By TED SILLANPAA
Changes in how Major League Baseball games are managed make it almost impossible to compare pitchers from different eras and one to be superior.
Almost impossible . . .
Madison Bumgarner has averaged 34 starts and 221 innings pitched per season. He has a career ERA of 2.93 with 14 complete games (2 shutouts). His career WHIP is 1.098. The big left hander has won an average of 16 games a year, never winning more than 18.
Juan Marichal averaged 18 wins per season with the San Francisco Giants, with six 20-win seasons. He had a career ERA of 2.84 with 4.1 complete games, 40 in his career. Marichal twice led the National League in innings pitched with well over 300. (Bumgarner won’t pitch 300. The game is managed differently today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.) Marichal averaged 257 innings per season, about 30 more than Bumgarner. The high-kicking righty.
Marichal just barely edges Bumgarner to rank atop the Giants’ all-time top 25 pitchers.
Just . . . barely.
Marichal won a 16-inning, complete-game duel against Hall of Famer Warren Spahn and the Milwaukee Braves. Willie Mays’ home run won it in the 16th, 1-0.Both men threw over 200 pitches — 17 days after Marichal had pitched a no-hitter in June 1963. Manager Alvin Dark wanted to remove Marichal from the game, but the righthander kept explaining that the 27-year-old “Dominican Dandy” wouldn’t sit down until the 42-year-old Spahn did the same.
Does that equal Bumgarner’s postseason super-human effort in the 2014 World Series?
Giants’ pitchers who ranked number 13 to 25 were already featured. There are surprises. here. The two-time Cy Young Award winner didn’t near the No. 1 spot. A pitcher who had just two big seasons in San Francisco earned a spot for doing something far more important than simply win games. And, one World Series starting rotation star not named Bumgarner, Lincecum or Cain cracked the top 10.
Here are the top pitchers in San Francisco Giants history:
12. Vida Blue (1978-1981): The Giants made a deal to move to Toronto in 1976. Bob Lurie’s ownership kept a club in San Francisco that had finished last in attendance in the National League for four straight seasons. The future didn’t look bright heading into the 1978 campaign. When the Giants made a multi-player trade to acquire Blue from the Oakland A’s, they had the drawing card that they needed.
San Francisco drew 700,056 fans in 1977. Blue crossed San Francisco Bay from Oakland to lead the 1978 club to a surprising 89-73 record and third place in the NL west. They hadn’t finished above .500 since 1973. Blue compiled an 18-10 mark with a 2.79 record. While he became the veteran the Giants’ staff needed, he also became chief cheerleader luring fans to windy, cold Candlestick Park. The 29-year-old had 35 starts and pitched 258 innings to lead a starting rotation that included young lefty Bob Knepper (17-11, 2.63), John Montefusco (11-9, 3.81), Ed Halicki (9-10, 2.85) and Jim Barr (8-11, 3.53).
Blue had only two other seasons in San Francisco with double-digit wins — 14-10 (1980) and 13-12 (1981). While his performance didn’t match his best seasons across the bay, it was sufficient to give the Giants a voice in the media market and hope on the field. That, as much as anything, leaves Blue securely in the club’s top 25 pitchers.
11. Mike McCormick (1956-1971): McCormick started his career at age 17, won the NL Cy Young in 1967 at age and then saw a career haunted by injury end at 33.
McCormick, the winningest lefty in San Francisco Giants history with 107 victories, signed as a bonus baby and had to stay on the big league roster for two season before the New York Giants moved to SF in 1958. He won 58 games over four seasons heading into the Giants 1962 NL championship season. McCormick, battling shoulder pain, pitched just 98 innings, finished 5-5 and was eventually traded to the Baltimore Orioles. After four more seasons fighting a strained rotator cuff, he started receiving cortisone shots. “In those days, a pitcher who said he was too sore to pitch would just lose his job,” McCormick said. “If it wasn’t for the cortisone injections, I couldn’t have pitched.”
