18 May 2012

the evolution of the ace, part 2

here we are with the second installment of the non-scientific evolutionary chain of the dodgers' ace.  we left off part one with gomer, and we start part two with don sutton.

don sutton (1971-1973, 1976)
don sutton, much to my chagrin, is the only hall of famer to be part of the team of my youth.  from 1971-1973, sutton averaged 18 wins a year.  he won 19 in 1973, and finished in 5th place in the cy young award voting in both 1972 and 1973.  he finished in the top five in strikeouts each of the three years, and his 9 shutouts and sub-1.00 whip led the league in 1972.  in 1976, sutton reclaimed the ace spot from andy messersmith (see below), by winning 20 games (21, actually) for the only time in his career.  sutton also finished 3rd in the cy young voting, and 22nd in the league mvp vote that year.

sutton actually finished in the top 5 of the cy young voting in 1974 and 1975 as well, but both times he was behind (or tied with) teammate andy messersmith (1974-1975)
messersmith finished 2nd in the vote following the 1974 season (behind teammate mike marshall) and then tied with sutton at 5th in 1975.  his 1974 season included 20 wins and a 1.10 whip (both of which led the league) as well as 221 strikeouts (good for 2nd in the national league).  in 1975, messersmith earned 19 wins and posted a 2.29 era.  he also led the league in starts, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and hits/9 innings.  he also appeared twice in relief - earning a save in one of those appearances.

tommy john (1977)
tommy john was just two seasons removed from his eponymous surgery when he went 20-7 with a 2.78 era in 1977.  he also threw 11 complete games and 3 shutouts and finished 2nd in the cy young balloting.

burt hooton (1978-1979)
like john before him, hooton finished 2nd in the cy young voting after the 1978 season.  he had gone 19-10 with a 2.71 era in 32 starts, and also had 10 complete games with three of them being shutouts.  in 1979, the dodgers were not a first place team, but happy was still the ace - posting an era of 2.97 but being rewarded with a 11-10 record.  i gave the nod to hooton in 1979 over rookie of the year rick sutcliffe (17-10, 3.46) because hooton surpassed sutcliffe in pretty much every category other than wins.  i don't want to overvalue wins as a measurement of ace, even though my definition is obviously subjective. sorry sutt!  all of the other dodger starters (except for spot starter charlie hough) had losing records and substantially higher eras than hooton did in 1979, including the dodger ace of 1980.

jerry reuss (1980)
reuss joined the list of dodger pitchers to finish second in the cy young voting when he went 18-6 with 3 saves and a 2.51 era in 1980.  he also had 10 complete games, 6 of which were shutouts (the most in the league), and a no-hitter against the giants.  in candlestick, no less.

fernando valenzuela (1981-1982, 1986)
fernandomania touched down in 1981 as another lefty claimed the mantle of ace.  fernando made the opening day start only after it was determined that reuss could not, and went on to rattle off 5 straight complete games, 4 of which were shutouts, in his first 5 starts.  he went 9 innings in his next three starts, too, although it took 10 innings for the dodgers to win his 6th start, although he got the win as he did in all 7 of his other initial 8 starts.  after that, fernando was just 5-7 but finished the strike-shortened campaign at 13-7 with a 2.48 era, and was atop the league leader board in starts, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and strikeouts.  he also took home some hardware as the league's rookie of the year and cy young award winner.  el toro was a 19 game winner in 1982, and then won 21 games for the blue in 1986 with a league leading 20 complete games and a personal best 242 strikeouts, good enough for second place in the cy young award voting. in between 1982 and 1986, however, fernando was outshone by a couple of other dodger starters.
bob welch (1983)
welch went 15-12 in 1983 (fernando was 15-10) and his 2.65 era was the best among dodger starters.  in addition, his 1.16 whip was just slightly higher than that of alejandro pena among the dodgers in the rotation.  maybe i am including welch here just so i can show his nice 1983 fleer card with dodger stadium and ron cey lurking in the background.

alejandro pena (1984)
pena was 12-6 with a league leading 2.48 era for the dodgers in 1984.  he made 28 starts and completed 8 of them, 4 by shutout.  oddly, it was the final season of pena's career in which he was used exclusively as a starter.

orel hershiser was the team's ace in 1985, but i'll cover him in the next post since he also held that title by my estimation later in the decade.

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