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Ford’s Fortunate Fate

Did Whitey Ford appear on more magazine covers than his talent might have suggested?

Did Whitey Ford appear on more magazine covers than his talent might have suggested?

We’ve examined Whitey Ford more than a lot of players around here. Some of the examination has been in depth. Other review has been less substantial – like my yearly voting justification since 1979. The reason Ford has gotten the play he has is that we’re currently taking an unpopular position – not voting the “Chairman of the Board” into the HoME.

A reader, verdun2, recently shared that lots of pitchers during Ford’s time had many of the same advantages Ford had but produced nothing like his results. Indeed, he’s right. But why didn’t they produce those results? Were they not as lucky as Ford, or were they significantly less great? In this post, I don’t intend to break a lot of new ground. Rather, I’m simply going to look at a couple of measures of luck to see how Ford stacks up.

Ford Neutralized

First, let’s shine some light on neutralized statistics. Baseball Reference does some neat work in this area. To neutralize, they put all pitchers in a context where seasons are 162 games long, and they pitch for an average team that scores 716 runs. Let’s compare Ford’s numbers to the five hurlers still being considered for the HoME who are immediately in front of him and immediately behind him in my rankings.

                   Actual W/L, W/L%    Adjusted W/L, W/L%    Difference
Red Faber           254-213, .544       265-217, .550          -.006
Luis Tiant          229-172, .571       219-174, .557          +.014
Bret Saberhagen     167-117, .588       172-123, .583          +.005
David Cone          194-126, .606       189-145, .566          +.040
Pud Galvin          365-310, .541       541-481, .534          +.007
Whitey Ford         236-106, .690       210-150, .583          +.107
Dave Steib          176-137, .562       191-142, .574          -.012
Early Wynn          300-244, .551       276-253, .522          +.029
Dwight Gooden       194-112, .634       174-140, .544          +.090
Kevin Appier        169-137, .552       168-129, .566          -.014
Don Sutton          324-256, .559       323-275, .540          +.019

So what do we see? Well, we certainly see that Ford’s winning percentage is incredibly lucky. But we already knew that. We also see some good fortune for a Met (Gooden) and a combo Met/Yankee (Cone). Something in the water? And perhaps we also see part of the reason Early Wynn still isn’t a HoME member.

Ford vs. the Yankees

Now let’s look at run support for Ford compared to other Yankee starters of his era. In my data set I included only seasons where from 1953-1965, the string of campaigns where Ford made at least 17 starts and only once dropped below 28.

Our next chart looks at run support for Ford versus that for other Yankee starters. The statistic being used here is the RS/IP number at Baseball Reference. This number counts the runs scored per 27 outs while the pitcher was on the mound.

Year   Ford   Yanks   Diff
1953    6.5    5.0    +1.5
1954    4.5    5.0    -0.5
1955    5.4    5.2    +0.2
1956    5.0    6.0    -1.0
1957    5.2    4.6    +0.6
1958    4.3    5.0    -0.7
1959    4.8    4.6    +0.2
1960    3.6    4.5    -0.9
1961    5.8    5.3    +0.5
1962    4.1    4.9    -0.8
1963    4.9    4.4    +0.5
1964    3.6    4.4    -0.8
1965    4.2    3.9    +0.3

Let’s go through season by season. Parentheticals include win-loss record, ERA+ and the aforementioned RS/IP.

Vic RaschiIn 1953, Ford (18-6, 123, 6.5) received significantly more run support than other Yankee hurlers (5.0). The other two main starters in the Bronx, Vic Racshi (13-6, 111, 4.8) in his final year in New York and Eddie Lopat (16-4, 152, 5.1) in his second to last, got typical support as the Yankees won their last of five straight World Series.

The next season saw Bob Grim (20-6, 107, 5.6) replace Raschi, while Eddie Lopat (12-4, 98, 4.1) finished out his NY days. The Yanks hardly helped Ford (16-8, 123, 4.5) this year compared to 5.0 runs for pitchers in general. Ford’s numbers work well together, but Grim’s show the great run support, and Lopat’s show a lesson in good luck, perhaps. The Yankees weren’t lucky, winning 103 games but losing to an Indian team that won 111.

1955 saw Bob Turley (17-13, 123, 5.2) and Tommy Byrne (16-5, 120, 5.2) as the main starters other than Ford (18-7, 144, 5.4). The former two were right on the number of runs the Bombers gave in support (5.2). Ford was a shade higher. All were very good pitchers that year. Ford’s record stood out, justifiably so, on a team that lost in the World Series.

