch, and none of his low-ERA seasons. Then, after missing the 1938 season altogether, Wyatt returned to MLB with a vengeance, this time as a full-time starter. Unusually, he was much better as a starter, making 4 straight All-Star Teams and posting ERAs of 2.31, 3.46, 2.34, 2.73, and 2.49 before fading as he got older. After that good run, he had a 7.17 ERA in 9 starts in 1944, his final extreme ERA.
Nels Potter was a contemporary of Wyatt’s for many years. Early in his career, he struggled as he bounced from the rotation to the bullpen. In his first 4 full seasons, he had all 3 of his poor-ERA years while starting 62 games and relieving in 65 games. He stayed in that swing-man role in his next season (1943), where he blossomed, posting an ERA of 2.78. From there, he started mostly full-time for the next 3 seasons, the first 2 of which also had sub-3 ERAs. After that (and after WWII was over and the full complement of MLB players returned), he went back to being a swing-man. His final good year was in 1948, when his ERA was 2.86.
Overall, we have 4 cases in which the player definitely did his best work in relief, versus 1 case (Wyatt’s) in which the player thrived more as a starter. The other two (Mercker and Potter) are more ambiguous.
The lesson from all of this, if there is one, is that some pitchers require time (and possibly a role change) to find themselves. Teams know this, I suspect, which is why many players who have struggled in the majors but shown signs of promise keep finding new opportunities. Many, perhaps most, of these guys won’t have significant success, but they’re very low risk, and every now and then, one of them turns into a quality reliever like Arthur Rhodes.
Tagged with: Arthur Rhodes ERA extreme ERA inconcistency J.C. Romero Jose Mesa Kent Mercker LaTroy Hawkins Nels Potter strange careers volatile players Whit Wyatt
This blog is devoted to the invention and use of unusual baseball statistics. These Junk Stats are designed to reveal the not-so-meaningful quirks that make baseball so fascinating.
JunkStats is written by Jacob Peterson, who also writes for the Braves blog Talking ChopBeyond the Boxscore
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