November 19, 2000

Baggage In Championship Rotations
by Steve Lombardi

Many are quick to make note that the 2000 World Champion New York Yankees "only" had a regular season record of 87 wins and 74 losses (for a winning percentage of .540).

However, upon closer examination, this aforementioned lackluster in-season tally can be attributed to one fact: Manager Joe Torre’s insistence in providing pitcher David Cone a regular turn in his pitching rotation for the entire year.

During 2000, David Cone appeared in 30 games for the Yankees, all but one of them as a starting pitcher. In his 29 starts, Cone accumulated a record of 4 wins, 14 losses, and 11 no-decisions. It is significant to note that the Yankees record in Cone’s 11 no-decisions was 5 wins and 6 losses. Therefore, in games started by David Cone in 2000, the Yankees won nine and lost twenty.

What would happen if Cone’s contribution was subtracted from the Yankees’ 2000 record? In games started by pitchers other than David Cone, the Yankees had a record of 78 wins and 54 losses - for a winning percentage of .590 (a significant improvement over the .540 percentage including Cone’s starts). Granted, one cannot pretend that the Yankees would have only played 132 games in 2000. But, suppose the Yankees played one game over .500 - for a 15 and 14 mark - in those 29 games (started by Cone). What impact would that have on their overall winning percentage? The result is still a notable improvement - from .540 to .578 for the year.

Further, for comparative measures employed later herein, in terms of only wins and losses credited to Cone, if one were to subtract his actual four and fourteen won-loss record from the Yankees’ overall mark, their winning percentages changes from .540 to .580.

Pausing for a moment, this is not an attack on David Cone. To date, in his career, Cone has logged 2,745 innings pitched, fanned 2,540 batters, won 184 games - while fashioning an ERA of 3.40 and a lifetime winning percentage of .613. In all likelihood, David Cone is one of the top 75 starting pitchers in the history of the game. Rather, the point made here is solely that Cone had a very bad year in 2000.

This all given, the curious question which arises is: Was Cone’s 2000 effort the biggest "dead weight" carried by a World Champion?

There have been other starting pitchers who have faired very poorly during championship campaigns. Among them reside the following:

Randy Lerch (1980), Dennis Martinez (1983), Allan Anderson (1991) and Jack Morris (1993).

In order to isolate the above gang of four, the following criteria were deployed:

Amazingly, using the above criteria, only five pitchers met the mark - and none before 1980.

The next question is natural: Between Lerch, Martinez, Anderson, Morris, and Cone, whom was the biggest anchor (this time, in terms of sinking the ship, not providing unit solidification) of a World Champion rotation? Let the analysis begin:

In 1980, Randy Lerch had a four win, fourteen loss record with an ERA of 4.31 (.71 of a run above the league average). With him, the Phillies had a winning percentage of .562 - discounting his won-loss record, their winning percentage would have been .604. It is significant to note that Lerch only had 22 starts in 1980. (He also pitched in relief eight times.) His total innings pitched for the season was 150.

In 1983, Dennis Martinez had a seven win, sixteen loss record with an ERA of 5.53 (1.47 runs above the league average). With him, the Orioles had a winning percentage of .605 - discounting his won-loss record, their winning percentage would have been .655. Martinez had 25 starts in 1983. (He also pitched in relief seven times.) His total innings pitched for the season was 153.

In 1991, Allan Anderson had a five win, eleven loss record with an ERA of 4.96 (.86 of a run above the league average). With him, the Twins had a winning percentage of .586 - discounting his won-loss record, their winning percentage would have been .616. Anderson only had 22 starts in 1991. (He also pitched in relief seven times.) His total innings pitched for the season was 134 and a third.

In 1993, Jack Morris had a seven win, twelve loss record with an ERA of 6.19 (1.87 runs above the league average). With him, the Blue Jays had a winning percentage of .586 - discounting his won-loss record, their winning percentage would have been .615. Morris had 27 starts in 1993 (never pitching in relief that year). His total innings pitched for the season was 152 and two-thirds.

Plugging all this data into a chart yields the following:

  Starts IP Wins Losses ERA above normal Drag on W%
Lerch 22 150.0 4 14 0.71 42 points
Martinez 25 153.0 7 16 1.47 50 points
Anderson 22 134.1 5 11 0.86 30 points
Morris 27 152.2 7 12 1.87 29 points
Cone 29 155.0 4 14 2.00 40 points

Actually, it is somewhat ironic that the three biggest pieces of baggage to be carried by a World Champion, in terms of a starting pitcher, turn out to be Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris, and David Cone - since Morris was one of the best pitchers during the 1980’s, Martinez one of the best from the mid-‘80’s to mid-‘90’s, and Cone one of the best in the 1990’s. Obviously, this was why their managers kept running them out there on a regular basis - Martinez due to his potential, both Cone and Morris based on past excellence.

It is established here, that in this comparison, while it is close, Cone had the most starts, innings pitched, and is tied for the fewest wins - while having the highest ERA above league average, being tied for second in most losses, and is third (while very close to second) in adverse impact on winning percentage.

Therefore, Cone wins the Samsonsite Award - albeit narrowly - for being the biggest baggage carried by a World Series Champion. But, rather than to look at this as a negative, examine the flip side that it illustrates - the 2000 Yankees were "that good" (meaning they could absorb a pitcher who went four and fourteen in 155 innings - with an ERA two runs above league average). In the history of the game, not many other World Champions can make the same claim.

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