Ron Guidry elevated the great teams he played on

6 01 2011

After my friend Jim Brady tweeted that he was pleased about Bert Blyleven’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I tweeted back, yes, but … with a link to yesterday’s post, explaining why Ron Guidry belonged in the Hall of Fame ahead of Blyleven. Brady initially dismissed the importance of wins:

Too much focus on wins. He calls a season Blyleven had an ERA a run lower a tossup? Can’t use Ws as centrally as he did, IMHO.

I replied:

Isn’t the pitcher’s job to win the game?

And Jim responded:

Sure, but they only have limited control over that. Its a lot easier with Reggie Jackson and an all-star lineup.

Brady’s a Mets fan, so you know he didn’t grow up with any love for the Yankees. I did, so we both come at this with huge biases. So let’s look at the facts:

In years when they had 25 or more starts, Guidry exceeded his team’s winning percentage by 130 or more points six times and Blyleven did it only twice. Blyleven had more than twice as many seasons with 25 or more starts (21 to 10) as Guidry, but Guidry has three times as many seasons when he won games at a much higher rate than his team. Guidry elevated his team way more than Blyleven. It wasn’t even close. Blyleven pitched a lot of innings and did about as well as his team most years. Guidry pitched teams with Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Don Mattingly and he elevated them way beyond their usual level.

In 1978, Jackson and Co. were not a powerful enough team to make winning pitchers of Dick Tidrow and Jim Beattie, each of whom started more than 20 games. Simply having Guidry on the mound, though, turned the same lineup into a team than won 89 percent of its games. Guidry’s winning percentage that year was 280 points higher than the winning percentage of his championship team.

Guidry and Blyleven each had years when they virtually matched their team’s performance, Guidry in 1980 and Blyleven in 1972 and 1974. But Blyleven had significantly more years when his team boosted him, rather than him picking up the team. Guidry had bad years in 1984 and 1986, when his winning percentage was 61 and 129 points worse than his team. Blyleven had four seasons when his winning percentage was 50 or more points worse than his team’s and two when it was 100 points worse, with a peak of 212 points worse in 1988, when he went 10-17 for the Twins, a .582 team that year.

For their careers, Guidry exceeded his team’s winning percentage by an average of 90 points a year, three times as much as Blyleven.

Guidry played with Hall of Famers Jackson, Winfield and Henderson. (Of course, I’ve noted that Nettles, Munson and Mattingly also belong in the Hall of Fame.) But Guidry actually elevated his team’s performance beyond what those everyday players did. And my calculations actually understate how much he elevated the team above their performance, because I am giving the spread between his winning percentage and a team winning percentage that includes his games. The spread between his starts and the team’s other games would be even bigger (as would the negative spread all those years when Blyleven didn’t match his team’s performance).

Also note that Blyleven pitched with his share of great hitters: Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Willie Stargell and Kirby Puckett. He had more seasons with Hall of Fame teammates than Guidry did.

ERA has more flaws than wins in evaluating a pitcher’s performance. It varies significantly by ballpark (Guidry played in a notorious hitters’ park; Blyleven had six home parks, so his parks probably evened out). Official scorers have a notable influence on ERA, too, since runs related to errors don’t count. Poor-fielding teammates also help a pitcher’s ERA. A guy who gives up lots of homers (as Blyleven did) doesn’t have them all show up on his ERA because a two-out homer that follows an error earlier in the inning doesn’t count on the ERA.

I favor wins and winning percentage because a pitcher has more influence over whether his team wins or loses than any player in any team sport (possible exception of goalies) and his job is to win the game. League ERAs fluctuate madly, influenced by new ballparks, tinkering with strike zones and baseballs, use of performance-enhancing drugs and so on. But winning percentage is always a zero-sum game. Each game has one winner and one loser, and winning the game is the starting pitcher’s primary responsibility.

ERA is a valuable stat and it shows how great Guidry was. Blyleven did have one of the best ERA’s of his time. But Guidry’s was slightly better, 3.29 to 3.31. And Guidry led the league in ERA twice (Blyleven never did), with a 1.74 ERA in 1978 that was the best in the American League over a 32-year stretch.

Brady took issue with my conclusion that Blyleven’s 1977 performance was a toss-up when compared with Guidry’s 1982 mark, which I selected as each pitcher’s 7th-best year. Blyleven, Brady correctly noted, had an ERA a whole run better that year, 2.72 to 3.81. But even with a low ERA, Blyleven only managed a 14-12 record that season, nearly 100 percentage points worse than Guidry’s 14-8.

Don’t chalk that difference up to Guidry playing on a better team. Blyleven’s team, the Texas Rangers, had a .580 winning percentage in 1977, 42 points higher than Blyleven’s. Even with that .277 ERA, he was dragging the team down and barely managed a winning record. Guidry’s Yankees had a losing record in 1982. His winning percentage was 148 points higher than his team’s. So yes, I was placing great importance on ERA to call that year a toss-up. Guidry probably had the better year.

Guidry was extraordinarily good at winning baseball games. He lost 10 or more games in a season only three times, never more than 12. Blyleven lost 10 or more games 16 times and lost 17 games in four separate seasons. Guidry had three 20-win seasons to only one for Blyleven. By any comparison except longevity, Guidry’s advantage in winning games was huge, way too big to attribute to playing on better teams. None of the Hall of Famers Guidry played with won games for their teams as clearly and consistently as Guidry did. That’s why he belongs with them in Cooperstown.

