The Decision Maker

There was an era in baseball when pitchers were expected to stay on the mound for the duration of a game. It seems so far removed from the way the game has been played in the last 75-100 years, yet its legacy lives on in win-loss stats.

The W-L column on the back of a baseball card doesn’t really tell you too much about a player’s underlying ability. Yes, a 20-game winner is probably a lot better than one who loses 20 games. Closer records are less telling of comparative pitching ability. W-L metrics are partially reliant on the offense produced by a pitcher’s team, inflating the win column for those on offensively explosive squads and dogging those whose only chance is to hold opponents to a single run.

The rising importance of bullpens and pitching changes has affected the distribution of wins. When pitchers regularly threw complete games the W-L record held more sway. After all, in such an environment the pitching portion of a game’s outcome remains in the hands of the starting pitcher the entire time. A century-long progression towards greater use of relief pitchers has eaten into W-L records, so much so that most starters no do not get much further than the 6th inning.

What Does This Have to Do with My 1993 Finest Set Build?

There are 65 different pitchers in the Topps Finest checklist. Combined they have an 8,838-7,193 record across 32,498 games. That’s a decision added to either side of the W-L column in less than half of all outings. Some of this is explained by the presence of the set’s relief pitchers, though many players still don’t get a decision in a substantial majority of games.

There is a player who managed to take responsibility for a win or loss at a greater rate than all others in the set. He beats out 300-game winners Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux. Chicago Cubs starter Jose Guzman logged a decision in 79.8% of all games in which he appeared, going 80-74 in 193 career calls to the mound. He would give you a decision 4 out of every 5 times he pitched, essentially resulting in only one non-decision per month.

Playing most of his career with the Texas Rangers, Guzman appears in a Cubs uniform for the first time in the 1993 crop of baseball cards. Chicago had added Guzman as the new anchor of the rotation after Greg Maddux left for a more lucrative contract in Atlanta after the conclusion of the 1992 season. Guzman wasted no time in putting a notch in the win column, taking a potential no-hitter to the final out in the Cubs’ first week of the season (against Maddux’s Braves no less).

Guzman was shaping up to be a reliable pitcher and had struck out over 200 batters the previous season. Arm trouble cut that promise short and Guzman was out of the game just a year after this card was produced. He returned to Texas and has become a long-running Spanish language broadcaster for the Rangers. Go check out some of his work – he has a really good voice.