- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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So mjames89 asked on Twitter: Matt Cain, best pitcher in history with an under-.500 record?
Good question. Cain won Wednesday night to push his career W-L record to 67-71, despite a 3.37 ERA and an ERA+ (ERA adjusted for home ballpark and league era) of 126. To compare, here are a few other pitchers with a similar ERA+ and their career W-L record:
Tim Hudson 127 (177-94)
Kevin Brown 127 (211-144)
Lefty Gomez 126 (189-102)
Cole Hamels 126 (73-52)
Jim Palmer 126 (268-152)
Bret Saberhagen 126 (167-117)
CC Sabathia 125 (173-95)
John Smoltz 125 (213-155)
John Tudor 125 (117-92)
OK, I cheated a little bit, picking out guys with exceptional winning percentages. But it does point to the caliber of pitchers comparable to Cain (obviously, besides Hamels, the others performed at that level for a much longer time).
Among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, I went to Baseball-Reference.com and found 10 with an ERA+ of 120 or better and a losing record. Seven of them were relief pitchers: Trevor Hoffman, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Roberto Hernandez, Doug Jones, Mike Jackson and Jeff Reardon.
The three starters were Cain, Johnny Rigney (122 ERA+, 63-64 W-L record) and Jim Scott (121 ERA+, 107-114). Rigney pitched for the White Sox in the late '30s and early '40s while Scott also pitched for the White Sox, from 1909 to 1917.
Scott was born in Deadwood, S.D., and apparently earned the nickname "Death Valley Scott," apparently also the moniker of a famous con man of the time. Scott later worked in the movie industry in Hollywood, umpired for two seasons in the National League and even joined a religious cult for a short period. You can read his bio here.
A reader on Twitter also mentioned Ben Sheets, who is 90-92 in his career with a 3.79 ERA. That translates to a 113 ERA+, so I'd argue Cain has been a little better over their careers. Sheets did have a particularly tough-luck season in 2004, when he posted a 2.70 ERA with a 264/32 SO/BB ratio in 237 innings for the Brewers. He may have been the best pitcher in the NL that year but finished 12-14.
As for Cain, does this make him the unluckiest pitcher in big league history? I don't know about that, but it seems like he has a decent argument.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.