Game of Numbers: #49-45

In this segment, we look at the best players to wear the numbers 45 through 49, all of whom happen to be pitchers.  You can find the rest of the series here.

NOTE: We are NOT looking for the total career statistics of players, just their stats while wearing the number listed.

#49 Ron Guidry (1975-1988) — retired by Yankees

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 11.55.44 PMThe number 49 is has become the the number of choice for knuckleball pitchers, first worn by Hoyt Wilhelm from 1952 to 1956, then later worn by the likes of Tom Candiotti, Charlie Hough, and most recently, Tim Wakefield.  But as much as the number has become associated with the knuckleballer, it is Guidry, the flamethrowing lefty known as Louisiana Lightning, who had the most distinguished career out of anyone to wear it.  Guidry, born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana (he also went to college at what is now the University of Louisiana – Lafayette), Guidry was a third-round pick of the Yankees in 1971.  Despite strong minor league numbers, he rose slowly through the Yankees’ system, finally becoming a full-time big leaguer in 1977, at the age of 26.  After a strong showing in his rookie year (including a four-hit complete game in the 1977 World Series, which the Yankees won), Guidry had a year for the history books in 1978.  On June 17th against the Angels, he struck out 18 batters in a 4-hit, complete game shutout, still a Yankee record.  He did not lose a game until July 7, starting the year 13-0.  He ended the season with a record of 25-3, the best winning percentage for a 20-game winner in Major League history.  He led the league in hits per nine innings, WHIP and ERA.  He gave up one run in 17 postseason innings, leading the Yankees to their second consecutive championship.  And his transcendent performance was recognized by the league — he easily won the AL Cy Young Award, and came in second in the MVP balloting.  From 1979 to 1983, Guidry was regarded as one of the American League’s top pitchers, with three all-star selections, two gold gloves, and two top-five finishes in the Cy Young race.  He struggled through arm trouble in 1984, had one final great season in 1985 (he finished 22-6 with a 3.27 ERA and came in second in the Cy Young), and was out of baseball by 1989, at the age of 38.  In 14 seasons, all of them spent with New York, Guidry won 170 games, with a .651 winning percentage that ranks 17th all time (min. 100 wins).  The “Gator,” a Yankee co-captain for four years, had his number retired in 2003, on Ron Guidry Day at the old Yankee Stadium.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Candiotti, Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield

#48 Rick Reuschel (1972-1991)

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 12.36.52 AMJack Morris, postseason hero and ace of the 1980’s, very nearly made his way into the Hall of Fame, garnering as much as 67.7 percent of the vote.  Rick Reuschel, on the other hand, received just two votes (0.4 percent) in 1997, his only year on the ballot.  Yet compare the career statistics for the two players.  Morris leads in wins and innings pitched.  But Reuschel’s ERA is more than half a run lower, his ERA+ 9 percent better, his walks lower, and most importantly, his WAR is drastically higher.  Not just a win or two, but 25 wins.  In terms of WAR, add Jack Morris and Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter (24.5 WAR), and you get Rick Reuschel.  Even in his own time, Reuschel was never really a star.  He made three all-star teams and received Cy Young votes just three times over the course of his 19-year career.  Reuschel failed the so-called eye test; listed extremely generously at 6’3″, 215 pounds and nicknamed “Big Daddy” because of it, Reuschel didn’t fit the mold of a major league star.  He lacked overpowering stuff, and gave up around a hit per inning over the course of his career.  Even in his era, his strikeout numbers were slightly below league average.  But Reuschel made his living limiting walks and effectively changing speeds to ensure that when runners did get on, they didn’t cross the plate.  Because the teams he played for were generally pretty awful (he did play 12 years with the Cubs), Rueschel was hardly ever thrust into the limelight.  When he did get national attention, he struggled; he put up an unremarkable 5.85 ERA in 8 postseason appearances, and in his only all-star start (in 1989, at the age of 40), he gave up one of the most memorable home runs in all-star history, a 440-foot blast off the bat of Bo Jackson.  But Reuschel’s highly underrated career is well deserving of its place on this list.

Honorable Mentions: Torii Hunter, Sam McDowell, Andy Pafko

#47 Tom Glaivine (1987-2008) — retired by Braves

Drafted in the second round out of high school, Glavine, a native of Concord, MA, reached the big leagues at 21 on a rebuilding Braves franchise that had made the playoffs only twice in twenty seasons in Atlanta.  His first four years, in which the team lost no fewer than 92 games, did not seem to bode well for his future.  In 1988, he lost a league-leading 17 games.  In 1990, he went 10-12, with a middling 4.28 ERA and poor strikeout to walk ratio.  But in 1991, everything changed, both for him and the team.  His team went from 65 wins to 94, and Glavine was a major reason why.  He won 20 games, posting a 2.55 ERA in 246.2 innings, earning his first Cy Young Award in what may have been the best season of his entire career (his 8.5 bWAR was the highest of his career).  His team went all the way to the World Series (for the first time since they were the Milwaukee Braves), taking the Minnesota Twins to seven games in what is widely considered one of the greatest Fall Classics of all time.  Glavine and the Braves went on to prove that their success in 1991 was no fluke; Glavine won 20 again in 1992 and 1993, 16 in the strike-shortened 1995 season, and 15 in 1996, with his team making the World Series four times in those five years.  Along with Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, Glavine formed one of the most feared pitching trios in baseball history, and though sometimes overshadowed by Maddux, Glavine still managed to shine.

