December 6, 2019

Chasing Down Dutch (Hub) Leonard

June 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

What do Ubaldo Jimenez and Dutch (Hub) Leonard have in common?  Nothing and everything.

Jimenez is a big, strong, “black”, right-handed power pitcher who features a 95-97 MPH fastball that sometimes reaches triple digits and has sick movement, a slider, curveball, and change-up, the last of which tops out at 88, faster than some hurlers’ fastballs.  Because of the color of his skin, the Dominican born Jimenez would not have been allowed to play in Leonard’s era, at least not in the majors.

Leonard was a much smaller (by six inches and 25 pounds) Ohio-born, California-raised white southpaw with a good fastball—”not as fast as Walter Johnson,” said Joe Sewell, “but he had a good fastball”—and a good curve, but his bread and butter pitch was a spitball.  Unlike Jimenez, Leonard would have been allowed to play in any era, but at only 5’10”, small even for the Deadball Era, and sporting only a fastball and curve since his spitball was banned 90 years ago, he would have had to come up with a third pitch or probably been relegated to the bullpen had he pitched in the 21st century.

Of course, those aren’t the only differences between these two men.  Jimenez pitches in an era and a league where runs are plentiful—through almost 60 games, National League teams are averaging 4.40 runs per game.  Leonard pitched in an era and a league where runs were harder to come by—in 1914, American League teams averaged only 3.65 runs a game.

Jimenez pitches half his games in a ballpark, Coors Field, that is arguably the worst pitcher’s park in baseball and perhaps baseball history, boasting a park factor this season of 113 (anything over 100 favors hitters).  Leonard pitched half his games in Boston’s Fenway Park, which has been a hitter’s park for years, playing like a pinball machine with its nooks and crannies and high scores.  But in the Deadball Era, Fenway was actually one of the toughest places for batters to succeed, boasting a park factor of only 96, the lowest in the A.L.  With a home run factor of only 20, it was the hardest place in the junior circuit in which to homer—not even Babe Ruth could tame the Fens; of the 49 homers he belted between 1914 and 1919, only 11 came at Fenway—and one of the three toughest in all of baseball, along with Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field and Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.

Which makes Jimenez’s performance through his first 12 starts this season all the more impressive.  After surrendering two runs to Arizona on June 6 in seven innings of work, Jimenez’s ERA climbed to 0.93 on the year.  Were he to finish the season with that mark, not only would it be the lowest ERA since Bob Gibson’s 1.12 in 1968, but it would stand as the best ERA in modern-day history, breaking Leonard’s 0.96 mark set almost 100 years ago in 1914.

Of course, no one realistically expects the record to be broken, mostly for the reasons mentioned above.  In fact, the single-season record for Rockies starters was set by…drum roll please…Ubaldo Jimenez, who posted a 3.47 ERA in 2009.  Prior to that the team record was 3.66 set by Joe Kennedy in 2004.  But pitchers have been known to catch lightning in a bottle—Ron Guidry (1.74 in 1978), Dwight Gooden (1.53 in ’85), Greg Maddux (1.56 in ’94, and 1.63 in ’95), Pedro Martinez (1.74 in 2000), among others—which brings me back to Dutch Leonard.

Leonard finished with a career ERA of 2.76 after 11 seasons and his next lowest ERA was 2.17 in 1917.  So his 1914 mark of 0.96 was almost 56% better than his next best ERA and more than 65% better than his career ERA.  Were Jimenez to match that rate, he’d finish this season with a 1.54 ERA, which, as shown above, is definitely doable.

Not only is Jimenez chasing down history in terms of ERA, but he’s making a mockery of adjusted ERA+ with a mark of 484.  Granted, it’s still way too early to hand out awards at this point, but it’s interesting to note that the modern-day single season mark of 291 is held by another Red Sox hurler, Pedro Martinez, who posted that mark in the aforementioned 2000 campaign.  Leonard is second at 279.  It’s not inconceivable that Jimenez could be the first pitcher in Major League history to top the 300 mark (Tim Keefe holds the record at 295 in 1880), especially if he continues to pitch well at Coors (he’s 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA at home).

