Reyes Nearing a Historic Pickle

The Cardinals' Wednesday starting pitcher, Anthony Reyes, has a chance to join some select company if he continues in his winless ways. Fortunately, historian John Shiffert doesn't see it happening.

It's unfair to say Steve Gerkin was in a pickle for his entire baseball career. After all, he was a good minor league pitcher off-and-on from 1936 to 1953, interspacing his professional seasons with semi-pro years all over the United States, Mexico and even Cuba. For example, he was a minor league All-Star in 1943, 1946, 1947 and 1953 (at the age of 40.) He led the Tri-State League in wins (20) with Lancaster in 1943. He went 18-6 in the Mexican League in 1949. In 1946 and 1947, he led the Western International League and the American Association in appearances with 47 and 83, respectively, the last figure being an Organized Baseball single-season record that earned him the AA's MVP award for 1947.

 

A very decent minor league career, but one overshadowed by his single major league season. Maybe he would have been better off if Pickles Dillhoefer had still been around to catch him. Or maybe not. As Jim Baker noted in "The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract," "couldn't Gerkin have lucked out just once?" You see, despite a respectable 3.62 ERA (translating into a close-to-league average Adjusted ERA of 95), the 1945 Athletics stuck Gerkin with an 0-12 season and career record, thus making him the poster child for Winless (and Near-Winless) Pitchers. This unfortunate band of brothers pops up on the major league scene every once and a while, though usually not for very long. And, usually, like Steve Gerkin, they have very little luck, and few chances to improve on their luck.

 

The most extreme cases of Winless Pitcher Syndrome are represented by Gerkin, Russ Miller of the 1928 Phillies and the benighted Terry Felton, he of the 0-13 1982 season, and the 0-16 career with the Minnesota Twins. And, while we're at it, we should also acknowledge Paul Brown, Jim Suchecki, Jack Nabors, Tom Sheehan, Mike Parrott and Kyle Abbott, to say nothing of Anthony Young. But first, Messrs. Felton, Gerkin and Miller.

 

In all the 135 seasons of major league baseball, only three pitchers have managed to lose 12 or more games in a single season without winning at least once. And all three saw their major league careers come to an abrupt end at the end of those seasons. That would be record-holder Terry Felton (0-13) and runners-up Russ Miller (0-12) and Steve Gerkin (0-12).

 

Terry Felton – 1982 Minnesota Twins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

W-L

G

GS

IP

H

W

K

ERA

ERA+

0-13

48

6

117

99

76

92

4.99

85

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Gerkin – 1945 Philadelphia Athletics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

W-L

G

GS

IP

H

W

K

ERA

ERA+

0-12

21

12

102

112

27

25

3.62

95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russ Miller – 1928 Philadelphia Phillies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

W-L

G

GS

IP

H

W

K

ERA

ERA+

0-12

33

12

108

137

34

19

5.42

79

 

None of these three poor souls ever appeared in a major league game after their winless trials. And yet… the '82 Twins, who were admittedly on their way to 102 losses, thought enough of Felton, who was only 24 when he underwent this experience that they used him as a closer – he finished 20 games and had three saves – plus, he only gave up 99 hits in 117 innings. Was he that terrible?

 

Now Gerkin, as the inimitable Mr. Baker reported upon some 20 years ago, had such bad luck that the theory must be considered that he offended somebody or something. Although he was mostly a starter for Connie Mack during his three months in the majors (May 13 to August 10), Gerkin gave up a total of just five earned runs in relief (a 2.21 ERA) and yet netted three losses in those nine games. Considering some of the dogs Mack had on his 98-loss staff in 1945 (e.g., Don Black, Lou Knerr), you would have thought Gerkin at least merited another chance in 1946. It didn't happen, partly, it can be assumed, because fate and history also conspired against him.

 

Gerkin's story was a fairly common one for the war years, when major league teams drafted just about anyone who could walk to fill their rosters. Gerkin was a 32 year-old rookie with some minor league success who had apparently already served as a private in the U.S. Army in 1944 and had been discharged for some reason. At least, that would seem to have been the case since he was pitching for Lancaster when he got the call from Connie Mack in May 1945. He went back to Lancaster when Mack released him in August, ending up with a 6-4 record and a 3.00 ERA in the minors in 1945. Still, he had pitched better for the Athletics than either Black (5.17 ERA) or Knerr (4.22). Little good that did him in 1945 or 1946 – when the major league regulars came back from the war and the fill-ins like Gerkin (especially older fill-ins) were largely relegated to the minors. For good, in his case.

