RIP, Don Sutton

“I’m the most loyal player money can buy.” – Don Sutton

Sutton entered MLB just as players, en masse for the first time, were awakening to the financial realities of the sport. Emboldened with that mindset, an arm and a brain that were seemingly genetically designed to throw a baseball, Sutton’s nickname may as well have been “money”.

As I’ve written before – unfortunately quite often and quite recently as pieces such as this have been all too common – the stretch from the late 60s through the early 80s boasted the best stretch of starting pitching the game has ever seen. It saw the bulk of the careers of Carlton, Seaver, Palmer, Ryan, Gibson, Marichal, Perry, Hunter, Jenkins, Niekro, Blyleven, Eckersly, John, Kaat, Tiant and Lolich – 13 Hall of Famers, six 300 game winners, and a few guys with good Cooperstown cases.

As a result players like Sutton, i.e. not inner circle Hall of Famers, have their excellence lost in the shuffle. It’s hard to look great by comparison when your contemporaries are among the best to have ever done it (see also; Mussina, Mike). And although Sutton was known for his durability and consistency, don’t make the mistake of not recognizing how great of a pitcher he was.

Sutton finished in the top five in Cy Young award voting five straight seasons from 1972 – 1976. He led his league in WHIP four times, K/BB ratio three times, and ERA and shutouts once each. From 1966 through 1986, among starting pitchers who threw at least 3,000 innings, Sutton was 2nd in shutouts, 3rd in wins, and 6th in FIP.

Sutton’s consistency and durability were so remarkable, people forgot he was good enough to be in the top half of an elite group by performance standards alone. But speaking of consistency and durability…

At age 21 Sutton threw 225 IP and posted a 110 ERA+. At age 41 he threw 207 IP and posted a 110 ERA+.

He posted better than 1 WAR in 22 straight seasons. That’s as close to never having a bad year as you’ll ever see.

He threw over 200 IP in 21 consecutive seasons (158 in the strike shortened ’81) and was between 207 and 293 every one of those seasons.

If you were a baseball owner who was writing a check to Don Sutton, essentially every season for 21 straight, you were going to get a performance that looked like this:

34 starts, 15 – 11 record, 3 shutouts, 240 IP, better than league average ERA, K/BB and WHIP.

Don may having been having fun in his quote when he mentioned loyalty, but he was absolutely money in the bank who was a big part in winning a lot of baseball games for his teams.



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