15 May 2012

the evolution of the ace

this latest endeavor into the dodgers' positional evolution is tough.  that's because 'ace' is not really a position but rather a perception.  the dodgers have had a number of great pitchers, and even more decent pitchers who put up amazing stats for a year or two. to determine who the 'ace' was each year meant that i would subjectively interpret cold stats many years after the seasons had ended.  and i didn't always get it right, that's for sure.  maybe i should have just done an evolution of opening day starters - that would have been way easier.  anyway, here we go with the first installment of 'evolution of the ace'.  ready the tomatoes...

i start by noting that the dodgers have often had ace #1 and ace #1a in their rotations, and so there will be some back-and-forth for some of these pitchers.  this will result in a less than linear evolution.  you'll see what i mean right out of the gate with don newcombe.

don newcombe (1949-1951, 1955-1956)
newk won 56 games over his first 3 years in the major leagues (1949-1951), leading the team in wins each season.  he spent the next two years in the military, and returned for the 1954 season.  he didn't reclaim the top spot in the rotation until 1955, however, when he won 20 games for the second time in his career.  his best season, however, was 1956, when he went 27-7 and won the very first cy young award while also winning the league's mvp award.

carl erskine (1952-1954)
oisk (shown above on his super cool 1952 bowman card) filled in for newcombe from 1952-1954.  he won 52 games over those three years, including 20 in 1953. Erskine's run as the ace of the staff included his performance in the 1952 world series (where he retired 19 straight yankees in one stretch) and the 1953 fall classic in which he pitched a complete game in game three while striking out a then-record 14 batters.

don drysdale (1957, 1959-1960, 1962, 1968)
big d was 17-9 in 1957, then won 17 and 15 games in 1959 and 1960, respectively.  he topped out at 25 wins in 1962 and then had his incredible run of 58 and 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in 1968.  he posted a career best 2.15 era that season, but wound up with a record of just 14-12.  his 8 shutouts didn't lead the league, either, although he did lead the league in that category with 4 in 1959.

johnny podres (1958)
the dodgers' first season in los angeles was a tough one.  they were 12 games under .500 and didn't really have a standout pitching performance.  i gave the nod to johnny podres because he led the starters in complete games with 10 and in era at 3.72 but was rewarded with a 13-15 record.  by comparison, sandy koufax was 11-11, but his era was 4.48.

sandy koufax (1961, 1963-1966)
there is no doubt that koufax was the ace from 1963 through 1966.  he was the best pitcher in the game during that stretch - he won the pitching triple crown in three of those four years, and led the league in era in the other.  he won three straight cy young awards, plus an mvp trophy during that stretch.  and, in 1961, he led the league in strikeouts and won 18 games.

claude osteen (1967, 1969-1970)
with koufax retiring after the 1966 postseason, another lefty emerged to lead the rotation.  osteen won 17 games (while also losing 17) in 1967 and then won 20 in 1969.  he made 41 starts that year, and completed 16 of them.  in 1970, he won 16 games to lead the squad.

yes, the term ace is pretty squishy, but i think this is a pretty good representation of how the leader of the dodgers' rotation evolved into the 1970's.  we'll continue the evolutionary chain next time...

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