Great Pitchers Riding Into the Sunset in ’08 (One of Which is Way Too Soon)

April 01, 2008 |

As the season gets underway, let’s talk about pitching. Ask anyone, pitching is the name of the game. You can’t win without it. With that in mind I want to talk about some guys who have done it very well in the past and are still playing today.
When I blogged my pre-season predictions, I mentioned that the Giants were going to be very bad, in part, thanks to Barry Zito and his fall from dominance. After his opening day loss, I pulled up his career stats. My assessment; at 29-years-old he’s in trouble.
In his first four years in the big leagues Zito went 61-29 with an ERA of 3.12. In his last four, plus his one start of ’08, he is 52-48 with an ERA of 4.17. The other thing that is alarming for someone his age is the precipitous drop in strikeouts. In his first full season, Zito struck out 205 guys, which of course was with the A’s. Now in the National League, where he should be able to strike out a pitcher every few innings, Zito actually posted his worst strikeout total of his career in ‘07, with only 131.
Does he have a rebound him? I mean, this guy was great. He was a Cy Young winner for crying out loud. Well, let’s look at some other guys who started their careers like gangbusters and faded at a young age. Jack McDowell dominated right up until he won a Cy Young at 27. After that, he was washed up at 30 and out of the game at 33. Pat Hentgen also won a Cy young at 27. He was pretty much done at 31 and out of the game at 35. Is Zito on this same path? We’ll have to keep an eye on this one throughout the season.

On the older side of the ledger, many great, starting pitchers are about to hang up their cleats for good. Several of these are, in my opinion, first ballot hall-of-famers. They would include Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and speaking strictly on the matter of statistics, Roger Clemens. After that, I think there are three quality pitchers that fall into the category of having fabulous careers but not as good as the people who I just mentioned. They would be John Smoltz, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. While debates about whom, if any, of these players will ever gain enshrinement, while looking at their numbers entering the ’08 season I found one stat that was interesting. Although they are all different pitchers and in some instances their numbers vary greatly, their career loss totals were almost identical: 146 (Schilling), 145 (Smoltz), and 144 (Mussina).

There is a reasonable chance that this is the last season for many if not all of these pitchers. While none of these guys are what they used to be, enjoy seeing them this season because this might be your last chance.