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Dave Stieb
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Dave Stieb
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
August 31, 2009

In a recent bout of obsession with AL vs. NL pitching during the post-DH era, I began to take a long look at Dave Stieb. Here are some quick hits:

1. Baseball talkers like to point to Jack Morris as the best AL pitcher of the 1980s. While he may have the most wins, the award for best pitcher must go to Dave Stieb. If you add in his 1990 season, which you by definition can not, the case is even stronger – over 150 wins and a 128 ERA+. Compare that Morris’ 177 wins and 107 ERA+.

2. Stieb was not exactly a DIPSy pitcher. In 1984 and 1985, his success was fueled by the fact that he led the AL in fewest hits allowed per inning both years. But Toronto as a team finished fourth best in that category in 1984 and second best in 1985, so that is more of a tribute to the team than to Stieb. On the other side of the spectrum, Stieb had a career 1.61 K:BB ratio, which is not good.

3. Stieb hit tons of batters, leading the league in that statistic five times in 12 full seasons. He is 26th all time in that category despite the fact that he is 148th all time in innings pitched.

4. In 1985, Stieb led the American League with a 2.48 ERA in a season in which the league ERA was 4.15, or over half a run worse than the NL ERA of 3.60.

5. One of the most unbelievable feats in baseball history has to be Dave Stieb’s two consecutive starts have a no-hitter broken up with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning. I mean, Johnny Vander Meer’s two consecutive no-hitters is obviously better, but far less improbable. Those were also his final two starts of the 1988 season, and made up two of three consecutive shutouts to end the year. Simply unbelievable. He also had a perfect game broken up with two outs in the ninth as well.

6. Dave Stieb had a career ERA of 3.60 at home, 3.28 on the road.

7. Dave Stieb’s effectiveness after the age of 32 was severely curtailed by injuries, and he would never pitch another complete season after 1990. But, from 1988 to 1990, Stieb was arguably at his best, compiling a 51-22 record with a 3.11 ERA, 126 ERA+, and 7.2 hits allowed per nine innings.

8. His 122 ERA+ ties him for 89th all time with Bob Feller, Mark Buehrle, Jimmy Key, Orval Overall, Eddie Plank, and Babe Ruth. He is immediately ahead of Don Drysdale, Clark Griffith, Eddie Rommel, and C.C. Sabathia.

9. Dave Stieb is the anti-Catfish Hunter. He didn’t have the 20 win seasons, and he didn’t play in six World Series, but his career numbers are better overall than Hunter’s.

10. At the end of the day, one must wonder “what if” for Stieb. What if he could have pitched well into his 30s? What if he’d pitched in the National League, or even on a better team? What if he’d gotten those three outs at the end of three different games, and instead of pitching one no-hitter, he pitched four?

As it is, his numbers are really just a fabulous ERA+ surrounded by overly team-dependent achievements. Hard to say why Stieb should be considered better than Lon Warneke.

April 14, 2010 UPDATE: Keith mentioned recently that I had failed to mention Steib's comeback. Let me do so here. From 1991 to 1993, from the age of 33 to 25, Stieb struggled to stay on the mound, pitching 178.1 total innings for a 9-12 record and a 4.54 ERA (92 ERA+). He didn't pitch after 1993 until, suddenly and without warning, he made a triumphant return with the 1998 Blue Jays.

Now 40 years old, Stieb started the season in the minors, pitching 81.0 innings in 12 starts. He was fantastic: 7-4, 2.78 ERA, 66:22 K:BB ratio (3:1), 61 hits allowed, 1.025 WHIP. Stieb made his re-debut on June 18th, pitching a scoreless inning to finish a game at Baltimore, giving up three hits but no runs. He spent the season pitching mostly in relief, making the occasional spot start, and ended the year with a 1-2 record, a 4.83 ERA, and 27 strikeouts in 50.1 innings pitched.

For most hardcore baseball fans, baseball is all about "what if". What if Hank Greenberg would not have gone to war; what if Sandy Koufax had not retired; what if blacks would not have been kept out of baseball.

In 1998, at the age of 40 and not having pitched in five years, Dave Stieb pitched a quarter of a season and had an ERA which was only slightly below league average. What if he had not been forced to miss the seasons he'd missed from ages 36 to 39, or the injury prone years from ages 33 to 35?

I don't think it would have made him a Hall of Famer, but I think he'd be a little higher on the Big List of Pitchers Whose Names Come Up in Conversation.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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