Should Felix Hand the Ball to the Closer More?
Dr. D swaps out the illicit image

JDDub wants to know what Mo' Dawg, Lonnie and I remember about Jim Palmer.  Funny, says today's youngster, that a starting pitcher would be respected based on 5 strikeouts per game...

Like Matty sez, don't forget that the game featured many fewer K's then.  And true, Palmer often benefitted from great defenses.  But Palmer was in the league's top 10 for strikeouts on 7 occasions, was often in the top 10 for fewest HR per game (sometimes 0.5 to 0.6, all year), was consistently top 10 in WHIP.  I remember him as a Mike Mussina-, David Cone-, CC Sabathia-level pitcher who was very popular and very photogenic.  Compare Derek Jeter.

He wasn't Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez, but he was certainly Jered Weaver or Cole Hamels good, which was plenty to routinely detonate the M's of that era.  :- )  


Also over the course of a 20-year career, Palmer maintained outstanding levels of performance in high-level situations.  He wasn't just a pretty face; he was a guy you wanted on the mound in Game 7.  He was 8-3, 2.61 lifetime in the postseason, and that's back when only the best teams got there.

Mike Mussina with a lot more durability.


Craig Wright's First Law

... is that you should never, ever, wever let a starting pitcher face the #28 hitter of a game.  That's when he gets hurt.  No doubt, but ... 

One thing is, Palmer and Earl Weaver used to feud constantly about the way Earl would force him to go around the lineup an extra time, ruining his stats.  Earl knew that Palmer wasn't as good after 100 pitches, but he felt that a gassed Palmer was better than his relievers.

Stats bear Palmer out.  Over the course of his 20-year career, his K/BB dropped steadily as he faced batters the 1st, then 2nd, then 3rd, then 4th time through.  his tOPS+ was 121 (!) the 4th time through, but Earl kept making him pitch them.  "I felt Palmer had enough left, that he was still better than my relievers," he wrote.

So don't forget to adjust for the fact that Palmer was going 300 innings a year.  You think Felix' ratios would be affected by having to pitch a blizzard of 8th and 9th innings, and face a lineup the 4th time through every week?

But the thing is:  in the 8th inning of Wednesday's game, might Felix Hernandez be BOTH of these two things?

  • Considerably worse than --- > himself, in the 5th inning 
  • Considerably better than --- > Charlie Furbush

Today's sabermetrician sees the starter's performance drop off, and the discussion ends there.  Get 'im out of there.  (Craig Wright excepted; he is one of the world's greatest sabermetricians and, by all accounts, one of sabr's nicest guys.)

In the playoffs, Lloyd McClendon will certainly leave Felix in for the extra inning, even though it hurts Felix' stats.  So why not do it now?  

Are you saying that Jim Palmer could throw 300 innings a year, but that Felix Hernandez is incapable of throwing even 20 more than he does?   Felix has great stats  ... and 12 wins a year.  Maybe he should hand the ball to the closer.  I dunno.


Anyway:  it is entirely possible that, if the Mariners left Felix in to struggle during some extra 8th innings, that they would be a better team for it.  It might very easily be the difference in the division, in tight years.

At least Earl thought so.  If he were running the M's, then Felix would definitely be handing the ball to Fernando Rodney on Wednesday.


Dr D




First, as you've stated many times before, it's not the pitch count that hurts a pitcher, it's the number of pitches he throws while tired and under stress. Secondly, Felix has the big fat contract and he earns it by filling the stadium with home starts, not by pitching 8th innings. Why would the M's take the chance of burning out their #1 box office draw.
Better to spend some money on a setup guy who's nails. Or let Farquhar pitch the 8th from now on. Definitely Furbush is not the guy these days to hand the 8th inning to.But Danny F. - the guy is as good as a closer. Hand it to him, and it's just like handing it to a closer.

Brent's picture

What I remember about Palmer was that he hate hate hate hate hated the Kingdome, and he never gave up a grand slam.
Weaver isn't the only one to think that his starter at 80%is better than what he can pull out of the bullpen. Would you really trust a fresh Furby over The King, even if Felix is at 100 pitches and fourth time through the lineup? Furbush is like spinning the wheel on The Price is Right; round and round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows. Sometimes you get a dollar, sometimes you get a nickel.
Just out of curiosity, where is Palmer on the list for did well/poorly when going against other great pitchers? Is he Marichal or Blyleven?

muddyfrogwater's picture

I'm totally offended by the front page picture. I'm just a bit younger, but were you guys really wearing Speedos back then? Are you serious? Yea nice package. whatever.

M's Watcher's picture

Palmer probably made good money modeling for Jockey, maybe as much as he earned playing baseball. I think in his best years in baseball he made far below the current minimum salary. Most of us never looked that good. Of course, Palmer was one of the Oreo's four 20 game winners in 1971, with 20 wins and 20 CGs.


Since I've been called a youngster. Thanks Doc! Early 40's is the new 25. Nah, just old enough to have been aware that Jim Palmer was a star of the game and that was about it. Playing fantasy baseball I guess has me looking at K rates all the time now. What feels odd to me is that in the span of 30 years a strikeout rate of 5 per game was CY worthy and now you can barely hold a job with that rate. Yet power spiked artificially and seems to now have declined back to where 20-25 HR in a season is pretty good pop, similar to how it was viewed 30 years ago.
Maybe my initial thoughts here are way off as I have no statistics to back them up but here in 2014 as compared to, say, 1978 my suspicion is batters are giving up a big % of swing and miss for a smaller % of SLG.
And here I thought maybe a sentence or two response in the other thread, but instead a full article with interesting visual (since removed). You rock Doc!


James wrote, "If you use a higher standard for what constitutes a Big Game, then Palmer is the all-time leader, with 64."
James has a section in which he divides pitchers up into --- > those who pitched better than expected, those who pitched worse than expected, and those who pitched about like you'd expect.  Palmer leads off the section on "About how you'd have expected."
Jim Palmer, who shared the record for Regular Season Big Game starts until September of 2013, was 36-26 with a 2.72 ERA in Big Games. . .probably about the record you would expect.    Your won-lost record tends to flatten out in Big Games, because you’re almost always facing a strong opponent. 
By the way, guess who got James' Cy Young award for best performance in his 35 most important games?  Randy Johnson was 24-4, 2.08 with 308 strikeouts.  In the 35 most important games he pitched, he lost only 4 times!
He didn't do it for the M's, though, because Chuck Armstrong nixed a 3-year contract.  "What if something happens and Randy isn't able to pitch at that level?"

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