April 12, 2012
More Than a Mouthful
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll investigate pitching matchups that involved players with long surnames, Cy Young winners who were actually better in the year that followed their award-winning campaigns, and the most productive players selected among the top 50 picks of the Rule 4 draft. As always, if you have a question you would like to see answered in this space, please send me an email (remember to include your name and hometown).
William "The Launching Pad" Van Landingham made 81 starts for the San Francisco Giants between 1994 and 1997 before injuries ended his career at the age of 28. There is some debate as to whether his last name counts as 13 or 14 characters, however. Major League Baseball lists his name with a space between “Van” and “Landingham,” but Baseball Reference removes the space. We’ll go with MLB’s version for the purpose of answering Andrew’s question.
On May 29, 1996, Van Landingham squared off against the Mets’ Jason Isringhausen, marking the only time in baseball history that the last names of a game’s starting pitchers have totaled 26 characters. Van Landingham’s matchups against Todd Stottlemyre in 1996 and 1997 are the only times pitchers have combined for 25 characters.
I debated a number of ways to define year-over-year improvement, including True Average (TAv) against, Fair Run Average Plus (FRA+), and Wins Above Replacement (WARP). In the end, I decided to use all three.
Only twice since 1960 has a pitcher improved his TAv against, FRA+, and WARP in the season after winning the Cy Young Award. In 1970, Tom Seaver defended his National League Cy Young by lowering his TAv against by .011, increasing his FRA+ by 25 points, and more than doubling his WARP from the previous season. Despite improving his advanced statistics across the board, Seaver finished only seventh in Cy Young balloting in 1970.
It took nearly a quarter-century for another pitcher to replicate Seaver’s feat, but Jack McDowell did just that in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Like Seaver, McDowell received very little recognition for improving upon his Cy Young winning campaign in 1993, receiving no award votes in 1994.
Let’s take a look at the top 50 picks in the draft and the players who have accrued the most WARP: