Thursday, May 14, 2009

I’m beginning to think Jamie Moyer’s not going to get to 300 wins

Jamie Moyer regales reporters with tales of playing baseball without a glove, walking uphill both ways to a doubleheader and World Series games that ended before sunset. Photo from this site.

I can’t imagine anybody thought Jamie Moyer was beginning one of the most remarkable transformations in recent memory during his lone season in Boston in 1996, when he went 7-1 with a 4.50 ERA and uninspiring peripheral numbers (a 50/27 K/BB ratio and a 1.53 WHIP) in 23 games as a swingman for the Red Sox.

Moyer was dealt at the trading deadline to the Mariners, who became his sixth big league team. It took another decade for him to add a seventh team to his resume. Moyer went 180-108 with a 4.04 ERA from his first pitch with the Mariners through the 2008 season, when the 45-year-old Moyer won his first World Series ring with the Phillies and was subsequently rewarded with a two-year contract that would take him to the edge of his 48th birthday.

Moyer pitched 160 innings just three times prior to age 34 but has done it 11 times in the last 12 seasons (and missed by six innings in 2000). He won a career-high 13 games in 1996, a total he has matched or exceeded 10 times since—including in 2001 and 2003, when he won 20 and 21 games, respectively. He’s done it all with a variety of slop that features a fastball that couldn’t get pulled over on the Mass Pike.

Alas, Moyer’s magician act may be nearing its conclusion, if the first seven starts of this season are any indication. Moyer gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings last night in a loss to the Dodgers as his ERA soared to 8.15. Let’s not count Moyer out yet—I’m sure he was dismissed as done when he posted a 5.49 ERA in 2000 and a 5.21 ERA in 2004—but each eyesore of a start makes it less likely he’ll create one helluva Hall of Fame debate.

Laugh if you must, and I realize Moyer has none of the characteristics of a Hall of Famer. He’s never been the best in his league at any time—he’s been named to one All-Star team and has never finished higher than fourth in the Cy Young balloting—and will almost surely fall well shy of 3,000 strikeouts. And all the caveats apply about how Moyer is in nearly unprecedented territory as a guy taking a regular turn in the rotation in his mid-to-late 40s and how the bottom can fall out at any moment.

But still: Moyer won 54 games in the preceding four seasons and began this year with 246 wins. Yup. You do the math.

Chances are Moyer will end up well shy of Tommy John, another soft-tosser who pitched more than a quarter-century and ended up with 287 wins, and that just like with John, nobody will spend much time bantering about Moyer’s Hall of Fame chances. But the long shot “what if” is a fun one to ponder nonetheless: How do you keep out of the Hall of Fame a guy who won 300 games during the Steroid Era, even if it took him 25 years or more to get to the mark?

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