If Bob Gibson had Dennis Eckersley…

Bob Gibson’s astounding 1968 season

Gibson_1969Two things jump out from Bob Gibson’s 1968 season besides his unbelievable 1.12 ERA.

  1. He still managed to lose 9 games.
  2. He averaged 8.96 innings per game.

Knowing that modern pitchers wouldn’t go nearly that number of innings before bringing in the closer, it’s fair to wonder what Gibson’s 22-9 W-L record might have been had he been paired with one of history’s greatest closers.

While there is always a more complicated and (probably) more correct way to approach the problem, I will err on the side of simplicity and follow this approach–

  • Award a win for any game that Gibson actually won in 1968.
  • Award a win for any loss or no decision in which Gibson surrendered his lead in the 8th or 9th innings.
  • Award a no decision for any loss or no decision in which Gibson did not lead but was tied after 7 or more innings.

Review of Gibson’s Losses

  • April 20 – Gibson trailed 4-1 after 7 innings and ultimately lost 5-1. Even with a great reliever like the Eck, this would still have been a loss.
  • May 12 – Gibson gave up two runs in the seventh to fall behind 3-2. Still a loss.
  • May 17 – Gibson lost 1-0 in the bottom of the tenth. Had there been a closer, this would have been a no-decision.
  • May 22 – Gibson gave up an early run in what was ultimately a 2-0 loss. Even with a closer, this would have remained a loss.
  • May 28 – Gibson gave up the go-ahead runs in the 7th. Still a loss. (And by the way, this loss took Gibson to 3-5 on the year. Fortunately, he would go on to win his next 12 starts, 8 of them shutouts.)
  • August 24 – Gibson held a 4-3 lead after 7, so we’ll call it a win.
  • September 6 – Gibson surrendered the game-winning run in the 6th. Still a loss.
  • September 17 – Gibson gave up a first-inning run and lost 1-0. Still a loss.
  • September 22 – Gibson gave up the winning run in the bottom of the 8th, having entered the inning with a 2-2 tie. With a closer, this would have been a no-decision.

Review of Gibson’s No-Decisions

  • April 10 – Gibson left the game after 7 innings, trailing 1-0. The Cards came back to tie the game in the 8th and win in the 9th. This one remains a no-decision.
  • April 15 – Gibson left the game after 7 innings, trailing 3-1. The Cards came back to tie the game in the 8th and win in the 10th. Remains a no-decision.
  • August 4 – In this game that was decided in the bottom of the 13th, the score was tied 3-3 after seven. With Gibson still in the game, the Cards led 4-3 after 8 and were tied 4-4 after 9. Optimistically, this would convert to a win.

Gibson’s Revised Record

Tallying up these results, Gibson’s record changes from 22-9 with 3 no-decisions to 24-6 with 4 no-decisions. While that’s an improvement, it’s perhaps much less than the impact we’d see in today’s aces were they to attempt to go all 9 innings vs exit early. This is partly because runs were so scarce in 1968 that Gibson didn’t have to give up many to earn a loss. However, it’s also because Gibson was effective enough in the late innings that a great reliever wouldn’t have been much better.

Gibson by the Inning

The graph below shows the number of runs, including unearned runs, that Bob Gibson gave up by inning in 1968. While the seventh inning was by far his roughest, the eighth was one of his best, and the ninth was at worst about average. From the graph, the conclusion seems to be that Gibson would have been helped less by Dennis Eckersley and more by a terrific middle reliever who would have taken over in the 7th. And so the question left for us to ponder isn’t what if Gibson had Eck; it’s what if Gibson had Mark Eichorn. But let’s call that the subject of another article.

Gibson by Inning

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