Team failures
(more tidbits from Bill Deane)

Cincinnati Reds Starting Pitching

         If you look at the Reds' pitching staffs in particular during the 1960s and 1970s,  you will be astonished how few of their good arms enjoyed long careers.
        This phenomena is very real -- call it the Cincinnati Chucker Curse -- and has lasted even longer than Merritt suggests.  And we're not
talking just about flashes in the pan -- these were, by and large, pitchers who were, or seemed on the verge of ranking, among the most dominating in the game, but were finished by age 30.  Following are the most dramatic examples:

        Jim Maloney -- He debuted just after turning 20, and exploded three years later:  in 1963, he went 23-7 with 265 strikeouts and a 2.77 ERA.  By age 29, Maloney was 134-80 (.626) with a 3.08 ERA and 1585 K's in 1802 IP. On April 16, 1970, still 29, he suffered a severed Achilles tendon while running the bases.  He never won another major league game.
        Gary Nolan -- He debuted as an 18-year-old fireballer in 1967, and went 14-8 with a 2.58 ERA and 206 strikeouts, one of the best pitching seasons ever by a teenager.  He was 9-4, 2.40 when his arm blew out in 1968. He reinvented himself as a control pitcher, with intermittent success while continuing to battle arm, shoulder, and neck problems.  Nolan was 110-67 lifetime when the Reds traded him in 1977, just after his 29th birthday.  He never won another game.
        Wayne Simpson -- Simpson electrified the baseball world in the first half of 1970, much like Vida Blue would the next year and Fernando Valenzuela would in 1981.  As a 21-year-old rookie, Simpson went 13-1 with a 2.69 ERA in the first half of the season, earning an All-Star selection. But on July 31, his shoulder blew out, and he pitched only five more innings that year.  Simpson would go only 23-30 the rest of his career, which was over at age 28.
        Don Gullett -- He came up at age 19 in 1970, earning his first win in the same game Maloney went down.  By the next year he was the Reds' ace, going 16-6.  Various health woes beset him over the next several years, including hepatitis in 1971 and back problems in 1974.  He seemed to be putting it all together in 1975, but a broken thumb on June 16 cost him almost half the season and he finished 15-4 with a 2.42 ERA.  A pinched nerve in 1976 followed and, finally, irreparable rotator cuff damage. Gullett won when he pitched -- 109-50 (.686) -- but he was finished at age 27.
        Mario Soto -- He joined the Reds just past his 21st birthday in 1977, and was their ace in some of their most wretched years.  In 1982 Soto earned his first of three straight All-Star picks, going 14-13 for a team that went 61-101, striking out 274, and posting a 2.79 ERA.  The next year he was 17-13, 2.70 with 242 K's for a 74-88 team.  In 1984, Soto was 18-7 for a 70-92 club, his seventh straight winning season.  When the Reds finally started turning things around in '85, Soto dropped to 12-15.  It was all downhill from there, as arm problems took hold and he went just 11-19 over three seasons before his release at age 32.
        Jose Rijo -- He had gone 19-30 over four seasons in the AL after an ill-advised call-up at age 18, but he joined the Reds at 22 and became one of the best pitchers in the league.  Rijo had eight straight winning seasons and six straight sub-three ERAs for Cincinnati, winning a strikeout title and a World Series MVP.  (editor's note: he also had the lowest NL career ERA since Pete Alexander). But he went on the DL a month after his 30th birthday in 1995 and didn't return to the bigs until this year, a shadow of his former self.
        Then, there was Jim O'Toole ... and Sammy Ellis ... and Mel Queen ... and Jim Merritt ... and Tom Browning ...

Blowing the World Series

        Back in the 1980s, Pete Palmer gave me a printout showing a home team's win probability in every situation, based on the inning, score,
number out, and runners on base.  I believe it was based on simulations of tens of thousands of major league games.  It assumes teams to be
evenly-matched, and it doesn't account for such things as home field advantage, park effects, or different eras.  Nonetheless, it gives a pretty
good answer to questions like "What are the odds of my team coming back to win this game?" or "How much did that homer improve their chances to win?" I find myself referring to this data frequently, during and after games, seeing how closely my intuition matches the cold, hard numbers.

        I made the mistake of sneaking a peek during Game Six of this year's World Series.  The Giants had just taken a 5-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning, putting them nine outs away from a world championship.  How certain were they to close the deal?  Pete's data showed that a home team (the Angels, in this case), down five runs going into the bottom of the seventh, has only an .030 probability of winning the game.  After Garret Anderson grounded out to start the bottom of the frame, the probability dropped to .022.  And, given that Anaheim also would have had to win Game Seven, their probability of winning the Series (assuming a 50% chance of winning #7) sunk to .011.  In other words, at that moment, the Giants were 98.9% certain of winning the world championship.

        When they didn't, it occurred to me that their collapse had to rank right behind that of the 1986 Red Sox (who, of course, led three games to two, and by 5-3 score with none on and two out in tenth).  To check this, I used Pete's data to analyze every World Series since 1903, and determine which teams had blown the best opportunities to win a Fall Classic.  I was right: the 2002 Giants suffered the second-worst collapse in Series history.  Following are the teams to lose a World Series after having established at least a 90% probability of winning it:

99.4   1986 Red Sox - see above.
98.9   2002 Giants - see above.
96.3   1968 Cardinals - led 3 games to 1, and by 3-0 score in 4th.
94.4   1960 Yankees - led Game Seven, 7-4, in 8th.
92.4   1985 Cardinals - led 3 games to 2, and by 1-0 score in 9th.
92.1   1987 Cardinals - led 3 games to 2, and by 5-2 score in 5th.
91.9   1925 Senators - led 3 games to 1, and by 1-0 score with 2 on in 1st.
91.8   1979 Orioles - led 3 games to 1, and by 1-0 score in 6th.
91.1   1975 Red Sox - led Game Seven, 3-0, in 5th.