He again won the Cy Young Award in 1998 (going 20-7 with a 2.46 ERA), then won 20 again in 2000.  In 2003, at the age of 37, Glavine left the Braves after 16 years with the club, opting to sign a four year deal with the Mets instead.  While not as dominant as in his prime, Glavine still managed to make two all-star teams in New York, winning more than 10 games each year.  While with the Mets in 2007, Glavine won his 300th career game, pitching 6.1 innings in an 8-3 win at Wrigley Field.  Glavine came back to the Braves in 2008, finishing his career right where he started it.  He had his number retired by the Braves in 2010, then made the Hall of Fame in 2014, earning 91.9 percent of the vote on his first year on the ballot.

Honorable Mentions: Jack Morris, Andy Messersmith, Bruce Hurst

#46 Andy Pettitte (1995-2013)

Of all the pitchers in the storied history of the New York Yankees, Andy Pettitte might just be the best.  His 2020 strikeouts in a Yankee uniform are the most ever — he passed Whitey Ford just last year.  He won 219 games in New York, third-most in franchise history behind just Ford and Red Ruffing.  And his 58.1 fWAR in pinstripes bests Ford’s 55.5, making Pettitte arguably the most valuable Yankee pitcher of all time.  It might sound strange to call someone who pitched 15 years in the country’s largest media market underrated, and yet Pettitte was never truly recognized as a superstar player.  He made only three all-star teams in his career, never winning a Cy Young.  And this wasn’t an oversight — Pettitte truly never was the best pitcher in his league.  Even in the years in which he received Cy Young votes, there were always more deserving candidates, whether it was Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens in 1997 or Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez in 2003.  Excepting his phenomenal 1997 season (when he put up a 2.88 ERA and 8.4 bWAR in 240.1 innings), Pettitte was never really great — he was just very, very good for a very long time.  Pettitte posted an ERA+ over 100 (league-average) every year of his career but 2008, when it was 97.  In 18 big-league seasons, he never lost more games than he won.  He retired in 2010, took a year off, then returned to the game at age 40, and threw a 4-hit, 8-inning shutout in his second game back.  And at the age of 41, in his final start in the major leagues, he threw a 5-hit, 116 pitch complete game.

Pettitte was never a true dominant pitcher, keeping him from becoming a star.  But he was a consistent presence on a Yankees team that won five World Series during his tenure in New York.  Will it be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame?  Only time will tell.  But it is certainly enough to earn him a place on this list.

Honorable Mentions: Jim Maloney, Bruce Hurst, Kevin Gross

#45 Pedro Martinez (1992-2009)/Bob Gibson (1959-1975)                                                                    — retired by Cardinals

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 3.39.07 AM

As a baseball fan who grew up in the late ’90s/early ’00s, there is only one man that I will forever associate with the number 45 — Pedro Martinez.  At his peak, Pedro was as good or better than any man who has ever taken the mound.  Pitching in the throes of the steroid era, Pedro was able to dominate his peers like no other.  Five times during his career, Martinez posted a WHIP under one — he’s the only player to do so in the live ball era.  From 1997 to 2000, he won the Cy Young Award three years, and came in second the other year (losing to Roger Clemens).  In 1999, he struck out 313 batters in 213.1 innings, with his 13.2 K/9 bested only among starters by Randy Johnson in 2001.  In his 2000 season, he posted an ERA+ of 291 (his ERA was 1.74 while the league’s was 4.77) that stands as the best single season mark in the history of the sport.  I couldn’t possibly do his repertoire of four dazzling pitches (fastball, cutter, curve, and change) justice, so just watch this 12-minute video:

For someone of my generation, Pedro Martinez was the most dominant pitcher on the planet.  For someone who came of age in the late-1960’s that pitcher was Bob Gibson.  In some respects, Gibson’s statistics seem to mirror those of Martinez.  Pedro had a 2.93 career ERA, Gibson’s was 2.91.  Pedro struck out 3154 batters, Gibson 3117.  Both Gibson and Martinez had one season that could be argued as the best for a pitcher in baseball history — for Gibson, that year was 1968.  In The Year of The Pitcher, Gibson stood head and shoulders above his peers.  His 1.12 ERA was the best since Dutch Leonard in 1914 (the dead ball Era), and has not been surpassed since.  He allowed 5.85 hits per nine innings, leading the league, and additionally led the league in both strikeouts and WHIP.  Gibson took home both the Cy Young and the NL MVP that year, and when his team reached the World Series, Gibson was in fine form:

His 17 strikeouts in Game 1 remains a World Series record.  It’s hard to argue which season, Gibson’s 1968 or Martinez’s 2000, was the better one (interestingly, Martinez racked up 11.7 bWAR to Gibson’s 11.5, despite having thrown almost 90 fewer innings).  And it is equally as hard to decide who among the two had the better career — Martinez posted 4 more bWAR on the mound, but Gibson’s hitting prowess gives him a slight edge in overall bWAR.  So I copped out, making this one a tie.  When you have two of the all-time greats sharing a number, it becomes nearly impossible to choose just one.

Honorable Mentions: Steve Rogers, John Candelaria

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