To put his season in an even more impressive context, transport Jimenez back to 1914 Boston and his ERA drops to 0.59 with only 17 earned runs allowed in 259 innings.  I can’t even post those numbers on my Xbox 360.

Unrealistic video game numbers aside, I want to take a look at Jimenez’s first 12 starts in comparison to Leonard’s first 12 in 1914 and see how they stack up.  And perhaps I’ll keep a running tally throughout the season.

(Leonard’s stats provided by the Hall of Fame; there may be some discrepancies between his dailies and contemporary box scores)

April 17, 1914

Leonard’s first start of the season comes in Boston’s third game after the Red Sox had split the first two contests with the Washington Senators at Fenway Park.  The southpaw ends up a hard-luck loser after going the distance and allowing only one unearned run on seven hits and a walk while fanning six.  Unfortunately fellow lefty Joe Boehling is equal to the task and whitewashes the “Speed Boys” on only two singles and two walks.  Of the four Red Sox baserunners, only one makes it as far as second base.

“‘Dutch’ Leonard pitched a masterly game for the home team and would not have been scored on but for a slightly wide throw to first by [Everett] Scott in the ninth inning after making a fine running stop,” reports Tim Murnane in the Boston Globe.  “While the Senators outhit the home team, it must be said that it was no fault of Leonard, who always was strong in the pinches and was dead on the mark…”

Leonard begins the season with a 0.00 ERA but falls to 0-1.

April 5, 2010

Jimenez tames the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, holding them to one run on eight hits and a walk while fanning six in six innings.  The big right-hander consistently reaches 96 on the gun and hits 99 at one point.  Were it not for errors by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and third baseman Ian Stewart, Jimenez probably would have gone longer than six.  “I wouldn’t say it was completely conventional,” said Rockies manager Jim Tracy after the game.  “We made some things difficult for ourselves.  But…there are days where you’re going to have to play yourself through some adversity and some mistakes.”

Jimenez starts the season at 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA.

April 21, 1914

Leonard takes the mound for his second start with the Red Sox boasting a 2-4 record and finding themselves in seventh place, a half game behind the Philadelphia Athletics, who’ve taken two of the first three games of a five-game series at Fenway Park.  Leonard is stellar again, allowing only one unearned run on six hits and four walks while striking out nine in 11 innings, including Frank “Home Run” Baker twice and catcher Wally Schang three times.  Bob Shawkey matches him inning for inning until the game is called with the score 1-1 on account of darkness.  Shawkey allows only six hits and four walks and fans eight.

Tris Speaker goes hitless in six trips to the plate but makes an unassisted double play from his perch in center field.  Harry Hooper raps out a hit and scores the team’s only run, and makes a sensational running catch in extra innings to rob Baker of an extra-base hit.  Shortstop Jack Barry and Shawkey himself account for four of the A’s seven hits.  Interestingly, the next day’s game is called a tie as well at 9-9.

Leonard gets neither a win nor a loss, but his ERA still stands at 0.00 after 20 innings of work.

April 11, 2010

Jimenez makes his second start of the season and first at home and he’s solid again, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out seven in six innings of work in Colorado’s 4-2 win over the Padres.  Four Rockies relievers hold the Padres to only one hit over the final three innings to seal Jimenez’s second win of the year.  Tulowitzki drives in two of Colorado’s four runs.  With the victory, Jimenez goes to 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA.

April 29, 1914

At 4-5, the Red Sox have a chance to reach .500 and climb into a fifth-place tie with the A’s and St. Louis Browns, but Leonard’s offense and defense let him down again.  He tosses only six innings, but allows a single run, his first earned run of the season, on a solo homer by Yankee left fielder Jimmy Walsh, who poles one that just clears the left field fence in the fourth inning.  To make matters worse, Walsh should have been retired on the previous pitch when he skies a pop up that first baseman Clyde Engle has a bead on.  But catcher Bill Carrigan calls him off and misses the ball completely.

Speaker goes hitless again, but makes a remarkable catch in the first inning to save Leonard’s bacon.  Hal Janvrin raps out two hits to lead the Red Sox.  Fellow spitballer Ray Fisher tosses a complete game shutout, surrendering seven hits and two walks while fanning eight.  He also collects two hits at the plate.

