Two Pitchers Remembered Because of Zac Gallen's Streaks

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Zack Gallen's history-making effort seeks another milestone today, as he faces the Rangers needing just two scoreless innings to reach 30 scoreless innings and become just the eighth pitcher in the last 40 years to have multiple streaks of 30 innings or more. (Out of the others, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, Zack Greinke, and Orel Hershiser all got to face a pitcher in at least one of their streaks. Only Roger Clemens and Kenny Rogers had to deal with the DH, as Gallen has.) He's just the fourth pitcher in the modern era to have multiple streaks of at least four scoreless starts with at least six innings worked. (Walter Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, and Luis Tiant.)

Most of the above names are well-known, at least by Diamondbacks fans, but I will take this opportunity to note that Brandon Webb's career ERA+ of 142 is 11 points better than that of Sandy Koufax, and still 1 point better if you take away the first four years of Koufax's career. This being the case, I will maintain that Webb not even getting a hearing with regard to Hall of Fame selection is bogus.

But I digress. Two of the names are not as familiar as the others. Kenny Rogers and Luis Tiant.

Kenny Rogers, nicknamed "The Gambler," was an American singer-songwriter and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as dabbling in acting, appearing in shows such as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and How I Met Your Mother. His voice was notable... (cue the Monty Python record scratch noise...)

The other Kenny Rogers, also nicknamed "The Gambler", is a supposedly-not-formally-retired pitcher who appeared for six teams over the course of 20 big league seasons. He was noted for having either the best or the second best pick-off move in the game, and for having a bit of a temper. His traditional statistics and awards and accolades illustrate the interesting career he had. His career may have seemed at times like a train bound for nowhere, but he somehow seemed to wind up somewhere, anyway.

Rogers made just twelve starts over the first four seasons of his career, and led the major leagues in appearances by appearing in exactly half of the Rangers games in 1992. (Notable figures on those early Rangers teams included Nolan Ryan and Ivan Rodriguez.) He threw a perfect game on July 28, 1994, and the following year tossed 39 consecutive scoreless innings en route to his first All Star selection, at his home ballpark. (He relieved Dennis Martinez in the seventh inning and gave up a game-tying home run to Mike Piazza. Ironically, Martinez had thrown the previous perfect game, three years to the day before that of Rogers.) He signed with the Yankees after the 1995 season and won the World Series with them in 1996, but his tenure in a Yankees uniform was disappointing on the whole, and he became the first player Billy Beane traded for in Oakland. As a pending free agent, he was traded by Beane to the Mets before the deadline in 1999, and his tenure with the Mets was even more disappointing than his tenure with the Yankees, as he walked in the winning run for the Braves in the 1999 NLCS.

Then, it was back to the Rangers, where he sandwiched a bad season in 2001 around two excellent seasons. Then came a stop with the Twins, then back to the Rangers in 2005. At the age of 40, he picked up his second streak of 30 scoreless innings. In 2006 he made his second World Series appearance, this one with the Tigers. He also extended a notable postseason scoreless innings streak to 24.1 innings in Game 2 (albeit with some apparent aid from a mysterious sticky substance.) 2006 marked his fourth and final All Star appearance as well as his fifth and final Gold Glove award. He had another decent season in 2007 but was out of work after struggling in 2008.

Rogers made one appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, in 2014. He received exactly one vote. That ballot was stacked. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas were elected that year, and 11 other players on the ballot have made it into the Hall so far. Given that Clemens, Bonds, and Schilling were also on the ballot and all are pretty much ensured of eventual (although possibly posthumous) induction, there could easily wind up being 17 players on that ballot who eventually get into the Hall, and that's not even including Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, Don Mattingly and Jeff Kent. There were at least twenty players on the ballot with an argument to be inducted, something that we probably haven't seen since. (There was also a guy named Luis Gonzalez, who probably deserved better than the five votes he got.)

I'm not arguing that Rogers should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but his numbers are at least as good or better than one player who did get inducted, Jack Morris. Rogers was worth seven more WAR and posted a JAWS score of 42.8 to 38. JAWS also would struggle to evaluate a pitcher like Rogers, who tended to mix poor seasons in with good ones, even at his peak. Lee Smith was another player on the ballot who was eventually inducted with worse numbers than Rogers, but that was largely because of his being evaluated as a reliever, while Rogers was evaluated as a starter despite being a reliever for four seasons early in his career. I don't think he should be in the Hall, but he deserves it at least as much or more than some people who are in.

Luis Tiant, on the other hand, probably does deserve induction, and given that he is turning 83 this year, it probably won't happen during his lifetime. The son of a star pitcher with the New York Cubans, Tiant put together a career spanning 25 seasons, including his time in Mexican leagues. Beginning as an 18-year-old pitching in Mexico City, he impressed in three seasons and his contract was purchased by Cleveland. After some minor league seasoning, he made his debut in July of 1964. He led the majors in shutouts in 1966, the American League in strikeouts per 9 innings in 1967, and then posted an excellent season in 1968.

