The Philadelphia Phillies Cliff Lee and the Chicago Cubs' Ryan Dempster are both 0-1. No big deal, right? In a month they could be 5-1 and the ship could easily look righted. But here's the problem -- they've been absolutely spectacular so far this season.
Dempster is pitching to a gaudy 1.74 ERA. Not to be overshadowed, Lee has dealt to a 1.95. Both have started five or more games and are in baseball's top seven in ERA for qualified pitchers. You won't find Dempster amongst the leaders in many other statistical categories but the ERA speaks for itself. Lee is tops in baseball in strikeout/walk ratio and walks per nine innings, and rates second in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) to only Matt Cain.
The story, simply, is that there are 24 other guys on the Phils and Cubs who are failing miserably to get Lee and Dempster's back. Whether it be a lack of offense or the incompetencies of two brutal bullpens, each performance these two horses deliver is being wasted. Dempster and Lee have garnered the 117th and 118th ranking in run support. The only pitcher to get worse support is the Angel's Ervin Santana.
I can only imagine the frustration level of these guys. I would liken it to M. Night Shyamalan trying to write a good movie these days. Only, in the case of Lee and Dempster, they're writing gold and their teams are running it through the shredder.
Lee and Dempster aren't close to candidates for the Hall of Fame. Dempster certainly isn't. While a two-time All-Star and a 100-game winner, his career winning percentage is below .500. Lee would have to go on an epic run to get into the conversation, but he is a Cy Young winner, four-time All-Star, a top ten MVP finisher and has had postseason success.
Starts to seasons like this one in the win column will not help his case in the long run.
In the bar I manage, some customers and I were discussing the merits of certain pitchers getting into the Hall of Fame. Curt Schilling came up. He's as close to a borderline Hall of Famer as there could possibly be. If sabermetrics geeks came up with one of their ridiculous formulas to define, once and for all, a Hall of Famer, I guarantee Schilling would have one foot through the portico while the other would have the door slammed on it.
There are 16 pitchers since 1912 with 200 or more career wins and more than 3,000 strikeouts. Schilling is one of them. Everyone else on this list is either in the Hall, a mortal lock for the Hall, or Roger Clemens (silly Roger, never lie to Congress). Schilling only has 216 career wins, better than only John Smoltz on that list. But Smoltz racked up 154 saves to complete his Hall of Fame resume. Schilling's lack of wins seems to be the lynchpin preventing him from being a lock for Cooperstown.
While kicking around the Schilling argument (without those numbers in front of me at the time), I started thinking about his time with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1992 to 2000. Save for the 1993 Macho Row club, those were some destitute years of baseball that would have made the current San Diego Padres team look like the '27 Yankees. For a pitcher, it's nearly impossible to put together a Hall of Fame resume playing in front of slop for too long a period of time. For a position player, like, say, Ernie Banks, you can compile inarguable numbers because while playing within the framework of team baseball, hitting is an individual endeavor.
Schilling had three 20-win seasons after he left Philly. He never had one while in red pinstripes -- not even in the first two of his three 300-strikeout seasons. You can't help but wonder how many wins were left on the table because of a lack of run support in those lean years under Terry Francona with the Phillies.
You could drudge up these numbers on any long time pitcher and come up with some argument. The Bill James ink formulas basically have Schilling going to the Hall at some point. But what about pitchers down the line. It still comes down to wins, strikeouts, ERA and postseason accomplishments.
So along those lines, if you were told before your career that you had to amass Hall of Fame numbers or you'd be executed upon your retirement, how would like to be Cliff Lee or Ryan Dempster right about now? Have there ever been any All-Star pitchers with no wins at the break?
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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