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June 14, 2007

"Louisiana Lightning" versus Sanford Brown's on!

At first glance, looking at Ron Guidry envokes only one thought…nice 'stache. Look into the numbers and you come up with something COMPLETELY different.

He was better than Sandy Koufax.

What? Better than Koufax…THE Sandy Koufax?!? You better believe it, bitch…and I'll tell ya why.

Koufax's Hall of Fame career was based on four GREAT years and potential. He left the league at the age of 30…and never looked back. Had he played ten more years and had an eight year span of greatness versus four…he'd be the best ever. No argument.

But he didn't…he left the game. So, take his numbers and stack them up against "Louisiana Lightning" and riddle me this…why is one one of the greatest lefties EVER and the other merely a footnote in Yankees history?

Let's start with the case AGAINST Koufax.

At first glance, Sandy finished his 12 year career with a 165-87 (.655 win percentage)…Guidry was 170-91 (.651). Sandy has 3 Cy Young Awards and 1 MVP Award, whereas Guidry has only one Cy Young. Arguably…Guidry never really had a chance to win an MVP award while playing for the Yankees. In 1978…EIGHT Yankees received MVP votes and "Gator" finished second overall to Jim Rice.

Here's the biggie…from 1955-1962 (yes, Koufax's first 8 seasons), Sandy was MEDIOCRE. Guidry never DIDN'T bring it.

Koufax's numbers 1955-1962: 68-60 (.531 percentage), 3.71 ERA and an average of 146 Ks per year. 1963-1966: 97-27 (.782), 1.86 ERA and an average of 307 Ks per year. I know the pitching mound was LOWERED in 1969 to give batters a better look at the ball (and thusly, more home runs and higher attendance)…but was it RAISED from 1963 to 1966?!? The 6'2" Koufax was a witch on the bump for four seasons. For you modern day guys…he was like Pedro Martinez at his absolute best. The rest of his career…he looked like Pedro's brother Ramon sans Jheri Curl.

Alright enough about Koufax…Guidry is the topic here, right? Right.

Guidry's 1978 season has been called by some the "most dominant year ever by a pitcher". He was 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA…not too shabby for 1978. His 248 Ks ranked him second in the AL behind Nolan Ryan's 260. Third on the list that year…Dennis Leonard with 183. Guidry led the league in ERA, Wins, Winning Percentage (.893) and Shutouts. On June 17, he struck out a Yankee-record 18 batters. This performance is usually cited as the launching pad of the Yankee Stadium tradition of fans standing and clapping for a strikeout with two strikes on the opposing batter.

And he led the Bronx Bombers to the World Series. Not bad for a guy who after three years in the bigs, finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter.

Guidry won 20 or more three times…the same as Koufax. Guidry also garnered five straight (1982-1986) Gold Gloves…Koufax had none. Four times Guidry was in the top five for Cy Young voting (he received votes in seven of his 14 years)…Koufax finished in the top five only four times (1963-1966 not surprisingly).

"Gator" was a big game pitcher too. In a day when Curt Schilling's (more on him later) bloody sock gets him mentioned in the same breath as some other great performances and virtually ushered into the Hall, Guidry beat those same Red Sox at Fenway Park in a one game playoff in 1978 to send his team to the playoffs. Oh…that victory also happened to be his 25th of the season. Eventual league MVP Jim Rice was 1 for 4 versus Ron that afternoon.

So there you have it…Guidry versus Koufax. I could've easily compared him to Jim Bunning or Don Drysdale…but the scales would be tipped COMPLETELY in Ron's favor. I wanted to make this a tough one and take on an icon.

Don't worry Drysdale and Bunning fans…your guys will get their comeuppance soon!

Ballhype: hype it up!


E said...

This has always been the problem with Koufax: there are HUNDREDS of pitchers who were better in their first eight years (or any eight years, for that matter). It just happened that he followed those eight with four of the best years EVER with an arthritic arm that would put him out of the game. (Like Lou Gehrig putting up some very respectible numbers while dying of ALS.)

And then there's the "different era" argument. Had Guidry played those same years, maybe he'd have gone in, just because there weren't that many big-time pitchers at that time. Look at the pitchers from the era that Guidry played in that went into the HOF, and it's some pretty scary company.

And the HOF has become more "numbers" oriented. If a player doesn't hit certain stats, they kinda get overlooked, regardless of how dominant they were when they played. (Ask any pitcher from the '70s and '80s who the scariest hitter of that time was, and they'll give you one name: Jim Rice, who's not "good enough" to be in the Hall.)

Maybe some day.

Jesus said...

You hit the nail on the head with the "numbers" comment.

Guidry played in an era that included Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry...the list goes on and on. A guy that is lights out for a dozen years will ALWAYS get overshadowed by twenty-plus years of "very good".

jon tuttle said...

Sorry Jesus, but your analysis of Guidry versus Koufax is off the mark on several fronts.

First, you start off by saying that Guidry “never didn’t bring it” (perhaps you’re overlooking 1984 and his ERA+ of 84 that year). You don’t mention that Guidry’s formative years were spent playing college ball and in the minors until 1977, except for two cups of coffee in 75 and 76. He was already 26 by then. Koufax, on the other hand, was signed as a bonus baby at 19 and had to learn by doing at the major league level, with little instruction (rookies were basically ignored back then, as he makes plain in his recent biography). By the time he was 26, he’d been in the majors for seven seasons and had already made an all star team after finally putting it together in 1961.

Second, Guidry’s best six years are actually not consecutive – they actually occurred over a nine year period from 77 to 85, with a few pretty good years and his stinker in 1984 mixed in. During this period, his ERA+’s were 140, 208, 146, 110, 129, 104, 113, 84, and 123; his best six in descending order were 208, 146, 140, 129, 123, and 113. Compare those to Koufax’s six (not four as you alledge) year run from 1961-66, in descending order, of 190, 187, 160, 159, 141, and 123. Guidry is +18 better in their single best season, then Koufax blows him away the rest of the way - +41, +20, +30, +18, and +10. Also, even with Koufax's early career struggles and Guidry's "never failing to bring it", Koufax's lifetime ERA+ of 131 is significantly better than Guidry's decent but unspectacular 119.

There’s more. During his run, Koufax pitched 335.2, 323, 311, 255.2, 223, and 184.1 innings, for a total of 1632.1, and an average of 272 per season. Guidry, by comparison, had his best years of 273.2, 259, 250.1, 236.1, 222, and 219.2, a total of 1461 (171.1 fewer) and an average of 243, about 29 fewer. There is a substantial amount of value in what amounts to around 4 extra starts per year for a six year period.

Finally, let’s look at “Black” and “Grey” ink, not a terrible way to value their relative performances compared to their peers. While their Grey inks (top ten finishes) are close at 151 for Koufax to 140 for Guidry, Koufax blows him away again in Black inks (league leading finishes), 78 to 29. Koufax was by far more dominant compared to his peers than was Guidry.

The comparison between the two is at best superficial, and they really are not that comparable at all – true, at Baseball-reference Guidry is the player most similar to Koufax, but if you know about similarity scores you know that a score of 905 really isn't all that similar. That actually speaks to just how unique a player Koufax was, much more so than how Guidry was anywhere close to his equal. In fact, the two most similar pitchers to Guidry are Ed Lopat and Bret Saberhagen - care to try and argue that either one of them should be enshrined in Cooperstown?

Koufax was simply a much better player than Guidry.