Yes, it was the "Year of the Pitcher" but Tiant led the AL in ERA, FIP, and WHIP, and the major leagues in hits allowed per 9 innings. The fact that it was the "Year of the Pitcher" probably obscures his accomplishment: his H/9 of 5.3 (when rounded to one decimal place) has never been surpassed in integrated baseball in a full season. Pitchers with a H/9 of 5.3 in a full season? Nolan Ryan (twice), Pedro Martinez, and Tiant. But let's get more than one decimal place and see how they stack up.

  • Ryan, 1972: 5.261
  • Tiant, 1968: 5.295
  • Ryan, 1991: 5.306
  • Martinez, 2000: 5.309

The only pitcher ever to have a more unhittable season, post segregation, just so happens to be the most unhittable pitcher of all time. Yes, it was 1968, but even the era adjusted numbers speak well about how good he was. His ERA+ was 186, which is only surpassed on this list by Pedro, who had arguably the greatest season by any pitcher, ever, in 2000. Oh, he also posted a scoreless innings streak of over 40 innings in 1968.

But Tiant struggled to adjust to the lower mound, or something. He led the league in losses, losing 20 games in 1969, and also led the major leagues in walks and home runs allowed. Cleveland dealt him to the Twins, where he was a little better. But the Twins didn't keep him after 1970 and he was signed by the Braves and sent to Richmond, their AAA team. The Braves released him in May without him ever appearing for them at the major league level. The Red Sox signed him and sent him to Louisville, then brought him back up late in 1971. He still struggled.

But in 1972 and now at 31 years old, he figured it out. He brought his walks back down. He went from allowing 8 home runs in a partial season to allowing 7 in a full season, with over 100 more innings pitched. He led the majors in ERA and received the first Cy Young votes of his career. And there was a second streak of 40 scoreless innings. Tiant had gone penthouse, to outhouse, and was back in the penthouse again.

The remainder of his Red Sox tenure also went well for Tiant. He won 20 games in 1973 and 1974, and while 1975 was the start of a downward trend, he came close to being a postseason hero. He defeated the three-time defending champion A's in Game 1 of the ALCS, then followed that up by shutting out the Reds in Game 1 of the World Series. Game 4 saw him toss another complete game, but allow 4 runs. After the Reds won Game 5, the Red Sox were 2-0 when Tiant started and 0-3 when he did not. Therefore, it made sense, after rain delays, for Tiant to start Game 6. He shut down the Big Red Machine for 4 innings, but gave up 3 in the fifth, 2 more in the seventh, and after a Cesar Geronimo home run to lead off the eighth, he was gone with a 6-3 deficit. Bernie Carbo tied it with a three run home run, and then one of the most famous plays in baseball history happened in the twelfth.

While Game 6 wasn't Tiant's finest hour, it still remained true that the Red Sox won every game he started in the 1975 World Series, and lost every game he did not.

Tiant put together three more good seasons in Boston, before signing with the Yankees, where the downward trend accelerated. He was productive in 1979 but replacement level for the remainder of his career, between the Yankees, Pirates, and Angels, as well as a few stops in Mexico.

Tiant made his debut on the HoF ballot in 1988, and got 132 votes, being named on 30.9% of the ballots. That was the closest he would come to enshrinement, however. Willie Stargell was the only player elected that season. By JAWS, Tiant was the third-best player on the ballot. The following year saw fellow 1975 World Series participants Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski voted in. But while Tiant continued to hang around the top-five among names on the ballot in terms of JAWS, his support slipped.

1998 saw perhaps the worst vote ever, with Don Sutton the lone inductee (on the strength of his 300 wins) despite there being seven players better than him by JAWS. (One of them, Willie Randolph, got just five votes and was off the ballot in his first year.) 2000 was almost as bad. At least the voters did elect Carlton Fisk (although they failed to elect Gary Carter), but they also elected Tony Perez, with a JAWS score 10 points below Tiant. 2001 saw the second year in a row that two players with a JAWS score worst than Tiant's were elected (although, once again, Tiant was not the worst slight, as Lou Whitaker was one-and-done on the ballot.) In his final year of eligibility, he got just 18% of the vote.

Tiant was neither the pitcher nor the player most slighted by the voters during this period, but committees have righted the wrong done to Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo. At the same time, those committees have also elected Jack Morris, Jim Bunning, and Jim Kaat, pitchers who had excellent careers, but not as good as Tiant. (Tiant is hurt by his shutout in the World Series coming in Game 1 instead of Game 7, although it was against a much better team.) He can't be considered until December of 2024, so we'll have to wait until then to see what a committee decides. Unfortunately, the most likely way he gets in would be a posthumous bump, like Ron Santo and Minnie Minoso received.

If you wondered about Rogers and Tiant, now you know a bit more about them. You'll likely hear their names on the broadcast tonight.