Mets going with worst Game 7 starter ever
By Rob Neyer
Oliver Perez, huh?
One can hardly blame Willie Randolph. If he didn't pitch Oliver Perez, he'd have to pitch Darren Oliver, who hasn't started a game in more than two years. If he didn't pitch Darren Oliver, he'd have to pitch Steve Trachsel, who's got an owie on his leg, and his teammates think he bailed out last time. If he didn't pitch Steve Trachsel, he'd have to pitch Aaron Heilman, who's thrown only a dozen pitches since last Friday and clearly isn't ready to do something he did for many years before the Mets decided he couldn't do it.
When we learn that Oliver Perez is going to start a game that's going to determine the National League championship, we can't help but notice that this is the same Oliver Perez who went 3-13 this season and racked up a 6.55 ERA. It's true that Perez won Game 4 of the NLCS. It's also true that Perez's ERA in Game 4 was even higher than his ERA during the rest of 2006. If Oliver Perez has rediscovered the Oliver Perez we thought might become a star, he's doing a bang-up job of keeping it to himself.
We also can't help but wonder whether Perez might be the unlikeliest -- OK, let's be honest here: the worst -- Game 7 starter ever. So how does Perez measure up? I know you're busy and stuff, so I won't make you wait for an answer until the end of today's column. I'll make you wait a bit longer, though. First, you're going to find out how much work went into this little study, because the research took a few hours and I want extra credit this time around.
Of course, there are few things less interesting than somebody else's data entry, so I'll just tell you that I identified every pitcher who started an all-or-nothing game in a best-of-seven (or best-of-nine) postseason series, and then I entered his wins and his losses and his inning pitched and his earned runs allowed for that season, and then I entered the same stats for his career. Then I did some sorting, which quickly led to an inescapable conclusion.
Perez is almost certainly the worst pitcher who's ever started a Game 7. There are 94 pitchers in the study. Perez won three games this season, which places him 94th on the list. His winning percentage this season was .188, which is 94th on the list. His career winning percentage is .411, which is 94th on the list. His career ERA is 4.67, which is 93rd on the list.
Umm, did I mention there are 94 pitchers in the study?
Perez's best showing is in career wins; he's got 30, which puts him in the 79th slot, ahead of a bunch of rookies (more on them later, if you're still hanging around). Perez is one of only two Game 7 starters who won fewer than eight games during the season. The other was Brooklyn's Hal Gregg, who started Game 7 in the '47 World Series after going 4-5 with a 5.88 ERA during the season. (In fact, one might reasonably argue that Gregg, who won only three games after 1947, and whose only big season came during the war, actually belongs slightly ahead of Perez in our rankings. But we'll leave him at No. 2 because it makes for a "better," more topical column.)
Since I did all that research and you're still hanging around, here are a few somewhat random notes about Game 7 starters:
• The "average" Game 7 pitcher went 16-8 during the regular season, with a 3.31 ERA; in other words, with a small adjustment for context he was Chris Carpenter, circa 2006.
• By my count, nine rookies started a Game 7; they went just 2-3 but posted a solid 3.43 ERA.
• In 1952, Dodgers rookie Joe Black won 15 games during the season despite starting only twice, then started Games 1, 4 and 7 in the World Series. He pitched decently or better in all three games, but won just the first of them.
• Here's your bit of weird trivia for the day: Don Larsen started two Game 7s for the Yankees, which was two more than Whitey Ford started.
• Most common number of regular-season wins for a Game 7 starter? Twenty, and 15. Ten pitchers -- well, nine, because Bret Saberhagen gets counted twice in 1985, because he started two Game 7s -- won 20 on the nose, and 10 won 15.
• Roger Clemens leads the way with four Game 7 starts; tied for second place, with three apiece, are notable big-game pitchers Bob Gibson and John Smoltz.
And finally, in chronological order, a few names that might surprise you: rookie Hugh Bedient (1912), Curly Ogden (who pitched to only two batters, in a bit of 1924-style gamesmanship), Elden Auker (1934), Johnny Kucks (who pitched a shutout in 1956), rookie Joe Magrane (1987), Atlee Hammaker (1987) and Mark Redman (only three years ago!).
If you're a Mets fan, I hope you're still reading, because I do have one shiny ray of hope. Remember Perez's 4.67 career ERA, 93rd on the list? Well, Nos. 92 and 94 happen to be occupied by the same pitcher … and that same pitcher happens to be starting for the St. Louis Cardinals tonight. That's right, folks: No. 92 is Jeff Suppan's 4.60 career ERA (through 2006), and No. 94 is Suppan's 4.80 career ERA (through 2004).
That said, here's a shiny ray for Cardinals fans: When Suppan started Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, he pitched six strong innings and beat the Astros 4-2. He must have forgotten he wasn't supposed to pitch well. Maybe he will again. And maybe Perez will, too. My prediction: a double no-hitter.