Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Stanley Steamer

There was a post over at that featured the pitchers with the most appearances for one team. The list of course, was shown on the occasion of Mariano Rivera's 1,000 appearance for the Yankees. No pitcher has ever done that before. There's no one even close. Walter Johnson pitched 802 times for the Washington Senators and he's in second place. The great thing about baseball is the emotions that are evocative just by seeing a name on a list. The fourth name on the list belongs to Bob Stanley, known, of course, by his nickname, "The Stanley Steamer." Stanley was one of a kind. He looked like a truck driver and despite the total lack of ability to strike anyone out, pitched 637 times for the Red Sox between 1977 and 1989.

Stanley's heydey was between 1977 and 1985. He was a part of two heartbreaking Red Sox teams in 1978 and 1986. 1978 was the famous year that Don Zimmer's Red Sox won 99 games and had to have a one-game playoff with the Yankees that resulted in the now famous Bucky Dent home run off of Mike Torrez. Stanley was on the mound in that 1986 World Series game when Mookie Wilson's ground ball went through Bill Buckners legs. So you can see that Bob Stanley was involved in a lot of drama during his career.

1986 was Stanley's first ineffective season. He went on to have a disastrous 1987, a very good season in 1988 and then a bad final year in 1989. But before 1986, Bob Stanley was a rock for the Red Sox. He wasn't today's kind of reliever though. And it started in his very first season in 1977. Stanley, then only 22 years old, pitched for the Red Sox in 41 games. He started 13 of them and had three complete games and one shutout. But he also pitched in relief 28 times and totaled 151 innings. He was credited with three saves.

The next season, 1978, he was spectacular. He pitched 52 times, with all but three of those appearances in relief. And yet he still compiled 141.2 innings. His record was 15-2 with a 2.60 ERA and was credited with ten saves. It was amazing for one other reason. In those 141.2 innings, he only struck out 2.4 batters per nine innings! According to and its Play Index, only one other pitcher since 1971 pitched more than 140 innings with less than three strikeouts per nine innings and had a better ERA than 2.60. The answer to that trivia question is Steve Kline in 1972 for the New York Yankees. Kline's ERA that year was 2.40. Amazing.

It's funny looking back to the 1970s. We look at today's analysts and they are all fascinated and insistent on strikeouts. The theory is that strikeouts are one of the few things the pitcher can control. And thus WAR and other modern measurements apply the strikeout heavily in those calculations. There were a lot of effective pitchers in the 1970s that didn't strike out anyone.  In fact in that Play Index search mentioned earlier, the top thirteen ERAs with that many innings and that few strikeouts were all recorded in the 1970s. Hmm...

Anyway, Stanley finished seventh in the league in Cy Young Award voting in 1978. And his team fell one game short of the playoffs thanks to Bucky Dent. In Stanley's first two seasons, the Red Sox won 196 games. And his versatile work was a big part of their success.

In 1979, the Red Sox fell to third place, though they still won 91 games. Bob Stanley found himself mostly in the starting rotation. He made thirty starts, but he still relieved in ten other games and even recorded a save to go with his nine complete games and four shutouts. It was his highest career total in innings pitched with 216.2 innings of work. He went 16-12 with an ERA+ of 113. He also recorded only 2.3 strikeouts per nine innings, the tenth lowest strikeouts per nine with that many innings since 1951.

1980 saw a decline for the Red Sox. They won only 83 games and finished fifth. Manager, Don Zimmer, got fired in mid-season. Bob Stanley had a good year though. He pitched another 175 innings in 51 appearances. He again showed his versatility as he started 17 games and pitched 34 times in relief. He saved 14 games, had five complete games and threw another shutout. His strikeout rate rose all the way to 3.7 per nine!

The next six seasons saw Stanley almost strictly as a relief pitcher. He managed two starts in those six years. In the first four years of that string, he made 203 relief appearances and pitched a total of 509 innings. As you can tell, the era of the one inning relief pitcher had not yet arrived.

Stanley's best year in those years was 1983 when he pitched 145.1 innings, all in relief and finished with a 2.89 ERA with 33 saves. It was his second and last All Star appearance and he also finished in the top 25 in MVP voting for the second time. Stanley had another very good year in 1985. In every year from 1977 to 1985, Stanley finished with an ERA+ over 100. All but one year (an injury plagued 1981) was 113 or higher. Several times, his ERA+ was much, much higher.

Ironically, the Red Sox World Series year of 1986 saw the decline of Bob Stanley as an effective pitcher. He had a brutal year and his WHIP finished that season at 1.591. 1987 was even worse. For some inexplicable reason, the Red Sox decided that after eight seasons mostly in relief, they were going to put Stanley back in the starting rotation. He made 20 starts and went 4-15 with a 5.01 ERA. It was a bad decision. Stanley did have a few good moments that season and completed four games and even pitched a shutout.

1988 was a swan song for Stanley. Back in the bullpen where he belonged, Stanley had his last good season. That season, he made 57 relief appearances good for 101.2 innings and finished with a 3.19 ERA. He also had the lowest WHIP of his career that season.

Stanley couldn't follow it up though and pitched rather mediocre and retired following that 1989 season. He finished his career with a 115-97 record with a final ERA of 3.64. His career ERA+ was 119. He made 637 appearances all with the Red Sox. 85 of those appearances were starts. Stanley finished with 21 complete games, seven shutouts and 132 saves. He finished a remarkable 376 games during his career.

Bob Stanley's claim to fame was his sinker. Ground ball ratio's were not kept until late in his career. Once they were, he threw roughly two ground balls for every fly ball. But to get an idea of just how good a pitch his sinker was, Stanley recorded 255 double plays in his career, or roughly nineteen and a half GIDP per season. That must have been one heck of a sinker.

The sad thing is that most people will remember Bob Stanley as a part of that infamous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Mets when it all came apart for a very good Red Sox team. Stanley was a very good pitcher for a long time in a era before the hard and fast relief rules of today. This Fan can still close his eyes and see Bob Stanley's large frame on the mound throwing that hard sinker. And another bonus for this writer? Bob Stanley was born in Portland, Maine and was drafted after his high school career in New Jersey--two states near and dear to the Fan's heart.

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