Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a period of time, you already know that Adam Wainwright suffered a torn Achilles and will miss the remainder of the 2015 season. You also know that it was followed by a myriad of “hot takes” involving the DH and “pitchers shouldn’t be hitting anyway” and so on. This, fortunately for my sanity, is not one of those kinds of pieces.
The first thing that hit my mind when the news broke was, “uh oh, Achilles injuries are death to pitchers.” I have absolutely no data to back that up, and frankly, I don’t really believe it to be true. The reason I had such a knee jerk reaction to the news was the tale of Jim Maloney.
Maloney is kind of a forgotten man of 1960s baseball. He never received more than 2 Hall Of Fame votes. He only made one All Star Game. But, for an 8 year period between 1962 and 1968, Maloney was really good, posting ERA-s of 88, 82, 73, 68, 72, 90, 113, and 72. He also threw two no-hitters, and nearly a third, losing that one in the 11th inning. Also to note, since DRA is our new pitching overlord, let’s touch on that briefly. Starting in 1962 and running through 1969 with an inning minimum requirement of 100, Maloney finished 4th, 42nd, 28th, 4th, 4th, 15th, 46th, and 14th in baseball in DRA. So, that’s two bona-fide ace years and two more that would be borderline while still in his twenties. (The first year he wasn’t yet starting full time, so I cannot quite call it an “ace year.”)
Maloney debuted in 1960, and was somewhat pedestrian for a couple of years, before posting his first above league average season in 1962, but 1963 is when business picked up, with 23 wins, a 82 ERA-, and a league leading 26.2 K%. Even in today’s strikeout happy game, that figure would have been 8th in all of baseball had he posted it in 2014. 1965 was probably his best season, posting a career best ERA- of 68, although his FIP- of 73 was just a tick worse than his career best of 71 two years prior. That was also the year of the lost no-hitter, and his first actual no-hitter, on August 19 against the Cubs.
Things continued rolling along until a slight hiccup in 1968, as he posted his first ERA worse than league average since 1961, but a little hindsight shows us that even though he did have a bit of a down year, his FIP- was still only 98, but his BABIP wasn’t higher than his normal range or anything, so the sequencing monster must have got him on that one. (Although as shown above, his DRA wasn’t all the good either.) 1969 was a good bounce-back season, even though his FIP- was almost dead on with the previous year, he still posted an ERA- of 72. Oddly enough, since that was the year the mound was lowered, comparing his peripherals to league average the difference between the two seasons are barely negligible, but in looking at it out of context, one would assume Maloney was declining, what with his K% dropping over 7 percentage points.
1970 brought Maloney a new manager in Sparky Anderson, and a team seemingly on the rise (indeed, they won 102 games and lost in the World Series to the Orioles). And being only 30 years of age at that point, he seemed to be the guy to lead the newly christened Big Red Machine into the early 1970s pitching wise. Alas, that wasn’t meant to be. His first start in 1970 wasn’t good. He got knocked around by the Giants and also walked 4 in just 2 1/3 innings. But his next start, 4 days later against the Dodgers, is where everything fell apart. He had just given up 2 runs in the top of the third, and was scheduled to hit second, but tore his Achilles running to first after a grounder to shortstop. As an aside, Maloney was quite a good hitter for a pitcher, even for the pre-DH era when pitchers were more expected to be able to hit than they are today, he actually put up a 97 OPS+ in 1969 with 3 home runs.
Oddly enough, Maloney was back pitching out of the bullpen in September of that year, in what was basically a mop-up man role. Rushed back perhaps? Probably. He was then released by Cincinnati and signed with the Angels but only got into 13 games, putting up a 5.04 ERA (and an even worse 6.88 DRA) before signing with the Cardinals in 1972, getting released in spring training, and latching on with the Giants AAA team, where he was actually pitching fairly well before announcing his retirement that year on June 16, only 32 years of age. One does wonder if a healthy Jim Maloney could have made a difference in one of those Reds playoff losses of the early 70s. Remember that they were often thought of as chokers before 1975, which seems laughable today.
So, what does this have to do with Wainwright? Probably nothing. Medicine has advanced in the past 45 years since Maloney’s injury, and there’s almost no chance that he will be pitching before he’s 100% healthy. The rest might even do him some good, given the fact that he’s had some elbow issues recently. I hope that Adam Wainwright doesn’t wind up like Jim Maloney, because baseball is done no favors by having star players sitting on the sidelines, and even though I’m a Reds fan, I like watching the guy pitch.Next post: Write-Up for the Weekend – May 8th-10th, 2015
Previous post: BttP Podcast: Ep 20 – Darius Austin & Paul Cline