Take a look at Braden Looper’s record this season and you will see 13 wins and just seven losses. The wins constitute a career high for the 12-year veteran and also put him 12th in the National League. But to say that Looper has had a career year or even that he is in the top 20 National League pitchers this season would be misleading.
In fact, it would be historically misleading.
Dig a little deeper into Looper’s 2009 campaign and you will find that his ERA sits at 5.12, he has walked 61 batters, given up a league high 37 home runs, and his BAA is the worst it has been his entire career. He has struggled mightily to get batters out and has had a less than stellar season. Because of the Brewers’ shallow pitching rotation, they are expected to pick up Looper’s option next season that will keep him in Milwaukee for another year.
You might be asking yourself right now, how in the world has Looper won 13 games, lost just seven, and still been able to have an ERA over 5.00?
Well, Looper leads all of baseball in run support, receiving an average of 7.05 runs in games he pitches in. The next closest in the National League is Jorge de la Rosa at just 6.39. The outburst of run support for Looper this season has included seven or more runs 12 different times.
So just how weird can Looper’s season get? Well, he is scheduled to make two more starts for the Brewers this season, coming against the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies. Both teams are in line to make the playoffs and rank in the top six in runs scored this season. Looper will have his work cut out for him in both games, but it’s a safe bet that his ERA of 5.12 is likely to increase or at least stay above five.
If that occurs and Looper finishes the season with 13, 14, or 15 wins and less than nine losses and his ERA stays above five, he will become just the third pitcher since 1937 to do so. In 1998, James Baldwin went 13-6 for the Chicago White Sox and posted an ERA of 5.32.
Back in 1937, Roxie Lawson pitched his way to an 18-7 record for the Detroit Tigers while sporting an ERA of 5.26. The Tigers’ offense scored 935 runs that season as Lawson benefited greatly from that run support.
Since 1937, many pitchers have won 13 or more games and recorded an ERA worse than 5.00, but the vast majority (all but two) have had nine or more losses.
If Looper loses both games against the Rockies and Phillies and his ERA is above the 5.00 mark, he will be just the tenth pitcher in the last 40 years to win 13 games and lose nine or less games while having that high of an ERA.
Run support has been an amazing gift for Looper this season, but it has not hid the disappointing statistics outside of wins and losses. Looper will face the Phillies at Miller Park, where he actually pitched six shutout innings the last time the two teams met. He will end his season in Colorado, where the home runs are sure to flying in every direction.
Looper has been able to produce victories for the Brewers this season and the Brewers are a respectable 18-13 when he takes the hill, but his season could put him in the record books if he is not able to get his ERA below 5.00.