One of the winningest losing pitchers in modern major-league history (read: since 1920).
Is this a title you should be proud of, one that should cause anyone to bow at the waist or pick up your bar tab? Well, maybe. After all, you have to rack up a lot of victories to be considered “one of the winningest losing pitchers in modern major-league history.” To make the Top 10, you’d need 151 wins, which would also make you the 158th winningest pitcher in the live-ball era. When you consider how many men have stood on a hill and thrown a ball in anger, 158th is pretty darn good.
I bring this up because Livan Hernandez, the Nationals’ longtime workhorse, dropped another one Saturday night, 15-7 to the Rockies. This left him records of 6-11 for the season and 172-174 for his career. As it now stands, Hernandez is the fourth-winningest losing pitcher of modern times, tied with Murry Dickson, whose hurling spanned from 1939 to ’59. The company Livo keeps:
W-L Pitcher (length of career) – Main teams
211-222 Bobo Newsom (1929-53) – Senators, A’s, Browns, Tigers.
197-230 Bob Friend (1951-66) – Pirates.
186-191 Tom Zachary (1918-36) – Senators, Braves, Dodgers, Yankees.
172-174 Livan Hernandez (1996-2011) – Nats, Giants, Marlins, D-backs.
172-181 Murry Dickson (1939-59) – Cardinals, Pirates, Phillies.
171-182 Danny Darwin (1978-98) – Rangers, Astros, Red Sox, Brewers.
161-176 Mike Moore (1982-95) – Mariners, A’s, Tigers.
161-165 Bump Hadley (1926-41) – Senators, Yankees, Browns.
152-156 Rudy May (1965-83) – Angels, Yankees, O’s, Expos.
151-164 Tom Candiotti (1983-99) – Indians, Dodgers, A’s.
151-158 Jim Slaton (1971-86) – Brewers, Angels, Tigers.
There are some pretty recognizable pitchers in that group. They may not always be fondly remembered, but they’re remembered – as much as anything because, as you can see, they all pitched a long time. (Zachary is also recalled for giving up Babe Ruth’s 60th homer in 1927.)
That’s the thing about the winningest losing pitchers in modern history: They endure, they eat up innings, they sometimes finish above .500, they sometimes finish below, and if you only focus on the left side of their won-lost record, it isn’t hard to convince yourself that, hey, these guys could fire that pill.
Let’s not forget, Newsom (three times), Friend and Dickson all won 20 games in a season, and Friend once finished third in the Cy Young voting. Friend also won an ERA title, as did Darwin and May. Six of them, moreover, made at least one All-Star team, and several enjoyed postseason success – including Hernandez, who was an absolute stud for the Marlins in 1997.
Sometimes they lost because they lost. Sometimes they lost because their teams weren’t very good. But on the whole, these were some very useful pitchers. It’ll be interesting to see how much higher Livo climbs on the list, especially given his recent struggles.
It’s interesting, too, that four of the pitchers (Newsom, Zachary, Hernandez and Hadley) spent the largest chunk of their careers in Washington – interesting but not surprising, given all the losing that has gone on around here. Still, there’s honor in trudging out to the mound every four or five days, picking up the ball and giving your all for the Olde Towne Team. Think of Livo as this generation’s Bobo.
Earlier Saturday, the Red Sox’s John Lackey beat the Yankees to improve to 10-8 – with an ERA of 6.14. That’s hard to do, post a winning record while allowing 6-plus runs per nine innings. It takes run support, luck and an incredibly patient (or desperate) manager.
Only eight pitchers since 1901 have accomplished the feat over a full season (minimum: 10 wins), and one of them is Livan. In 2008 with the Twins and Rockies, he went 13-11 with a 6.05 ERA. Here are the Not So Great Eight (that season, anyway):
2008 Livan Hernandez, Twins/Rockies: 13-11, 6.05.
2007 Byung-Hyun Kim, Rockies/Marlins/D-backs: 10-8, 6.08.
2003 Colby Lewis, Rangers: 10-9, 7.30.
2002 Ryan Dreese, Indians: 10-9, 6.55.
2000 Ramon Martinez, Red Sox: 10-8, 6.13.
1999 Mike Morgan, Rangers: 13-10, 6.24.
1938 Wes Ferrell, Senators/Yankees: 15-10, 6.28.
1930 Guy Bush, Cubs: 15-10, 6.20.
In this instance, feel free to think of Livo as this generation’s Wes Ferrell.