Making their pitch

Baseball has interesting good players who get swept under the rug in historical context. Many put together good careers with casual fans’ instant recall of either memorable moments or statistic accumulation.

Pitchers play the most important role among the nine defensive players on the ball diamond; their job is to not let the offensive players do anything at all. Up until recent years, this was an eight- or nine-inning thing for them. In a game today where many people tend to want flashy offenses, give me a good pitcher’s duel any day.

Consistency is key in anything. You want your pitchers to do their job, and that means throwing the ball well. Pitchers having plenty of control is a sign of doing a job well. This leads to the “per-nine” statistics for pitchers for hits, walks and strikeouts. Those are simple math stats, and nothing to the calculus-like length of sabermetrics.

The great pitchers that everyone talks about will rank high among others in these per-nine statistics, but there are a few pitchers sprinkled in there that had good careers but don’t get talked about a whole lot anymore. In the baseball card market, such players are considered in the common-card category.

Let’s look at some per-nine and other baseball statistics and learn more about some players whose names we remember, but that’s maybe about it.

Strikeouts per nine

This statistic is dominated by current pitchers because of their shorter workloads. They are striking out the same number of batters per game as pitchers did 40 years ago, but are doing it in about 60-65% of the innings.

The all-time leader in this list currently is Chris Sale at 11.0703 K/9, but he may not hold on to that top spot for long (it’s not like it’s Cal Ripken’s consecutive games record). Scroll down the list and find a pitcher who’s not current, sort-of-current, a hall of fame player, or a dead-ball era player ….

I’ll stop at Top 50. Dan Plesac (32nd) is on this list with 8.7397 K/9 in his 18 years of playing, mostly in a relief role. Arthur Rhodes (35th) also is on this list with 8.7297 K/9 in 20 seasons, again, mostly in a relief role.

Walks per nine

All but three of the top 25 in this category played in the dead ball era or before.

The three left are:

Josh Tomlin (18th), who most recently played in 2021, with 1.2905 walks per nine innings.
Dan Quisenberry (21th), who is often recalled as one of the best closers of the 1980s, with 1.3974.
Bob Tewksbury (23rd), with 1.4543. Tewksbury had one good year with the Cardinals where he went 16-5 with an All-Star appearance, but also didn’t strike out a lot of batters, either.

Other “commons” in the Top 50 are: Brad Radke (33rd, 1.6340), Rick Reed (1.6595), Dick Hall (40th, 1.6862), Carlos Silva (43rd, 1.7251), Jon Lieber (44th, 1.7279) and wife-swapper Fritz Peterson (45th, 1.7283).

Hits per nine

This list gets a little more current with much more familiar faces of our lifetime involved. Basically, these pitchers were less likely to heave a big, fat wad down the middle of the plate for you to hit at. These guys were a little tougher to get hits out of than others.

The top two in this category are no surprise: Nolan Ryan at No. 1 (6.5553) and Sandy Koufax at No. 2 (6.8171). Clayton Kershaw is No. 3 at 6.8175.

No. 4 on this list is one that you’ll never guess in a million years, but you might recall the name.

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Sid Fernandez (4th, 6.8513).

Yes, THAT Sid Fernandez. Big guy, ’86 Met, from Hawaii.

To be in the Top 5 of anything in positive baseball statistical annals is pretty sweet, and hits-per-nine is one of those upper-level of secondary stats in baseball; there is a column for it in Baseball Reference’s primary career stat block. To think, if Kershaw completely plummets in his final seasons, Fernandez could rank “behind only Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax” in a pitching statistic – what a phrase to have!

You won’t find Fernandez in any kind of Beckett “star” tier, however. He’s a common. But he’s one of those “savable” commons to pluck from a haystack of disorganized cards.

No. 5 on this list is Astros great J.R. Richard (6.8761), whose career ended too soon more than 40 years ago. One of THE top pitchers of the 1970s and very early 1980s. Kids these days don’t know about Richard, unfortunately. Just one more year of ball and he would have been floated around as a possible Hall of Fame candidate along with the likes of Vada Pinson and Dick Allen. Richard only played 9 years, 1 shy of the 10 required to be considered for Cooperstown.

Jacob deGrom is No. 6 (6.9299), another current pitcher in the Top 10.

Andy Messersmith is No. 7 (6.9366). Youngsters who have interest in baseball history may only know Messersmith as one half of the players involved in the Seitz Decision that began free agency. However, Messersmith was quite a good pitcher, and has a career ERA of a pretty good 2.86.

Walks/hits per innings pitched

The most prominent stat that is most on the verge of having a new all-time leader is WHIP (pause as you think of Devo). Jacob deGrom (0.9985) is second behind Wisconsin native Addie Joss (0.9678), so if deGrom really picks it up in these next 3-5 years, there’s a possible chance. However, with these kinds of statistics, one could be No. 1, but could perform bad later on to dethrone one’s self of staying in that top spot.

Five other current pitchers are in the Top 25: Kershaw, Sale, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasberg and Gerrit Cole. Cole entered the Top 25 last, which knocked off both Dick Hall and Rube Waddell (both with 1.1019) into the 26th spot.

Of the Top 25, only one pitcher is not current, not in Cooperstown and not a pre-1920-era player: Dick Hall. If Cole crashes down, Hall would reclaim his No. 25 spot. Hall pitched 19 years in the bigs from the 1950s into the early 1970s, with rings won in 1966 and 1970 for the Orioles.

Aside from a pretty good WHIP, Hall had an interesting career: He actually started out playing in the outfield as a rookie before switching to a starting pitcher, and after struggling as a starter became a reliever – where his WHIP shined. Hall also was the same age as his final manager, Earl Weaver.

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