Leonard’s ERA now stands at 0.35, but he’s 0-2 on the season with only one run of support from his team.

April 17, 2010

“Ubaldo Jimenez bowed his head and raised his arms in fittingly quiet celebration, as joyful noise broke out around him,” writes Thomas Harding of MLB.com.  The joyful noise is in response to Jimenez’s no-hitter over the Braves, the first in Rockies history.  He faces 31 batters over nine innings and walks six of them but doesn’t allow a hit.   Brad Hawpe goes 3-for-4, Carlos Gonzales drives in two runs, and Jimenez helps himself out with an RBI as well.  Center fielder Dexter Fowler makes two outstanding defensive plays to help his teammate. The performance raises Jimenez’s record to 3-0 and drops his ERA almost a full run to 1.29.

May 4, 1914

Everything finally comes together for Leonard, who goes nine innings against the defending champion A’s and allows only one run on six hits and three walks while striking out eight in Boston’s 9-1 drubbing of Philadelphia.  The Carmines pound A’s starter Weldon Wyckoff to the tune of 12 hits, including four doubles and two triples, and score more runs in this game than in their last five contests combined.

“”Dutch” Leonard was on the firing line for the Red Sox, and the way the young Californian worked his rapid fire delivery had the champions guessing from first to last,” writes Murnane.  Boston’s vaunted outfield stars again, going a combined 6-for-13 with two doubles, two triples, and seven runs scored.  Left fielder Duffy Lewis makes three running grabs, Hooper “held hard drives to singles by fast ground covering” and Speaker makes a running grab that Murnane describes as “remarkable.”

The win is Leonard’s first and with only two earned runs allowed in 35 innings, he sports a microscopic 0.51 ERA.

April 22, 2010

Jimenez follows up his no-hitter with another gem, shutting out the Washington Nationals on five hits and two walks while fanning five in 7 1/3 innings to run his scoreless streak to a modest 16 1/3 innings.  His opponent, 35-year-old (allegedly) Livan Hernandez, has an equally modest 17-inning  streak of his own before the Rockies tag him for a run in the second.  Hernandez allows only two runs in eight innings, both coming off solo homers by Miguel Olivo and Ian Stewart.

Jimenez goes to 4-0 on the year with a 0.95 ERA.

May 8, 1914

Leonard’s fifth start of the year comes against the Yankees and emery ball specialist Ray Keating at Fenway Park and it’s the southpaw’s best performance to date.  He allows only three hits, all singles, walks two, and strikes out a season-high 11 batters.  As if Leonard’s spitball wasn’t enough, the game is played in cold and damp conditions, a light mist turning into rain halfway through the contest.  The win is Leonard’s second of the year and with nine more scoreless innings under his belt, his ERA drops to 0.41.

April 27, 2010

Jimenez’s fifth start of the year goes much the same as the others; he holds the Diamondbacks to no runs through six innings, while surrendering only two hits and two walks.  He fans six more batters to run his total to 31 through April.  His scoreless streak is now at 22 1/3 innings.  The win boosts his record to 5-0 and the scoreless streak drops his ERA to 0.79.

“Afterward, instead of celebrating the offense, the Rockies were fielding questions linking Jimenez (5-0) with the most famous of pitching names — Cy Young, as in the award for the league’s best pitcher,” writes Harding.

“‘They have every right to suggest, but I think we have to put it in perspective — it’s April 27,’ Rockies manager Jim Tracy said when asked about whether Jimenez deserves early consideration. ‘Let’s get down the road a little ways before we begin any serious conversation in regard to that.’

“‘But if you’re asking me as we move forward would I like to see him become a serious candidate, you’d better believe I would.'”

May 14, 1914

Leonard’s sixth start of the season resembles his earlier trips to the hill, a great performance by him without much offensive help from his teammates.  But this time he’s the beneficiary of a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Browns.  He’s almost as good as he was on May 8, surrendering no runs on only four hits, while striking out nine.  He walks six men, though, prompting Murnane to report that Leonard was “wilder than a Montana Broncho [sic].”

