Saturday, June 29, 2013

Matt Harvey Is The Bizarro Bobo Newsom

When Matt Harvey left Friday night's game after pitching seven outstanding innings, it appeared as if he had a great chance for a victory.  After all, the Mets were nursing a 4-1 lead and only needed six outs from the bullpen to wrap up their 33rd win of the season.  But how quickly things changed.  The Nationals scored five runs in the final two innings to complete a 6-4, come-from-behind victory, denying Harvey his eighth win of the year.

The not-so-shocking turn of events gave Harvey his ninth no-decision of the year.  Going back to his major league debut last July, Harvey now has more no-decisions (11) in his career than wins (10), despite posting a spectacular 2.25 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 202 strikeouts in 176⅓ innings.

Eventually, Matt Harvey will get his share of wins.  But seeing spectacular performance after spectacular performance wasted by a lack of offense or a faulty bullpen has got to be weighing on him.

Harvey is not the first pitcher whose win total doesn't jibe with his other statistics.  In fact, there was one particular pitcher whose numbers were so awful, he should have lost 20 games.  But he won 20 instead.  Such was the 1938 season of Bobo Newsom.

Everything Matt Harvey has been, Bobo Newsom wasn't - except for one thing.

Bobo Newsom was a well-traveled pitcher nearly four decades before the advent of free agency allowed players to change teams at will.  Newsom played for nine teams during his 20-year career, a rather impressive feat considering there were only 16 teams in the majors at the time.

When Newsom was good, he was very good, as evidenced by his 211 career victories and four All-Star Game selections.  When Newsom was bad, he was downright awful (222 defeats, led the league in losses four times).  And at times, the Jekyll and Hyde-like Newsom was both.  Never was that more evident than in 1938, when Newsom was a member of the St. Louis Browns.

Seventy-five years ago, Newsom became a 20-game winner for the first time in his career.  He also led the league in starts (40), complete games (31) and innings pitched (329⅔), making his first All-Star team and finishing fifth in the MVP vote.   Most pitchers would love to have those numbers and accolades.  But not if they had to take some of Newsom's other numbers.

In addition to his many impressive statistics, Newsom's bizarre 1938 season also saw him lead the league in hits allowed (334), earned runs allowed (186) and home runs allowed (30), while posting an unsightly 5.08 ERA.  In doing so, Newsom became the first pitcher in American League history (and third pitcher overall) to cough up 30 dingers in a season in the modern era of baseball (post-1900).  And to this day, his 5.08 ERA remains the highest ever for a 20-game winner, while his 186 earned runs allowed are still the most given up by a pitcher since 1900.  You read that right.  The most runs yielded by a pitcher in a single season was accomplished by a pitcher who won 20 games in that season.

Newsom's season can be summarized by a start he made on June 19 against the Yankees.  In that start, Newsom allowed a whopping nine earned runs.  A total of 17 Yankees reached base against Newsom, with eight of them drawing a walk.  Of course, Newsom was the winning pitcher in that game, a 10-9 victory for the Browns.

That brings us back to Matt Harvey.  (Remember him?)  As mentioned before, Harvey has started 27 games in his career, receiving credit for a win in ten of them, while getting socked with a no-decision 11 times.  Harvey has allowed three earned runs or less in 24 of those 27 starts.  The Mets have lost 11 of them.

This year alone, Harvey has allowed one run or less in 11 of his 17 starts.  He has five no-decisions and one loss in those games, meaning that he has less than a 50-50 chance to earn a win when he allows no more than one run.  Meanwhile, Bobo Newsom allowed three runs or more in 31 of his 40 starts in 1938.  He earned a win in 11 of them.  That's one more win than Harvey has in his career.

Matt Harvey is not the first pitcher to have a low ERA and a smaller-than-expected win total.  He's not even the first Met to do this.  In 1978, Craig Swan led the National League with a 2.43 ERA, but only won nine games.  Swan was victimized by 13 no-decisions.  Nine years later, a former Met wished he had a few more no-decisions when he won an ERA title.  In 1987, Nolan Ryan finished atop the Senior Circuit with a 2.76 ERA.  But Ryan only had an 8-16 record to show for it.  He allowed two runs or less in 22 of his 34 starts for the Houston Astros, but was the losing pitcher in nine of those games and received a no-decision in six others.

In 1938, Bobo Newsom had a season in which he was easily hittable and allowed more runs than any pitcher in the modern era of baseball.  His reward for a lousy year was his first 20-win campaign.  Matt Harvey is doing everything better than Bobo Newsom did 75 years ago.  He's just not being rewarded for it in wins.  It's a bizarre story indeed.

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