Bob Gibson’s astounding 1968 season
Two things jump out from Bob Gibson’s 1968 season besides his unbelievable 1.12 ERA.
- He still managed to lose 9 games.
- 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.
Sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more.
If closers had been a thing in Gibson’s era, his record would have been way worse, as numbers-happy managers would have pulled him early for closers to blow his slim leads.
What made Gibson great was his insane competitive spirit, demonstrated the year before when he stayed in the game and pitched to three more batters after his leg had been shattered by a Roberto Clemente line drive.
Can you imagine what he would have said or done to a manager who tried to yank him in the 7th inning? Even at age 67, Gibson chased down a guy for 10 miles who’d cut him off on the highway, only to end up being arrested for assault.
Pitching in era of closers , plus having to sit out four days between starts, would have driven Gibson crazy, likely leading to worse outings, and certainly preventing him from reaching 20 wins.
Gibson pitched 28 complete games in 1968. At one point 11 in a row. No one will ever match his performance between June 2 & August 4, when he only allowed three runs, one each in three different games. And each of these came as a result of a bloop hit or a grounder just out of the range in an infielder.
Gibson & Don Drysdale were locked in a battle for the longest streak of consecutive innings. Drysdale went on to 58 innings, while Gibson’s ended at 47. But after Gibson gave up a single run, he pitched 23 more scoreless innings, allowed another single run, then pitched 23 more scoreless innings again! 102 of 105 scoreless innings.
To reduce his losses that year, what Gibson needed was not a closer, but better batting by his teammates, who scored 2 or less runs in 8 of his 9 losses, including 2 complete game 0-1 losses.
Thanks for your post. While I disagree, I did find it interesting.
Thank you! Yes, if you put today’s managing practices and a typical bullpen behind him, losing more than 9 seems likely. However, my premise was more about putting Eck circa 1989-90 behind him.
But as you say, good luck to any manager heading to the mound to take Gibson out of the game!