 

Miller, on the other hand, was just plain bad. He'd gone 1-1, but with a 5.28 ERA in two starts as a 27 year-old rookie in 1927, a performance that must of convinced the Phillies to keep him on in 1928, when he proceeded to put 171 men on base in 108 innings, walking 34 and only striking out 19. No wonder that was his last year, even though the Phillies were 43-109.

 

As you might expect, really bad seasons have a way of bringing an early, even if not immediate, end to a pitcher's career, whether such an end is fair or not. Take Brown and Suchecki. Brown was such a hot prospect for the Phillies that they rushed him to the majors just after his 20th birthday, and just a year and-a-half after he was signed (this was before the major league draft) as an amateur free agent. Somehow, though, it didn't work out.

 

    

W-L

G

GS

IP

H

W

K

ERA

ERA+

1961

0-1

5

1

10

13

8

1

8.10

50

1962

0-6

23

9

64

74

33

29

5.94

65

1963

0-1

6

2

15

15

5

11

4.11

78

1968

0-0

2

0

4

6

1

4

9.00

34

TOT 

0-8

36

12

93

108

47

45

6.00

62

 

Remarkably enough, after failing three times and spending four whole years in the minors, the Phillies brought Brown back to one more look-see in The Year of the Pitcher, 1968. Didn't help. Brown never won a regular season game in the major leagues although, ironically enough, he did win a mid-season exhibition game. Back in the early ‘60s, the Phillies would play an American League team at Connie Mack Stadium each year in an exhibition fund-raiser for the local Junior Baseball Federation. Wouldn't you know it, Brown beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1962 game.

 

Then there was Jim Suchecki. After four games with the 1950 Red Sox (0-0, 4.50) he spent a fair amount of time in the 1951 American League's version of purgatory… the St. Louis Browns. As part of Bill Veeck's fabled three teams (one coming, one going, one playing), Suchecki got in 29 games (six starts) and posted an 0-6 record with a 5.42 ERA. He did get one more chance, this with the 1952 National League's version of purgatory, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although he avoided any more losses in his five games with the awful '52 Buccos, his 5.40 ERA didn't impress Branch Rickey, and he was soon gone for good, leaving behind an 0-6, 5.38 (82 ERA+) record.

 

Then there are the pitchers who won just one game in a season, while losing a dozen or more. Not a very good mark, but it's been done a staggering 27 times. If you can win just one game in a season, even if you lose a dozen or more, you might get a second chance to redeem yourself. Take Jack Nabors. Even though he set the record for the worst single season won-loss percentage by a pitcher with at least one win, he still got another chance, and with the very same Connie Mack who sent Steve Gerkin back to Lancaster. Nabors went a remarkable 1-20 with Mack's horrendous (36-117) 1916 team (you'll notice that most of these pitchers with truly terrible single season marks played for truly terrible teams… gee, what a surprise), but Mack still brought him back for a couple of games in 1917. For that matter, Nabors' 1916 teammate, Tom Sheehan, went 1-16 that year and, although he had to spend the next four years out of the majors, came back to pitch in four more seasons with the Yankees, Reds and Pirates, going 12-14.

 

Of more recent vintage, Mike Parrott was the Mariners' ace in 1979, going 14-12 with a 116 ERA+. Naturally, he started Opening Day for the Ms in 1980, and defeated the Blue Jays, 8-6. And then he didn't win another game all year. He spent the entire year in Seattle (a team that went 59-103), even pitching the final game of the year, a 3-2 loss to the Rangers, and finished at 1-16 with an astronomical 7.28 ERA. And the Mariners brought him back for 1981, wherein he went 3-6 with a 5.08 ERA. Or, if you prefer, there's the tale of Kyle Abbott, a young (24) left-handed prospect the Phillies got from the Angels in a trade following the 1991 season, a year in which Abbott had gone 1-2 with a 4.58 ERA in five games. Although this Phillies team wasn't as terrible as some of the others mentioned herein (70-92, and just a year away from the World Series) they kept running Abbott out there, despite the fact that the Shadow of Steve Gerkin seemed to be upon him. Abbott went all the way to July 18, at which time he was 0-11, before getting a little luck, and the win in a 14-3 rout of the Dodgers that saw him give up three runs in five and two-thirds innings. His final mark on the year was 1-14 with a 5.13 ERA. And, after two years, the Phillies brought him back in 1995 as a reliever, and he went 2-0 with a 3.81 ERA, after which he pitched in three more games for the Angels in 1996.

