June 17, 2003

The last of a dying breed?

Every season, around this time, the name Brian Kingman starts coming up. In 1980, Kingman went 8-20 for the Oakland A's - the last time a pitcher lost 20 games in a season. Typically, every season, at the end of June or the beginning of July, there are a couple of pitchers nearing 10 losses on the season.

This year, there seem to be more "contenders" for 20 losses than usual.

The following players are currently on a 20-loss pace:

                     Current        Projected

Pitcher W L W L
Mike Maroth 1 11 2 27
Glendon Rusch 1 10 2 24
Mark Buehrle 3 10 7 23
Jeremy Bonderman 2 9 5 22
Adam Benero 1 9 2 22
John Thomson 4 8 10 20

There are also 11 different players with 7 losses each, putting them all on 16-18 loss paces. A couple of bad starts and they are in the 20-loss mix as well.

Over the years, losing 20 games has taken on a definite stigma and, several times since 1980, a pitcher has been taken out of the starting rotation for the last couple of turns, so they can avoid any chance of possibly losing 20 games.

Since 1980, there have been 10 instances of a pitcher losing 19 games, including Jose DeLeon dropping 19 in both 1985 and 1990. Most recently, Bobby Jones and Albie Lopez lost 19 apiece in 2001 and Omar Daal lost 19 in 2000.

In addition to the 10 19-loss seasons, there have been 20 18-loss seasons and 33 17-loss seasons since 1980.

If losing that 20th game hadn't become such a horrible thing at some point, I am convinced it would have been "accomplished" several times since 1980. I mean, imagine another statistical milestone, like say home runs or wins or strikeouts or something. And now imagine that, over the course of 22 seasons (1981-2002), 10 players were within 1 homer/win/strikeout of matching that number and 53 players were within 2 or 3. Yet, it still hasn't happened.

Over the 22 year period (1968-1979) before Kingman lost 20 in 1980, not only were there 16 times when a pitcher lost 20 games in a season, there were 4 22-loss seasons and 3 21-loss seasons.

Heck, Wilbur Wood liked it so much that he did it twice (1973 and 1975). Of course, Wilbur started 48 and 43 games in those two seasons and most of the other 20 game losers from 1968-1979 started more games than starting pitchers typically start in this era. Still, the fact remains that Brian Kingman's "record" is currently in its 23 year and no one has been able to join him in the 20-loss club, despite dozens of pitchers coming very close.

At least one pitcher lost 20 games in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979 and then Kingman in 1980. And then, all of sudden, nothing.

Perhaps more amazing than the fact that no one has been able to do what he did in 1980 in 22 years is how Brian Kingman lost 20 games that year.

First of all, he actually pitched for a good team. The 1980 Oakland A's went 83-79 (.512) and finished second in the American League West. The AL East was much stronger that season, but A's had the 7th-best record in the 14-team American League.

Secondly, Brian Kingman was actually a decent pitcher in 1980. He pitched 211 1/3 innings and had a 3.83 ERA. The league-average ERA in 1980, adjusted to the Oakland Coliseum, was 3.76 - meaning Kingman's ERA was 1.8% worse than league-average.

So, he pitched for a good team and was right around league-average in preventing runs, yet he went 8-20.

Meanwhile in 1980...

Dan Spillner pitched 194 1/3 innings for a Cleveland ballclub that went 79-83. He had a 5.28 ERA - 29.4% worse than league-average - and he went 16-11.

Jack Morris pitched 250 innings for the Tigers, who went 84-78. He had a 4.18 ERA - 1.5% worse than league-average - and he went 16-15.

Len Barker pitched 246 1/3 innings for that same Indians team that Spillner was on. He had a 4.17 ERA - 2.2% worse than league-average - and he won 19 games.

Brian Kingman made 32 appearances in 1980. He won 8 games, lost 20 games and had 4 no-decisions.

Oakland's runs per game when Kingman pitched:


Wins 4.12
Losses 2.50
No-Dec. 2.75

That's the difference run-support can make. For the season overall, the A's scored 4.23 runs per game. So, even in the games Kingman won, he got below-average run support from his teammates.

Overall, in the games Kingman pitched in, the A's scored 2.94 runs per game. In the other 130 games they played in 1980, they scored 4.55 runs per game. That's just plain, old, simple bad luck.

Of the 20 games Kingman lost, 5 of them were games in which the A's got shutout.

The 2.50 runs per game the A's scored in Kingman's 20 losses are even a little inflated because 11 of the 50 runs scored were in one game. If you take out those 11 runs and that one game, Kingman got a whopping 2.05 runs per game in his other 19 losses.

But okay, whether the offense is scoring 2.50, 2.05, 2.94 or 4.55 runs per game for him, it doesn't matter how many they score if he's pitching horribly in the games he loses, right?

Let's take a look...

