Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part II--1910-1919)

Jack Coombs and Eddie Plank/ Philadelphia A's (1910-1912)

Nicknamed "Colby Jack," Coombs was the most successful player to come from Colby College in Maine. He was off to a highly promising start in the majors before he fell ill with typhoid fever during spring training of 1913. He was never the same. Traded to Brooklyn, he won 28 games in 1915/ '16, but was ineffective after that. During his time with the A's, he led the league twice in victories and posted a 4-0 record in World Series play. He briefly held the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched, stringing together 53 shutout frames in 1910. Walter Johnson reset the mark three seasons later. Coombs hit well for a pitcher, reaching a career-high batting mark of .319 in 1911. He drilled 2 homers while driving in 23 runs that year.

Eddie Plank appeared in my last post paired with strikeout specialist Rube Waddell. Plank's era of dominance stretched well into the second decade of the twentieth century and he formed a potent one-two punch with Coombs for three seasons.
The A's won two World Series while Coombs and Plank were in their prime.

     (Won/Loss)                            1910            1911           1912

     Jack Coombs                          31-9            28-12           21-10
     Eddie Plank                            16-10           23-8             26-6

Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson/ New York Giants (1911-1913)

A left-hander, Marquard got off to a slow start in the majors. After signing with the Giants for a record $11,000, he won just 9 games in his first two full seasons. Dubbed the "$11,000 Lemon," he got back on track, winning 24 games in 1911 and 26 more the following year. In 1912, he prevailed in 19 consecutive decisions beginning on opening day--a record that still stands. He played in five World Series with New York and Brooklyn, never ending up on the winning side. The Veteran's Committee at Cooperstown determined him to be Hall of Fame worthy in 1971.

Mathewson was another player featured in a previous post (feel free to review it). "Matty" appears prominently among the all time leaders in wins, ERA and shutouts. In the annals of Giants' history, there simply has never been another like him. "Mathewson was the greatest pitcher who ever lived," contended Connie Mack. "He had knowledge, judgement, perfect control and form."    
The Giants won three pennants with Mathewson and Marquard working together.

     (Won/Loss)                                  1911          1912          1913

     Rube Marquard                              24-7          26-11         23-10
    Christy Mathewson                       26-13         23-12         25-11

Harry Coveleski and Hooks Dauss/ Detroit Tigers (1914-1916)

For a short while, Harry Coveleski was just as successful as his Hall of Fame brother Stan. Harry was nicknamed "The Giant Killer" for his success against the Gotham squad. He bounced up and down from the majors to the minors for four seasons before landing in Detroit for the 1914 slate. During his first three seasons in the Motor City, he won no fewer than 20 games and worked more than 300 innings each year. The heavy workload led to arm trouble. He made several unsuccessful comeback attempts. Stan and Harry had a mutual agreement never to pitch against one another.

A right-hander, Dauss got his nickname for his highly effective curveball. Over the course of his fifteen-year career, he won 223 games for Detroit--a franchise record. He was known to lose the plate at times, finishing among the top ten in wild pitches on five occasions. His lifetime hit by pitch totals place him at #49 on the all time list. Diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat after the '26 campaign, he retired.  
Despite the potent combination of Dauss and Coveleski, the Tigers failed to capture a pennant when the two were at their peak.

     (Won/Loss)                                1914          1915           1916

     Harry Coveleski                          22-12         22-13          21-11
     Hooks Dauss                              19-15         24-13          19-12

Jim Bagby and Stan Coveleski/ Cleveland Indians (1917-1920)

In a Hall of Fame career that spanned 14 seasons, Stan Coveleski (Harry's little brother) averaged 15 wins per year. His bread and butter pitch was the spitball, which was notoriously difficult to control. Coveleski aimed high so that the elusive offering would dip into the strike zone as it crossed the plate. He led the American League in ERA twice and winning percentage once. In 1920, he was the star of the World Series, recording 3 complete game victories over the Brooklyn Robins. His efforts lifted the Indians to the first championship in franchise history.

While playing in the South Atlantic League in 1912, Bagby got into an outfield collision that fractured his forearm. It would prove to be a fortunate mishap as it dramatically improved his curveball. Like many pitchers of the era, Bagby carried a heavy workload, working 270 or more innings four times between 1916 and 1920. The innings took their toll as his ERA rose by nearly 200 points after winning 31 games in 1920. He was finished in the majors after 1923.   

    (Won/Loss)                           1917          1918         1919          1920
     Jim Bagby                             23-13         17-16         17-11         31-12
     Stan Coveleski                      19-14         22-13         24-12         24-14

Babe Ruth and Carl Mays/ Boston Red Sox (1916-1918)

Before he started breaking down American League fences, Babe Ruth was a full time pitcher and a great one at that. between 1916 and 1918, his ERA never exceeded 2.22. He finished among the top 5 in strikeouts twice in that span. Ruth's World Series pitching line was exemplary as he assembled a streak of 29.1 scoreless innings. The record stood until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961. Ruth began spending more time in the outfield as his career progressed and, in 1918, he won 13 games on the hill while swatting 11 homers and driving in 66 runs--among the greatest performances of its kind. 