Don LarsenFor such a great team, the Yankees sure did have a lot of turnover on the mound. Johnny Kucks (18-9, 101, 5.9) and Don Larsen (11-5, 119, 6.0) joined Ford (19-6, 157, 5.0) at the front of the rotation in ’56. Ford didn’t get the support of other Yankee hurlers (6.0), but he did quite well due to superior pitching. Kucks-y was lucky, and the Yanks won another World Series.

Since Ford made only 17 starts in 1957, let’s fast forward to 1958 and another Fall Classic triumph. Bob Turley (21-7, 119, 5.6) was the only pitcher other than Ford (14-7, 177, 4.3) to make 20 starts. On a Yankee team that put up 5.0 per game, it would seem Turley got a bit lucky and Ford a bit unlucky.

Turley (8-11, 84, 3.8) was still around in 1959. He was joined by Al Ditmar (13-9, 126, 5.1) on a pretty mediocre Yankee team that scored just 4.6 runs per game, finishing only four games above .500. Whitey Ford (16-10, 119, 4.8) had a down season, much like a lot of his mates.

Bob TurleyTwo years in a row with the same big three? Say it ain’t so! Turley rebounded some (9-3, 110, 4.4). Ditmar (15-9, 118, 4.6) did was Ditmar did. And Ford (12-9, 117, 3.6) suffered from tough run support on a team (4.5) that rebounded to lose in the World Series and was just about to explode with a huge season.

What’s certain is that Ford’s innings totals exploded when Casey Stengel departed after a dozen years at the helm in New York. Ralph Houk stepped in, and as Eric pointed out previously, Ford’s usage increased. Only once did he top 30 starts for Stengel, maxing out at 33 in 1955. For Houk, his low total was 36. Take a look at the innings.

Year    Manager     Innings
1953    Stengel      207.0
1954    Stengel      210.2
1955    Stengel      253.2
1956    Stengel      225.2
1957    Stengel      129.1
1958    Stengel      219.1
1959    Stengel      204.0
1960    Stengel      192.2
1961    Houk         283.0 (led league)
1962    Houk         257.2
1963    Houk         269.1 (led league)
1964    Houk         244.2
1965    Houk         244.1

With New York winning 109 games in 1961, Ford (25-4, 115, 5.8) was joined by Bill Stafford (14-9, 139, 5.4) and Ralph Terry (16-3, 118, 5.2) on a team that put up fewer runs than we might have guessed (5.3). Ford was clearly a beneficiary of some great run support and was pretty fortunate to boot. The Yankees won it all the first time since way back in ’58.

Ralph TerryNew York went back-to-back in 1961-62 for the first time since their 1949-1953 dynasty. It was again Terry (23-12, 118, 5.7) and Stafford (14-9, 103, 4.8) joining Ford (17-8, 130, 4.1). The differences in run support this year were pretty stark on a team that provided 4.9 runs per. Things could have been a lot better for Ford and a lot worse for Terry.

The big three as the Yanks failed to win three straight were Ford (24-7, 129, 4.9), Terry (17-15, 109, 4.1) and Jim Bouton (21-7, 140, 4.7). New York (4.4) got back to the World Series but lost. Ford turned in an impressive season and was nicely supported by his mates.

1964 brought another World Series loss, as Al Downing (13-8, 105, 4.2) replaced Terry. Bouton (18-13, 120, 4.7) and Ford (17-6, 170, 3.6) remained, and Ford had, perhaps, his finest season. Had his Yankees (4.4) supported him more, a third wins title in four seasons could have been in the offing.

Ford’s last season at the top of the Yankee rotation was 1965. It was also the first season in a run of NY mediocrity that would continue until, basically, 1976. He (16-13, 105, 4.2) was joined by Mel Stottlemyre (20-9, 129, 4.5) and Downing (12-14, 100, 4.2). The Yankees (3.9) finished below .500, in sixth place.

Conclusions

Compared to other pitchers who I value similarly, Ford was quite lucky in terms of wins and losses. Pitching for dynastic Yankee teams, this is no surprise. And given that Eric and I largely ignore wins and losses when evaluating pitchers, today’s analysis is more for fun than any commendation or condemnation of Ford.

Yes, Ford did receive a lot of help in New York. But it seems he was a little less lucky than he could have been. There were six seasons of his career where his run support/innings pitched wasn’t within 0.7 runs of his teammates. And in only one of those seasons did he receive more support. In the other six he received less. That’s right, Ford could have been a little luckier. Imagine that.

Miller

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “Ford’s Fortunate Fate

  1. Glad I commented. It spawned this really terrific essay. Good job.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | April 18, 2014, 10:12 am
  2. It seems the alternating positive and negatives suggest that run support essentially is random. While I’m sure (a) others have done a much more thorough examination and (b) I shouldn’t ever offer such a conclusion on one data point, the pureness of those 13 seasons just inspires me.

    Posted by mike teller | April 20, 2014, 8:11 am

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