Year Inducted: 1998 (BBWAA, ballot #5, 386/473)
Sometimes, while watching baseball, it can feel like pitchers just can’t throw like they used to. Pitching is just such an unnatural motion, and more pitchers are using max effort, so injuries seem to be increasing like crazy. When that is what reality feels like, pitchers whose main attribute is just being able to take the ball once every four or five days have to seem incredibly valuable. Like Robin Roberts before him, this ability helped get Don Sutton into the Hall of Fame.
Sutton pitched in parts of 23 seasons in the bigs, mostly with the Dodgers. In that time he won 324 games, lost 256 and threw over 5000 innings with an ERA of 3.26. Sutton was known as “Black and Decker” for his workman like approach to pitching and his ability to be ready to go every time he was called on. Sutton is third all-time in games started, behind Nolan Ryan and Cy Young, a big testament to his work ethic and ability.
But, just being on the bump every time your turn comes up doesn’t make you a great pitcher-the results do. Sutton is one of only 10 pitchers in history to strikeout 3000 batters as well as win over 300 games. Sutton struck out roughly 6 batters every 9 innings while limiting his walks to just over 2 every 9 innings. Opposing hitters mustered a .232 average against Sutton in his career and he allowed 1.14 base runners every inning.
Sutton was an excellent pitcher, but fell into the trap that some great players do: trying to reach the milestone. The last 6 years of Sutton’s career, while chasing the 300 win mark, were not nearly as good as the preceding years. This caused a lot of his rates (especially his ERA and FIP) to inflate. Following the 1982 season, his ERA was 3.05 and his FIP was 3.00, much better than the values he retired with.
Upon his retirement, Sutton ranked 11th in fWAR in a virtual tie with Nolan Ryan. His RA9-WAR ranked higher than greats like Fergie Jenkins, Carl Hubbell and Bob Feller. Sutton may have eaten a lot of innings in his career, but he did so with great success and was truly a top pitcher.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/18/16 This Hall of Fame pitcher reached the top of the mountain despite playing in only 9 seasons.