Ray Culp

The quintessential Iowa City Regal is Ray Culp, who toiled for either the Phillies or Red Sox in all but one of his eleven seasons in the bigs.  He made the majors in 1963 and won 43 games in his four years in Philly.  After a campaign with the Cubs, Culp then spent six seasons with the Red Sox, winning 78 more before retiring in 1973 at age 31.  His top three comps for “similarity scores” are pretty good company: Earl Wilson, John Denny, and Mike Scott.

I have a couple of minor attachments to Ray Culp.  First of all, his success with Boston was due in part to mastery of the palmball, my favorite pitch as a senior.  Here is a quotation from a fine article about his career: “It’s a funny pitch,” said Culp.  “You hold the ball deep against the front of the hand, in the spread between the thumb and the first finger.  You don’t throw it hard.  In fact, you couldn’t if you wanted to — the fingers are in all the wrong places.  But if you use your thumb correctly you can get a lot of spin on the ball.”  (Oddly enough, what I remember most about my version of the pitch was the lack of spin… this might explain why I had mixed results!)

My memory of him was rekindled a few years back; a student where I teach had the same name.  There was also a Knoblauch kid in the school about the same time who was related to the Twins star.  My Ray Culp, like most kids, had no knowledge and little interest in an old-timer who pitched long before he was born.

When you look up Ray Culp (or any player, for that matter) at the Baseball Reference site, the first stats given are the career numbers.  Leading things off is one of those new-fangled stats, Wins Over Replacement (WAR), which is used to assign players an overall value with a single number.  The value is a very simple thing to look at, but the mathematical hoops jumped in its computation make my head hurt — here is a link to what is involved.  This is obviously a stat born in the personal computer age.

When a Strat-O-Matic pitching staff is sorted by WAR, generally the starters will be on top and the relievers below.  This shows that Innings Pitched is an important component in value.  On the Iowa City franchise, for example, the top six guys all have over 100 innings, and the rest are below 100.  Quality also factors in, as notably shown by Jose Santiago’s position among the six Regals starters:

Pitcher          WAR     Innings     ERA      WHIP
Larry Jackson    4.1       244      2.77      1.18
Chris Short      3.4       270      2.94      1.17
Woodie Fryman    3.2       214      2.78      1.22
Jose Santiago    3.1       124      2.25      1.11
Ray Culp         2.9       216      2.91      1.15
Dick Ellsworth   2.3       196      3.03      1.19

In just about any year other than 1968, this would be a dynamite fantasy group  — these six pitchers combine for 19 wins better than a generic replacement arm.  But this is the IBC and 1968, where the best pitcher, Bob Gibson, is worth +15 wins all by his lonesome.  Now curious about how the league’s pitching staffs stack by this measure, I added up the WAR values on each club, with one total for the six starters and another for the seven relievers.  The order of presentation is the same as the league’s current standings, and I’ve included each team’s current ERA for another reference point:
                                    Team WAR
Starters   Bullpen    ERA
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      30.9       8.5       2.47
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)         41.4      10.0       3.07
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)   33.7       8.6       3.28
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)      19.0       3.0       3.62
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)      29.0       7.4       3.09
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)      25.5       8.6       3.82
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      24.3      11.9       3.20
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)       27.2       5.2       3.40
West Metro Maroons (Angels-Mets)         25.0       6.3       3.51
Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators-Astros)  16.5       3.4       4.16

Iowa City and Waterloo are the odd-balls on the list, in that these pitching measures suggest the Regals should be doing worse and the Sailors better.  It’s easy to see what might be the issue for Waterloo: it is hard to get that great bullpen enough innings and so the staff (and team) is dragged down a bit.  As for Iowa City, it is quite simply a testament to their hitters: the pitching is near the bottom, but the hitting is still outscoring their opponents by almost 1/2 a run per game.

The Regals’ ace is 37-yo Larry Jackson (13-17, 2.77) who is in the final season of a career in which he went 194-183.  Following him in the rotation is a pair of lefties, Chris Short (19-13, 2.94) and Woodie Fryman (12-14, 2.78).  Let’s give a shout-out here to my man Ray Culp (16-6, 2.91), the team’s #4, who currently leads the IBC with two shutouts.  The back-end starters are Jose Santiago (9-4, 2.25), and Dick Ellsworth (16-7, 3.03), who round out a decent group with no lights-out ace.  If this unit was backed by a good bullpen I think it would do just fine.  Unfortunately, the pen is mediocre as well.


Righty relievers are Dave Morehead (2.45, 55 IP), 24-yo Jerry Johnson (3.24, 81 IP), Gary Wagner (3.00, 78 IP), and 34-yo Turk Farrell (3.48, 83 IP, 12 saves).  Of that group, only Johnson would pitch past 1970 (and his last good year was 1971), so this bunch doesn’t figure strongly in my baseball memories. The bullpen lefties have a bit more cachet.  Grant Jackson (2.95, 61 IP) and 23-yo Sparky Lyle (2.74, 66 IP, 11 saves) pitched very effectively into the 1980s.  Despite his very short career, I also have a vaguely fond memory of Bill Landis (3.15, 60 IP).  Like the name of a favorite sled, we take the oddest tidbits of childhood to our graves.

A couple of young starters with the sorting requirement of 120+ IPs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make the final 30-man roster for Iowa City: Gary Bell (11-11, 3.12, 199 IP) and 22-yo Rick Wise (9-15, 4.54, 182 IP).  Red Sox fans will also remember that Jim Lonborg, a star from their 1967 pennant-winning club, broke his leg skiing during the off-season and only pitched 113 innings in ’68.

This concludes my look at Week 7.

© John Kisner 2019