 

Abbott's struggles were, as you might recall, completely overshadowed by the saga of the Mets' Anthony Young, who was undergoing similar torture at about the same time. The differences were, Young's luck ran worse even longer than Abbott's, and Young actually pitched decently during the bulk of his incredible 27-game losing streak that stretched over the 1992 and 1993 seasons…

 

    

W-L

G

GS

IP

H

W

K

ERA

ERA+

1992

2-14

52

13

121

134

31

64

4.17

83

1993

1-16

39

10

100

103

42

62

3.77

104

 

That's not Cy Young, but it normally wouldn't add up to a major league record 27 straight Ls, either, although the Mets lost 90 times in 1992 and 103 times in 1993. As proof of that, it should be noted that Young (Anthony, not Cy) recorded 18 saves during these two seasons, 15 in 1992 and three in 1993, and after leaving New York, he pitched in three more seasons for the Cubs and Astros, going 10-13 with two saves and below-league average ERAs in two of the three seasons.

 

In addition to playing for pretty bad teams, the majority of these hurlers suffered from a certain lack of command. Even if they weren't hit as hard as say, Russ Miller, they still tended to walk a lot of batters – a faux pas that has traditionally driven managers crazy since Harry Wright's day. So what then are we to make of this year's candidate for the Winless Pitcher Award, the Cardinals' Anthony Reyes? After suffering through a 6-0 loss to the Phillies on Friday night, (4.1 9 5 5 1 1) Reyes' record dropped to 0-9, with a 6.64 ERA. And this for the defending World Series champions… well, at least the team with the same name as the 2006 titlists. In reality, the Cards are a little more like the 1916 Athletics, having disposed of or otherwise lost a good part of their starting staff in the interim.

 

Although Reyes has spent some time at Triple A Memphis already this year, the Cards were recently forced to call him back to St. Louis. Mainly because their 2006 starting rotation has largely flown the coop, and their 2007 starting rotation is largely for the birds.

 

2006

 

Chris Carpenter (currently injured)

Jason Marquis (Cubs)

Jeff Suppan (Brewers)

Mark Mulder (injured)

Anthony Reyes (currently 0-9)

Jeff Weaver (Mariners)

Sir Sidney Ponson (last seen with the Twins)

 

2007

 

Adam Wainwright (6-6, 4.58)

Kip Wells (3-11, 6.45)

Braden Looper (6-6, 4.66, injured)

Anthony Reyes (0-9, 6.64)

Brad Thompson (5-3, 5.14)

Todd Wellemeyer (2-0, 4.66)

Randy Keisler (0-0, 5.65)

 

Thus, the Cards recalled Reyes, and he's scheduled to go back to the mound again on Wednesday against the Mets.

 

Just as it is unfair to dump on Steve Gerkin, it's equally unfair to dump on the 25 year-old Reyes, who did, after all, win Game One of the 2006 World Series and who has been, along with Wainwright, considered one of the Redbirds' top pitching prospects. As bad as his record currently is, it would be shocking if Reyes joined Gerkin, Miller and Felton. First of all, the season isn't half over. Second, barring more trades or acquisitions (e.g., Tomo Okha and Mike Maroth) the Cardinals are likely to have to continue using Reyes in the rotation. Third, the 2007 St. Louis team is a lot better than the 1982 Twins or the 1945 Athletics, or the 1992 Mets – so Reyes almost has to get lucky somewhere along the line. Fourth, the Cardinals have gotten pretty good work out of their bullpen. Jason Isringhausen, Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer have all pitched well. Fifth, although his ERA is hideous, he hasn't pitched that badly… in other words, he's been unlucky.

 

W-L

G

GS

IP

H

W

K

ERA

ERA+

0-9

11

11

60

66

22

43

6.64

63

 

As noted, that's not great, although his ERA components aren't terrible, he hasn't been getting shelled, and he hasn't been walking the ballpark, although his pitch counts are fairly high – he's averaging 93 pitches per start, but less than six innings per start. Still, his WHIP (walks and hits per inning) is better than that of the erstwhile staff ace, Wainwright (1.47 to 1.55). So, it seems reasonable to assume that Anthony Reyes is going to pick up a W somewhere along the line this year. And, whatever his results are for 2007, this season of his discontent is not likely to end his major league career.

 

 

A member of the Society for American Baseball Research, John Shiffert's background includes serving as a sportswriter, as sports information director for Earlham College and Drexel University, and as publisher of the Philadelphia Baseball File. He's been director of University Relations at Clayton State University since August 1995.

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