After a bounce-back season with the Washington Senators, McCormick returned to the 1967 Giants. He was 22-1o with 2.85 ERA to win the Cy Young Award. His 14 complete games in 35 starts led San Francisco. McCormick had a 1.147 WHIP, averaging five strikeouts per nine innings. He’d transformed himself from a hard-throwing kid to 29-year-old who relied on changing speeds and hitting his spots. He finished with double-digit wins in seven of his 11 seasons in San Francisco.
He was sent to the New York Yankees in 1970, it was all downhill for McCormick. Shoulder problems were no longer corrected by the cortisone. His big league career finally ended after two aborted comeback attempts when he was finally released by the Kansas City Royals in 1971.
10. Russ Ortiz (1998-2002, 2007): Ortiz reached the big leagues for a career in San Francisco that corresponded with the careers of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. There wasn’t anything wildly impressive about the righthander’s numbers, but a high-scoring lineup more than offset even 2000 with Ortiz posted a 5.01 ERA — yet finished with a 14-12 records.
Ortiz spent six years with the Giants going 69-47 with a 4.09 ERA. He was a cornerstone of a rotation that shined for the high-scoring club. He finished among the top 10 in games started three times in SF; twice finishing in the top five in victories.
9. Kirk Rueter (1996-2005): A fan favorite and clubhouse leader, the southpaw nicknamed “Woody” was a pitcher whose strengths included durability and pinpoint control. Rueter ended up second among Giants’ lefthanders with 105 wins. He had a career record, including time with the Montreal Expos, of 130-92, finishing with a 105-80 record and 4.32 ERA with the Giants.
8. Robb Nen (1998-2002): Nen started what became a string of outstanding closers. He arrived in San Francisco after a sterling five-year career with the Florida Marlins. Nen had 206 saves in five seasons in San Francisco, averaging 41 per season.He averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings, using a blazing fastball and sharp slider.
Nen was among the top five in NL saves from 199-2002, leading all league relievers with 45 in 2001. He was a three-time All-Star with the Giants.
7. Jack Sanford (1959-1965): The 6-foot, 180-pounder wasn’t considered a prospect by his high school coach. After signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, he even had to drive the team bus for the team located in Dover, Del. In 1962, he went 24-7 for the National League champion Giants.
Sanford had gone 40-33 in his first three seasons with San Francisco before leading the club to the World Series with a 24-7 record and 3.43 ERA in 42 starts and 265.1 innings pitched.
Sanford spent seven seasons with the Giants, going 89-67. He had a 1-2 record and 1.93 ERA in the 1962 World Series where he pitched a complete game in a 1-0 loss in Game 7 in San Francisco. Sanford had previously pitched a complete game to win Game 2 in Yankee Stadium.
6. Jason Schmidt (2001-2007): Schmidt had his best year in 2003 when the Giants won 101 games, led the NL West wire to wire and were bounced in the first round of the NL playoffs by the 91-win Florida Marlins. He was 17-5 and led the NL in ERA at 2.34 and winning percentage at .773. He had a WHIP of 0.953 that led the NL and averaged nine strikeouts per game.
Schmidt had six magnificent seasons in San Francisco, going 78-37 for a sterling .678 won-loss percentage. He tossed 14 complete games well after complete games had yielded to loads of late-inning relief pitchers. His SF career WHIP was 1.183. Schmidt dominated opposition.
The Giants took the NLDS against the Braves and the NLCS against the Cardinals the distance before entering the 2002 World Series against the Angels. Schmidt beat the Cardinals in the NLCS after losing to Atlanta in the NLDS. The bats ruled the World Series where Schmidt defeated the Angels after a 5.2-inning outing.
Schmidt had electric stuff that left him in historically lofty company with Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. The younger of the Giants’ sensations dominated their postseasons, while Schmidt did not. His spot in the top 25 relects as much.Schmidt was voted “The Sporting News” Pitcher of the Year award and the NL ERA crown in 2004 and 2003 respectively. He followed his big 2003 with 18 wins in 2004.
