Friday, August 22, 2014
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Clay Buchholz and the new undefeated season

The first rule of Tom Zachary is you do not talk about Tom Zachary. In the long history of baseball spanning from the 20th century to present, just five pitchers have gone undefeated in a season in which they got 10 or more decisions. With his long-awaited return from the disabled list on Tuesday, Clay Buchholz is now one of the five, at least temporarily:

Player

Year

Tm

G

GS

CG

SHO

W

L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

ERA+

Tom Zachary

1929

NYY

26

11

7

2

12

0

2

119.2

131

30

35

2.48

156

Dennis Lamp

1985

TOR

53

1

0

0

11

0

2

105.2

96

27

68

3.32

128

Clay Buchholz

2013

BOS

13

13

1

1

10

0

0

89.1

60

30

87

1.61

258

Aaron Small

2005

NYY

15

9

1

1

10

0

0

76

71

24

37

3.20

133

Howie Krist

1941

STL

37

8

2

0

10

0

2

114

107

35

36

4.03

94


Zachary, who was a longtime member of the Washington Senators, the Boston Braves, St. Louis Browns, and other teams that were largely also-rans during the years he pitched for them, was a junkballing lefty who never struck out more than 67 batters in a season despite pitching up to 262.2 innings. He and his screwball were with the Yankees for bits of three seasons; 1929 was the only one when he had anything like an impact, although he did join the Yankees in time to pitch and win Game 3 of the 1928 World Series. As for '29, it isn't a season anyone likes to remember -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Tony Lazzeri had big years, but the team was a disappointing 88-66, finishing 18 games behind the Philadelphia A's, one of the better pre-integration teams.

Ironically, Zachary's real place in Yankees history comes not from his perfect record with the team but for something he did while pitching against them a couple of years earlier. On September 30, 1927, he gave up Babe Ruth's record-setting 60th home run. Other than that, Zachary has pretty much disappeared. When my colleague Rob Neyer teamed up with Bill James to put up the indispensable Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, he had trouble finding out what Zachary even was beyond a left-handed human being (and yes, one of the privileges of my job is I get to bug Rob about that whenever I feel like it -- on Rob's personal web site he has some added information about Zachary that I figure is there primarily so I would shut up about it).

Zachary spent the rest of his life insisting that the ball had gone foul. It was about the only subject anyone was interested in talking to him about, thus the complete amnesia on what kind of pitches he actually threw. No one cared to find out.

Note that none of these pitchers were in any way special. Outside of his 12-0 season, Zachary was 174-191. Lamp was a middling starter turned middle reliever. Small wasn't even that, just a journeyman who was in the right place at the right time with the Yankees. "Spud" Krist was on the back end of a good Cardinals staff, and thanks to World War II and the team's depth he never got any further than that.

Buchholz is the only member of the group that didn't come by his record by acting as a swing man or reliever and vulturing a few wins when his team came back late. He's made 10 quality starts in 13 tries, and with enough time left in Boston's season for him to make a few more starts, has a chance to top Zachary.

That's not to say that these other pitchers didn't have good years -- with the exception of Krist they all posted exemplary ERAs -- but that Buchholz has been a legitimately outstanding starting pitcher when he's been able to pitch. In the long run, no one is going to the Hall of Fame over this, but Buchholz is a good example of when the #killthewin crowd and the #worshipthewin crowd can beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more. They can have that long-awaited peacemaking picnic at Camp David because the record and the pitcher's performance strongly resemble each other, and one is a reasonable expression of the other. (There's a bit of that going on with Max Scherzer as well, but we'll leave that for another day.)

Had Buchholz actually gotten through the entire schedule he almost certainly would have picked up a few losses, so we shouldn't pretend that his potential loss-lessness is tantamount to a full-year Cy Young campaign. The main value here is that after nearly 85 years someone might finally displace the anonymous Zachary at the top of the X-0 pile. If you will pardon me for indulging in a cliché, for a long time the first rule of Tom Zachary is that you don't talk about Tom Zachary. Buchholz won't be nearly as anonymous, so whatever his final record, consider that one additional victory.

More from SB Nation MLB:

A Brendan Ryan primer for curious Yankee fans

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David Roth: Kill the #KillTheWin Debate

Yankees add infield help with Brendan Ryan

Suspended Peralta to work out with Tigers

This article originally appeared on SBNation.

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