Mays was known for his sour temperament, which was described by one contemporary as being roughly equivalent to that of a man "with a permanent toothache." Disgruntled with what he perceived as poor run support in 1919, he deserted the Red Sox in the middle of a game. He would later gain notoriety in New York for killing Ray Chapman with an errant pitch. Using a submarine delivery, Mays won 208 games over 15 seasons.

          (Won/Loss)                         1916              1917            1918

          Babe Ruth                           23-12              24-13           13-7
          Carl Mays                           18-13              22-9             21-13

Walter Johnson and Jim Shaw/ Washington Senators (1917-1919)

Ty Cobb paid Walter Johnson the highest compliment when he said: "[Johnson] was the only pitcher I ever faced who made the ball whistle. You could actually hear it as it crossed the plate...and it made you shaky in the knees." Commenting on Johnson's superior control before his promotion from the minors in 1907, Senators manager Joe Cantillon remarked: "he knows where he's throwing because if he didn't there would be dead bodies all over Idaho." Over the course of baseball history, there have been few pitchers who have measured up to "The Big Train." 417 career victories and a 2.17 ERA in seventeen seasons says it all. 

Though "Grunting Jim" Shaw failed to make a household name of himself, he was an important member of the Senators' rotation for several years. In addition to starting duties, he was used out of the bullpen fairly often, leading the league in saves twice. In 1918/'19, he finished second to his Hall of Fame staff mate in strikeouts. He actually had a better strikeout per 9 inning ratio than Johnson in 1918. The following year, Shaw led the AL in innings pitched with 306.2. It was the end of him as his ERA rose over 150 points in 1920. He was out of majors after 1921.
The tandem of Johnson and Shaw was especially remarkable considering the fact that the Senators finished below .500 twice during their peak years together. With shaky defense and minimal run support, the two hurlers still managed to combine for no fewer than 37 wins in a 3-year span. From 1917-1920, they accounted for at least 52% of the team's total win share.That figure peaked at an incredible 66% in 1920.

     (Won/Loss)                             1917               1918                  1920

     Walter Johnson                        23-16              23-13                20-14
     Jim Shaw                                 15-14              16-12                17-17

Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte/ Chicago White Sox (1917, 1919-'20)

Williams was one of eight White Sox players banned from baseball for participating in the 1919 World Series fix. The slender southpaw had an excellent curveball and a phenomenal defense playing behind him. Before the Chicago conspiracy was brought to light, Williams finished the 1920 campaign with 22 wins, though his ERA was negatively effected by the advent of the so-called "lively ball" era. After his banishment, he continued in the outlaw leagues for a few years then entered the landscaping business.  

Cicotte was a crafty junk-baller who employed several trick pitches, including the knuckleball, spitball and emery ball. In the 1919 World Series, his numbers looked convincing on the surface (2.91 ERA/ 19 hits in 21.2 innings), but there were some who found his performances to be a bit on the burlesque side. He was cruising through three and a third frames in Game 1 before suddenly yielding 5 straight hits. In Game 4, he made a pair of blatant errors that allowed the winning runs to score. After his banishment from baseball, he lived under a pseudonym to protect his family and kept his activities clean.

(Won/Loss)                                 1917                 1919                 1920
Ed Cicotte                                    28-12                29-7                   21-10
Lefty Williams                             17-8                  23-11                 22-14

Honorable Mention:
Dick Rudolph and Bill James/ Boston Braves 1914

The 1914 Braves got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. By the end of May, they were rooted in last place with a dreadful 10-22 record. They occupied that lowly position until mid-July, when an improbable turnaround occurred. Using an effective platoon system employed by manager George Stallings, the Bostonians went on a 50-14 run in the waning months of summer to capture a pennant. In the World Series, they completed an improbable sweep f the powerful A's, earning the nickname "Miracle Braves." The club owed much to the pitching of Dick Rudolph and Bill James.

James was nicknamed "Seattle Bill" to distinguish him from another pitcher with the same name. After going 6-10 in his major league debut, he had one of the greatest seasons in modern history, posting 26 regular season wins. He added a pair of victories in the World Series. An arm injury derailed his major league career in 1915 and a comeback attempt several years later was unsuccessful.

Rudolph's career lasted longer than James, though his best seasons were packed into a short span. After matching James's win total in 1914, he led the league in losses the following year. He enjoyed his last great season in 1916, collecting 19 victories and accruing a 2.16 ERA.
Though it was only for one season, Rudolph and James formed one of the most potent one-two punches in baseball history. 

       1914                                     W/L          ERA

     Dick Rudolph                         26-10         2.36
      Bill James                               26-7           1.90

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