The 6-foot-5 righthander signed with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent in 2007 where injuries ended his career in 2009.
5. Matt Cain (2005-2016): Cain’s perfect game against the Houston Astros, along with his postseason heroics in 2010 and 2012, leave him well up the list of the 25 best. However, he has averaged 11 wins and 12 losses in his 12 years with the Giants. His career ERA is 3.54, with a career best of 2.79 in a glorious 2012 season when he finished 16-5 as the Giants defeated the
Detroit Tigers to win the World Series.
Cain has pitched 1,947 innings, but pitched sparingly in four of his dozen seasons in San Francisco. An arm ailment led to surgery that has him 16-27 in his last four seasons. The big righthander is just now rounding into form that provides him a hint of his once glorious consistency. Even though the results have been average – he’s only 101-105 overall – but has been hard to hit throughout his career. His career WHIP is a commendable 1.198.
Cain separates himself from other top-10 pitchers with a 4-2 postseason and 2.10 ERA. He was 2-0 in the 2010 postseason, including a World Series win over the Texas Rangers. Cain was 2-2 in the 2012 playoffs before missing the 2014 postseason due to the arm injury.
The righty earned National League All-Star spots in 2009, 2010 and 2012. Five times he has finished in the top 10 in the league in ERA.
4. Gaylord Perry (1962-1971): The 6-foot-5 farmer from North Carolina didn’t really become a Hall of Fame candidate until it began to appear that he might pitch well forever. Not only did he roll through a 22-year career, he was remarkably consistent when portions of his career were compared. Take away two partial seasons from his 10-year stay with the Giants and Perry won 130 and lost 102 – 18 games over .500. In the eight seasons spent with the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians he was 118-100 – 18 games over .500. It didn’t stop there. Perry finished 63-43 (20 games above .500) in four seasons with the San Diego Padres.
Perry emerged as a solid big league pitcher in 1964 when he felt his career was on the brink. He got the call as the last Giant out of the bullpen in what became a 23-inning game against the New York Mets. Faced with doing whatever it took to hold off the Mets, he later explained he turned to the spitball. Perry pitched 10 scoreless innings and went on to call his biography, “Me and the Spitter.”
Perry posted a 12-11 record with a 2.75 ERA in 1964. After an 8-12 season in 1965 where his ERA skyrocketed to 4.19, Perry went 21-8. The historic part of Perry’s career followed in San Francisco through 1971 and with seven other teams before he retired in 1983.
Perry was 23-13 in 1970 with 3.20 ERA. He led the National League in innings pitched and batters faced for the second straight season. The Giants won the NL West in 1971 with Perry going 16-13 in ’71. After an NLCS loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Giants traded the right hander to the Indians in exchange for flame-throwing left hander Sam McDowell. McDowell flamed out in San Francisco. Perry really kicked his Hall of Game career into gear.
Perry was consistently well over .500, but never to the point that it thrust him into Hall of Fame discussion. He won 24 games for the Indians at age 35. After winning 19 in ’73, the 37-year-old went 21-13 in Cleveland to begin talk of his spot in baseball history. Perry was 38 years old in 1974 when he won 21 for the Indians. Age, longevity and success suddenly combined to prompt the fans and media to acknowledge Perry’s greatness. Any 40-year-old who wins 21 games, as Perry (a career 314-265, 3.11) did with the San Diego Padres finds him on a path to the Hall of Fame.
Perry was enshrined in 1991, his third year on the ballot. He appeared 0n two National League All-Star Game rosters while with the Giants. Perry finished in the top 10 in NL ERA six of his 10 years in San Francisco. The righty won the Cy Young Award once in each league to top off a stunning 22-year career – that began on a cool New York night when a desperate Giants’ reliever unveiled the spitball.
3. Tim Lincecum (207-2015): He was chosen with the 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft, won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards and played on four NL All-Star teams. Lincecum was on track to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Toss in two no-hitters against the San Diego Padres and Lincecum seemed a lock to become the best pitcher in Giants history.
