Big Game Pitchers, Part V

January 24, 2014

                So who was a Big Game Pitcher, and who really wasn’t?

                Before I get into that, let me say this:  that it is most satisfying, from my standpoint, to find a new way to make distinctions among pitchers which is both valid and meaningful.   I do a lot of studies, looking at this effect or that effect, in which, at the end of a couple of weeks of study, everybody comes out about the same.   Not true here.    Andy Pettitte made 82 Big Game starts in his career; Randy Jones made 1.   Frank Tanana made almost a hundred more starts in his career than Andy Pettitte, but made only 35 Big Game starts.   The data makes real and sizeable distinctions.

                And second, no one reasonably could doubt that these are valid distinctions.   They confirm in hard facts a lot of what we knew intuitively before—that Jon Lester has made a lot of Big Game starts in his career, that Mark Langston made very few, that Ben Sheets made very few but that James Shields has made a lot.    No one can doubt that these things are true, I don’t think.

                As to the performance differences. . .those you can question whether they are meaningful or not.  In a moment I will tell you about a pitcher who was not well respected, who was always thought of as kind of a flake, but who went 17-6 with a 2.67 ERA in his career in Big Games, whereas there is another pitcher, a bigger name pitcher, who went 5-19 with a 4.04 ERA.   Is this predictive information?

                Who knows?   I’m not claiming it is.   Thus far in his career, Cole Hamels is 14-6 with a 2.59 ERA in Big Games; Matt Garza is 6-13 with a 4.79 ERA (in regular season.)    If they meet in a Big Game this year, that doesn’t mean Hamels will win.

                But what happens in Big Games is important whether or not it is indicative of an underlying skill.    Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 1960 World Series is a big deal, whether or not it had anything to do with Mazeroski’s ability as a hitter.   Madison Bumgarner pitching 8 shutout innings in the 2010 World Series and 7 shutout innings in the 2012 World Series is important, whether or not it has anything to do with Bumgarner’s character, his underlying skills, or the allegation that he has a girl’s first name and is a bad gardener.

                At risk of offending 70% of you to illustrate the point. . .Lee Harvey Oswald is historically important, whether or not he was a good shot with a rifle.     Underlying skills are not always the issue; sometimes the issue is simply what he did.    Underlying skills are important in the winter, when you are putting together next year’s team—but when you are looking back at last year’s team, what matters is performance, not ability.

                OK, seven categories of pitchers here, six of which we will get to today:

                A bunch of guys who have about the records you would expect in Big Games

                Some guys who were better than you would expect

                Some guys who were worse than you might expect

                One pitcher to whom I owe an apology

                The worst Big Game Pitchers in the data

                The ten best Big Game Pitchers in the data, and

                Some other pitchers I was sorry I could not squeeze into the Top Ten list


                The next-to-last of those, the Ten Best Big Game Pitchers in the Data, I will get to. ..I guess it will be day after tomorrow, Part VII of this series.   Sunday.   The others on that list I will do today, and then tomorrow we will detour to talk about Jim Kaat, and then day after tomorrow I will give you the Top Ten List.


1.  A Bunch of Guys who Have About the Records You Would Expect In Big Games

                Jim Palmer, who shared the record for Regular Season Big Game starts until September of 2013, was 36-26 with a 2.72 ERA in Big Games. . .probably about the record you would expect.    Your won-lost record tends to flatten out in Big Games, because you’re almost always facing a strong opponent.     Roger Clemens was 41-25 in Big Games, 3.70 ERA. . .you might have expected the ERA to be a little better.    Jerry Reuss was 26-21, 3.34.

                Greg Maddux made 69 Big Game Starts in his career; he was 35-21, 2.98 ERA.   That’s probably about what you would expect from Maddux.   John Smoltz was 18-13, 3.29: I guess you might have expected him to do even better, given his 15-4 won-lost log in post-season play.   Ferguson Jenkins was 26-19, 3.24.    Mike Torrez was 20-16, 3.22; Mark Buehrle is 18-16, 4.26.    Vida Blue was 21-16, 3.41.    Kenny Rogers was 21-14, 3.53, and Ken Holtzman was 19-19, 3.38.   Bartolo Colon is 20-13 in Big Games, 3.47 ERA.  

