34 wins by Smokey Joe Wood in 1912.
Yeah. That’s a team record.
No, it won’t be broken.
You know how you sometimes head over to baseball reference and just gawk at Pedro’s statistics? (Yeah, I do it too) Smokey Joe Wood was like that in 1912. He was 22 that year, and went 34-5, with 35 complete games. 35 complete games! Wonder what happened in the three games he didn’t finish. Of those 35 complete games, ten of them were shutouts. No wonder he had a 1.91 ERA that year. Want to go all new-fangled with the stats? His WAR was 10.4. (Pedro was 11.7 in 2000)
What happened after 1912? Wood dropped off the face of the earth. Arm problems limited him to 18 starts the following year. (Of course, he still completed twelve of them.) From accounts of his complaints at the time, people think he destroyed his rotator cuff, and was never the same again. He eventually had to come back as an outfielder to stay in the league.
Which is exactly why the Red Sox were so careful with Pedro.
But, I’ve always wondered, which is the right move? Say you went back in time, and told the Red Sox of 1912 what we know now. You went up to management and said, look if you pitch him so much, he’s going to break down. Instead of having him start 38 games, and come into five others in relief, you should just start him 32 times max. And forget about completing them. Seven innings per game is a good goal. So, cut him back from the 344 innings he’s going to pitch this year to around 210. That way he won’t break down, and you’ll have him available next year, and maybe five years from now.
What would they say?
I bet their first reaction would be, “Who am I going to pitch those other 134 innings? They won’t be as good as Wood.”
Their second reaction would be, “But, if I run Wood until he drops, I’ll win the title this year. If I don’t, I probably won’t. How is that better?”
I’m not sure I have a good argument for them. What if the Sox had done that with Pedro in 1999-2000? What if they said, I don’t care if he’s still a decent pitcher in 2009 or not. I have the best pitcher ever, in his prime. I’m using those innings right now. If he blows out five years early, so be it.
What if teams treated every pitcher like that? Pitchers will never perform as well as they do when they’re in their 20’s, no matter how much rest they get. So, use those innings then. Some, like Smokey Joe, won’t be able to handle it. You’ll get their best, and then they’ll be gone. Others, like Cy Young, will just keep right on pitching 300 innings a year for 20 years. You’ll never know which one you’ve got until you try. But, in either case, you’ll get the most out of the best they have to offer. And, maybe a title to go along with it.
Just like the Sox got from Smokey Joe Wood.
34 is for Smokey Joe Wood’s 34 wins in 1912.