In 1999, Jose Lima won 21 games, All Star accolades, and came in fourth in Cy Young voting.
In 2000, Lima lost 16 games, gave up a Major League leading 48 home runs, and was shuffled from Houston to Detroit the very next year.
In baseball, we like to make a lot of statistics. Even if you don’t consider yourself a stats geek, you’ve probably looked at home runs, ERA and batting averages more than once in your life; it’s just the nature of the game.
There are, sometimes, mysteries in the narrative, why x happened instead of y, and almost instinctively, we turn to the numbers to try to define it, to give some sort of concrete base. The 2008 Rays didn’t arrive in a vacuum, nor did the 2007 Mets collapse in one, either.
Yet, for all these numbers, there are still some things that remain beyond their grasp.
How does Jose Lima go from one of the league’s best pitchers in 1999 to one of its worst in 2000?
Thing is, oddities in baseball strike everywhere, even pitchers. Especially pitchers.
There is nowhere written anything that would have ever predicted that Don Larsen or Dallas Braden would have pitched perfect games, for example.
We get so caught up in defining good starters and bad starters that sometimes we forget the difference between the two is miniscule–an extra mile an hour on the fastball, perhaps, or a team behind you that scores four runs a game instead of three.
Was Lima’s drop off predictable, at all? Is the oddity that he won 16 games and then 21 in two years, and then lost 16 and 12 in the next, or is it the other way around?
Wins are, of course, probably the worst statistic by which to measure a pitcher, but you can see the difference in nearly every other category–ERA, WHIP, strike outs, etc. For what it’s worth, the 2000 Jose Lima only pitched in two fewer games than the 1999 Lima, so we cannot blame this on an injury.
What would happen, I wonder, if all of a sudden next year Zack Greinke pitched to an ERA over 6.00, or if Ubaldo Jimenez was suddenly unable to miss bats?
Logic tells us that this won’t happen.
History tells us it can.