Top 100 Indians: #47 Tom Candiotti

LGT's countdown of the greatest players in franchise history continues with Tom Candiotti, knuckleball sorcerer.

Thomas Caesar Candiotti

Starting Pitcher, 1986-1991, 1999

Height: 6'3" Weight: 205 lbs

Throws: Right

How Acquired (1): Free Agent, December 12, 1985

Left Via (1): Traded with Turner Ward to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mark Whiten, Glenallen Hill and Denis Boucher. June 27, 1991

How Acquired (2): Free Agent, June 29, 1999

Left Via (2): Released, August 2 1999

Tom Candiotti was never named to an All-Star team, despite being on of the ten best pitchers in his league five or six teams, a fitting lack of recognition for a man who pitched almost 3,000 innings in the big leagues after not even being drafted.

Candiotti was born and raised in the Bay Area of northern California, where he attended St. Mary's College. During his four years there, he set school records for single-season and career wins and ERA that stand to this day, but no team thought him worthy of even a late-round pick. Instead, Candiotti found himself playing for the Victoria Mussels, an independent team in the Northwest League. He posted a 2.44 ERA in 70 innings and that winter the Kansas City Royals signed him to a minor league deal.

Candiotti had success for K.C.'s Double-A team in 1980, was chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1980 Rule 5 draft, and had success for their Double-A team in 1981, but then blew out his elbow. It seemed possible that this would be a career-ending injury, but he became one of the first people to undergo a relatively new type of operation. Candiotti missed the entire 1982 season, but returned in 1983, having success in Triple-A, and on August 8th of that year, he became just the second player ever to pitch in the Major Leagues after having "Tommy John surgery." Coincidentally, in Tom's second career start, the opposing starting pitcher was none other than Tommy John. Candiotti pitched a complete game shutout.

Despite such an impressive beginning, Candiotti had only moderate success with Milwaukee. He spent more time in the minors than with the big league club during 1984 and didn't play in the Majors at all in 1985. At the end of that season, Milwaukee released him. Something else had happened in 1985 too though: Tom began working on a new pitch. Explained Cleveland Indians Vice President Joe Klein, after the team signed him that December, "The fascination with Candiotti is that he now throws a knuckleball."

Candiotti had success in the Puerto Rican Winter League that off-season, leading all pitchers in strikeouts, and won a spot in the Indians rotation. Few players have had as impressive a debut season for the Tribe as Candiotti did that year. He led the team in innings, strikeouts, and ERA. He also threw 3 shutouts that year, including a 3-hit gem against Baltimore in which he struck out 10, and led the American League with 17 complete games.

Tom was the Tribe's Opening Day starter in 1987. His numbers were not as impressive as in the year before, due in large part to a dreadful first half. He rebounded after the All-Star break, with a strong run highlighted by a 1-hit shutout of the Yankees, and managed to lead the team in innings, strikeouts, and ERA again, earning himself another Opening Day nod for 1988. He put up a 3.28 ERA in '88, the best of his career to that point. A mild shoulder injury caused him to miss three weeks in August, but he returned to post an ERA of 2.25 over nine starts following his absence.

Candiotti was again the team's best pitcher in 1989, with an ERA of 3.10. He had the second-best home run rate of any starting pitcher in the AL that season too. Avoiding the long ball had been an important part of his success throughout his years in Cleveland, in 1989 he gave up just 10 in 206 innings. By WAR (Baseball-Refrence or Fangraphs' calculation, take your pick), Candiotti was one of the ten best pitchers in the American League for the third time in four seasons that year, yet few outside of Cleveland seemed to take notice.

He had another strong season in 1990, placing second in just about every significant pitching category for the Tribe and on 1991 he got off to a tremendous start, allowing 2 runs or fewer in 13 of his first 15 starts. His ERA through June 23 sat at 2.24. Four days later he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package centered around up-and-coming outfielders Mark Whiten and Glenallen Hill.

While both those players were seen as potential stars (Whiten especially), Indians President Hank Peters admitted that the deal was made for financial reasons. Candiotti was due to hit free agency following the season and had declined a 3-year, $7.2 million contract. The Indians considered that a generous offer, as it would have made him the highest paid player in franchise history (for the record, he was right to turn the deal down, as he eventually inked a 4-year, $15.5 million deal with the Dodgers instead).

Candiotti continued his fantastic season, ending the year with a 2.65 ERA in 238 innings. His not being named an All-Star that season, or receiving any points in the AL Cy Young balloting is a shame (a shame that can be explained, like most overlooked pitching seasons, by a relatively low number of wins). He had 7.1 WAR that year, enough to compete for the league lead. Since 1991, the highest WAR by a non-All Star pitcher is 6.4. Candiotti did at least get to experience the playoffs for the first time, starting Games 1 and 5 of the ALCS for Toronto.

