This is part 3 of my Brian Kingman interview…
3) You were best known for being a 20 game loser before Detroit Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth “achieved ” this honor in 2003. Have you spoken to Mr. Maroth about this dubious achievement?
No, I never have spoken to Mike. I didn’t want to distract him during the 2003 season. I think I can safely assume he wasn’t very interested in talking to me
about losing 20 games after the fact. The Tigers were having a horrible year and didn’t appreciate the added media attention regarding the possibility that Maroth
might lose 20 games.
When I lost 20 games in 1980 it wasn’t as uncommon of an occurrence as it was in 2003. There has been a 20 game loser almost every year in baseball history, and some years there were multiple 20 game losers. A list of 20 game losers was established by baseball reference.com because of the media created interest started and fueled mainly by Jayson Stark. In 1991 Stark wrote a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer that mentioned a couple of
pitchers that might lose 20. He noted that no one had lost 20 in over a decade and that “somewhere Brian Kingman was praying for someone to lose 20 games
so he could be relieved of the dubious distinction of being the last 20 game loser”. A friend of mind who lived in Philadelphia mailed me the article. I called the Inquirer and
they gave me Stark’s home phone number. I called him and told him that I wanted to remain the last 20 game loser, basically forever. He of course didn’t believe it was me calling at first. He thought he was being pranked by one of his friends. This was the start of what I call my “Reign as the Last 20 Game Loser” which lasted until 2003. This however is a story in itself and deviates from your question.
When Mike Maroth lost 21 games in 2003 it had been 23 years since I had lost 20. Baseball, and especially pitching, had undergone a lot of changes. Complete games were on the decline, and the importance of the relief pitcher increased. Pitch counts gained in popularity as front offices worried about injuries to starting pitchers who had been rewarded lucrative contracts. Because of these factors starting pitchers didn’t pitch as deep into games, and had fewer decisions.
Just as it became harder to win 20 games it became less likely that someone would lose 20. It took a historically bad team (2003 Detroit Tigers) losing 119 games for Maroth to “achieve” 20 losses. When a team has that many losses they are very likely going to produce a 20 game loser. The 1962 NY Mets finished lost 120 games and produced two 20 game losers as well as a 19 game loser.
In this sense becoming a 20 game loser was most likely less stressful for Mike in 2003 than it was for me in 1980. No one on the Tigers was winning while on the 1980
Oakland A’s everyone was winning except me. I am sure the casual fan believed I was a horrible pitcher. It is assumed that over the course of a baseball season
everything evens out. If you get shut out once in awhile you’ll likely be the be beneficiary of an offensive outburst every now and then as well. I learned first hand that
this isn’t always true;
A section of a blog by Aaron Gleeman:
Perhaps more amazing than the fact that no one has been able to do what he did in 1980 in 22 years is how Brian Kingman lost 20 games that year. First of all, he actually pitched for a good team. The 1980 Oakland A’s went 83-79 (.512) and finished second in the American League West. The AL East was much stronger that season, but A’s had the 7th-best record in the 14-team American League.
Secondly, Brian Kingman was actually a decent pitcher in 1980. He pitched 211 1/3 innings and had a 3.83 ERA. .
So, he pitched for a good team and was right around league-average in preventing runs, yet he went 8-20.
Meanwhile in 1980…
Dan Spillner pitched 194 1/3 innings for a Cleveland ballclub that went 79-83. He had a 5.28 ERA – 29.4% worse than league-average – and he went 16-11.
Well as you can see here I have drifted off in my answer to the original question!
Jack Morris pitched 250 innings for the Tigers who went 84-78. He had a 4.18 ERA – 1.5% worse than league-average – and he went 16-15.
Len Barker pitched 246 1/3 innings for that same Indians team that Spillner was on. He had a 4.17 ERA – 2.2% worse than league-average – and he won 19 games.
Dennis Leonard pitched 280 1/3 innings for the Royals
who were American League Champions (97-65). Leonard had an ERA of 3.79 verysimilar to Kingman’s (3.83) and was a TWENTY game winner (20-11).
Oakland’s runs per game when Kingman pitched:
That’s the difference run-support can make. For the season overall, the A’s scored 4.43 runs per game. So, even in the games Kingman won, he got below-average run support from his teammates.In the games Kingman pitched in, the A’s scored 2.87 runs per game. In the other 130 games they played in 1980, they scored 4.55 runs per game. That’s just plain, old, simple bad luck.
Of the 20 games Kingman lost, 5 of them were games in which the A’s got shutout.
The 2.50 runs per game the A’s scored in Kingman’s 20 losses are even a little inflated because 11 of the 50 runs scored were in one game. If you take out those 11 runs and that one game, Kingman got a whopping 2.05 runs per game in his other 19 losses.
Well as you can see here I have drifted off once again from the interview question! The answer sort of morphed into things I would have mentioned to
Maroth if I had talked to him. That’s why editors get paid the big bucks.
When I lost 20 most fans didn’t realize the number of really good pitchers that had lost twenty games. The average fan assumed that only bad
pitchers lost 20. They forget Steve Carlton lost twenty games the year after winning 27 games, and that there are several 20 game losers in the Hall
of Fame, including Pud Galvin who lost 20 games ten years in a row.
The biggest factor in a pitcher losing 20 games is almost always poor sun support. Pitchers ERA’s are always posted on line or in the sport section
along with their won-lost record. There should also be a number that indicates the average number of runs scored for the pitcher. I think it would
be enlightening for fans and players to see run support adjusted W-L totals. Some big winners would look less impressive, and some pitchers with unimpressive records would gain respect. It is so much easier to pitch when your team scores for you.