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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Career of Billy Chapel


I watched "For Love of the Game" before I went to bed the other night, and it's become one of my favorite movies of all time. I couldn't help but notice though that throughout Chapel's perfect game, announcer Vin Scully seems to talk of Chapel's 19th season as if it was a let down. The only reason that bothered me was because they happen to show Chapel's stats on the screen when the game is starting; and as a 40-year-old pitcher in his 19th season, his ERA was actually pretty impressive.

Keep in mind this was 1999, which was right in the middle of the Steroid Era. Here were the numbers shown on the screen:


Now, unfortunately, Chapel's ERA would actually have had to be either 3.54 or 3.58 based on these stats. If Chapel allowed 83 earned runs in the 211 innings he pitched, he would have posted an ERA of 3.54, and 84 earned runs would have placed him at 3.58. But, since graphics routinely have typos in them when we watch live games, we'll just assume someone for Fox made a typo and meant to put his ERA at 3.54. With 98 walks to just 111 strikeouts, Chapel's ERA should have been much higher, though.

First, let's look at the league averages for offensive players in 1999. The average hitter that year hit .271/.345/.434. The average runs per team was 823, and the OPS+ was 96. Since 1900, the only season that had more offense was the 2000 season. So, basically, as a 40-year-old has been, Chapel posted a 3.54 ERA in a very offense-heavy environment despite striking out nearly as many hitters as he walked. This would suggest Chapel was probably an extreme ground ball pitcher, and he had great defenders behind him, and quite frankly he was probably pretty lucky in 1999. He didn't miss enough bats to be pitching so well without a lot of help.

The pitching averages for 1999 make Chapel's 3.54 ERA that much more impressive: 4.71 ERA, 3.7 BB/9 and 6.5 K/9. Based on Chapel's 1999 stats, he somehow managed to post an ERA that was 25% better than the league average, despite posting a 4.2 BB/9 and just a 4.7 K/9 during that season.

Once you factor in Chapel's perfect game, in which he has 9 strikeouts and 0 walks, his final 1999 season looks like this:

3.40 ERA, 98 BB, 120 K, 220 IP, 4.0 BB/9 and 4.9 K/9

Basically, Chapel got by on smoke and mirrors in his final season, which would seem to suggest he hung it up at the right time. But throughout the movie I couldn't help but wonder what Chapel's career numbers would have looked like, considering everyone talked about him like he was the best pitcher in baseball for several years.

Based on a 19-year career, Chapel's rookie season would have come in 1981. I tend to assume Chapel won the Rookie of the Year award, because at one point during the movie the Tigers' trainer tells Chapel to retire because he's "won every award there is to win." It's impossible to know how Chapel's Tigers teams fared during his career, and just plugging in the real life Tigers records for his career seems to take away from the movie somewhat. But again, because the trainer says Chapel has won every award there is to win, I would take that to mean he was Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, MVP at least once, and of course a World Series MVP. 

Now, for the sake of saving you all from reading what kind of math I used to get these numbers, I'm just going to post the numbers I came up with (and spent way too much time on) for his career. But keep in mind that Chapel's career went through a pitching era and an offensive era so his numbers will change accordingly. Vin Scully mentions that Chapel has thrown "over 4100 innings" so his career numbers will reflect that. Also, the strike-shortened '81 and '94 seasons in real-life weren't actually strike-shortened in this fictional universe, at least for compiling stats. Lastly, Chapel's hand injury came following the '95 season, in the off-season, which is reflected in both his '96 and '97 season's innings pitched as he tried to come back from a career-threatening injury.

Here's what I came up with:

Chapel went to 9 all-star games, won 5 Cy Young Awards, one MVP, and one World Series MVP. He won 318 games, and had he retired after his accident, he still would have won 283 games, which in an injury-shortened career would have made him a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer like he's portrayed in the movie. 

Needless to say, Billy Chapel had one helluva career, and it's fitting that he finished it with a perfect game. It is, literally, a Hollywood ending.




7 comments:

  1. Great piece of work but at one point he says that they lost the pennant in 1987...

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  2. You're absolutely right; when he's talking to Jane and she asks him if he's ever had his heart broken. He says "Yeah, when we lost the Pennant in '87."

    The WS MVP would work in just about any season, and of course I pick one of the only years we KNOW it didn't happen. Thanks for pointing that out.

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  3. He also tells Jane in the cafe that hes lost about 134 games over fifteen years. That would put his loss total closer to 160, counting the last 4 years.

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  4. Wondering if you've seen this or if one of you ripped off the other...

    http://lividsquid316.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/billy-chapels-career-statistics/

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  5. I hadn't seen that, but it's not surprising we came to a lot of similar conclusions, since we obviously used the same movie. His is much more in depth, I'd say.

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  6. Very intresting, loved the movie too!

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