Friday, August 31, 2012

Bruce Chen: Rolling With The Greats (and Mark Redman)

I was 16 years old when I first became suspicious that wins weren't the best way to evaluate a pitcher's season. The year was 1987 and Nolan Ryan, one of my favorite players (still), led the league in earned run average and strikeouts but finished with just an 8-16 record. He also led the league in H/9 and SO/9, and if his record had been reversed, he might have won the Cy Young award instead of finishing fifth. (Because no NL starting pitcher won 20 games that year we live in a world where Steve Bedrosian is a Cy Young award winner and Dan Quisenberry isn't.)

Bruce Chen, as you know, recently won his 10th game of the year marking the third straight season where he's reached double digits in victories. It was semi-celebrated. I suspect it would have been a bigger deal a decade or two ago but the win climate has shifted and people seem to know better. It's also still not particularly impressive but 10 wins will lead the Royals in wins a lot of years. Anyway it got me wondering about similar seasons in Royals history, seasons where a left-handed starter won 10+ games with an ERA+ under 90. I wasn't shocked that only five seasons popped up but I was surprised with the players on it, well, a couple of them at least. Two Royals Hall of Famers and Mark Redman, who sadly was the team's All Star representative the year he achieved this feat. 

Rk Player Year W ERA+ IP
1 Bruce Chen 2012 10 81 154.1
2 Mark Redman 2006 11 82 167.0
3 Larry Gura 1984 12 77 168.2
4 Larry Gura 1983 11 83 200.1
5 Paul Splittorff 1976 11 89 158.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used

Two right-handers have produced this type of season - Luke Hochevar last year, and another Royals Hall of Famer, Dennis Leonard, in 1982. Seeing Gura and Splittorf on there, and Leonard for that matter, has me predicting that someday, somewhere, a Royals fan is going to believe that Chen should be in the Royals Hall of Fame.

Dayton Moore jumped the gun last winter before allowing the free agent market to play out and signed Chen to a two year contract, so the gum chewing lefty will be back next season. And since he'll likely lead the team in wins he'll enter spring training a virtual lock for a rotation spot (not everybody knows better). So the question is, which Chen will show up?

In some aspects he has been better than he was the last two seasons when he posted ERA+'s above 100. Chen is sporting a career low 2.1 BB/9 which in turn has helped him to a career best 3.11 SO/BB. He's issued just 35 unintentional walks in 28 starts. Even though he's 35 years old a bounce back season next year isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Since 1901 there have been nine seasons, not counting Chen's 2012, in which a 35 year old lefty posted an ERA+ in the 78-89 range (min. 150 IP). You may be encouraged to know that over half of those were at 100 or higher the next year. You may be discouraged to know that half of those that were as bad or worse at age 36 played for the Royals (Gura and McWilliams).

Rk Player 35 36
1 Rube Marquard 78 106
2 Herb Pennock 79 100
3 Al Hollingsworth 80 82
4 Joe Nuxhall 89 109
5 Jim Rooker 88 85
6 Geoff Zahn 82 109
7 Larry Gura 83 77
8 Larry McWilliams 88 41
9 Buddy Black 84 110

So yes, I'm saying there's a chance.

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