The 1954 Cleveland Indians starting rotation, one of the best ever

Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia and Early Wynn - AP Photo

Last month we looked at how the 1954 roster was constructed. This month, we will review how that pitching staff fared for that dominating squad. We will first look at the starters that season.

A Reduction in the Big Four?

Starting in 1950, the rotation of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia had become known as the Big Four as each one of them could dominate like a true ace. At this time, starting pitchers also threw every fourth day, with an occasional fifth starter needed for back ends of a doubleheader, etc.

But by the time 1954 had come to fruition, Feller was already 35. And in mid-1953, Art Houtteman had been acquired from the Detroit Tigers. So manager Al Lopez now had a plethora of starters to work with. He stuck with Lemon, Wynn and Garcia as the workhorses with Feller and Houtteman both getting their shots. In fact, Feller and Houtteman started both ends of the same doubleheader four of the first five times that season.

So based on the starts and results, I would have renamed the staff, the Big Three and Two Halves. The Big Three of Lemon, Wynn and Garcia all had an ERA+ of 135 or more while Feller and Houtteman both cracked 110. And between the five of them, they started 147 of the 156 games that season (there were two ties). The other nine starts went to Don Mossi (5), Ray Narleski (2) and one each to Hal Newhouser and Dave Hoskins.

Adding up all 156 starts, here is what their numbers looked like:

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

All Starts

156

93-36

1122.2

2.85

1.211

8.08

2.82

4.31

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

All Starts

77

12

121

90

240

298

395

693

[6+ IP = 6 innings or more thrown; 8+ IP = 8 innings or more thrown]

Those are some mind-boggling numbers. The ERA is a full run under the MLB average of 3.90. Granted the K rate is low, but it is was just over the MLB average of 4.2. The WHIP was 0.187 below the MLB average. They got decisions in an amazing 84% of the starts and the starter pitched into the eighth inning 57.6% of the time.

But that includes all of the starters. As I mentioned before, the Big Four was essentially a Big Three by this point, so let's see dominant those three really were:

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Lemon, Wynn, Garcia

103

64-25

762.0

2.73

1.177

7.75

2.85

4.56

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Lemon, Wynn, Garcia

54

10

82

63

232

291

364

655

As to be expected, these are better than the above total, but it was the ability to suppress the slugging that made them that more effective. They sliced 31 points off the total. They also pitched into the eighth 61.2% of the time. That number includes three complete games of ten or eleven innings as well.

And those Big Two Halves combined looked like this:

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Houtteman, Feller

44

35-8

306.2

3.23

1.272

8.95

2.50

3.55

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Houtteman, Feller

20

2

34

24

258

308

453

761

And while not nearly as dominant as the Big Three, these two were equally effective. The OPS was a full 106 points higher, but they still went 35-8 and into the eighth inning 55% of the time.

Even the spot starters pitched relatively decent:

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Narleski, Mossi, Newhouser, Hoskins

9

2-3

53.0

2.55

1.377

7.98

4.42

5.27

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Narleski, Mossi, Newhouser, Hoskins

3

0

5

3

241

332

492

824

For replacement level starters, that is definitely acceptable and very close to league average in most categories.

And here are the individual stats for the top five guys:

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Wynn

36

23-10

266.2

2.74

1.141

7.46

2.81

5.27

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Wynn

20

3

30

23

224

284

378

662

Wynn averaged 7.1 innings per start and pitched into the eighth inning 64% of the time. Amazing. He finished top 10 in the following categories in MLB that year: bWAR, ERA, Wins (tie-first), WHIP, H/9, IP, K, GS, CG, K/BB, ERA+ and WPA.

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Garcia

34

19-8

239.1

2.75

1.157

7.90

2.52

4.59

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Garcia

13

5

26

17

235

287

335

622

Garcia likely would have cracked twenty wins, but pitched in relief for a short while in August. As it was he still averaged 7 innings a start. Garcia was also top ten in MLB in these categories: bWAR, ERA, Wins, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, IP, GS, SHO, K/BB, HR/9, ERA+ and WPA.

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Lemon

33

22-7

253.1

2.74

1.247

7.99

3.23

3.84

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Lemon

21

2

26

23

238

303

377

680

Lemon pitched into the eighth inning at a ridiculous 70% clip and averaged 7.2 innings per start. He also netted top ten finishes in: ERA, Wins(tie-first), W/L%, IP, GS, CG, HR/9 and ERA+.

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Houtteman

25

14-5

166.2

3.35

1.344

9.61

2.48

3.35

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Houtteman

11

1

18

12

273

321

484

805

As a #4, Houtteman still averaged 6.2 innings a start. His WHIP and ERA were obviously higher than the Big Three, but a 14-5 record is nothing to sneeze at, especially when he threw 11 complete games.

GS

W-L

IP

ERA

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

Feller

19

13-3

140.0

3.09

1.186

8.16

2.51

3.79

CG

SHO

6+ IP

8+ IP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Feller

9

1

16

12

239

292

415

708

Feller, even though not the dominant K machine he was earlier in his career, was still very good. He averaged 7.1 innings a start and made it to the eighth 63% of the time. He nabbed one top 10 finish in MLB, for win-loss percentage.

All in all, a truly historic year for a single rotation.

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