Kingman's runs allowed per game:


Wins 2.04
Losses 6.17
No-Dec. 1.58

Well, okay, maybe Kingman does deserve the brunt of the blame for those 20 losses.

He pitched phenomenally in the games he ended up winning and, because the A's were able to provide him with at least a reasonable amount of runs, he won the 8 games. He pitched even better in the games he got no-decisions in, but, because the A's only scored him 2.75 runs per game, he didn't get any wins.

And he pitched very poorly in the 20 games he ended up losing. He gave up 6.17 runs per 9 innings and, along with his offense scoring him a measly 2.50 runs per game...well, that's a 20-loss combination.

The funny thing is, after his first 21 starts, Kingman was actually having a decent year as far as wins and losses. He won his start on August 6th against the Twins, tossing a complete-game while allowing just 1 run. At that point, he was 7-11 with a 3.34 ERA. Not great, but not horrible either. And then it just all fell apart.

Kingman lost all of his next 8 starts and had a 5.49 ERA over that span. So, over the course of about a month, he went from 7-11 to 7-19 and, just like that, he was knocking on the door of 20 losses - and with more than 2 weeks left in the season.

The A's played the White Sox on September 25th and Matt Keough (16-13, 250 IP, 2.92 ERA in 1980) made the start, but left after just 1 inning. Jeff Jones (1-3, 44 IP, 2.84 ERA in 1980) relieved him and just didn't have it.

Jones got the first batter he faced to ground out and then followed that up with two straight walks, a wild pitch and another walk, before he was mercifully yanked out of the game and relieved by none other than...Brian Kingman!

Kingman came in and immediately allowed two of the runners he inherited from Jones to score. At the end of the 2nd inning, the A's were down 4-0, but Kingman was not on the hook for the loss, because the A's were already losing when he came in. Kingman then tossed a bunch of scoreless innings and the A's offense started to come back. They scored 2 runs in the 4th, 1 in the 5th and one more in the 7th - to tie the game at 4.

And then, wouldn't you know it, as soon as Kingman became the "pitcher of record," he coughed up 2 runs, the A's lost the game 6-4 and he had his 20th loss.

I have heard Brian Kingman interviewed several times in the past and he always talks about the pride he has in his 20-loss season and how he does not want anyone to lose 20 games because it would basically erase him from memory. That's his claim to fame - losing 20 games. If not for that, and the fact that it hasn't been done since, there wouldn't be many people aware of Brian Kingman's baseball career and I certainly wouldn't have written about him today.

Luckily for Brian, and despite the many pitchers are currently on pace to lose 20 games, I think his place in history of safe for this season. In fact, I think it is safe for quite a while. For a pitcher to lose 20 games in a season right now, it is not only going to take bad luck, relatively bad pitching and a lack of run support, it is also going to take a pitcher and a manager willing to ignore all the junk that is now attached to "losing 20 games."

Is Mike Maroth brave enough to ignore the losses as they pile up and just keep wanting to pitch when his spot in the rotation comes up? Is his manager, Alan Trammell, willing to forget about some meaningless number and simply put the guy he feels is one of his best starting pitchers on the mound every fifth day?

Same with Mark Buehrle and Jerry Manuel (unless/until he gets fired), Glendon Rusch and Ned Yost, Jeremy Bonderman and Alan Trammell, Adam Bernero and Alan Trammell.

Well okay, I guess it may all come down to Alan Trammell. He has three guys in his starting rotation right now that have a serious shot at losing 20 games this season. Plus, the Tigers don't exactly have a whole lot of other options for their starting rotation and their offense is horrible and doesn't appear to be in any danger of drastically improving anytime soon. So, if Trammell is willing to keep starting Maroth, Bernero and Bonderman, even when they start getting to 17, 18, 19 losses, then someone reaching that 20-loss mark is certainly a possibility. I just don't think it'll happen.

Hey, at least it will give Detroit fans something to pay attention to in the second half of the season, right?

(A big thanks Retrosheet.org and BaseballReference.com for all of the stats and information for this entry)

On the opposite end of the 20-loss discussion, Brian over at "The New York Yankees Report" has put together a very interesting and well-researched two-part piece on Roger Clemens' place among the all-time great pitchers in baseball history. It's a good read and you should definitely go check it out:

Is the Rocket the Best Pitcher Ever? (the permanent link to the specific entry doesn't work right now, so just scroll down until you get the that title - it is Sunday's entry)

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Millwood) -130 over Atlanta (Ortiz)

Florida (Penny) -120 over New York (Leiter)

Arizona (Webb) +110 over Houston (Villone)

Detroit (Bonderman) -105 over Cleveland (Davis)

Boston (Wakefield) +120 over Chicago (Loaiza)

Kansas City (George) +115 over Minnesota (Reed)

Total to date: + $1,470

W/L record: 135-130 (0-2 yesterday for -200, with one rainout)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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