"Knowing how to win" is one of those canards that has managed to endure throughout the game’s history. It sustains believers in Jack Morris’ case for the Hall of Fame at the same time that it provides manna for critics of Felix Hernandez’s Cy Young Award last season. But whether you believe in these things or not, one thing is tough to beat as arguments go: You can’t make something out of nothing.
Take the lot of Padres pitcher Dustin Moseley. In his fourth start as a Pad person, going up against the Cubs on a chilly April afternoon, Moseley’s unhappy lot was to get no run support -- for the fourth time since the start of the season. Four quality starts in four spins is usually something that puts a win or two on your ledger. Although the Pads plated a run for the first time in a Moseley start, they didn’t score it while he was in the ballgame, so in practical terms, he still received bupkes run support-wise.
In this, Moseley joins a select group of unfortunates. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became one of just three starters to have had so little as a single run to work with in the first four starts of an individual big league season, the worst since Jim McAndrew got nothing by way of a run in 1968 -- none too coincidentally, the year of the pitcher. The other two victims since that season are Tomo Ohka in 2004 and Rich Hill in 2006. However, as we’ll see, this factoid doesn’t really mean that much, and I’d argue that it’s Moseley who is singularly the man most worthy of our pity since McAndrew’s misfortune came in the final season of the high-mound era.
Our first stop in the way-back machine via the game logs at Baseball-Reference.com provides us with a reminder that Hill didn’t really deserve a lot of sympathy. He gave up 20 runs in 19.1 innings pitched across his first four starts, failing to log a quality start in any of them. He also didn’t open the year in the Cubs’ rotation -- he was plugged into it in May, and by pitching this badly, he handed back the opportunity. He also got a run scored on his behalf in the second inning of his second start, so the experience of getting some number larger than zero during his actual in-game action wasn’t foreign to him.
Tomo Ohka’s run with the Expos in ’04 was a true season-opening disaster, because he was a member of the opening day rotation. It still wasn’t quite like Moseley’s bad luck. The lone run scored in one of Ohka’s first four games came in his third start, but it also came only after he was pinch-hit for; he had to wait until his fifth start to get a run scored by his teammates before he had to hit the showers. Despite a quality start, though, that one run wasn’t enough, dropping Ohka’s record to 0-5. He finally got off the schneid in his sixth spin of the season by throwing eight shutout innings against the Cardinals to earn his first win. His teammates gave him a whopping two runs to work with. That’s six starts, four runs scored in six games and just three while he was on the mound.
Which brings us to McAndrew. He was pitching in a different era in a totally foreign offensive environment, so lumping him with these others is a bit unfair -- to them. A rookie with the Mets, McAndrew would post a 2.28 ERA, which is good, but the league ERA was 2.99, and the Mets tied with the Dodgers by scoring a league-worst 2.9 runs per game. Like Hill, he came up during the season, getting promoted in July. Unlike Hill, he threw three quality starts in his first five games -- but the Mets didn’t score in any of them, so he lost all five. Like Ohka, this seemed to inspire his best work, as McAndrew won his first big league game with a complete-game shutout ... while getting a lone run of support.
Compare all that to Moseley’s predicament to open this season: four starts, four quality starts and no runs scored while he was on the mound in any of them. If Carlos Marmol hadn’t blown the save yesterday, Moseley would now be 0-4, arguably the most undeserved 0-4 to open a season ever. And going into his fifth game, Moseley is in a worse situation than anyone since McAndrew was in ’68, because he’s still waiting for that first run to score while he’s still in the game, this despite pitching well every time out.
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Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter here.