Saturday, January 12, 2013

#286 Rick Langford - Oakland A's

Rick Langford's hat is glowing in the inset pic on his 6th Topps card with a gloomy, mysterious, and dusky background.  Speaking of hats, Langford wears his higher on his head than most guys and that along with his thick 'stache give him a throwback appearance to the pioneer days of the game.
Baseball Card Database

Player: Rick Langford was drafted after high school and again after community college but instead chose to go to Florida State.  After pitching there he went undrafted and signed with the Pirates.  Strictly a starter in the minors Langford was called up to reinforce the Pirates pen in June of '76 but he did not do well, allowing 17 runs in 23 innings.

A big nine-player trade sent Langford and others to the A's on 3/15/77.  Langford made his mark in Oakland as a staple of the A's staff but it was anything but easy for the right-handed hurler.  He made 31 starts in '77 but lost a league worst 19 games on a poor A's team.  Langford wasn't the greatest that year, allowing a lot of runners (1.421 WHIP) but his ERA+ of 100 shows he was around league average.  He spent the next two years in and out of the rotation making 53 starts and 14 relief appearances.  After three plus years in the majors Langford had a 27-49 record despite a respectable ERA just over four.

Langford started out the 1980 season in odd fashion.  He was the opening day starter but was knocked around for five runs in 3.2 innings.  Then he made just two relief appearances over two weeks.  He returned to the rotation for good on April 28 with a complete game shutout over the Angels.  Billy Martin was the new manager in Oakland and he along with pitching coach Art Fowler pushed his guys to pound the strike zone and work deep into games.  Langford was the poster child as he walked just two per nine innings.  He posted a 3.26 ERA and completed 28 of his 33 starts.  Yes that's correct 28 complete games, racking up 290 innings.  The iron man had a streak of 22 consecutive complete games.  He won 19 games including 14 in the second half.  The A's staff set a record for an expansion era team with 94 complete games and Langford's total of 28  hasn't been challenged since.

He completed 18 of his 24 starts in the abbreviated '81 season with a 3.00 ERA.  Langford started to decline in '82 as he posted a 4.21 ERA and missed time in September with a sore arm.  Maybe it was all the innings or long outings.  It may have been the fact that after usually pitching on four days rest, Langford made 11 starts in '82 on three days rest. 

Whatever the cause, Langford's arm never healed fully and he only made 23 starts the rest of his career with a 4-19 ERA and 6.50 ERA spread across the '83 to '86 seasons.  After sitting out the '87 season he came back with the Yankees AAA affiliate in Columbus and made 21 starts with a 3.13 ERA but he never got the call and retired at age 36.

Baseball Card Database

Flipside:  These are the happy stats from Langford's career.  It was all downhill from here.

Oddball:  Langford doesn't blame Martin or Fowler for his arm troubles.  He states in this interview that he rarely threw over 100 pitches in a game because he pitched to contact.  Pitch counts don't exist for the season but he went 14 innings in this 7/20/80 win over the Indians. Using a basic pitch count estimator Langford threw about 180 pitches that game in the midst of his 22 straight complete games.  Even if that is discounted due to some easy outs, it's no doubt he threw a lot of pitches that day.
Rob Neyer dismisses the claim that the A's were more efficient in their pitch counts in his book "Big Book of Baseball Blunders". He estimates that over the '80 and '81 seasons that Langford had 35 outings over 120 pitches and the entire staff had just two complete games under 100 pitches.

History:  Langford thrived under Billy Martin until his rubber arm wouldn't stretch back into form.  It's easy to blame the heavy workload for ruining Langford's career (and the other A's starters) but he clearly pitched his best under the Martin/Fowler duo.  I'm not suggesting that Langford couldn't have been handled better.  There has to be a balance somewhere between the ultra-conservative approach of limiting hurlers to 90 or 100 pitches every five days to the iron man tactics exhibited by the A's of the early 80's. 
Langford currently serves as the Toronto Blue Jays minor league pitching rehab coordinator.

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