Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Greatest Common Card Produced in the Early 90's (In Defense of Steve Avery)

When you think of the greatest cards ever produced, a few come immediately to mind: 1952 Topps Mantle, T-206 Honus Wagner, pretty much every card made by Topps from 1953-1956. But personally, I think that the greatest common card produced in during the baseball card explosion era of the early 90’s is this:

1993 Upper Deck #472 Team Stars Subset Strike Force

Is it any surprise that it comes from 1993 UD? Personally, I think this card is perfect. The greatest rotation ever on one card. Maddux with his icy glare, Smoltz and Glavine smiling happily. Avery looking happy to just be there. If there’s one thing that might throw someone off about this card it’s the inclusion of Steve Avery. Most would instantly glance at the card, see 3 sure-fire Hall of Fame players and then some other pitcher. Friends, I come to praise Steve Avery and not to destroy him and show that his inclusion on this card is warranted. First lets look at the raw stats:

1990 - 3-11, 5.64 ERA, 6.8 SO/9 in, 1.67 SO/BB

1991 - 18-8, 3.38 ERA, 5.9 SO/9 in, 2.11 SO/BB (6th in Cy Young voting, NLCS MVP)

1992 - 11-11, 3.20 ERA, 5.0 SO/9 in, 1.82 SO/BB

1993 - 18-6, 2.94 ERA, 5.0 SO/9, 2.91 SO/BB (Made All-Star Team)

I could keep listing stats, but that's what he had accomplished up to the point when the card produced except the 1993 stats as the season was just beginning or in progress when 1993 UD came out. Those came after the card came out. Now if you look at the stats of the Big 3, most of these numbers will seem paltry in some respects, but not in others. In 1991, Avery won 3 more games than Maddux and lost 3 less. His ERA was only 0.03 higher than Maddux in 1991 and had more strikeouts per 9 innings. Of course, the comparisons with Maddux pretty much end there as he went on to win the Cy Young Award from 1992-1995. Looking in comparison with Smoltz, in 1991 Avery's ERA was lower by 0.42 and he won 4 more games than Smoltz and lost 5 less. He also recorded 0.1 strikeouts more per 9 innings than Smoltz. In 1993, Avery's best year, he won 3 more games than Smoltz who had a much higher ERA than Avery at 3.62. Pitting Avery against Glavine, in 1991 Glavine won the Cy Young. He only won 2 more games than Avery and lost 11 compared to Avery's 8. Glavine's ERA was significantly lower at 2.55. Comparing Avery's 1993 year to Glavine's, Tommy won 4 more games to lead the Majors with 22 wins but lost the same number. His ERA, 3.20, was higher than Avery. In 1993, the only one of the four to not make the All-Star team was surprisingly Maddux, that year's eventual Cy Young winner.

I know that often comparing the stats I did doesn't work as there are great pitchers stuck on horrible teams or in a difficult division. However, since all of these pitchers were on the same team, all having to pitch to the same lineups and playing with the same offense and defense, it makes the comparison much easier. In looking at Avery's stats in comparison with the other incredible pitchers, I think that it makes perfect sense to include him on this card. He deserves to be there based on his performance and not just because he was the fourth man in an incredible rotation.