Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #20, Ron Darling:
This post doesn’t have anything to do with Ron Darling having a part in Shallow Hal, a film I haven’t actually seen but will mock regardless. I mostly wanted to remind everyone with the title that Ron Darling is in Shallow Hal.
Ron Darling is one of the most durable pitchers in Mets history — from 1984-1989, he averaged 34 starts and 226 innings per season. Only the members of the Mets’ high pitching triumvirate, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Doc Gooden, have more 200 inning seasons with the team than Mr. Darling.
This durability is what gets Darling so high on the list: his ERA, once adjusted for pitching his home games at Shea Stadium, is only a tic better than average. However, because he was throwing so many innings every year, Darling gets a big bump when you compare him to a replacement level instead of the average. He was throwing 240 innings in some seasons — if you say a starter should be throwing 180 innings a year, then those extra 60 innings Darling was providing were 60 innings a lesser pitcher, such as a long reliever or Triple-A replacement starter, didn’t need to throw. Those extra innings have tremendous value, something that’s not captured in an ERA.
On the other hand, it’s possible that Darling’s ERA doesn’t entirely capture his value in another way. His won-loss record with the Mets is 99-70, which is better than one would guess based on his average ERA. As you probably already know, when you see a pitcher with a better won-loss than his ERA might suggest, the first thing to look at is usually the level of support from his teammates — a good offense and bullpen can make a pretty middling pitcher look much better than he really is.
That doesn’t appear to be the case with Darling, or at least not all of the case. Baseball-Prospectus keeps track of something called a support neutral won-loss record — which is exactly what it sounds like — which suggests that Darling’s record would have been 97-83 with an average offense and bullpen supporting him instead of the mid-’80s Mets. This new won-loss record is closer to what one would expect based on his average ERA, but even as an average pitcher with average support, Darling is still 14 games over the average of .500.
So there’s another possibility worth considering: Ron Darling was particularly good at having particularly bad games. Perhaps like Shallow Hal, this is something that may not be as bad as it sounds.
Let me explain: Imagine two pitchers, each starting two games. Pitcher Jack pitches 7 shutout innings one start, and then implodes and surrenders 16 runs in 2 innings his next time out. Pitcher Black gives up 8 runs in 5 innings his first start, and then 8 runs in 4 innings his second start. Jack and Black wind up with identical ERAs — they both gave up 16 runs over 9 innings — but Jack’s team probably went 1-1 in his starts, while Black’s team most likely lost both games; you can probably say Jack is the better pitcher in this extreme scenario. In terms of winning a game, it doesn’t matter so much if your starting pitcher gives up 8 runs or 10 runs or 16 runs, because after a certain point you’re just going to lose anyway. The extra runs are meaningless, but continue to matter for an ERA.
So it’s possible Darling was a Jack type pitcher, who had a few meltdown starts which ballooned his ERA, but was otherwise an effective pitcher. This would explain his better than expected won-loss record, and if it is the case, he might deserve to be ranked higher than #20 on this list.
Though I’m not entirely sure how to test that hypothesis out, so consider it just a suggestion for now. I don’t know: Does this fit Darling’s reputation from the time?
Most career wins by pitchers born in Hawaii:
Most career wins by pitchers born in Hawaii who were also in Shallow Hal: