Year Inducted: 1948 (BBWAA, Ballot #8, 94/121)
The selections of some pitchers for induction to the Hall of Fame can be confusing from a modern or statistical point of view sometimes. Burleigh Grimes, for instance, is one that makes little statistical sense, and if it weren’t for the spitball he probably wouldn’t be inducted. Ted Lyons is another, who really doesn’t look as good when viewed from a more analytical perspective. That doesn’t make them any more or less Hall of Famers, just not as good as others in the Hall of Fame. And if that seems insulting, it isn’t meant to be. There’s nothing wrong with saying a pitcher is very good, but not as good as Walter Johnson or Greg Maddux. Herb Pennock is another one who falls into that category.
Pennock was a fine left handed pitcher in his 22 seasons. He posted a record of 240-160 with an ERA of 3.60 in 3500+ innings. He struck out 1227 batters against 916 walks for an FIP of 3.51. Pennock was a solid pitcher for the Yankees especially in the first half and post season. In the World Series he threw over 55 innings with an ERA under 2, helping his teams to 4 championships. Unfortunately, these achievements while solid don’t make Pennock one of the all-time greats.
Pennock’s ERA- is only 95 (5% better than league average), which is similar to the other Hall of Famer pitchers that have been covered so far on this list. Pennock gave up more than one hit an inning, walked almost as many as he struck out and had a WHIP of 1.35. Opposing hitters also hit .275 against him, which is the highest among all Hall of Fame pitchers. From a sabermetric viewpoint, there wasn’t much reason for Pennock’s induction.
Even from a traditional point of view, Pennock doesn’t have a strong case. His ERA of 3.60 is one of the highest in the Hall of Fame. His 260 wins are good, but in a career longer than 20 seasons it feels more like accumulation due to being on the best dynasty of all-time, and certainly more could have been expected. Like with many other Hall of Famers, a lot of his counting stats suffer due to injuries and an odd start to his career.
After suffering from an illness in his second season that caused him to miss most of the 1913 season, Pennock came to form in 1914. He struggled in 1915 due to his manager (Connie Mack) using him as both a starter and a reliever. He eventually found himself traded because his nonchalant attitude on the mound made Mack think he wasn’t a competitor. To his dying day, Mack said the trade of Pennock to Boston became the worst move he ever made. Pennock was a part-time pitcher with Boston for most of his early time there, becoming frustrated enough to enlist in the navy in 1918. When Boston tried to re-sign him for 1919, he held out for a promise to be used more regularly.
Come June of 1919, he had a total of 2 starts and threatened to walk. Eventually getting his regular work that year, he became a solid pitcher. Boston at the time was not a good team, and Pennock eventually found himself traded to the Yankees, where he actually could win games (it helped having Babe Ruth hitting everything into the stratosphere, soon to be followed by Lou Gehrig).
Unfortunately, arm injuries started to take their toll. Pennock noticed that he needed 4 days between starts to pitch effectively (a rarity in the days of 3 or 4 men rotations), and often would blow his arm out by August. His arm was so bad in mid-1928 that he couldn’t even comb his hair.
Pennock kept on trying, switching to the bullpen in 1933, finishing his career in 1934 with 62 innings for the Red Sox.
Herb Pennock was a solid mid-rotation pitcher for a long time, similar to a guy like Mike Leake. Leake, as of this writing, has a career ERA- of 100 and while he lacks the “big game” reputation of Pennock, has similar numbers to Pennock. Pennock was a good pitcher who had a bum arm that prevented him from being great.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 7/27/16 this Cardinal pitcher was another inductee from the Frisch/Terry years of the Veterans Committee.