                Tom Seaver in Big Games was 30-17, 2.84 ERA; you’re probably not surprised at that.  Dave Stieb had a good 3.05 ERA in Big Games, but was just 14-14. ..consistent with his career.   Jack Sanford was the opposite, 17-8 but with a 4.22 ERA.  Jim Bunning was 17-13, 3.31.    Claude Osteen was 14-21 in Big Games, 4.18 ERA.   Catfish Hunter was 20-13, 3.21 ERA; Jerry Koosman was about the same, 18-12, 3.20.   Esteban Loaiza is 15-17, 4.92 ERA; that’s not good, but then, I’m guessing you wouldn’t have expected him to be great.   Dan Haren is 15-20 in regular season Big Games, 4.13 ERA; Ervin Santana is 13-14, 3.71.   Big Game James Shields is 18-12, 3.44.    Lew Burdette was 16-10, 3.73; we’re missing a few starts from him, because my data from the 1950s isn’t complete.    Joey Jay, who made a high percentage of Big Game starts, was 15-14, 3.77 ERA.    Jim Lonborg was 16 and 13, 3.55.   

                Don Larsen, famous for his one Big Game, was 12-4 in regular season Big Games, 3.25 ERA;  you’re probably not surprised at that.  Sal Maglie in the data we have was 11-3 with a 2.54.   Sal was known as The Barber because he liked to give the hitters a close shave.   He was famous as a Big Game pitcher.   In 1956 he went 13-5 for Brooklyn but, rather remarkably, finished second in the MVP voting, because he was perceived as the player who had won the Big Games.

                In the 1970s, Larry Gura was kind of the Royals’ Big Game pitcher.    Gura knocked around as an extra man until he was almost 30 years old.    In 1976, with the Royals, he was still in that role, just an extra guy, but he was pitching zeroes out of the bullpen late in the season.    He had cut his ERA from 3.57 on September 1 down to 2.79 on September 28, had not given up a run in September, when Whitey Herzog decided to start him at Oakland on September 29.  Huge, huge game; Big Game Score of 380.   Oakland had won the division five straight years, three World Championships.   Kansas City had lost four games in a row, blowing more than half of a six-game lead.  They were clinging to a two and a half game lead with four games left; KC was 89-69, Oakland was 86-71.   

                   Gura had made only one start all season, and had not even been a regular part of the bullpen most of the year; he was an up-and-down guy, what we call now a 4A player.   Gura threw a 4-hit shutout, effectively ending the pennant race.    After a couple of more Big Games he became Herzog’s Big Game guy.    He made 30 Big-Game starts in his career, a high percentage; he was 14-10 with a 3.04 ERA.    Splittorff was 14-16, 4.61; Dennis Leonard was 19-13, 3.56.   Leonard threw a bunch of shutouts in Big Games.

                Sudden Sam McDowell was just 5-10 in Big Games, but had a good 2.79 ERA.   Orel Hershiser was 14-6, 2.90.   Ted Lilly is 13-10 in Big Games, 3.57 ERA; Tim Lincecum is 14-9, 2.59.    Mickey Lolich was 23-16, 2.96; Denny McLain was 10-9, 3.63.     Gil Meche made only 7 Big Game starts in his career; he was 1-4 with a 7.99 ERA.   Kevin Millwood was 17-14, 3.73.   Jamie Moyer was 23-17, 3.48.    Joe Niekro was better than Phil in Big Games; Joe was 16-14, 3.38 ERA; Phil was 16-15, 3.71.    Phil pitched very few Big Games in his best years, with Atlanta; most of his Big Game starts came in 1969 and in the early 1980s, when he was past 40 years old.

