Game of Numbers: #69-60

Today, in the fourth part of our eventual ten-part series, we examine the best players to wear the numbers 60-69. Parts one, two and three of the series can be found here, here, and here respectively.

NOTE: We are NOT looking for the total career statistics of players, just their stats while wearing the number listed.

#69 Bronson Arroyo (2000-2002)

The talent pool to wear the number 69 is rather barren; only five players have ever worn the number in the history of the sport. In fact, Arroyo remains the only player to have worn the number for multiple seasons. Drafted by the Pirates in the 3rd round of the 1995 draft, Arroyo was assigned the number upon making his major league debut in June of 2000. Arroyo kept the number through three largely unremarkable years with the Pirates, in which he compiled a 5.44 ERA in 187 total innings. After the 2002 season, the Pirates cut Arroyo, and when he was claimed off waivers by the Red Sox, where he chose to wear the number 61, a number he would wear for the rest of his career. After changing his jersey number and leaving the Pirates, Arroyo went on to become one of the most durable starters in the major leagues — his 2074.1 IP from 2004 to 2013 ranks third in the majors, behind only CC Sabathia and Mark Buehrle. Though he went on to greater success after dropping the number, Arroyo (by virtue of limited competition) is the best player to have worn the number 69.

#68 Joe Saunders (2005-2006)

Like Arroyo, Saunders went on to have greater success after ditching the number that placed him on this list. Drafted by the Angels in the first round of the 2002 draft, the Fairfax, VA native made his debut in August 2005. Saunders, who had worn the number 8 at Virginia Tech, found that number unavailable, and was assigned the number 68. He represented the number well in his major league debut, throwing 7 1/3 innings of 2-run ball before being sent back to AAA. Saunders began 2006 in the minor leagues, but was pressed into duty after Bartolo Colon went on the disabled list, and Saunders proceeded to establish himself as a dependable starter, posting a solid if unexceptional 4.71 ERA in 70.2 innings. Saunders earned himself a spot in the Angels rotation heading into the 2007 season, and decided to switch his number from 68 to the more respectable 51.

#67 Francisco Cordova (1996-2000)

After four years playing for the Mexico City Reds of the Mexican League, the then-23 year old Cordova made the jump to the majors in 1996, signing with the Pirates. Given a spot on the major league roster with the struggling Pirates out of Spring Training, Cordova first donned a jersey with the number 67, a number that he would retain for the rest of his career. After a solid rookie campaign, Cordova came into his own in 1997. He led the Pirates in wins (11), ERA (3.63), and pitcher bWAR (4.4), as the “Freak Show” Pirates surprised the baseball world with a second place finish in the NL Central. And during the 1997 season, Cordova was involved in one of the most interesting games in baseball history — the first ever combined extra-inning no-hitter. Cordova went 9 no-hit innings, but the Pirates were unable to score in regulation. Ricardo Rincon (who holds his own spot on this list) pitched a no-hit 10th, and the Pirates walked off on a Mark Smith three-run home run in the bottom of the inning (video of the affair here). Cordova was again productive in 1998, posting a 3.31 ERA and 5.5 bWAR in a career-high 220.1 innings. But his career stalled after that point, and he was out of the league by 2000. As recently as 2011, Cordova was still pitching in the Mexican League for the Petroleros de Minatitlan — no word on whether or not he was wearing the number 67.

#66 Juan Guzman (1991-1995)

juan guzman

Guzman only wore two numbers in his career — the number 66, which he wore from 1991 to 1995, and the number 57, which he wore from 1996 to 2000. Guzman, a native of the Dominican Republic, broke into the big leagues with Toronto in June of 1991 at the age of 24, and made an immediate impact upon his arrival. Despite only playing four months of the season, Guzman’s 10-3 record and 2.99 ERA were good enough to earn him second place in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting, behind only Chuck Knoblauch of the Twins. In 1992, Guzman improved upon his strong freshman season. He earned his only all-star appearance, going 16-5 with a sparkling 2.99 ERA, and anchored a Blue Jays’ rotation that brought the World Series title to Canada for the first time in history. Guzman remained valuable as the Blue Jays repeated in 1993, but his performance slipped, along with that of the team, in 1994 in 1995. After two disappointing years, Guzman switched numbers for the 1996 season, and proceeded to have the best season of his career, leading the league in ERA, WHIP, and hits per nine innings. But Guzman never again reached those heights, and ended up being a more valuable player while wearing 66 than he was while wearing 57.

#65 Phil Hughes (2007-2013)

Hughes recently abandoned the number 65, opting for the number 45 as part of a fresh start with his new team, the Minnesota Twins. And with the way his tenure in New York went, it’s hard to blame him. After a 2006 season in which he posted a 2.25 ERA as a 20-year old in AA ball, Baseball America rated him as the fourth-best prospect in all of baseball. But he has never reached the lofty heights expected of him; his career has been marred by ineffectiveness, injury, and inconsistency. Nevertheless, the one-time all-star, who holds a career 95 ERA+ and 2.68 K/BB ratio, both around league-average, holds the top spot on this list thanks to his primary number’s (he wore the number 34 for a brief period in 2008) relative obscurity — only one other player (lefty reliever Kelly Wunsch) has accumulated more than 3 bWAR while wearing number 65.