Then, the bottom fell out and Lincecum spent five years on a quick descent from the top of the heap. He was set free by the Giants after hip surgery and didn’t make it through a full big league season in 2016. “The Freak” was suddenly in the minor leagues trying to find a way to get big league hitters out.
Is it possible for the San Francisco Giants’ greatest pitcher ever to earn the honor in just four winning seasons? Lincecum, clearly, found that it is not
He won his first Cy Young in 2008 with an 18-5 record and 2.62 ERA. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder led the NL in strikeouts with 265 – 10.5 per game. He finished 15-7 with a league best 261 strikeouts in 2009 to win a second Cy Young. When he fanned 231 to top the NL in 2010, the hard-throwing right hander seemed bound for an historic career.
Lincecum posted a 5-2 record in three postseasons that each ended with a Giants’ world championship in 2010, 2012 and 2014. He shut out the Atlanta Braves to begin his postseason career and the 2010 NLDS. He followed with a 16-strikeout loss to Philadelphia in the NLCS. Then came two wins against the Texas Rangers in the World Series. The second clinched the title. He wound up with 13 strikeouts in 13.2 innings pitched
Lincecum lost his starting spot in the 2012 playoffs. He pitched well out of the bullpen with 20 strikeouts in 17.2 innings. By 2014, he was the last man in a deep bullpen and threw just 1.2 innings of one blowout loss to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series.
Lincecum’s three banner seasons and the Giants’ success leaves him one of the most popular Giants in team history. There’s no statue of Lincecum at AT&T Park today, but there will be one to feature all of his honors in a career cut short.
2. Madison Bumgarner (2009-2016): Everything changed for Madison Bumgarner during the 2014 season. He put the Giants on his shoulders to carry them to the second wild card playoff spot. After a complete game, shutout win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bumgarner proceeded to register the greatest postseason performance of any modern-day pitcher.
The month of mound dominance capped off by his iron man performance in Game 7 of the World Series against the Royals led to his becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball. Those five shutout innings on just two days rest in Kansas City made Bumgarner a baseball legend.
Bumgarner has been 46-26 with a 2.71 ERA since the start of the 2014 season. He has 12 complete games in 89 starts and 599.2 innings pitched. Overall, Bumgarner has a 93-63 career record with a 2.93 ERA. Bumgarner was the Giants’ first round draft pick, 10th overall, in 2007. He made his big league debut at age 20.Marichal was entering his fifth full season in the big leagues at 28. Bumgarner could surpass Marichal.
. . . Give him time.
1. Juan Marichal (1960-1973): When an argument breaks out over the best pitcher in San Francisco Giants history, just find a copy of Marichal’s career statistics and accomplishments. That’s all you need to do.
Nicknamed “The Dominican Dandy,” he debuted in 1960. He went 18-11 in the Giants’ 1962 National League championship season. He finished 25-8 with a 241 ERA in 1963, leading the NL in innings pitched. He had a WHIP of 0.996, pitching a no-hitter against the HoustonColt 45s in 1963. Marichal followed with four 20-win seasons in his next five seasons. He won 25 in 1966 and 26 in 1968. The right hander won the NL ERA title with a 2.10 mark to go with eight shutouts and 27 complete games in 1969.
Marichal was part of 10 NL All-Star teams from 1962 to 1971. He finished in the top 10 of NL Most Valuable Player voting twice. Major League Baseball only gave out one Cy Young Award for both leagues in Marichal’s heyday. He didn’t win a Cy Young.
Marichal finished his career in San Francisco with 238 wins and 140 losses. He had a 2.84 ERA to go with 244 career complete games, including 52 shutouts.
Writers with Hall of Fame votes turned against Marichal in 1965 when a brawl broke out and he cracked Dodgers’ catcher John Roseboro over the head with his bat during an altercation. As a result, Marichal failed to earn entry to the Hall of Fame in his first two years of eligibility. He was finally elected in 1983, appearing on 83.7 percent of the ballots.