                Camilo Pascual came up with the Senators in 1954, but never pitched a Big Game until 1960.    In the 1960s he made 21 Big Game starts, going 9-9 with a 3.49 ERA.    I’ll post a couple of charts at the end of this series of articles, to let you wander through the data and find what you think is interesting.


2.  Some Guys Who Were Better Than You Would Expect

                Jim Rooker was a minor league outfielder for several years.   In 1962, in the low minors, he hit .281 with 16 homers, 80 RBI, also 27 stolen bases in 31 attempts.   He followed that up with .272 at Duluth the next season, 19 homers, but as he moved up the line he stopped hitting and stopped getting promoted.   After a couple of years he switched to the mound.

                He made slow but steady progress as a pitcher, and was taken by the Kansas City Royals in the 1969 expansion draft (the draft, actually, was October of 1968; the expansion was in 1969.)  With the expansion Royals in 1969 he was 4 and 16 on the mound, but had a tremendous season at bat, hitting .281 with 4 homers, slugging over .500.  

                After four years in Kansas City he was traded to Pittsburgh.    He found pitching for a good team much more to his liking.   He made 37 Big Game starts in his career, and was 21-9 with a 2.38 ERA. 

                Mike Hampton was 15-11 in Big Games, 2.49 ERA.   Clay Buchholz so far in his career has been 9-4 in regular season Big Games, 15 starts, with a 1.98 ERA. of the best in the data.    Mark Prior was 10-1 with a 2.06 ERA, and struck out 132 batters in 109 innings.     Cal Eldred, who was 11-2 with Milwaukee in 1992 and 10-2 with the White Sox in 2000, also went 9-1 in his career in Big Games, 2.23 ERA.  

                Gary Peters, early 1960s, had a 2.24 career ERA in 37 Big Game starts, one of the best ERAs in the data for a pitcher with 25 or more starts, although his won-lost record was just 17-12.    Joel Horlen, his teammate, was just 11-13, but with a 2.26 ERA.    The White Sox under Eddie Stanky, mid-1960s, used to store the baseballs in a refrigerator so that they would be damp and dead, negating the other team’s power; I believe this was one of the reasons the leagues assumed the responsibility for taking care of the baseballs to be used in the games.   Anyway, in 1967 the American League batting average was .238, and the Park Factor in Chicago was .81, so there were not a lot of runs scored there.    Peters was like Rooker, though; he was a lefty who could hit homers.

                Wally Bunker, who won 19 games as a 19-year-old in 1964, then had arm troubles the rest of his career, was 11-2 in Big Games, 2.37 ERA.    Bill Stafford, same era, essentially the same story but not quite, was 10-2, 2.43.   Stafford was in the Yankees’ starting rotation in 1961 at the age of 21, with little minor league experience, and pitched well; that was common in that era.    There were a lot of 19, 20, 21, 22 year old pitchers in that era.   Ray Sadecki was another one—a rotation starter for the Cardinals in 1959 at the age of 19.    He also was good in Big Games—22 wins, 12 losses, 3.35 ERA.   

                It is surprising that so many of these peach fuzz pitchers from that era had outstanding records in Big Games.   Jack Fisher was another—in the rotation for the Baltimore Orioles in 1961 at the age of 21, later had some horrible won-lost records with the Mets in the mid-1960s, losing 24 games for them in 1965.    He was 11-3 in Big Games, 3.41 ERA; that’s mostly based on his work with Baltimore.   He didn’t pitch any Big Games for the Mets.  

                Earl Wilson was famous for a no-hitter in Fenway Park in 1962, the first black pitcher to pitch a no-hitter in the American League.   He homered in that game; he hit 35 homers in his career, which is near the record for a pitcher.    Wilson won 22 games for the Tigers in 1967.    He was 13-6 in Big Games, 2.79 ERA.  Wade Miller has been 10-3, 2.38.  

