Year Inducted: 1969 (Veterans Committee)
Players always will try to find a way to bend the rules and get ahead of the game. Whether it be by scuffing the ball, corking a bat, or taking some new PED, players are super competitive and want to win at all costs. One of the more famous examples is the spitball, where a pitcher would apply some slippery substance to the ball to get it to move more. The pitch was outlawed in 1920, with the exception of a few pitchers who depended upon it for success. Already covered here were Burleigh Grimes and Red Faber, two pitchers that were allowed to continue throwing the spitball until the end of their careers. However, neither of them were the best at doing it. No, the best spitball pitcher was, without a doubt, Stan Coveleski.
Coveleski pitched for parts of 14 seasons, mostly with the Indians. He threw over 3000 innings, won 215 games and lost 142 games. Until 1920, Cleveland was one of the top teams in the American League, winning the World Series that year before slowly giving way to the Yankees. That’s why, despite having great ERA’s and FIP’s, Covey started to have records close to or below .500 in the early 1920s, despite winning 20 or more games the previous four seasons, and winning 19 the year before that.
Covey struck out less than 1000 batters in his career, but he also walked less than 800, while giving up only 66 home runs. This led to a great FIP in his career of 3.19, and an FIP- of 87, which is comparable to his ERA- of 78. It’s the amount better than league average that separates him from the other spitball pitchers. Faber’s FIP- was 93, while Grimes’s was 96. Covey also benefits from the lack of a decline phase, of which Faber and Grimes had fairly long ones.
Covey’s career, as brief as it was, was also extremely valuable. In only 11 full seasons, he had accumulated a career RA9-WAR (Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers based on their Runs Allowed per 9 innings) of 67.3. At the time of his retirement, that ranked 20th, while nearly all the players above him pitched significantly more innings than he did. When first signed by the A’s, Connie Mack assigned him to the Northwestern League to a team he didn’t have control over. Eventually, Covey was traded to another team that had ties to the Indians, who eventually purchased his contract. Adding on another 2 or 3 prime years to Coveleski probably nets him induction by the BBWAA, instead of waiting until the Veterans Committee electing him in 1969.
Coveleski was one of the best pitchers of his time, even if it was for a short time. He definitely deserved induction.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck, 9/25/16: that Brian Dozier guy’s having a great season for the Twins, isn’t he? It looks like a Twins’ legendary player’s season. Let’s look at that guy.