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 the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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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.