Don’t get me wrong. Longevity is valuable, and a guy like Blyleven who was a good pitcher for as long as he was belongs in the Hall of Fame. But not ahead of a pitcher who was head and shoulders better for a significant amount of time.



12 responses

12 01 2011

May I also add


The passing of time has a way of showing things in a different light. To truly appreciate the great career of Ron Guidry it has taken time. Now that 20 plus years have passed since this gifted lefthanded pitcher threw his last pitch for the New York Yankees we can take a better look at his remarkable career. It has gotten better with age and continues to stand the test of time. Guidry helped to usher in the designated hitter era for the American League and he pitched his entire career in the powerful Eastern Division. He stands amongst the greats of the game for so many reasons.

One of only 7 pitchers in American League History to win back to back E.R.A. titles. Hall of Fame pitchers Walter Johnson, Red Faber, Lefty Grove, Hal Newhouser and …Ron Guidry in addition to Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. Making Lefty Grove, Hal Newhouser and Ron Guidry the only lefties to do so.

One of only 6 Lefthanded Pitchers in Major League Baseball History to win back to back E.R.A. titles. Hall of Fame pitchers Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, Hal Newhouser, Sandy Koufax and … Ron Guidry in addition to Randy Johnson. Ron Guidry is the only American League lefty to accomplish this in the last 65 years.

One of only 6 Cy Young Award winners in Major League History to have 3 seasons with at least 20 wins and 2 World Championships. Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer and … Ron Guidry in addition to Roger Clemens.

Ron Guidry had the most wins in the Major League baseball from 1977 to 1986.

Ron Guidry is the only Lefthanded pitcher in the American League since the advent of the DH rule in 1973 to have pitched 3 seasons with at least 20 wins.

Ron Guidry and Johan Santana are the only 2 Lefthanded pitchers in the American League since the advent of the DH rule in 1973 to have won 2 E.R.A. titles.

One of only 3 Lefthanded pitchers in Major League History to have at least 2 seasons with a WHIP under 1.00 along with Sandy Koufax and Johan Santana.

Randy Johnson is the only Lefthanded pitcher over the past 67 years with at least 2,392 innings pitched to have a lower lifetime WHIP than Ron Guidry. Johnson stands at 1.17 to Guidry’s 1.18.

Only 2 Lefthanded pitchers in the history of the game with at least 170 wins have a better career winning percentage than Ron Guidry’s .651. Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford at .690 and Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove at .680.

In 1978 Ron Guidry had a record of 25 wins against only 3 losses for a winning percentage of .893 which is the best in the history of the game for a 20 game winner.

His Earned Run Average for the season was 1.74 which is the lowest for a Lefthanded pitcher in the American League since 1914.

His 248 strikeouts for that season is the New York Yankee team record.

His 18 strikeouts for one game that season is the New York Yankee and Yankee Stadium all time record for a single game.

His 9 shutouts for that season tied Babe Ruth for the single season American League record for a Lefthanded pitcher.

He is the only Lefthanded pitcher in Yankee history to strikeout at least 200 batters for 2 consecutive seasons. Only 1 righthanded pitcher has done the same.

He is the only pitcher in Yankee history to lead the team in strikeouts outright for 5 consecutive seasons which he did from 1977 through 1981.

In 1983 he had 21 wins and 21 complete games making him the last pitcher in baseball to have as many as both in the same season. This feat will likely never be accomplished again.

In 1985 he won 22 games for the Yankees and no Yankee pitcher since has had as many wins in a single season.

For his career in the World Series he had a record of 3 wins and 1 loss with an E.R.A. of 1.69 which is second only to Sandy Koufax in the modern baseball era.

Sandy Koufax had a lifetime won and loss record of 165 and 87 for a .655 winning percentage with a lifetime earned run average of 2.76 while pitching his entire career in the National League.

Ron Guidry had a lifetime won and loss record of 170 and 91 for a .651 winning percentage with a lifetime earned run average of 3.29 while pitching his entire career with the designated hitter in the American League.


12 01 2011

Thanks for elaborating, Tom. By prime, Guidry is easily a Hall of Famer by any measure. But the Hall of Fame is all about longevity. You need something tragic (Dizzy Dean’s line drive, Sandy Koufax’s arthritis). What Guidry needed was to be a mediocre starter winning 11-12 games a year for four or five years at the beginning or end of his career. He’d be automatic with 220 wins. Or even 200.


12 11 2011
Tom T

Thats the thing about Guidry, he was never mediocre – he was just always the ace of his staff. The Yankees from 1976 until 1981 were a dynasty in their own right, only missing the playoffs in 1979. Guidry had the most postseason wins for the Yankees during this time period with 5 and the next closest pitcher was reliever Sparky Lyle with 3 wins. All he did after that was win 20+ in 1983 and 20+ in 1985. Always great and never mediocre – he belongs in the Hall of Fame.


12 11 2011

In the odd way that the Hall of Fame voters work, he’d have a better shot with more mediocrity. Throw in five 12-win seasons and he’d be well over 200 wins and in Cooperstown. It’s just crazy.


13 11 2011
Tom T

Yes it is crazy and it sure needs changing. The Hall no longer has just Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle in it. Many players not on par with the very greats are in it now. This does not mean that these players were not great players but it does mean that others should follow them in. Why not celebrate more players, it would make it a lot of fun and isn’t that what life should be about. Ted Simmons,Bill Freehan, Thurman Munson and Lance Parrish were all great at the toughest position on the field. They should get there due at Cooperstown as well. Tremendous accomplishments by all four during their stellar careers.


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