But Murnane applauds Leonard’s efforts.  “This clever young pitcher has shown remarkable form this season in every game that he has pitched, as he has been forced to pitch  his head off every time owing to the weak hitting of the Red Sox.”

It’s an understatement to say the least.  With this performance, the lefty lowers his ERA to 0.34, surrendering only two earned runs in 53 innings, and runs his record to 3-2.  Interestingly, his next appearance will be as a reliever against the Detroit Tigers.

May 3, 2010

My 43rd birthday features another fine performance by Ubaldo Jimenez, who tosses seven more quality innings at the Padres, allowing a run on four hits, two walks and a hit batter.  He also whiffs a season-high 13, giving him 44 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings.  His performance to date has been so otherworldly that the run he allows actually bumps his ERA upwards to 0.87.  He also sets a handful of team records, becoming the first Rockies pitcher to start a season with six straight wins, and his 25 1/3 innings scoreless streak that was snapped by a fourth-inning, run-scoring double, is also a team record for a starter.

May 23, 1914

After two consecutive relief appearances in which his ERA climbs to 0.47 (1 ER in 4 relief innings) and he earns a save, Leonard gets his seventh starting assignment on May 23 against the White Sox at Fenway Park.  He goes the distance for the sixth time, but isn’t quite as sharp as he’s been in the past.  He allows two runs on eight hits, all singles, and walks a batter, but he fans five and one of the runs is unearned thanks to a fourth-inning miscue by first baseman Hal Janvrin.  It isn’t until the eighth that the Pale Hose string three hits together to plate their first earned run.  Janvrin and Speaker lead the club with two hits each and score three of the team’s six runs.

After starting the season 0-2, Leonard has reeled off four straight wins and his ERA stands at 0.55.

May 9, 2010

“A fastball around 100 mph and devastating breaking pitches are pretty much givens when the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez pitches,” writes Harding. “They were present Sunday. Yet, for the first time in seven starts this season, he lost.”

“‘My glove,’ Jimenez said. ‘It betrayed me.'”

With Blake DeWitt on second after a lead-off double, Jamey Carroll hits a comebacker to Jimenez (“we’ve seen him field hundreds of them” says Jim Tracy) but the ball deflects off the pitcher’s glove and far enough out of Clint Barmes’ reach to allow DeWitt to score.  The hits are the only ones Jimenez allows in seven innings of work.  He walks four, strikes out five, and suffers his first loss of the season.  Again, allowing only one run boosts his ERA higher, this time to 0.93.

May 29, 1914

Whether Leonard just has a bad day or he’s being overworked by Red Sox skipper and catcher Bill Carrigan—over the last 10 days, Leonard has made two starts and three relief appearances—the southpaw goes only three innings against the Senators in the second game of a doubleheader and allows a run on five hits before coming out for pinch hitter Wally Rehg in the fourth.  The Sox win, 6-5, but Leonard gets a no-decision.  His ERA climbs to 0.65 after eight starts and three relief appearances on the year.

May 15, 2010

After suffering his first loss of the season despite pitching his ass off, Jimenez continues to dominate N.L. hitters and earns his seventh victory with a 6-2 win over the Nationals.  The two runs allowed matches a season high and causes his ERA to “balloon” to 1.12, matching the 1968 full-season mark of Cardinals great Bob Gibson.  He yields seven hits in eight innings, including a home run by Adam Dunn, the first the Rockies hurler has allowed all season, walks one and fans five.

“He is really establishing himself into becoming a very dominant pitcher,” manager Jim Tracy said. “He has all the makings of, not only the ace of a staff, but one of the premier pitchers in baseball. That’s what he’s working towards.”

May 30, 1914

Clearly unsatisfied with his ace hurler’s workload and poor performance in game 2 of the May 29 doubleheader with the Senators, Carrigan turns to Leonard for the second straight day and pencils him in as his game 1 starter for another twin bill with the Nats.  The result is predictably ugly considering it’s Leonard’s fourth appearance of the week.  He lasts only 11 batters, allows three runs on three hits and two walks, fans one, and tosses 11 straight balls to Clyde Milan, Chick Gandil, and Howie Shanks before he’s mercifully removed in the third in favor of Ray Collins, who finishes the free pass to Shanks to force in a run.

