SweetSpot: Mark Langston

Hernandez
Hernandez
Watching Felix Hernandez the other night prompted me to look up the pitchers with the highest career Wins Above Replacement who never started a postseason game. Hernandez's career WAR is 36.3 and I had no idea if he would top the list or even be near the top, but it seems like most good pitchers eventually find themselves in a playoff game.

So, since 1969 and the divisional era, here are the pitchers who accumulated the most WAR but never started a playoff game:

1. Ferguson Jenkins (67.7 WAR, 16th overall)

His career WAR is actually higher, but we're only counting WAR earned from 1969 and beyond. Anyway, Jenkins played for the Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox and had 284 career wins. Those late 1960s/early 1970s Cubs teams have four Hall of Famers -- Jenkins, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo -- and had some other good players (Bill Hands, Ken Holtzman, Milt Pappas) but never reached the postseason.

2. Mariano Rivera (54.9 WAR, 30th overall)

Well, he hasn't started a postseason game ...

3. Mark Langston (50.2 WAR, 41st overall)

Very underrated pitcher in the '80s and '90s, spending most of his career with the bad Mariners and mediocre Angels. From 1986 to 1993 he averaged 247 innings per season. Did pitch in relief for the Padres in the 1998 postseason.

4. Wilbur Wood (45.9 WAR, 47th overall)

Had 11.7 and 10.7 WAR in in 1971 and 1972 when he pitched 334 and then 376 innings for the White Sox.

5. Goose Gossage (41.9 WAR, 57th overall)

See Rivera. Pitched in four postseasons, including three World Series.

6. Danny Darwin (40.6 WAR, 48th overall)

Won 171 games and an ERA title, but never pitched in the postseason although he played for eight different franchises. He was on the '86 Astros, who made the playoffs, and went 5-2, 2.32 ERA, after they acquired him from Milwaukee, but was injured and missed the playoffs. Also pitched for the '97 Giants, who made the playoffs, but didn't appear in the postseason.

7. Charlie Hough (39.3 WAR, 61st overall)

Pitched in relief for the Dodgers in three World Series, but spent the bulk of his rotation days with the playoff-less Rangers.

8. Felix Hernandez (36.3 WAR, 71st overall)

And now we get to Hernandez, the active leader among starting pitchers in this dubious category. Is he destined to become the Fergie Jenkins of his generation?
I don’t actually remember the first baseball game I attended, but in the spring of 1973 my father assures me we went to see a local high school phenom named Floyd Bannister, who would go 15-0 with an 0.00 ERA and three years later become the first pick in the draft by the Astros.

The first major league game I saw in person was Mariners versus Red Sox, Kingdome, May 1977. Must have been backpack night or tote bag night because the attendance totaled more than 52,000, and back then the Mariners drew that many fans only on Opening Day or for promotional giveaways. Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk hit home runs and, of course, the Mariners lost.

[+] EnlargeMark Langston
AP Photo/Fred JewellFormer Seattle ace Mark Langston's high leg kick was a staple at Mariners games for years, like during this 1987 shutout of the White Sox.
While I suffered through endless defeats, I witnessed plenty of exciting moments, like Ruppert Jones hitting an inside-the-park home run against the Yankees that first season that propelled everybody into a “Rupe! Rupe! Rupe!” chant at the top of our lungs. Or bat night in 1981, when Tom Paciorek beat the Yankees for the second night in a row with a ninth-inning home run and we started banging our bats against the metal bleachers in a deafening celebration. I was there with my father when Gaylord Perry won his 300th game and later that season when Perry was ejected for the only time in his career for throwing a spitball (Boston’s Rick Miller swung and missed a pitch by about two feet and charged the mound, leading to an impressive melee).

I’ve seen Mark Langston two-hit the Tigers, compelling Sparky Anderson to call him the best young left-hander he’d seen since Sandy Koufax. I loved Langston and his high leg kick, but the Mariners couldn’t afford him and he was later traded for a tall, gangly rookie named Randy Johnson, and I was there in the upper deck when Johnson beat the Angels (and Langston) in the 1995 tiebreaker to put the Mariners into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

I’ve sat in primo box seats at Fenway Park (thanks, Rob), watching Pedro Martinez strike out 17 Devil Rays … and lose 1-0 because Steve Trachsel pitched a three-hit shutout. I’ve seen Clemens throw a bat at Piazza, squinting from the upper deck at Yankee Stadium, not sure I saw what I thought I saw. I’ve seen Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius hit bottom-of-the-ninth homers to tie World Series games, and I definitely couldn’t believe what I saw.

I’m just one fan, with my own chamber of baseball memories. You have your own, but we all keep going to the ballpark or watching on television or checking updates on our phones for the same reasons: We still love the games. We want to know who wins, who loses, hope for a game-winning home run or a young left-hander who throws 95 and makes us believe he’s the next Koufax.

So with the 2011 season soon upon us, I can’t wait for the games to begin, to see more memories formed.

To see what Buster Posey and the Giants will do for an encore.

To see whether Jason Heyward will explode in his sophomore campaign.

To see Carl Crawford going first to home on an Adrian Gonzalez double off the Monster.

To see if the Rays can again shock the baseball world and win the AL East for the third time in four seasons.

To see Cardinals fans give Albert Pujols a five-minute standing ovation the first time he steps to the plate.

To see Joey Votto deliver more big hits for Reds. (Note: I have a man crush on Joey Votto.)

To see Troy Tulowitzki range deep in the hole and rob a batter of a sure single. And then blast a 425-foot home run later in the inning.

To see Joe Mauer spray line drives all over the field.

To see Justin Verlander and Josh Johnson blow away hitters.

To see the artistry of Roy Halladay.

To see Yankees fans panic if Derek Jeter starts the season 1-for-14.

I can’t wait to see the late game on Opening Day: Tim Lincecum versus Clayton Kershaw, the little righty with the funky motion and two Cy Young Awards versus the big lefty who could win one this season.

If our memories of games are a tangled web of neurons, well, that’s kind of how baseball works, too. Langston was drafted in the second round with a pick acquired from the Rangers after they signed Bill Stein as a free agent. The Mariners picked Stein in the expansion draft from the White Sox, who had acquired him for Jerry DaVanon, who had been traded for Roger Repoz, who was acquired for Jack Sanford, who came up on the unlucky end of a 1-0 loss for the Giants in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. The Giants didn’t win a World Series in San Francisco until 2010, led by their ace Lincecum, who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle -- maybe the first game he ever saw featured Mark Langston -- using a pitching motion his father taught him, a motion modeled on the delivery of Sandy Koufax.

The SweetSpot blog will be here all season, writing about and discussing and analyzing the web that is a baseball season. Join myself and other contributors as we discuss the news, have some fun and give you a chance to interact. Mostly, we’ll be watching a lot of games, as the moments of 2011 unveil themselves.

I can’t wait. How many hours until the first pitch?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

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