Friday, November 7, 2014

Reality Check: Juan Marichal

The November 3 edition of Sports Illustrated contains this passage about Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal:
"One month [in 1963] my manager, Al Dark, said to me, 'This month we have no relievers'," Marichal recalled. "So for a month I finished [almost] every game. I won [five] games without relief in one month."
I know this isn't fair, but every time I see an old-timer talk about the amazing feats they did in their day compared to modern players, I'm skeptical. In 2013, Mitch Williams, then a commentator on MLB Network, said, in reaction to the modern bullpen that features one-inning relievers, that he had 52 saves in which he pitched three innings or more. Here's the list:
Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR
1 1986-08-27 TEX BOS W 4-1 6-9f, S 3.1 0 0 0 2 2 0
2 1987-08-08 TEX BAL W 11-5 7-9f, S 3.0 2 2 1 1 5 1
Generated 11/7/2014.

Close. Only off by 50.

So that's how I viewed Marichal's claim--an old-timer remembering his glory days as being a lot better than they actually were.

Damned if Marichal wasn't right. (I wonder whether the writer, Tom Verducci, cleaned up his quote to make it more accurate. All those brackets make me suspicious. Still, let's go with what was printed. More fun that way.) 

Marichal spoke of the 1963 season. He must've been talking about September that year. He had five starts in April 1963 with two complete games. He had seven starts in May, three complete games. Seven starts in June, two complete games. Seven starts in July, four complete games (and one start that he left after nine innings with the game tied). Seven starts in August, two complete games.

At this point Marichal had 33 starts (and a relief appearance), pitching 261.1 innings. (Frame of reference: In 2014--the full season, not just through August--David Price led the majors in innings with 248.1, and ten pitchers tied for the league lead with 34 starts.) He had a 19-8 record and a 2.48 ERA. Batters were hitting .218 against him, with a .260 on base percentage and a .332 slugging percentage. He had 13 complete games and four shutouts. And he still had a month to go in the season.

On September 3, he pitched seven innings of a 16-3 laugher over the Cubs, winning his 20th game. This must've been when the conversation with Dark took place. Here are his starts for the rest of the season:

  • September 7: Complete game win over the first place Dodgers. Giants won 5-3, with Marichal yielding nine hits and a walk while striking out eight.
  • September 12: Complete game four-hit shutout of the Mets. Giants won 6-0. Marichal struck out 13, allowing just four hits and a walk.
  • September 16: Complete game in a 4-3 win over the Braves. He allowed six hits and a walk and struck out seven.
  • September 20: Mets again, 6-3 win, complete game. He allowed eight hits and no walks, struck out seven.
  • September 24: The only "blemish" in the streak, Dark lifted Marichal for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth with the Giants trailing the Phillies 4-1. The move worked, as pinch-hitter Jose Cardenal walked and eventually scored the second run in the inning, as the Giants pulled even 4-4. They lost 5-4 on a home run by Phillies pinch hitter John Herrnstein in the ninth. It was Herrnstein's only home run of the year. Marichal allowed seven hits and a walk while striking out nine over his eight innings.
  • September 28: Back on track. Marichal goes the distance in a 3-2 win over the PIrates, winning his 25th game. He allowed seven hits, no walks, and struck out seven.
Over those six starts (one on four days rest, the rest on three), which were Marichal's 35th through 40th of the season, he was 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA. Despite the workload, he was more effective than he had been up to that point, allowing a .208 batting average, .232 on base percentage, and .310 slugging percentage. 

So Marichal was right. In September 1963, he pitched five complete games in six starts.

Fun side note, courtesy of the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract: Since the establishment of the Cy Young Award in 1956, there have been six National League pitchers to win 25 or more games in a season: Steve Carlton, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax (three times), Marichal (three times), Don Newcombe, and Tom Seaver. The only one to have not won the Cy Young Award is Marichal. In fact, since Cy Young voters chose only one candidate until 1970 (when they voted for first, second, and third place), Marichal never even received a vote.
  • He was 25-8 in 1963 with a 2.41 ERA. Koufax was 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA and won the award unanimously.
  • He was 25-7 in 1966 with a 2.23 ERA. Koufax, in his last season, was 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and won the award unanimously.
  • He was 26-9 in 1968 with a 2.43 ERA. Bob Gibson was 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA and won the award unanimously.

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