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Monday, April 08, 2013

Sickels: Prospect Retrospective: Vida Blue

From the “You Had To Be There File”...

He spent most of 1970 in Des Moines, pitching outstandingly for the Triple-A Iowa Oaks of the American Association, posting a 12-3, 2.17 ERA with a 165/55 K/BB in 133 innings with just 88 hits allowed. He made such a positive impression that long-time baseball watchers in Des Moines still talked about his tenure there 20 years later.

Promoted to the majors in September, he made six starts for Oakland and wowed the baseball world by throwing a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins on September 21st. It was no fluke; he had obviously found the mark with the strike zone, posting a 2.09 ERA with a 35/12 K/BB in 39 innings with just 20 hits allowed. This would have put him past rookie qualifications, but he was clearly one of the best young pitchers in the game entering 1971.

He exceeded every possible expectation. He made 39 starts in 1971, completing 24 games, throwing eight shutouts. He won the Cy Young Award, and the American League MVP award, going 24-8 with a league-leading 1.82 ERA, with a 301/88 K/BB ratio and just 209 hits allowed in 312 innings. His ERA+ was 183 and he racked up 8.7 WAR.

It was one of the best pitching campaigns in baseball history, a performance which earned Blue a salary of $14,700, a small sum even then.

...His list of Sim Score comparables: Billy Pierce, Catfish Hunter, Orel Hershiser, Hal Newhouser, Bob Welch, Milt Pappas, Luis Tiant, Kevin Brown, Don Drysdale, and Bucky Walters. His 45.3 WAR puts him in a neighborhood of with some other very successful pitchers: Sam McDowell (46.0), Dennis Martinez (45.7), Jon Matlack (45.5), Hershiser (45.2), and Rube Marquard (44.0). There are some borderline Hall of Famers there, and every one was a star in his time.

Perhaps Vida Blue fell short of what he might have been, but he was still pretty damn special.

Repoz Posted: April 08, 2013 at 06:16 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   1. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:04 AM (#4407255)
   2. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:23 AM (#4407264)
First time I saw Blue pitch was in his third start in the Majors, against the Red Sox in 1969. He got knocked around pretty badly, but the main thing I remember about it is this old guy sitting in front of us, who kept shouting "To the showers with you, Blue! And that goes for you, too!" It was like a broken record that must have repeated itself a dozen times before Hank Bauer finally pulled the plug.
   3. AndrewJ Posted: April 08, 2013 at 05:31 PM (#4407818)
Of all the post-WWII pitching phenoms who came out of nowhere to become household names in their first or second seasons -- Fidrych, Fernando, Gooden, Nomo -- Vida Blue had the best overall career of any of them. I don't think Vida belongs in the Hall, but he is better than several already enshrined -- for example, Rube Marquard, the Vida Blue of 1912.
   4. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 05:39 PM (#4407836)
Of all the post-WWII pitching phenoms who came out of nowhere to become household names in their first or second seasons -- Fidrych, Fernando, Gooden, Nomo -- Vida Blue had the best overall career of any of them. I don't think Vida belongs in the Hall, but he is better than several already enshrined -- for example, Rube Marquard, the Vida Blue of 1912.


Huh, Vida Blue had significantly more bWAR than Fernando, I wouldn't have guessed that at all.
   5. OCF Posted: April 08, 2013 at 07:44 PM (#4407990)
Fidrych, Fernando, Gooden, Nomo

Fidrych was plenty famous, but he wasn't really all THAT good. And Nomo was quite a bit older, having established himself in NPB. Valenzuela '81 was a good year, but not nearly as good overall as Blue '71. (And both Fernando and Vida had put in impressive cups of coffee in the preceding year). Blue '71 was a great year. But Blue '71 was still not nearly Gooden '85. There are people here who will argue that Gooden '85 was the greatest single season by any pitcher since the retirement of Lefty Grove and probably since the retirement of Walter Johnson. (I tend to be a holdout still attached to Gibson '68.)

One thing that got lost with the great years of Blue and Gooden (and perhaps also Fernando) was to see them as "they're so good so YOUNG" and then try to read the year in terms of potential, when the emphasis should have been "they're so GOOD (and also young)", putting the emphasis on the year as its own accomplishment.
   6. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:09 PM (#4408004)
With that name, how was Vida Blue not going to be special?
   7. Bruce Markusen Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:32 PM (#4408018)
Blue was incredible in 1971. He had two bigtime pitches, fastball and curve. He threw consistently around 94 to 95 miles per hour with a lot of late movement. He also had effortless mechanics.

Three things hurt his career: his 1972 holdout, his drug use, and too many innings in his early 20s.
   8. vortex of dissipation Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:38 PM (#4408020)
And Nomo was quite a bit older, having established himself in NPB.


I know it's not that accurate to combine totals, but Nomo had over 200 wins in MLB and NPB combined. He had one heck of a career.
   9. Morty Causa Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:43 PM (#4408026)
Fidrych was plenty famous, but he wasn't really all THAT good.


How do you figure that? Being the best pitcher in his league his rookie year means you are good, I would think. He led the league in ERA+ and CG. With low walk figure. In a hitter's park. Palmer won the CYA that year, probably because he pitched significantly more innings, winning four more games. But still that year Fidrych was very good. And the very next year he blew his arm.
   10. puck Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:57 PM (#4408038)
Fernando's thing was about his start: 8 starts, 72 innings, 8 wins, 5 shutouts, 4 runs allowed.
   11. Howie Menckel Posted: April 08, 2013 at 09:15 PM (#4408048)

Fidrych, if he pitched in 2013 to start his career, would have had a reality show by midseason. The national attention he got was amazing - and set the state for Fernandomania after him.

Fidrych on Monday Night Baseball or Saturday Game of the Week - you had to watch him (admittedly, with only a handful of other channels then, not many choices, but nothing better than seeing him pitch in Tiger Stadium. And the crowd went wild).

   12. Morty Causa Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:12 PM (#4408079)
Part of this was due to the fact that he pitched fast and he threw strikes, and he was always in the game. He had good peripheral skills and was an excellent team player. He seemed to really get joy out of his celebrityhood. His esprit de joie seemed genuine and was infectious, and I sincerely hope he adapted well to normal life. The Detroit Tigers hardly ever meant much to me, but he could have made me a fan.
   13. vortex of dissipation Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:37 PM (#4408092)
I sincerely hope he adapted well to normal life.


Unfortunately, he suffered a really awful death.
   14. Morty Causa Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:58 PM (#4408100)
Yeah, like what Bouton says in Ball Four: baseball players are luckier than most; they get to die twice.
   15. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: April 09, 2013 at 07:00 PM (#4408848)
The knock on The Bird was that he didn't strike a lot of people out: just 3.7 per 9 innings over his career. (That wasn't all that big a problem: he worked fast and kept the ball low, basically saying "Go ahead and hit it...you won't hit it very far, and my infielders take good care of me." And this was before Trammell and Whitaker!)

But, of course, if ya don't strike 'em out, ya gotta find some other way to get 'em out. This list shows that there were only seven pitchers with Fidrych's strikeout rate or lower (since 1960, 80% of games as a starter) that managed even 10 WAR. (Only Splittorff and Forsch can be said to have really decent careers, and no one's putting them into the HOF.)

he could have made me a fan.

With me, he did. Thanks, Bird.

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