He was a very good pitcher again in 1992 and 1993 (with the Dodgers). By the end of '93 he was 36 years old though, and in 1994 he finally began to decline, serving as a roughly league average pitcher for three more years with L.A. and then one with the Oakland Athletics (1998). In June of 1999, Oakland released him. Two weeks later, he was signed by the Indians. He appeared in 7 games, starting just 2. He allowed 5 runs in each of his final two appearances, neither of which last even two full innings. He was released on August 2 and after making a brief attempt to land a job the following spring, he announced his retirement before the start of the 2000 season.

Following his playing career, Candiotti became a broadcaster, working first for ESPN and the Blue Jays, and now in his 8th season as the radio analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He also became an avid bowler, with a 200+ average and a perfect game on his resume. In 2007 he was inducted to the Professional Bowling Hall of Fame's celebrity wing, the sort of recognition he never really received in baseball. His career WAR of 42.5 is the highest by any pitcher since the creation of the All-Star Game in 1933 never named to the team. Let there be no doubt though, Candiotti was a great pitcher.

Year Age Tm W L ERA CG IP SO ERA+ WHIP HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
1986 28 CLE 16 12 3.57 17 252.1 167 116 1.347 0.6 3.8 6.0
1987 29 CLE 7 18 4.78 7 201.2 111 95 1.418 1.2 4.2 5.0
1988 30 CLE 14 8 3.28 11 216.2 137 125 1.283 0.6 2.2 5.7
1989 31 CLE 13 10 3.10 4 206.0 124 128 1.180 0.4 2.4 5.4
1990 32 CLE 15 11 3.65 3 202.0 128 107 1.297 1.0 2.5 5.7
1991 33 CLE 7 6 2.24 3 108.1 86 187 1.071 0.5 2.3 7.1
1999 41 CLE 1 1 11.05 0 14.2 11 46 1.773 1.8 4.3 6.8
CLE (7 yrs) 73 66 3.62 45 1201.2 764 115 1.291 0.8 3.0 5.7

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com

American League Leader

  • WAR Pitchers: 4th, 1991 (7.1); 6th, 1988 (5.7); 7th, 1986 (4.9); 9th, 1989 (4.7)
  • ERA: 2nd, 1991 (2.65); 10th, 1986 (3.57); 10th, 1989 (3.10)
  • Wins: 9th, 1986 (16); 10th, 1990 (15)
  • WHIP: 8th, 1989 (1.180); 8th, 1991 (1.155)
  • Hits/9 IP: 9th, 1991 (7.639)
  • Bases on Balls/9 IP: 8th, 1990 (2.451); 10th, 1988 (2.202); 10th, 1989 (2.403)
  • Innings: 6th, 1986 (252.1); 7th, 1991 (238.0)
  • Strikeouts: 8th, 1991 (167)
  • Games Started: 7th, 1986 (34); 7th, 1991 (34)
  • Complete Games: 1st, 1986 (17); 6th, 1988 (11)
  • Shutouts: 4th, 1986 (3); 9th, 1987 (2)
  • Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 8th, 1990 (2.327); 9th, 1988 (2.585)
  • Home Runs/9 IP: 1st, 1991 (0.454); 2nd, 1989 (0.437); 3rd, 1986 (0.642); 10th, 1988 (0.623)
  • Wild Pitches: 2nd, 1999-13; 4th, 1987-13; 6th, 1986-12; 7th, 1991-11
  • ERA+: 2nd, 1991 (159); 9th, 1989 (128)
  • Range Factor/Game P: 1st, 1989 (2.23); 2nd, 1986 (1.89); 2nd, 1990 (1.90); 5th, 1988 (1.71)

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 19th WAR Pitchers (21.9)
  • 41st ERA (3.62)
  • 26th Wins (73)
  • 32nd WHIP (1.291)
  • 36th Hits/9 IP (8.643)
  • 39th Bases on Balls/9 IP (2.973)
  • t-24th Strikeouts/9 IP (5.722)
  • 24th Innings Pitched (1201.2)
  • 20th Strikeouts (764)
  • 19th Games Started (174)
  • 40th Complete Games (45)
  • t-40th Shutouts (7)
  • 18th Home Runs (103)
  • t-23rd Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (1.924)
  • 4th Wild Pitches (53)
  • t-23rd Hit By Pitch (31)
  • t-22nd ERA+ (115)
  • 21st Win Probability Added (5.8)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-50th Pitching WAR (5.7, 1988)
  • t-36th ERA (2.24, 1991)
  • 24th WHIP (1.071, 1991)
  • t-46th Strikeouts (167, 1986)
  • t-20th Home Runs (28, 1987)
  • t-42nd Bases on Balls (106, 1986)
  • 22nd Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (3.071, 1991)
  • t-8th Losses (18, 1987)
  • t-14th Wild Pitches (13, 1987)
  • t-24th Wild Pitches (12, 1986)
  • t-50th Wild Pitches (9, 1990)
  • 5th ERA+ (187, 1991)

Sources:

Baseball-Reference
The Sporting News (multiple issues from 1983-1991)
Cleveland Plain Dealer (May 30, 2007)
Wikipedia

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