Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sixteen starts without a win

Liam Hendriks didn't catch many breaks Friday night,
but he didn't pitch particularly well either.
The Twins on Friday gave starter Liam Hendriks a 4-0 lead after three innings. Two innings later, Hendriks had thrown 108 pitches, had left the game, and the score was tied at four.

Another no-decision for Hendriks. The 23-year-old righty has made 16 appearances in the majors (all starts) with an 0-9, 6.19 record.

Despite his lack of success, I still think there's a legitimate major league starter there; it's just taking some time to find. He's been too good in the minors to fail so utterly in the majors (assuming good health.)

But 16 starts and no wins isn't easy to do. Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune reported this morning that Hendriks is "tied for the fifth-most starts to open a career without a win." He means, as I study the list, a winning start; there are pitchers on his list who won a game in relief before they won a game as a starter.

Christensen listed eight other  pitchers who went at least 15 starts without a win to start their career. While none of them went on to the Hall of Fame, a good share became good pitchers.

Bill Caudill (20 starts) became a successful relief pitcher, racking up 106 saves and an All-Star berth in his nine-year career. He also holds this footnote in baseball history; he was Scott Boras' first client. From a tiny acorn a mighty oak ...

Mike Mohler (20 starts) was mostly a situational lefty reliever in his nine-year career. Very marginal, but nine years is nine years.

Craig Anderson (17 starts) had the misfortune of being one of the better pitchers on the 1962 Mets, which is not quite the same as saying he was a good pitcher (3-17, 5.35 that year). He appears to have gotten hurt; his career was over at age 25.

Jason Hammel (17 starts) is a current pitcher and the first one we've encountered so far to turn into a competent starter. He had his rough career start with Tampa Bay when the then-Devil Rays were spluttering. He found his footing with Colorado, of all places, and is 8-6, 3.46 with Baltimore this season (with time on the disabled list).

Ray Herbert (16 starts) was a good starter on generally bad teams in the 1950s and '60s. He won 20 games in 1962 and made the All-Star team. Of the eight pitchers listed here, he was probably the best starter.

Fred Norman (15 starts) became the prototypical starter for Sparky Anderson's Big Red Machine in the mid 70s. Those starters weren't asked to win the game so much as not to lose it. Norman had seven straight double-digit win seasons with the Reds. Soft-tossing lefty with a screwball.

Paul Abbott (15 starts) also went through this as a Twin, or at least part of it as a Twin (10 starts with Minnesota). He was plagued by arm problems but persevered to go 17-4 with the Seattle Mariners of 2001. He had one other decent season. If I recall correctly, he was credited with teaching Brad Radke the changeup.

John Cummings (15 starts) is probably the least substantial pitcher of the group, he or Anderson.

What most of these pitchers have in common: They debuted with bad teams, they struggled early, and eventually (except Anderson and Cummings) found a niche.

Hendriks' problems do not signify failure so much as transition.

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