Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Few Innings Short

MLB Official Rule 10.22(b) covers the minimum innings pitched required to determine each league's ERA champion:
The individual pitching champion in a Major League shall be the pitcher with the lowest earned-run average, provided that the pitcher has pitched at least as many innings in league championship games as the number of games scheduled for each club in his club's league that season.
That means a pitcher needs to throw 162 or more innings to count himself among the league leaders. Thus the ERA title can today only go to starting pitchers who stay healthy. Plenty of guys stay on the mound enough to qualify for the ERA title each year: since 2004, the number of pitchers with 162+ IP has ranged between 77 and 92. But what about guys who just missed the cutoff, whether through injury, delayed callups, or any other reason? Surely there have been some guys who missed the cut by just a few innings. Of course there's no guarantee those guys wouldn't have been lit up in the innings they required, but let's take a look at them anyway:
  • Mark Eichhorn (1986) - 1.72 ERA in 157 innings for Toronto

    Eichhorn made his major league debut in late 1982, but a shoulder injury doomed his career as a starter and forced him into a submarine-style delivery. In 1986, he appeared in 69 games for the Blue Jays, pitching a stunning 157 innings in relief. He wound up 14-6 with 10 saves and 166 strikeouts. Had he picked up five more innings during the season, his ERA would have easily beaten AL leader Roger Clemens' 2.48.

  • John Denny (1984) - 2.45 ERA in 154 1/3 innings for Philadelphia

    One year after taking home the NL Cy Young Award and Comeback Player of the Year Award, Denny came within one start of taking home the NL ERA title. A midseason injury cost him the chance as he missed two months from late May to July. Denny wound up 7-7 over the 22 starts he was able to make in 1984. Alejandro Pena's 2.48 ERA in 199 1/3 innings took the title instead.

  • Tom Hall (1970) - 2.55 ERA in 155 1/3 innings for Minnesota

    The 1970 AL ERA belongs to Diego Segui for putting up a 2.56 ERA in exactly 162 innings. Segui was able to just barely sneak onto the ERA leaderboard, but Twins swingman Tom Hall wasn't quite as lucky. Appearing in 52 games (11 starts) and putting up an 11-6 record with four saves, Hall wound up 6 2/3 innings short. If he had been allowed to start a couple more games before September, he might well have taken Segui's title.

  • Roger Craig (1959) - 2.06 ERA in 152 2/3 innings for Los Angeles

    Called up in June, Craig wound up four outs away from the ERA title (the 154-game schedule was still being used). Utilized as a swingman, Craig started 17 games and appeared 12 times in relief. He wound up 11-5 and even picked up some MVP votes. Much like Mark Eichhorn thirty years later, he easily outpaced the competition in the ERA race: Sam Jones wound up edging Stu Miller and Bob Buhl for the title with a 2.83 ERA.

  • Jim Konstanty (1950) - 2.66 ERA in 152 innings for Philadelphia

    Sal Maglie took the crown with a 2.71 ERA in 206 innings, but Jim Konstanty was right there with him. The relief ace for the Whiz Kids appeared in 74 games, finishing 62 of them, going 16-7 with 22 saves (by modern definition). He was a surprise pick to start Game 1 of that year's World Series and lost 1-0. Konstanty picked up the MVP award for his season, but was two innings away from claiming the ERA title as well.
Konstanty was the first pitcher since 1920 to get close to the title without qualifying. I didn't look beyond 1920 because of the varying schedule length from year to year and drastically different style of pitcher use. I'm also not sure if the ERA title was determined in the same way back then. Did I miss someone in the last 90 years? Let me know.

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