“The game was tossed away in the third by ‘Dutch’ Leonard, who went all to pieces under the fire of Clark Griffith on the coaching lines,” writes Murnane.  “McBride singled.  Henry struck out and Carrigan’s poor throw allowed McBride to make second.  Morgan singled, but was forced.  Foster smashed out the third single of the game and the California Kid went into the air.

“He passed Milan and Gandil without throwing one ball over the 18-inch wide rubber, and had given Shanks three bad ones—making 11 tries for the plate without a bullseye—when Collins relieved him.  Ray passed the man up forcing in the third run.”

Leonard takes the loss to drop to 4-3 on the year, but only two of the runs are earned, giving him a 0.87 ERA through 72 1/3 innings.

May 20, 2010

Jimenez drops his ERA back below 1.00 with yet another masterful performance in which he holds the Astros to one measly infield hit over seven innings.  Houston’s third-inning leadoff man Humberto Quintero dribbles a broken bat grounder to third base and when Ian Stewart fails to barehand the ball cleanly, Quintero is on first with a hit.  From there Jimenez blows through the Astros with relative ease, retiring all but Lance Berkman, who walks in the fourth.  Of the 14 outs Jimenez records after the basehit, nine come on weak grounders, three on strikeouts, one on a pop out, and only Berkman gets good wood on the ball when he flies out to deep left in the seventh.  The only foe Jimenez can’t best is a cramp in his right hip that forces him from the game prematurely.

The 4-0 victory gives the Rockies ace an 8-1 record and his ERA stands at 0.99.  With nine starts of six or more innings and three or fewer runs, Jimenez becomes only the second Major League starter since 1920 to begin a season with such dominance.  Bob Tewksbury of the Cardinals began the 1992 season with 10 such starts en route to a 16-5 record with a 2.16 ERA.

June 2, 1914

Sticking with the doubleheader theme, Carrigan tabs Leonard as his game 1 starter in a double dip with the Athletics at Fenway Park.  He battles “Bullet Joe” Bush for five scoreless innings before the Red Sox break through with two runs in the sixth courtesy of singles by Everett Scott and Olaf Henriksen and a Larry Gardner triple.  The A’s retaliate with two of their own in the top of the seventh thanks to a Frank Baker single and some shoddy fielding by the Speed Boys.

First baseman Del Gainor makes so many fielding gems on the day that Tim Murnane writes, “Del Gainor’s fielding was as fine as we have seen at Fenway Park by a first baseman.  His handling of poorly thrown balls and his fielding grounders…were simply remarkable.”  But when Gainor fields Stuffy McInnis’ seventh-inning smash and turns to throw to second, he finds the bag uncovered.  Seeing Scott finally get to the bag, Gainor makes a wide throw that eludes Scott and sends Baker to third.  “This was really no fault of Gainor’s,” writes Murnane, “but probably was due to a misunderstanding between the shortstop and the second baseman, of which slips there were several in the course of the day.”

Amos Strunk drives Baker home with a sacrifice fly, then McInnis scores on a Wally Schang sacrifice fly after advancing to third on Duffy Lewis’ ill-advised attempt to nab Baker at the plate.  Leonard fans Eddie Murphy with two on to end the inning.  The Sox plate the winning run in the bottom of the seventh when Harry Hooper triples and scores on a Scott single.  Leonard shuts Philadelphia down the rest of the way for his fifth win.  Both runs allowed are earned, putting his ERA at 0.995 through 10 starts and three relief appearances.

May 26, 2010

For the second time on the season, Jimenez faces the Arizona Diamondbacks and for the second time, he dominates the snakes, surrendering only six hits and a walk through eight innings while striking out three to earn his ninth win in 10 decisions.  The early going is tough for the youngster, who yields a leadoff double to Kelly Johnson and a hard-hit line out to center, then needs a nice running catch by Carlos Gonzalez in deep center field to end the frame.

“It’s part of learning how to pitch and becoming a better pitcher,” Jimenez said. “You go out there and see what is working and what is not for you, and what hitters are trying to do — what’s their approach at the beginning of the game. Today, they were looking for the fastball right away and swinging.”

