Year Inducted: 1984 (BBWAA, ballot #10, 316/403)
In the mid-1960’s, pitching was the name of the game, especially in the NL. The Giants had Juan Marichal leading their staff, the Cardinals had Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, but the toast of the NL rotations belonged to the Dodgers. For six seasons, Sandy Koufax became one of the most dominant pitchers in history, and he lead a formidable Dodger rotation to several NL Pennants and World Series wins. But, one pitcher alone cannot bring a team to glory. That required the help of his fellow Dodger ace, Don Drysdale.
Drysdale was both cursed and blessed to be on the same team as Koufax. It was a blessing because Drysdale was able to pitch in big games, and came through for the Dodgers often. It was a curse because no matter how great he was, he was never going to be better than Koufax so he would always be overlooked. But, that shouldn’t take away from how dominant a pitcher Drysdale was in his career.
Dandy Don pitched in the bigs for 14 seasons, all with the Dodgers. In 3400 innings, Drysdale won 209 games and maintained an ERA of 2.95. He collected nearly 2500 strikeouts and walked about 800 batters in the process, a great ratio between them. Drysdale excelled at the few things that pitchers can control. He struck batters out at a decent clip (6.5 per 9), limited his walks (2.2 per 9) and limited his homers (0.7 per 9), all of which combined with a batting average against of .236 and a WHIP of 1.15 to show what a dominant pitcher he really was.
Drysdale’s career ended early due to a chronically sore shoulder, no doubt from having started 40 or more games in five consecutive seasons. The Dodgers slumped into mediocrity after Koufax retired in the mid-60’s, as did Drysdale’s record. Hence why he only won little more than 200 games in his career despite remaining a strong pitcher for most of his career. During his career, Drysdale ranked 2nd in fWAR to only Jim Bunning (one of the most underrated pitchers ever). This means that he also ranked ahead of teammate Sandy Koufax and the pitcher he was probably compared the most to in Bob Gibson. Gibson and Drysdale both gained a reputation as being aggressive pitchers in the decade, with Drysdale hitting an NL record 156 batters in his career and both being infamous for using the “brushback” pitch to intimidate opposing batters. Both Gibson and Koufax, however, had pitched fewer innings than Drysdale did by the time Drysdale retired, with Gibson still having some strong years in the 1970’s.
Along with his fWAR ranking, Drysdale also ranked first in wins, 2nd in strikeouts, first in innings and 2nd in RA9-WAR. It’d be hard pressed to call Drysdale the top pitcher in the league during most of his career, with Koufax overshadowing most of his prime years and Gibson coming on strong the rest of the time, not to mention the advent of pitchers like Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver as well. Undoubtedly, this caused the delay in Drysdale’s induction for 10 years. It’s tough to stand out when there are so many great pitchers around. Still, Drysdale shouldn’t be overlooked as he was truly a great pitcher during a short career.
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