In His Best Year, He Lost 20 Games

added 6/30/2010 by Bob Hulsey

Roy Oswalt's 2010 season of poor run support and bad breaks are not unprecedented. If he wants some company, Roy can swap notes with Nolan Ryan about The Express’ 1987 campaign where he led the National League in both strikeouts and earned run average yet finished with an 8-16 record for the Astros.

Turk Farrell
Not superstitious.
If he's a student of franchise history, Oswalt can also look back on the team's first season when their best pitcher lost 20 games. That man was Richard "Turk" Farrell, and he might have given his best effort in a season where he got mostly indignity as a reward.

It's not like Farrell was a flash-in-the-pan. The big righthander from Boston was named to five All-Star teams in a 14-year career. He had been a starting pitcher in the Phillies' farm system; but made his name in Philadelphia as a reliever beginning with a 10-2 season in 1957, posting a sparkling 2.38 ERA in 81 innings as a 23-year-old. The next year, he was named to his first National League All-Star team.

The "saves" statistic had not been invented but he retroactively earned ten or eleven saves in four of his first five seasons. Yet the appreciation for relief pitchers then was not what it is today. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in May of 1961. Not comfortable with his drinking nor his clubhouse antics, the Dodgers put Farrell on the expansion draft list at the end of the season.

Turk was selected by the Houston Colt .45s with their fourth pick and Farrell never forgave the Dodgers for banishing him to the broiling wasteland of south Texas.

The record book shows Farrell ended the 1962 season, at age 28, with a 10-20 record and a 3.02 ERA. While it doesn't carry quite the stigma that it used to, a 20-loss season was considered a black mark against a pitcher's reputation. Turk didn't necessarily see it that way.

"It takes a hell of a pitcher to lose 20 games," Farrell once observed. "If you were that bad, no manager would keep running you out there. You've got to be a good pitcher to stick around with the kind of record I had."

In a perverse way, Farrell's words have rung true. To this day, no other pitcher in franchise history has lost 20 games in one season although it should be noted that Wandy Rodriguez is on pace to hit that mark this year.

Ironically, new age statistics that also weren't around in 1962 help make Turk's case. In fact, one could argue that it was the best season of his career if you ignore the won-loss record.

Farrell set a career high with 241-2/3rd innings, tossing 11 complete games and two shutouts. He had a 1.097 WHIP and a 124 ERA+. While his 3.02 ERA was seventh among qualifying National League pitchers, he was second in WHIP (behind the legendary Sandy Koufax), fourth in strikeouts (203) and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (7.56).

Turk led National League hurlers in Wins Above Replacement Value (WAR) with 7.4. Think about that for a second. For an eighth-place expansion club, Farrell kept his team from suffering a 100-loss season. That's a distinction the franchise still holds to this day.

Even without such sabermetric numbers, the rest of the league understood his value. Farrell played during that brief time when the majors experimented with two annual All-Star games and he was Houston's representative at both contests. He was also a respectable hitter, batting .179 with a pair of homers during the inaugural season.

Farrell was used as a reliever and spot starter early in the year, saving four games before becoming a fixture in the rotation. He wound up with 29 starts in 43 appearances. Often, he pitched well enough to win but, with the weak-hitting Colts, he’d find himself on the short end of low-scoring games. Among his losses were by scores of 3-1, 2-0, 2-0, 4-0, 3-1, 1-0, 3-1, 3-1, 3-2 and 3-1. His 20th loss came on the last day of the season in San Francisco where he pitched a complete game and lost, 2-1. He did, however, toss two complete-game wins against his hated Dodgers, which may have been just enough to cost Los Angeles a pennant.

On bad teams, Turk Farrell provided the added benefit of a sense of humor. The pitcher was a noted prankster who kept the clubhouse loose with his assortment of creative gags. Among his best was the time he put a baby alligator in the clubhouse whirlpool and the time he discovered a teammate had planned to cheat during a pre-game cow milking contest and swapped a secret bag of white milk for one filled with chocolate milk.

Perhaps no player was more identified with those Colt .45 years as Turk. He won 35 games those first three seasons and posted a 3.10 ERA, proving that he was a talented competitor as well as a clubhouse clown.

At age 33, Farrell was sold back to the Phillies and he finished with three sterling seasons in their bullpen. After a 53-64 record in Houston, he went 16-16 with 27 saves in 150 games during those last three years in Philadelphia's bullpen.

Farrell died in 1977 in an auto accident while working in England and is buried in Houston. Even 30 years after his death, the colorful pitcher is remembered as a guy who was a steady veteran on the field and a charming cut-up off of it. What might not be remembered was just how good a player he truly was.