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Hard-luck Halos: Santana, Ryan and 40 years of cryin'

May 09, 2012|By Chris Dufresne
  • Nolan Ryan finished 19-16 in his first year with the Angels, with the team scoring 18 runs in the 16 losses. Ervin Santana is 0-6 this year, with the Angels getting shut out in his last five starts.
Nolan Ryan finished 19-16 in his first year with the Angels, with the team… (Focus on Sport / Getty Images;…)

Ervin Santana could use a support group.

He has a chance this year to become the hardest-luck pitcher in the history of Angels’ baseball — but he’s not even in the ballpark yet.

Santana enters Wednesday's start at Minnesota with a record of 0-6 record because Angel bats have offered three total runs of support. The Hey-Lows have been shut out in Santana’s last five outings…O-O-O-O-Ouch.

With an inflated ERA of 5.59, Santana doesn’t deserve to be undefeated. But nor does he deserve to be left stranded on Pitching Mound Island.

Still, his place in luckless Angel lore is going to have to play out before he can take the franchise tag from Nolan Ryan.

Ryan wasted some of the greatest (and most underappreciated) seasons in baseball history to the listless lineup he inherited when he arrived in Anaheim in 1972 from the New York Mets.

Right off the bat, well, the Angels couldn’t swing one.

Ryan finished 19-16 in his first year with an ERA of 2.28, but take note all you Santana sympathizers.

The Angels scored 18 total runs in Ryan’s 16 defeats. They were shut out six times. The Angels scored two or fewer runs in 13 of Ryan’s 16 losses. They scored three runs in each of his other defeats.

Things picked up the next year, when Ryan finished 21-16 with an ERA of 2.87.

The Angels scored a whopping 22 runs in his 16 defeats and were only shut out five times. You maybe remember 1973 as the year Ryan tossed two no-hitters and struck out 383 batters to eclipse Sandy Koufax’s single-season record.

You may also remember it as the year he lost the Cy Young award to Baltimore’s Jim Palmer.

Because the Angels scored 40 runs in his first 32 Angel losses, Ryan was tagged with the “.500-pitcher” label that would him dog him all the way through his career record of 324-292.

It has always mystified me how easily baseball historians dismiss run support as a means to gauge a pitcher’s value.

The question we were asking then and Santana is wondering now: “How can you win if your team doesn’t score?”

Ryan went 22-16 in 1974. His ERA was 2.89 The Angels never scored more than three runs in any of his 16 defeats. They scored 22 total runs … again! That’s an average of 1.38 runs per loss.

Soccer teams score more than that.

The most perplexing season of Ryan’s eight-year Angel career, though, had to be 1976. He finished 17-18 despite an ERA of 3.36.

The Angels were shut out in seven of his 18 defeats while averaging 1.6 runs per loss.

There’s a baseball stat called “RS” (run support) that doesn’t get nearly enough love. It measures the average runs per nine innings a pitcher receives while he’s in the game.

Ryan had a lifetime ERA of 3.19 against a lifetime RS of 3.80.

Cy Young, a pitcher later named for an award Ryan never won, was 2.63 against an RS of  5.16.

In 1976, the year he went 17-18, Ryan’s RS was 2.74.

So, gee, am I suggesting W-L is misleading?

Andy Pettitte, a fine pitcher who is attempting another comeback with the Yankees, has a career record of 240-138.

That’s spiffy. Maybe one reason is Pettitte played so many years for the Bronx Bombers. It has allowed Pettitte’s career ERA of 3.88 to be overcome by his whopping RS average 5.34.

In 2003, when Pettitte went 21-8 despite an ERA of 4.02, the Yankees provided a cushy RS average of  6.61.

It has long been accepted that Koufax didn’t get much help from his Dodger teammates — and it’s generally true.

Koufax, though, had a career RS of 4.35 compared with 4.07 for Hall-of-Fame teammate Don Drysdale.

Roger Clemens’ career ERA of 3.12 is comparable to Ryan’s 3.19. Yet, Clemens ended up 170 games over break-even.

One advantage he had was not pitching for the Angels from 1972-79, or the Houston Astros in the 1980s.

In 1986, the year Clemens went 24-4 with Boston, his RS average was 6.09.

A year later, 1987, Ryan finished 8-16 with the Houston Astros despite a league-leading 2.76 ERA.

Problem: Ryan’s RS that year was 3.54.

Is it so hard to connect those dots?

So hang tough, Ervin Santana, some of us have already lived through what you’re going through.

The good news is your teammates are historically capable hitters with a chance, any day, to bust a few runs loose on your behalf.

Shoot, the Angels through Tuesday had already hit 25 home runs.

In 1976, the year Ryan finished 17-18?

Bobby Bonds led the team that year … with 10.


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Santana, Ryan and 40 years of cryin'

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