David Andrew Stieb | SP | 1979-1992, 1998
I go back and forth on who was the best pitcher in Blue Jays history. We should have them tied at number one. By bWAR, Stieb is number one. By fWAR, Roy Halladay is number one. They played in different eras; batters didn’t strike out as much when Stieb pitched, pitchers didn’t complete as many games in Halladay’s time. Stieb was the best AL pitcher of the 1980s, Halladay was the best AL pitcher of the 2000s. Halladay is in the Hall of Fame. Stieb should be. Stieb pitched 670 more innings, and sometimes I think that should tip the scale in his favor, but both were at the top of the league in innings pitched.
Dave Stieb was born on July 22, 1957, in Santa Ana, California. The Jays picked him in the 5th round of the 1978 draft (the second year we were part of the draft) out of Southern Illinois University. In the first round, with the second pick overall, we picked up Lloyd Moseby. They were the only two we picked in that year’s draft that made any impact in the majors. In our first draft, we only got one guy who helped the team; Jesse Barfield, a 9th round pick (well, there was Danny Ainge in the 15th round).
At University, he was a center fielder and only occasional emergency pitcher. His first year in the minors, he did play some outfield, but he didn’t hit, and the Jays quickly made him a full-time pitcher. He was occasionally a pinch-runner for the Jays and played a couple of innings in LF one year.
Stieb wasn’t in the minors for very long. The Jays called up at the end of June in 1979, only a year after the draft. He was in our starting rotation the rest of the season and finished the season 8-8 with a 4.31 ERA in 18 starts, 7 of which he completed.
In 1980 Stieb was in the rotation for the entire season, going 12-15 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts. He completed 14 games and threw 242.2 innings. He didn’t strike out many (especially in today’s terms), but he allowed 0.4 homers per 9 innings. 12-15 might not sound like an excellent record, but we were a lousy team back then, winning only 67 games. He made the All-Star team for the first time.
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Stieb had his first winning record, going 11-10 in 25 starts, 11 complete games, and a 3.19 ERA, and he made the All-Star team for the second straight year.
In 1982 Stieb came into his own with a 17-14 record (for a team that only won 78 games)in 38 starts, 19 of them were complete games, leading the league. He also led in innings pitched at 288.1. He still didn’t strike out many, just 141, but he didn’t walk many, just 75. He came in 4th in the Cy Young voting.
The following three years, Dave continued being terrific, going 17-12 with a 3.04 ERA in 1983, 16-8 with a 2.83 ERA in 1984, and 14-13 with a league-leading 2.48 ERA in 1985. In those years, he completed 33 games and pitched 810 innings. He was an All-Star all three years and finished 7th in the Cy Young, voting in 84 and 85. In 1985 the Jays made the playoffs for the first time. He was 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA in three starts in our seven-game loss to the Royals.
Stieb had his first poor season in 1986, likely a reaction to all the innings he had pitched in the few years leading up until then. He had a 7-12 record and a 4.74 ERA, and a save in 34 starts and 3 relief appearances. For a poor season, it wasn’t all that bad. He bounced back some in 1987, going 13-9 with a 4.09 ERA.
1988 was back to vintage Stieb, he went 16-8 with a 3.04 ERA in 31 starts, 8 of them complete games, and he made the All-Star team again. He had a similar season in 1989, winning 17 and losing 8 with a 3.35 ERA. But he didn’t fare so well in the playoffs, losing his two starts in a five-game ALCS loss to the A’s.
Dave’s last good season was 1990. He was 18-6 with a 2.93 ERA. He made the All-Star team and came in 5th in the Cy Young voting. But the big moment for him was September 2, when he finally got his no-hitter, the first no-hitter in Jay’s history (well, we were no-hit three times). Up until then, Stieb had been snake-bit in no-hit attempts. Three times he took a no-hitter into the 9th and lost it with just one out left, 2 of them in consecutive starts in 1988, then in 1989, he lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth.
Stieb had back and shoulder problems in 1991 that ended his effective pitching. He made it to 4-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 9 starts before the injuries finished his season. In 1992 he made 14 starts and 7 relief appearances but didn’t do well: 4-6 with a 5.04 ERA. That was the year we won our first World Series. Even though Dave didn’t have a good year, it’s great that he got a ring with us after suffering through the lousy years. After the season, he signed with the White Sox, but the injuries didn’t allow him to perform.
After being away from baseball for four seasons, Stieb attempted a comeback with the Jays in 1998. The plan was to make him closer, and he did get 2 saves in 19 relief appearances. Dave also made 3 starts. He finished with a not so terrible 4.83 ERA but retired for good after that year.
With the Jays, Dave was 176-137 with a 3.44 ERA in 433 games, 412 starts. He was an All-Star seven times (he started two of them), had Cy Young votes four times (he should have won at least one). He had several one-hitters (some he carried into the ninth inning) and has our lone no-hitter.
Stieb wasn’t exactly a nice fellow on the mound. If a teammate made an error behind him, he would glare at them. That didn’t endear himself to his teammates. He led the league in hit batters five times. He wasn’t a very modest player, he’d be happy to tell you how good he was, but then he could back it up. He would talk, loudly, to himself on the mound. The friendly way to say it is that he was a perfectionist. Many great pitchers were. Pat Hentgen said:
A very furious competitor, you go to his place to play darts, it is ‘lookout, game on’ you know. Whatever you play that is just the way he is. I don’t know if it is that he had an older brother, he was trying to keep up with him or what, but he is one hell of a competitor.
Not a big guy, listed as 6’ and 195 pounds, Stieb threw a slider, a sinking fastball, a high fastball, a curve, and a changeup. He wasn’t overpowering but would throw any of his pitches for strikes. He was athletic, a good fielder, and was great at holding runners. He was a ground ball pitcher, back when we valued ground ball pitchers.
For a few years, Stieb and Jim Clancy battled it out for the franchise lead in Wins.
Rob Neyer had Stieb listed as the best pitcher in Jay history in Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups; of course, the book came out before Roy Halladay become great. Bill James listed him as the 74th best pitcher of all-time in his “New Baseball Abstract.” Only Jack Morris won more games in the ‘70s. He is on our “Level of Excellence” at Rogers Center and is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Dave had an autobiography called “Tomorrow I’ll Be Perfect,” a copy of which is somewhere around this house, and he is immortalized in Hugo’s song “Skydome.”
Dave is married and has three children.
Dave Stieb’s place among Jay pitching leaders:
bWAR: 1st, 56.9
ERA: 4th, 3.42 (tied for best among Jay starters)
Wins: 1st 175 (Halladay is 2nd with 148)
Hits per 9 innings: 5th, 7.973
Walks per 9 innings: 17th, 3.190
Games: 4th, 439
Innings Pitched: 1st, 2873 (Jim Clancy is 2nd with 2204)
Strikeouts: 1st, 1658 (Halladay is 2nd with 1495)
Starts: 1st, 408 (Clancy is 2nd with 345)
Complete Games: 1st, 103 (Clancy is 2nd with 73)
Shutouts: 1st 30, (Halladay is 2nd with 15)
Home Runs per 9 innings: 2nd, 0.702 (behind Duane Ward)
Hit batters: 1st, 129 (Halladay is 2nd with 56)