Rijo’s Unrewarded Brilliance

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that Zack Greinke is currently carving up the American League. Through six starts, he has a 0.40 ERA, as he’s given up a whopping three runs, one of which was unearned. He’s thrown three complete games in his last four starts. He has yet to give up a home run. Not surprisingly, he’s 6-0, as it’s fairly easy to win when you’re giving up fractions of a run per nine innings.

Unless your name is Jose Rijo. I went looking for comparable stretches of high quality pitching, just to see how often we get treated to one of the runs like Greinke is on right now. A bunch of different stretches stuck out – Bob Gibson went 11 straight starts with 1 ER or less in 1968, just destroying opposing hitters and posting a 0.27 ERA over 99 innings. Pedro Martinez had a stretch of 10 starts at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000 where he walked 12 and struck out 128 batters in 76 1/3 innings. Just some ridiculous numbers.

Nothing stuck out more than Rijo’s stretch at the end of 1988 and the beginning of 1989, however. 10 starts, all with two runs allowed or less. His ERA over that stretch was 0.68. He didn’t allow a single home run. He went 3-0.

He won three games in a stretch of 10 starts where he allowed a grand total of six runs. It’s not like the Reds teams of those years were lousy – Cincinnati won the World Series in ’89 was a year away from a championship, after all. However, Rijo didn’t work very deep into those games, as he was never the worlds most efficient starter, and in several of them he didn’t pitch the required five innings to earn the win. In a few others, the team wouldn’t take the lead for good until after he had left, so he wasn’t rewarded with a win.

Still, it’s tough to imagine that a guy could pitch that well and get shafted that often. Just more evidence, if you needed any, that a pitcher’s win-loss record is pretty meaningless.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

12 Responses to “Rijo’s Unrewarded Brilliance”

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  1. Ryan says:

    To be fair, the Reds weren’t actually a very good team in ’89 (you’re confusing them with the 1990 World Series winning squad; the A’s beat the Giants in the WS in ’89). Cincinnati finished fifth in the NL West that year and were outscored by ~60 runs. But yes, that’s a ridiculous stretch of no support.

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  2. Joel says:

    Check out Clemens when he was with the Astros.

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  3. nickr says:

    I remember Nolan Ryan’s 1987 season. At that point I realized I win loss records for pitchers was pretty much meaningless

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  4. Dan says:

    Just more evidence, if you needed any, that a pitcher’s win-loss record is pretty meaningless.

    Agreed. And yet my fantasy league includes BOTH Ws and Ls. It actually encourages me to reduce starts when I set my lineup for the week.

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  5. Joe D. says:

    My win-loss turning point was in 1992, at the age of 14. I followed Jim Abbott closely even as a Yankee fan. It seemed that start after start, he’d pitch well and not only not get a win, but get saddled with some ridiculous loss.
    I figured things would even out by the end of the season for him — after all, wins and losses told us which pitchers were good, right? — but no such luck. Abbott finished the season with a 2.77 ERA in 211 innings over 29 starts. Seven wins. FIFTEEN losses. He averaged about seven and a third innings per start, obviously didn’t give up many runs, and still lost over half of his starts.
    Somewhere near the end of that season, it hit me that wins and losses tell us nothing at all about a pitcher.

    Epilogue: Jimmy got a little back in 1998, winning all five of his starts despite being toast and pitching awfully.

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    • Dave L. says:

      Funny you should mention ol’ Jim. Last night I finally got to see the no-hitter that I missed the first time around because I happened to be at Cooperstown that afternoon. Sixteen years later and knowing exactly what would happen, I still couldn’t help but nearly cry when he recorded that final out.

      It’s nice to tie up loose ends.

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  6. B says:

    Jose Rijo pitched in major league baseball after receiving a vote for the Hall of Fame.

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  7. Terry says:

    The Reds finished 2nd place several seasons under Pete Rose in the mid to late 80′s.

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  8. Sabertooth says:

    I think I recall that in 1980 Mike Norris got off to a great start with the A’s, having something like an 0.50 ERA after his first month.

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