I spent some time this past weekend with my Strat-O-Matic project, and got in the process a disillusioning lesson about Jim Kaat.
Part of Kaat's reputation is that he was a legendarily great fielding pitcher, a reputation buttressed by 16 Gold Glove Awards. But in the series I just played, Kaat lost a game in part because of his own error -- and I was stunned to see him graded with an e50 rating. That's not the worst pitcher's e rating I've seen in Strat (another pitcher in the 1969 set, Ray Culp of the Red Sox, has an e56), but it's close.
So I went spelunking into the records. Kaat and Culp, it turns out, tied for the AL lead in pitcher errors in 1969, eight apiece.
And eight errors, at least since the lively ball took most of the bunts out of the game, is a LOT for a pitcher. Since World War II, I count only seven seasons in which any American League pitchers committed that many errors.
I went through Kaat's game logs for 1969 on Baseball Reference. What I found:
- April 19: errant pickoff attempt at first base, with the runner advancing to third base.
- June 14: threw ball into center field trying for a force at second. Runner was thrown out trying to take third, but the error stands.
- July 17: three errors in one game, two on consecutive plays. It started with a throwing error on a squeeze bunt by Walt Williams. Kaat then booted a grounder by the next batter, Luis Aparicio. A couple innings later, Kaat committed a throwing error on a grounder. Kaat was the winning pitcher anyway.
- Sept. 6: booted a grounder
- Sept 9: errant pickoff throw, runner taking second.
- Oct. 2: throwing error on a ground ball.
Certainly there is more to fielding than the avoidance of errors. But that's a pretty lengthy litany of miscues. It's difficult for me to square eight errors with a Gold Glove.
I also noticed some ... interesting pitcher use.
Kaat, in his first start of the season (second game for the Twins), pitched 11 innings. Eleven innings! (He actually opened the 12th but allowed a leadoff walk and was pulled). I'll bet no pitcher goes nine innings in his first start this year, much less 11. (The Kansas City Royals won that 1969 game 4-3 in 17 innings, by the way.)
That Sept. 6 error came in a 9.1 inning relief stint (game went 18 innings). On Sept. 9 -- on just two days rest after the equivalent of a complete game-plus -- Kaat pitched five more innings (and committed another error). Billy Martin, death to pitchers arms.
Part of the legend of Martin's firing as Minnesota manager after a 97-win season is that Calvin Griffith wanted Kaat to pitch Game 3 of the playoffs against Baltimore. Martin started Bob Miller instead, Miller didn't get out of the second inning, the Twins were swept and Martin got fired.
But looking at Kaat's pitching log, it's no surprise Kaat didn't get the ball. Kaat made just two starts after August, giving up eight runs in 10 innings in those starts. (He had six relief outings in September.) His ERA after July was 5.09. Griffith may have wanted Kaat in Game 3; Martin certainly didn't.