                Ed Figueroa, Yankees of the 1970s, was 13-4 in Big Games, 2.61 ERA; I didn’t know that.   Charlie Hough was 13-5, 2.73—the only knuckleball pitcher who was effective in Big Games.    Nelson Briles, a fourth starter much of his career behind guys like Gibson and Carlton, was 13-7, 2.61 ERA.   

                Doyle Alexander was 29-18 in Big Games, 3.72 ERA; that’s kind of a surprise.   Doyle Alexander won 194 games in his career, but never had a big season, didn’t throw hard, and was a baseball nomad, bouncing from team to team and not leaving too many friends behind him.   But he pitched sensationally well for the Tigers down the stretch in 1987 (9-0), and that is where a good part of his Big-Game resume comes from. 

                OK, here’s a big surprise.  Jim Kaat won 283 games in his major league career, won 25 games in 1966, won 20 games in 1974 and 1975, but he isn’t in the Hall of Fame in large part because he wasn’t perceived as a big game pitcher.   In fact, his record in Big Games is great.   That turned into a long-winded digression, so I made it a separate article, which will run tomorrow as Part VI of this series.


3.   Some Guys Who Were Not as Good in Big Games as You Might Expect

                Nolan Ryan was 20-21 in Big Games, 3.68 ERA.    Tommy John was 21-21, 4.06.    Ryan and John are the most perfect polar opposites in the pitching world—a right-hander versus a lefty, the ultimate power pitcher versus the ultimate ground ball pitcher.   They were alike in this respect. . .their records in Big Games were about the same.  

                Josh Beckett, who always carried the reputation of being a Big-Game monster, is actually 19-22 in Big Games, 4.22 ERA.   David Cone was just 15-19, 3.88 ERA, although he struck out 292 batters in 304 innings.  David Cone and Bret Saberhagen were the same age and signed with the Royals about the same time.   Both have similar records (194-126 for Cone, 167-117 for Saberhagen), but Saberhagen was far, far better in Big Games.

                Livan Hernandez, MVP of the 1997 World Series, was just 13-14 in Big Games in regular season, 4.26 ERA.    David Wells was just 24-26 in Big Games, 4.75.     He was 239-157 overall, so that’s 215-131 when it isn’t a Big Game (.621), but under .500 in Big Games.  

                Sandy Koufax was just 28-26 in Big Games, but that’s kind of misleading, so I don’t want to dwell on it.   Well. .. .it is kind of a shocking fact.   Koufax’ career record was 165-87, so that means he was 137-61 when he wasn’t a Big Game (.692), but 28-26 when it was (.519).    He lost Big Games whenever he had to pitch one in the 1950s, and also a few in 1962, when he tried unsuccessfully to come back from his medical problem at the end of the season, without doing a proper rehab.  But there are different ways of looking at the question of how effective a pitcher was in Big Games, and in Koufax’ case those other ways of looking at the issue get different answers, so I don’t want to mislead you.    98 times in 100, the other ways of looking at the issue just tell you the same thing with different numbers, so we can ignore them, but in Koufax’ case we need to look at more data, which I’ll explain later.  

                Pedro Martinez’ record in Big Games was not great, either (25-22, 3.34 ERA.   He did strike out 424 batters in 371 innings.)    Red Sox fans will remember that Pedro had a stretch of about three years when he just couldn’t beat the Yankees.   His record in Big Games OTHER than the Yankees was good, but the four biggest regular-season games that Pedro pitched were all against the Yankees, and the Red Sox lost all four of them.


4.   One Pitcher to Whom I Owe an Apology

                Don Drysdale.   In The Politics of Glory (1994, I think), I studied Don Drysdale’s record in Big Games, and concluded that it was poor.   Drysdale died suddenly just before that book came out, so the claim that Drysdale had a poor record in Big Games was somewhat controversial.

