Apr 15, 2011

Eddie Plank - The Arm of the A's

P is for Plank,

The arm of the A's;

When he tangled with Matty,

Games lasted for days.

-Ogden Nash, "Line-Up for Yesterday"

I'd like to get around to a closer look at most of the players on the team throughout the season, and since Eddie Plank is starting the next game against Boston, we might as well begin with him.

Nicknamed Gettysburg Eddie due to his hometown*, Plank made his debut in 1901, the Athletics' inaugural season. The 25-year-old lefty made his presence felt right off the bat, providing his new team with 4.4 WAR and 17 wins as a rookie. From then on, he was a consistently good pitcher for the next 17 seasons, 14 of which were with the A's.

View his full stats.

His career numbers aren't necessarily gaudy (he rarely led the league in any significant pitching categories), but they were always really solid. According to teammate and fellow HOFer Eddie Collins, "Plank was not the fastest, not the trickiest and not the possessor of the most stuff; but he was just the greatest." All told, he deserves a place among the pitching greats (and possibly one of the top 10 lefties). Here are a few cherry-picked stats showing where his career numbers place him on the all-time list in a few key categories:
  • WAR: 22nd for pitchers (5th among lefties) with 76.30
  • ERA: 21st (tied- also 6th among lefties) with 2.35**
  • Innings Pitched: 28th (5th among lefties) with 4,495.2
  • Complete Games: 16th (1st among lefties) with 410
  • Shutouts: 5th (1st among lefties) with 69
  • Strikeouts: 49th (17th among lefties) with 2,246
  • WHIP: 30th (6th among lefties) with 1.1189
  • Wins: 13th (3rd among lefties***) with 326. Now I don't put a lot of stock in pitcher wins, but you don't win 326 games without being awfully good, and I'm still impressed by big numbers. He was the first lefty to win 200 and then later 300 games, and he was the career wins leader in all of baseball for a few years until Walter Johnson**** passed him. He won 20 games or more 7 times. He still has the most wins for a lefty in the AL (305).
And lucky for us, 1911 was his best year. As a 35 year-old he posted the highest ERA+ (151) and highest WAR (6.1) of his career. He won 23 games with a 2.10 ERA. He also led the league in both shutouts (6) and saves (4 - though saves hadn't been invented yet). What's even more impressive is that it wasn't the least bit flukey: his BABIP was exactly the league average (though he did seem to have some good defense behind him, as his FIP was about half a run higher than his ERA). We'll be enjoying quite a lot of his starts this year.

Finally, I love that Nash's famous poem references his battles with Christy Matthewson. That's some good foreshadowing, as we'll be meeting those Giants in the World Series. Having played in separate leagues their entire careers, the two never met in the regular season. But their teams faced off in three different World Series: 1905, 1911, and 1913. They started three games against one another in those years. Matty won two of them, and Plank came away with one. None of them were high-scoring games, as you might guess. Nash was probably also referring to Plank's reputation for his long stalling pauses on the mound***** But did the games actually last days? Here are the game times for their three match-ups: 1:46, 2:22, 1:39.

* He served as a battlefield tour guide during the off-season.

** That's a great ERA, but his career neatly nestles in the timeline of the dead-ball era, which makes it slightly less impressive in retrospect. It's still good for a tie for 93rd in ERA+ with 122, which puts him in some good company with both Bob Feller and Babe Ruth.

*** Behind Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton.

**** Who would defeat him 1-0 in his final game, an 11-inning complete game, no less.

***** I guess that made him the deadball era's Jamie Moyer.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Plank

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