Monday, 7 July 2008

How do you follow that?

Follow what? Mickey Lolich's amazing 1971 season, to be exact.

GS   W   L   CG   ShO   IP   H   HR  HB   BB   IBB   SO   ERA   DIPS ERA
45 25 14 29 4 376 336 36 7 92 2 308 2.92 3.08

You don't see that sort of pitching any more. The last pitcher prior to Lolich to pitch 376 or more innings was Pete Alexander, pitching for the 1917 Philadelphia Phillies, who hurled 388. What's more, it's not like there was someone out there every two or three years coming close to Lolich. There's but a handful of pitchers who managed to get with hailing distance of around 340 innings. You'd think Lolich's arm would have fallen off, the way pitchers are babied nowadays. (Think of last season's Joba rules.)

Let's see what a DIPS projection would have made of Lolich going into the 1972 season.
IP      H   HR  HB   BB   IBB   SO  DIPS ERA
302.3 281 31 8 105 4 258 3.34

Not bad, but not the Cy Young award material that 1971 was. However, look at what really happened.
GS   W   L   CG   ShO   IP   H   HR  HB   BB   IBB   SO   ERA   DIPS ERA
41` 22 14 23 4 327.3 282 29 11 74 5 250 2.50 3.10

Wow! And remember this season lost about two weeks to the strike, so Lolich was on pace more or less to amass the same number of starts. However, he was dominant and began to fade as the season wore on. In late May there was talk of Lolich winning 30, talk he didn't do much to encourage.

The big thing to notice is the tremendous difference in walks. 105 expected dwindled to 74 for real. In other words, he improved on his 1971 walk rate, which went from 2.2 per 9IP to 2.03 per 9IP. He also improved on his projected hit rate, which may have been a product of the Tigers' defense, generally at the time respected for its quality. (We'll have a look at whether that was indeed the case another time.)

During spring training, Tigers' manager Billy Martin had him working on his slow curve. Lolich himself admitted, according to a June issue of the Sporting News, that he threw maybe 80 percent most of the time, so that "when I reach back for that 100 percent, it's there." He also used two fastballs, a rising one for early in the game, and more of a sinker at the end, to go with his curve.

Lolich felt he hadn't been given his just desserts by the Cy Young voters in 1971, who gave the award to the league's 2d place pitcher in wins, complete games, strikeouts and 3d place in innings pitched (all behind Lolich's 1sts in those categories). Vida Blue did lead the league in ERA though. Maybe Mickey had a point, though, as Blue won the prize fairly solidly. Anyway, he had a fire in his big belly when he came out for the start of the season. Never rile an easygoing chubby man who rides motorcycles.

When it came to the 1972 Cy Young award, Lolich fell to 3d place behind Gaylord Perry (who started as hot for the Indians and Lolich did for the Tigers) and Wilbur Wood, the White Sox' equally rubber-armed ace who had a career year and pitched 376.66 innings.

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