                And, as it turns out, it was also wrong.    I made four mistakes, which led me to a bad conclusion, for which I apologize. . .two of them aren’t exactly mistakes, but there are four reasons that I reached a bad conclusion.   First, I did not have at that time an organized method to study this issue.   I was just looking over Drysdale’s record, trying to summarize it, but with no systematic approach to the issue.

                Second, I did not have at that time (or for fifteen years after that) a large, organized data base by which to compare one pitcher to another.   I did take the trouble to send Rob Neyer to the library and have him compile a complete game-by-game log for Drysdale’s career, so that I would have that to work with, and I was pretty proud of myself at the time for having invested the effort to do that.  But I was studying Drysdale in isolation, as if no other pitcher existed.

                Third, I focused on too few games.   I focused on, as I recall, the thirteen "biggest" starts of Drysdale’s career, or what I thought at that time were the thirteen biggest starts of his career. . .I think it was all of the games that Drysdale started from August 15 to the end of the season against a direct opponent who was in the pennant race, or something like that.   It was too few games, and those games were defined by parameters, rather than by values.

                Fourth, I focused on the fact that Drysdale did not "win" any of those games, meaning that he was not credited with the victory in any of them.   This was just dumb, and I have no excuse for it.     I got it wrong; I’m sorry.

                This is the way I see the issue now.   First, Drysdale started an extremely large number of Big Games.     The Dodgers in that era played a huge, huge number of Big Games—a fact which I did not focus on at that time.   By the standards we are using here, Drysdale made 79 Big Game starts in a relatively short career for a Hall of Famer—a higher percentage even than Andy Pettitte. 

                Drysdale’s Big Game record, taking those 79 games as a whole, is pretty good—33 Wins, 25 Losses, 2.69 ERA.   Drysdale threw 12 shutouts in Big Games, actually two more than any other pitcher.

                One way I could defend myself would be to say that there were these 13 "bad big" games that I identified in 1994, but there are another 66 "sort of big" games in which he was better.   But that’s not true, either.    Another way to study a pitcher’s Big Game performance is to focus on the 35 BIGGEST games of his career.    In the 35 Biggest Games of Drysdale’s career (regular season), he was 17-7 with a 2.16 ERA.     That’s pretty good.    No defense, no alibis.  I was wrong, and I apologize.


5.  The Ten Worst Big-Game Pitchers in the Data

                So, these are the guys to whom I may owe an apology the next time I write about this, if additional research undermines what I now believe:

10.   Danny Jackson.     I always liked Danny Jackson.   He was a favorite of mine to watch, but. …32 career starts in Big Games.   7 wins, 15 losses, 4.86 ERA.

9.   Ron Villone.   A long-term reliever, made 93 major league starts between 1999 and 2004.   In Big Games he was 4-11, 5.58 ERA. 

8.  Ed Whitson.    I kind of hate to pick on Ed Whitson, because he is such a media target, anyway.   45 career starts in Big Games, which is a lot, but only 8 wins, 15 losses.  

7.  Armando Reynoso, 1991-2002.    Twenty starts in Big Games, 4 wins, 10 losses, 6.10 ERA.  

6.  Julian Tavarez.    Red Sox fans remember him as the kind of goofy guy who would roll the ball to first base to for a 1-3 putout.    The great thing about him was that he was always willing and able to take the mound.    But unfortunately he had an 8.38 ERA in 10 starts in Big Games—the worst of any pitcher in the data who made ten or more starts.  

5.  A. J. Burnett.    Career record of 147-132.   In Big Games, 15-21, 4.61 ERA.  

4.   Jerry Garvin.    Garvin, expansion pitcher in the 1970s, made only 65 starts in his career, which we could sort into the 35 biggest starts of HIS career. … not 35 Big Starts, but 35 that were bigger in relative terms. . .and the other 30 starts.    In the "other" 30 starts he was not too bad; he was 12-9.    But in the "Big" 35 starts, which would be mostly the games in which he was pitching against a good team, he was 2-22 with a 5.05 ERA.  

