One of the principles of New Age Baseball as practiced by The Sabermetrics-Analytics crowd insists wins and losses mean very little when it comes to evaluating pitchers. It is an imperfect measure because it relies on factors out of the pitcher’s control, like his team scoring runs.
Just ask Jacob deGrom.
DeGrom has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, as evidenced by a Major League leading 1.71 earned run average. He has lost more games than he has won thanks to an anemic New York Mets offense that rarely scores more than a couple of runs for him.
Now, though, deGrom has an extra argument in his quest for the Cy Young Award. He has gone 26 consecutive starts allowing three runs or less. That broke a record set a baseball century ago by an otherwise obscure Chicago Cubs pitcher named Leonard “King’’ Cole.
Most baseball records have shorter lifetimes than that. Babe Ruth’s 61 homers lasted 34 years until Roger Maris broke it. Lou Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive game streak lasted 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it. King Cole’s record of 25 straight games of allowing three runs or less lasted more than a century until deGrom came along.
King Cole was a rookie in 1910, joining a Cubs staff headed by Mordecai “Three Finger’’ Brown and Ed Reulbach. Brown was in the midst of a string of five 20-win seasons. Reulbach once threw shutouts in both ends of a doubleheader. This was a Cubs dynasty, the last one for the franchise. They won four pennants and two World Series in the first decade of the 20th century. They were baseball’s gold standard.
In 1909, they added Cole to the pitching staff for a look-see and he was impressive enough to earn a regular spot in the rotation the next season. That was the year Three Finger Brown had a 1.86 ERA, second best in the league and second-best on the Cubs to young King Cole’s 1.80.
Cole was 20-4 that season and his .866 winning percentage remains the best in franchise history. He punctuated that magical season with a no-hitter against St. Louis on July 31.
It was a dazzling debut for the 24-year-old and he followed it up with and 18-7 record the next season. But there was a problem. King Cole was a very deliberate fellow, some even said he dawdled, especially when playing poker with his teammates. That was no small matter in those days and it annoyed manager Frank Chance so much that he threatened to fine the pitcher $50 if he didn’t hurry up.
Cole remained a slowpoke and Chance traded him away to Pittsburgh. From there, he moved on to the New York Yankees where he had the distinction of giving up Babe Ruth’s first major league hit. He faded into obscurity after that and just five years after setting a record that would last more than a century, he died at age 29 from tuberculosis.
No one remembered him until this long strange summer of Jacob deGrom when he broke King Cole’s record even though he lost more games than he won. Don’t blame him for that and in New Age Baseball, it hardly matters.