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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #11 Pat Hentgen

Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Patrick George Hentgen | SP | 1991-1999, 2004 |

Pat Hentgen was born November 13, 1968, in Detroit, Michigan. The Blue Jays picked him in the 5th round of the 1986 amateur draft out of high school, the round’s last choice. He was the best player to come out of that round. The only other good major league player to come out of that round was Joe Girardi. Pat played baseball and football in high school.

Pat had a slow and but steady rise thru the Blue Jays farm system. He led the International League in strikeouts in 1991 and was a September call up in 1991. Hentgen got into a couple of games in relief, then started the last game of the season, pitching 5 innings in a win over the Twins. 1992 he started the season in the bullpen but was sent down a couple of times and went on the DL in mid-August. He got into 28 games, with 2 starts, and finished 5-2 with a 5.36 ERA.

Pat’s first full season in the majors was 1993, and he was terrific, finishing 19-5 with a 3.87 ERA in 32 starts. The 19 wins put him 2nd in the AL. He made the All-Star team for the first time (but Cito didn’t use him in the game) and finished 6th in Cy Young voting. His strikeout rate was a little low at 5.1 per 9 innings, and he gave up too many home runs (27). He got great run support, 6.1/9 innings, which helped the won/loss record. In our second World Series season, Pat pitched and lost game 3 in the ALCS to the White Sox but won game 3 of the World Series against the Phillies. He was scheduled to start game seven, but Joe Carter happened. I got to ask him if he ever thought about what it would have been like to pitch game seven:

Oh of course. That whole day is like, I was charting the game and I could tell you those numbers were starting to get a little scribbly towards the end there. We were down by 2 going into the 9th. You know Joe pulls those balls all year long and pulls them foul. So when he hit that ball I was in the corner of the dugout, I’ll never forget it, I had my back to left field. I had my back to the foul pole, when he hit it, I remember just thinking ‘Stay fair, stay fair’, because I felt it was hard enough hit to go out. And it just stayed fair that day for whatever reason.

But yeah I thought about how it would have went down. And how, you play 174 games or whatever and it comes down to one game. It would have been pretty exciting , I’ll tell you. I know one thing in those situations managers never let the starting pitcher get in any trouble. The minute I would have had some trouble going we’d have had Harry Wholestaff in there. Every guy would have been available.

1994 and 1995 were strike/lockout-shortened; Hentgen solidified his spot in the Jays rotation making 54 starts over the two years. He was a strong inning eater, averaging 7 innings a start. In ‘94 he made the All-Star team again and was 7th in the league in ERA, 5th in wins, 6th in innings pitched (174.2), and 4th in strikeouts (177). He averaged 113 pitches a start in 1995.

1996 was Pat’s best season in the majors; he was 20-10, just the 2nd Jay ever to get to 20 wins, in 35 starts, and a 3.22 ERA second in the league. He led the AL in complete games (10) and innings pitched (265.2). He won the Cy Young award in a very close vote over Andy Pettitte. Pettitte had one more win than Hentgen, but Pat threw 44 more innings, had 10 complete games to 2 for Andy, and an ERA more than half a run a game better than Pettitte. The vote really shouldn’t have been as close as it was. He also set a career-high in strikeouts with 177, led the league in the fewest home runs allowed per 9 innings (.678), and lowest slugging average against (.355). He wasn’t selected to the All-Star team as he had only an 8-6 record at the halfway mark, but then went 12-4, with 2.58 ERA. By bWAR it was the second-best season ever by a Blue Jays pitcher, at 8.6 (Clemens 1997 was 11.9).

Hentgen had another terrific season in 1997, though he won 5 fewer games. He led the AL in starts (35), complete games (9), shutouts (3), and innings pitched (264). His home runs allowed jumped from 21 the year before to 31 in 1997, and his ERA jumped from 3.22 to 3.68. And he made the All-Star team. Roger Clemens won the Cy Young to keep the prize in the family.

Pat’s last two seasons, in his first run, with the Jays weren’t as good. The vast number of pitches he had thrown over the years started to catch up with him. He had ERAs of 5.17 in 1998 and 4.79 in 1999. In ‘98, he had shoulder tendinitis most of the season but didn’t go on the DL until early September. In ‘99, he became just the 4th Jay pitcher to win 100 games.

After the 1999 season, he was traded to the Cardinals with Paul Spoljaric for catcher Alberto Castillo, Matt DeWitt, and Lance Painter. We didn’t get much value out of those 3. The Cardinals released Spoljaric before the start of the 2000 season. They did get one good season out of Hentgen, he went 15-12 for them in 2000, and they made it to the playoffs losing out in the NLCS to the Mets. After the season, Pat signed as a free agent with the Orioles and had three injury-filled seasons. In 2004 he signed back with the Jays as a free agent. Pat went 2-9 with a 6.95 ERA in 16 starts. After that, he retired.

He had a very good career, finishing 131-112 with a 4.32 ERA over 14 seasons. 6’2” and about 210 pounds, he was a horse, pitched a ton of innings for us. He threw a cut fastball, a four-seam fastball, a ‘big’ curve, and changeup. Rob Neyer in his ‘Big Book of Baseball Lineups’ has Hentgen listed as the 3rd best Jay starter of all-time, but that was before Halladay’s career had taken off. He was good at keeping the runners close at first; not many stole against him.

He was a pitcher that I underrated back then, he had decent control, but he tended to give up home runs.

Pat is married and has three kids. He bought tickets to Jay’s games for underprivileged children to come to games as ‘Hentgen’s Heros.’ He worked for the Blue Jays as bullpen coach in 2011 and 2013 and had been a special assistant in the front office for eight years until he was let go last September. I think that was a shortsighted move.

Pat Hentgen’s place among Jay pitching leaders:

bWAR: 4th, 26.8

ERA (>500 IP): 25th, 4.28

Wins: 5th, 107

Win/Loss %: 12th, .557

Games: 18th, 270

Innings Pitched: 5th, 1636

Strikeouts: 5th, 1028

Game Started: 5th, 238

Complete Games: 4th, 31

Home Runs Allowed: 3rd 207