Carl Hubbell, Jake Arrieta, Rube Marquard, Tim Keefe, and the Longest Pitching Streaks in Major League Baseball
Early in 2016, Jake Arrieta stretched his string of consecutive victories to 20 games. See how his win streak stacks up to the great pitching streaks in Major League Baseball.
Jake Arrieta is shown here during Game 6 of the 2016 World Series. The Chicago Cubs went on to win the series in Game 7. Arrieta’s pitching is credited with helping the Cubs get to the series and claim the world championship title.
Source: Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr
Early in 2016, when Jake Arrieta stretched his string of consecutive victories to 20, the feat stirred memories of Carl Hubbell’s record of 24 straight wins set during the 1936–37 seasons. The odd thing was that even as Hubbell rolled through opponents that summer, experts debated whether his performance merited inclusion among the game’s records at all.
“To say that Hubbell won 21 straight . . . is poppycock,” contended Dan Daniel, a veteran sports reporter for the New York Telegram, after the Giants left-hander surpassed Rube Marquard’s record of 19 straight in 1912. Asserting that other experts, including Damon Runyon of the American and Rud Rennie of the Herald-Tribune held the same view, Daniel said there were records for performance in a game, season, or career, and Hubbell had broken none of them. “Records are not carried over from one season to another,” he wrote.
This was by no means a unanimously held view at the time. When Hubbell finally lost—to Brooklyn in front of more than 61,000 fans at the Polo Grounds on May 31, 1937—the New York Times’ John Kieran treated the event as the termination of a record. The Sporting News editorially heralded Hubbell’s achievement as surpassing Marquard’s two-season standard of 20 straight. “It wasn’t his fault that the 1936 season ended before he had an opportunity to launch a longer string,” TSN editors opined.
Left-handed pitcher Rube Marquard was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. Marquard was also a celebrity off the field—known for his starring role in the movie “Rube Marquard Wins” and for his singing and dancing appearances on Broadway.
Part of Daniel’s argument was that Hubbell’s string actually ended when he lost a game in the 1936 World Series to the Yankees, although postseason games have never been counted when records are tabulated in such standard categories as hits, home runs, and victories. Even so, Daniel threw Hubbell a bone, contending that “The writer esteems Hubbell’s feat of winning 16 straight last season and lifting the Giants into the Classic a greater achievement than Marquard’s 19 in a row in 1912.”
Hubbell’s streak began on July 17, 1936, four days after a 1–0 loss to the Cubs in Chicago. He shut out the Pirates, 6–0, allowing just five hits. The Giants were fifth, 9½ games behind the Cubs at the time, but they were beginning a stretch that would bring 35 victories in 40 games through August 28, 15 of those in succession. By September 1, the Giants were four games in front of the Cardinals, and five ahead of Chicago. They would finish 92–62 and win the pennant by five over the Cards and Cubs before losing the Series to the Yankees in six. Hubbell beat Red Ruffing, 6–1, in the Series opener but lost Game 4, 5–2, to Monte Pearson.
He opened the 1937 season by winning his first eight appearances before lasting only four innings in that 10–3 May 31 defeat at the hands of the Dodgers. Those eight included five complete games, one of them a shutout. The streak was capped by a two-inning relief appearance on May 27 in Cincinnati when the Giants, trailing 2–1 through seven innings, tied the game in the eighth and won in the ninth thanks to a Mel Ott home run. It was one of four victorious relief appearances by Hubbell during the streak; he also had two saves. He pitched 19 complete games, two of them shutouts, and compiled a 1.82 earned run average. Hubbell beat every team in the league at least once, five of his wins coming against the Dodgers and another five against the Reds.
