Esteban Loaiza had quite the big league career. Over 14 seasons (1995-2008), he played for eight different franchises. He managed to squeak out over 120 victories, and he struck out over 1,300 batters. However, a lot of his other statistics aren’t quite as impressive. When he retired, his career ERA+ was two points below league average. He also had a 4.65 ERA, a 1.408 WHIP, a career K/9 rate of 5.9, and a career BB/9 rate of 2.6. His strikeout to walk ratio was 2.29 and he gave up, on average, over 10 hits per start. So, obviously, this is not somebody that people are jumping to place in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls.
However, for one season, he beat out some Hall of Famers. Yes, in 2003, Esteban Loaiza was one of the premiere pitchers in the game. He was so good that he was called upon to start that year’s All-Star Game for the American League. It wound up being the first of back-to-back All-Star nods for the Chicago White Sox hurler. He finished second in 2003 AL Cy Young Award voting, and 24th in the overall MVP chase. He outgunned such perennial household names as Pedro Martinez, Tim Hudson, and Johan Santana. For one small piece of time, Loaiza was considered one of the best out of all these All-Stars.
Esteban Loaiza Pre-2003
In 1991, Esteban Loaiza signed as an amateur free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 19-year-old showed some promise in his first professional season with the Gulf Coast Pirates. Then, he began to move up the ladder. Finally, in 1995, he got the call to the big leagues. He experienced the typical growing pains, yet continued to press forward. Unfortunately, he never could quite break through the proverbial ceiling. Midway through 1998, he was shipped to the Texas Rangers. Finding no success there, at the 2000 deadline, he got traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for two players, one of which was Michael Young. After the 2002 season, he became a free agent and signed with the White Sox.
The 2003 Chicago White Sox
For the 2003 White Sox, it was yet another chance to right a ship that had been experiencing an eight decade long capsizing. For the 86th consecutive season, the White Sox tried to win a World Series. The matter of making it to the Fall Classic had been troublesome as well, as they hadn’t been since 1959. In 2002, they went a modest 81–81, yet still managed a 2nd place finish. 2003 played out as an almost exact copy, only this time, they went 86–76. They boasted big bats and slugged 220 homers. Unfortunately, their pitching staff, aside from Loaiza, wasn’t quite able to keep up.
A Hot April
Esteban Loaiza began the year on a hot streak, winning all five of his April decisions. He posted a 1.25 ERA and held opponents to a .151 average in 36 innings. Showing off a sudden command of the strike zone, he tossed 67% of his pitches for strikes. He walked a mere five batters all month and struck out 35. His fastball was biting. For the month, he had the fourth highest fastball value in the big leagues. In short, he was experiencing one of the best starts he’d ever had.
The First Rough Patch for Esteban Loaiza
Things took a bit of a turn at the beginning of May. On the 2nd, in a start against the Seattle Mariners, Loaiza did not emerge from the fourth inning. He gave up five earned runs in the eventual 9–2 Mariners victory. However, he quickly managed to turn it around. Two starts later, against the Baltimore Orioles, he hurled seven scoreless frames. Overall, Esteban Loaiza posted a 3–2 mark for the month with a 2.65 ERA and a .252 opponents’ average. He used his slider a lot during the month, posting an 18.2% usage rate. That easily landed him in the top 20 in the big leagues. Unfortunately, a value mark of 0.9 just barely managed to crack the top-30. So, he slipped a bit. But, he wasn’t done.
An Up and Down Summer
June saw more consistency out of Loaiza as he went 4–2. A 2.57 ERA tied him with Miguel Batista of the Arizona Diamondbacks for 10th in the league. It was lower than Roger Clemens, Russ Ortiz, and Kevin Brown. He only walked five batters in the month, giving him a BB/9 rate of 1.07. This was fourth in the league, better than Brad Radke, Mark Prior, and even Roy Halladay himself. His K/9 rate of 7.93 landed him in the top fifteen in the league. So, all in all, another thunderous month from one of the league’s most reliable starters.
In July, Esteban Loaiza faced his first true stumbling block. He lost his first two starts of the month. They were both one-run losses to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Detroit Tigers, respectively. Yet, despite this, he still managed a 2.55 ERA for the month. He continued to show excellent strike zone command, issuing a mere six free passes. The strikeout rate dropped a bit, yet was still fairly impressive (28 whiffs in 35 1/3 innings). Add to this his All-Star start, and the month was yet another successful one.
A Kink in The Machine
August and September were easily Loaiza’s most unbalanced months. Despite the fact that he won eight contests, his ERA was in the mid-fours. The contrast between opponents average and BABIP is also stark. He held other teams to a .239 average, yet they had a BABIP of .315 against him. Part of this is due to his penchant for simply striking batters out. He had 85 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. Translated, that’s a K/9 rate of just over 10. So, to be frank, if his opponents did not get wood on the ball, he was extremely successful. When they did, he wasn’t, and he paid the price for it on a few occasions.
Overall, though, Esteban Loaiza had nothing to hang his head about. He tied Andy Pettitte and Jamie Moyer with 21 wins. This was second only to Halladay in the American League. His 207 strikeouts led the AL, and were fifth in baseball overall. A 2.90 ERA was second in the AL. His K/9 rate of 8.23 ranked only behind Martinez in the AL and was eighth in baseball. Finally, he put up an fWAR of 6.9, which was only a tenth of a point behind Halladay. In short, Esteban Loaiza, a journeyman who had an ultimately forgettable career, made his name in 2003. For one year, he got to be considered among a gaggle of future Cooperstown residents.
Embed from Getty Images