To his credit, Jimenez adjusts his approach and begins mixing in his breaking pitches and that’s all she wrote.  His eight shutout innings combined with the seven he threw against the Astros on May 20 and two he finished with against the Nationals on May 15 gives him 17 consecutive scoreless innings.  His ERA drops again to 0.88, the lowest it’s been since May 3.

June 14, 1914

Bill Carrigan finally comes to his senses and gives Leonard 11 days off after his ace comes down with a lame shoulder after beating the A’s on June 2.  The lefty spitballer shows his gratitude by toying with the St. Louis Browns for nine innings, allowing one run on three hits, including a solo blast by Browns left fielder Tillie Walker in the seventh.  Leonard walks only one and strikes out nine, and the only other runner to get as far as second base is Burt Shotton who doubles in the fourth.

The next day’s Boston Globe trumpets Leonard’s return:

THREE HITS ALL THE BROWNS GOT

Beaten By Red Sox, 10-1, Leonard Pitching High-Class Ball

“Fresno Leonard’s left hand corkscrew shoots and dreaming curves was the undoing of the Browns,” writes Murnane.

Walker’s home run is only the 10th earned run Leonard has allowed in 90 1/3 innings, but his ERA “jumps” to 0.996.

May 31, 2010

In a battle between two of baseball’s best young arms, Ubaldo Jimenez outduels Giants ace and two-time N.L. Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and it’s not even close.  Lincecum goes only 5 2/3 innings and allows four runs (three earned) on six hits and five walks and fans only three.  Jimenez goes the distance, allowing only four hits, walking two and striking out nine.  It’s Jimenez’s second shutout of the season and runs his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 26.

“I’m beginning to run out of words to describe not only the excellence but the dominance in which this guy is pitching up to this point,” said Rockies manager Jim Tracy.

His 26 consecutive scoreless innings sets a new team record for a starter, breaking his own 25 1/3 innings set earlier in the year, and he’s only 3 1/3 scoreless innings from tying reliever Gabe White for the Rockies all-time record set in 2000.  The victory makes him 10-1 and his ERA drops to a season-low 0.78.

June 18, 1914

In his 12th start of the season, Leonard tosses a shutout at the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park to run his record to 7-3 and lower his ERA to 0.91 in just under 100 innings.  He’s not as dominant as he was in his last start against the Browns—”Dutch Leonard was hit hard, but sharp fielding by the Boston men prevented the home team from scoring,” writes Murnane—but he minimizes the damage, holding the Pale Hose to two extra-base hits, a walk, and a hit batter.

The White Sox threaten in the fourth, fifth, and sixth, but Leonard works out of all three jams.  “In the fourth, a fast double play by Scott and Yerkes held the Comiskey men at bay and in the fifth two men got on but were caught on the bases,” writes Murnane.  “In the sixth the home team had the bases full with one down on a single, a man hit with a pitched ball and a wild throw by Janvrin, but Demmitt and Collins went out on flies and Boston was never in danger after that.”

The Red Sox plate six in the seventh to put the game on ice and Leonard emerges with his seventh victory and third in as many starts.

June 6, 2010

In his most recent start, Jimenez is “machine-like once more,” according to Harding, besting the D-backs for seven innings before surrendering a two-run homer to Conor Jackson in the eighth.  After a walk to Adam LaRoche, Jimenez is removed in favor of reliever Rafael Betancourt, who tosses a scoreless eighth to earn his seventh hold of the year, and Manny Corpas throws a scoreless ninth to slam the door and earn his sixth save.

The 3-2 victory takes Jimenez to 11-1 but his ERA climbs to 0.93.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau only Leonard has a lower ERA among starters through the first 12 starts of a season.* Thanks to the seven scoreless innings he throws before Jackson’s homer, Jimenez sets the Rockies record for consecutive scoreless innings with 33.

“He’s got to be the best baseball player in the world at this moment,” Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe said. “I don’t know who can argue.”

* Elias lists Leonard’s ERA through 12 starts at 0.83.  Leonard’s Hall of Fame dailies has him at 0.86 as a starter and 0.91 overall.

Mike Lynch is the author of Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League and It Ain’t So: A Might-Have-Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond, and the founder of Seamheads.com.

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