How does that measure up against Marquard, Arrieta, and Tim Keefe, who won 19 straight in 1888? It is a dicey proposition to compare the performance of Keefe—who pitched from 55.5 feet—against any of the post-nineteenth-century pitchers, so the following should be read with that qualification. Keefe and Marquard, like Hubbell, both defeated every National League team at least once—in fact both beat the Phillies four times. In an era of expansion and interleague play, Arrieta beat more teams—13, including five wins versus Pittsburgh. But he did not face the Mets, Marlins, or Padres.
Timothy Keefe was known for his change of pace pitch that would keep the batter guessing as to what was coming at them.
Here is how the performance of those four aces in several widely understood categories compares during their streaks:
|Length of streak||19||20||24||20|
Superficially the data suggests that Arrieta’s streak, while shorter than Hubbell’s, was superior to all of the others. Arrieta gave up fewer hits or earned runs—measured either in total or per innings pitched—struck out more batters, and had the highest total game score. Beyond that, Arrieta’s streak included two no-hitters—August 30, 2015, in Los Angeles and April 21, 2016, at Cincinnati—and eight other games in which he allowed three or fewer hits. Hubbell pitched only one such game, a three-hit shutout against Boston on Opening Day 1937. Keefe’s streak included one two-hitter and two three-hitters.
On the other hand, Arrieta threw only three complete games, two of them being the no-hitters. Hubbell’s 24-game streak included 19 complete games, as did Marquard’s 20-game streak. Keefe’s 1888 streak included 18 complete games, two of them extending to 10 innings. Hubbell also averaged 8.15 innings per victory during his streak, a total that includes three relief wins. Arrieta averaged 7.2 innings per start—he made no relief appearances. Marquard averaged 8.5 innings per appearance, and Keefe 8.95 innings. Beyond that, Hubbell pitched in the most offensive-oriented era, as the data below illustrates.
|Runs per game||4.54||4.62||4.71||4.21|
|Hits per game||8.44||9.15||9.84||8.68|
At least Hubbell and Arrieta both were widely recognized for their achievements. Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award in 2015. There was no Cy Young Award in 1936, but Hubbell could content himself with the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Carl Hubbell is shown here with the old master, Cy Young. When Hubbell was first called up to the big leagues, he was forbidden by Tigers manager Ty Cobb to throw his screwball, the pitch he later became known for and which helped him to five consecutive 20-win seasons.
1 Dan Daniel, “Carl Hubbell’s feat no mark, scribes say,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1937, p. 1.
3 John Kieran, “The Dodgers Did It,” New York Times, June 1, 1937, p. 31.
4 Marquard won his final appearance in 1911 and then opened the 1912 season with 19 consecutive victories.
5 Editorial, The Sporting News, May 13, 1937, 4.
6 Marquard also lost a game in the 1911 World Series, although if one accepts Daniel’s logic, Marquard still could claim the record based on his 19 consecutive wins in 1912.
7 Daniel, “Carl Hubbell’s feat no mark.” Based on contemporary accounts, fans in 1937 were well aware that nineteenth-century Giants pitcher Tim Keefe had also won 19 consecutive games in 1888. Yet Keefe was not viewed in 1937 as co-holder of Marquard’s single-season record for reasons that presumably reflect generational bias. Marquard was at the time a well-known former athlete who had pitched into the 1920s, well within the memories of most active New York sportswriters. Keefe had retired in 1893 and died in 1933.
8 Total does not include one no-decision start or two saves in which Hubbell pitched a combined 10.2 innings.
9 Total does not include two no-decision starts in which Arrieta pitched a combined 13 innings.
10 Game scores have not been formally calculated for 1888; the Keefe figure represents my own calculations based on available game data.
11 Game scores have not been formally calculated for the 1911–12 period; the Marquard figure represents my own calculations based on available game data.
12 One of Marquard’s complete games was a rain-shortened, seven-inning victory; a second went 11 innings.
13 In 1988, members of the Society for American Baseball Research named “retroactive Cy Young Award” winners for the pre-award period dating back to 1900. Hubbell was named winner of both the 1933 and 1936 retroactive awards. Marquard won for 1912.
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