#64 A.J. Griffin (2012-2013)

Is there any particular reason why A.J. Griffin wears the number 64? Well, we asked him, and found out the answer: Nope.

Alas, no interesting story. Regardless, Griffin is off to a very strong start to his young career. After making a strong first impression in his 2012 debut (3.06 ERA in 82.1 innings), the 25-year old Griffin emerged as a consistent presence in the Athletics’ rotation in 2013. The only Oakland starter to hit the 200 inning benchmark, Griffin’s 7.7 K/9 ranked first on the staff, and his 3.83 ERA ranked second behind only Bartolo Colon. Griffin helped the team overcome the loss of Opening Day starter Brett Anderson to win 96 games and a second consecutive AL West title. Despite the fact that his career has only just begun, Griffin has already earned his place on this list.

#63 Rafael Betancourt (2003-2013)

Betancourt, after stints in the minor leagues and with the Yokohama Bay Stars of the NPB, made his major league debut with the Indians at the relative old age of 28. Almost immediately, he emerged as one of the top setup men in the league. In 2007, Betancourt had a career year. In 79.1 innings pitched, he posted a 1.47 ERA (307 ERA+); both his 31 holds and 4.3 bWAR were tops among AL relievers. In 2009, Betancourt was traded to the Rockies, where he continued to excel, and become the closer for the first time in his career in 2012. Unfortunately, a UCL tear sidelined Betancourt for much of 2013 and had him considering retirement, but after rehabbing, he hopes to return sometime in 2014. After Betancourt left the Indians in 2009, his vacated number was taken by Justin Masterson, who has gone on to have a productive career in his own right. But we chose Betancourt due to his longevity and his consistency.

#62 Scot Shields (2001-2010)

The number 62 has been worn by several successful relievers, among them Joba Chamberlain and Bob Howry. But Shields was the most dominant, and the most memorable. As a rookie, he helped the city of Anaheim break its 40-year World Series drought, though he was somewhat forgotten among a bullpen that included Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez. Throughout his decade-long career in Anaheim, Shields never quite got the recognition he deserved. But he quietly became one of the most consistent relievers in baseball; from 2002 to 2008, Shields posted a strong 2.98 ERA. and struck out 573 batters, more than 100 more than Mariano Rivera. Shields never became the closer in Anaheim; that duty was reserved first for Percival, then for Rodriguez. But using what John Lackey once called a “no-seam” fastball, Shields had a run of sustained success that made him Sports Illustrated’s top setup man of the 2000’s.

#61 Livan Hernandez (1996-2012)

No player has worn this number longer, or been more successful while wearing it, than Livan Hernandez. Over his 17 year career, Hernandez never wore another number, even as he bounced around through the league, playing for nine franchises in ten cities. After defecting from Cuba, Hernandez signed a 4 year, $4.5 million contract with the Florida Marlins in 1996, making his MLB debut that September of that same year. In 1997, Hernandez came in second in the Rookie of the Year balloting (despite only 96 innings of work), then had himself a postseason to remember. He was named NLCS MVP, thanks in large part to this performance:

 

That year, his Marlins went on to win the World Series in thrilling fashion, the only World Series win of Hernandez’s career. Hernandez was later traded to the Giants (where he went to another World Series), then onto Montreal, before moving with the Expos to Washington, D.C. Hernandez became a fan favorite during his first year in Washington; the team soared to a 50-31 start, and Hernandez was a major part of it, earning an All-Star appearance with a 12-3, 3.48 ERA first half. While both Hernandez and the Nationals cooled down the stretch, Hernandez endeared himself to fans with both his laid-back approach to the game and his ability to eat innings, earning himself the moniker Mr. National. Traded during the 2006 season (for Matt Chico and Garrett Mock), Hernandez bounced around the league for several years, before returning to the District once again in 2009. In 2010, Hernandez had one last successful year, leading a young Nationals’ rotation in wins, ERA, and innings pitched. Despite a fastball that, by the end of his career, seemed like it would have trouble breaking a pane of glass, the two-time all-star managed a career that, despite its relative mediocrity (178-177 record lifetime, with a 95 ERA+), was always entertaining.

#60 Dave Heaverlo (1975-1981)

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 2.37.37 AMAfter the great many words spent on Shields and (especially) Hernandez, it feels almost anti-climactic to end this list with Heaverlo, a middle reliever who pitched for the Giants, Athletics, and Mariners in the late ’70s and early ’80s. But Heaverlo was actually a very solid player in his own right, and an interesting character as well; he had a reputation as a jokester, shaving his head and insisting on keeping the number he was given as a rookie even after establishing himself as a major leaguer. Heaverlo utilized a sinking forkball to become a stalwart in the Giants bullpen, posting a 3.11 ERA over 3 seasons in San Francisco. Traded to Oakland in a deal for Vida Blue, Heaverlo threw 130 innings out of the bullpen in 1978, second in the American League behind only Goose Gossage. Heaverlo continued to pitch effectively until injuries forced an early retirement in 1983 (he last pitched in the majors in 1981, but launched unsuccessful comeback attempts in 1982 and 1983). Heaverlo played seven years in the majors, compiling 7.3 bWAR and making him the most successful player to wear the number 60 on his back.

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