Year Inducted: 1976 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 337/388)
There was once a time, even in 4 and 5 pitcher rotations, the starters were expected to pitch 9 innings. This resulted in a lot of pitchers having low strikeout rates (as they would not throw hard to conserve energy), higher than expected FIP’s (pitchers pitched to contact more), and many pitchers either ending their careers early with arm injuries or pitching with sore arms resulting in lesser seasons. As such, pitchers like Bob Lemon that are incredibly talented end up with short careers with more than expected down seasons. Sometimes, those pitchers are lucky and can just keep pitching their way to the Hall of Fame like Robin Roberts did.
Roberts pitched in 19 seasons, and rarely missed a single start. Roberts threw nearly 4700 innings in his time, mostly for the Phillies, winning 286 games against 245 loses. He struck out over 2300 batters, but also walked roughly 900. Roberts was renowned for his pinpoint control, and it shows. He walked less than 2 batters every 9 innings (well above the average pitcher), while striking out nearly 5 every 9 innings (slightly below the average pitcher).
Roberts had a strong fastball through the most of the 1950’s, but eventually lost the heat. This required him to shift his focus from his fastball to his control. It wasn’t always a smooth transition (and the Phillies weren’t the greatest team in those years), but he eventually became a solid pitcher again. Roberts ended his career with an ERA of 3.41 and an FIP of 3.50. Roberts’ ERA- was 89, inflated by some rough years towards the end of his tenure with the Phillies. Ditto his FIP- of 91. His decline period really hurts his ranking and career numbers.
Roberts is also hurt by a large number of home runs allowed. Until Jamie Moyer a few years ago, he held the record for most home runs allowed with 505. That is a tremendous amount and can’t be discounted. Many historians theorize that it was due to his pitching philosophy. Roberts refused to use knockdown pitches or intentionally hit batters, supposedly making it easier for opponents to dig in. With his control and demeanor (he was a notoriously fierce competitor), he didn’t give in to many batters and sometimes he would win the battle, and sometimes he wouldn’t. It was a risk he took, but he did win most of the time.
Roberts obviously wasn’t the absolute best pitcher of his generation. His HR rate prevents him from stacking up well against guys like Koufax and Drysdale and Feller. But, despite the high homer rate, he was able to limit walks, throw lots of innings, and strike out quite a few batters in his prime. He may have regressed some after losing his fastball, but successfully reinvented himself as a control-based pitcher. He may not have been the best, but was still great.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/8/16, This “Kid” was a star pitcher from the early era.