Has the Early Bird special at diners across the United States gotten even cheaper over the past week? The behavior of a few big names in baseball would lead me to think so. While some other corners of the Internet are agog over the retirement of Frank Thomas, no doubt you also noticed that another big name, Tom Glavine, decided to hang up his cleats in favor of the greener pastures of yelling at kids to get off his lawn and trying to keep the Braves from ruining Tommy Hanson's golden arm.
Apparently it's my thing to pen retiring lefties who happen to be 300 game winners a "goodbye" post, so let's dive in, shall we? The funny thing is, aside from these aforementioned shared qualities, that's about where the similarity between these two guys stops. And it stops abruptly too. You probably recall how I was amazed at Randy Johnson's statistical dominance, especially in his strikeout numbers. With gaudy totals like that, it's no wonder the Big Unit achieved one of baseball's most impressive milestones.
Glavine though? It's almost the exact opposite. My nerd self is baffled. The guy is among the winningest lefty pitchers in baseball history, and yet his peripheral numbers don't strike fear in the hearts of men the way some of his contemporaries did. He never once struck out 200 batters in a season, and his career K/9 sits at a fairly low 5.32. His career WHIP is good, but not great, and a lot of the time his FIP was significantly higher than his sparkling ERA, a testament to the benefit of having a non-plantain'd Andruw Jones gobbling up fly balls with reckless abandon. Not surprisingly, The Big Unit also dominates his softer-tossing counterpart in WAR (91.8 to 67.0) despite throwing a lot less innings.
This is not to say that Tom Glavine was a bad pitcher... not in the least. He led the league in victories five times while winning two Cy Young awards, but his numbers indicate he did it in a lot less of an glitzy, overpowering manner. How did he do it? Well, from a sheer statistical standpoint, a large part of his success undoubtedly stems from the fact that for his career, Glavine was a very durable pitcher that averaged less than a hit per inning. Somehow, this guy, despite the fact that he was a.) not a strikeout pitcher and b.) not even particularly adroit at inducing grounders like his own teammate Greg Maddux, consistently denied opponents the opportunities to beat him. I'm looking for other statistical reasons to explain his success and there's nothing else jumping out at me. Weird. And it's even weirder when you consider there are pitchers who have far better peripheral numbers, but probably won't even come close to 300 victories when it's time to leave the game.
Well, hasn't this just thrown a mighty big wrench into the typical account of a "dominant" pitcher?
(Image courtesy of 'Duk, a veritable bounty of Coke Zero is headed your way.)