3.  Shawn Estes.   8-10 in Big Games, but with a 5.52 ERA. ..the worst of any pitcher with 25 or more starts..  

2.  Javier Vazquez.   Vazquez was around for a long time and always had Bert Blyleven’s problem, only worse.  .Bert Blyleven’s problem being that his won-lost record lagged far behind his strikeout/walk ratio.   Overall, Vazquez had a winning record (165-160).  In Big Games, he was 9-20, 5.06 ERA.   This will not come as a shock to Yankee fans.

1.  Frank Tanana.    Tanana was a power-pitching phenomenon in the late 1970s who morphed into a semi-cagey veteran who stayed in the majors for 21 years, winning 240 games but losing almost as many.

                In 1987, with the Tigers in a red-hot pennant race, Tanana pitched three brilliant games at the end of the year, giving up only one run in 24 innings.   That was some big-time clutch pitching, but unfortunately, Tanana had also been pounded in every one of his previous eight starts, giving up 35 runs in 33 innings.   His career record in Big Games:   35 starts, 5 wins, 19 losses, 4.04 ERA.


6.  Some Guys Who Almost Made the Top Ten Big Game Pitchers List,

but I just couldn’t quite Squeeze them In


                I’ll run these in chart form, more or less in chronological order:




                And these are the records of the same pitchers in the 35 biggest games of HIS career, regardless of whether he made more or less than 35 Big-Game starts:




                Notes about these. ..  Warren Spahn, of course, we are missing a lot of data from the early part of his career; I was just surprised that his Big-Game data from late in his career was so strong.   Jim O’Toole was high on the list of pitchers who made a huge NUMBER of Big-Game starts, relative to career length, 43 Big Games in 238 career starts, and here we can see that not only did he pitch a lot of Big Games, but he also won almost all of them. . .21 and 4 in the 35 biggest games of his career.  

                Jim Maloney, you should note that not only did he go 23-13 in Big Games, but that he did it while starved for run support, exactly three runs a game.   Among all pitchers with 40 or more starts in Big Games, Maloney is last by far in run support.   (The average is 4.56, and Luis Tiant is next-to-last at 3.68.    Maloney is almost twice as far below average as any other pitcher.)   Maloney posted a 2.30 ERA in Big Games, and he pitched a lot of Big Games.  He was a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher; he just got hurt before his career numbers got big enough to carry him.  

Pascual Perez was the pitcher I alluded to earlier who was always regarded as a head case.  When Perez was murdered in the Dominican in 2012, the New York Times captured his image in a few paragraphs:


Baseball history is full of eccentrics. Jimmy Piersall once ran the bases backward to celebrate a home run. Mark Fidrych chatted with the ball as if he expected a conversation to break out. Dock Ellis pitched under the influence of LSD. Bill Lee’s nickname, the Spaceman, suggested his out-thereness. And Yogi Berra became a quotable guru without even trying.

Then there was Pascual Perez, who this week was killed, apparently in a home invasion, in the Dominican Republic. He was an odd, infectious character who demonstrated his eccentricity in good and bad ways. He hopped around the mound "as if he has a pesky mosquito in his uniform pants," Jack Curry of The New York Times wrote in 1991. He sprinted on and off the field. He pumped his fist after strikeouts. He pointed his finger like a gun at batters he retired. He jingled with bling. His long hair was a mass of curls. On his baseball cards, Perez looked to be having fun in a most genuine way. He was elusive. He was delightful. He was enigmatic.

He could be a brilliant, big-game pitcher, but not consistently. He could throw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball and then lob a 30-m.p.h. eephus pitch.

He will be remembered less for his occasional success on the mound than for his idiosyncrasies and, more seriously, his struggles with drugs.


Well, they did get the Big-Game pitcher in there in passing, so . .. .good on them for doing that, and also they somehow managed to go four paragraphs before they got to the one thing that Perez was most famous for, which is the time that he got lost on the interstate surrounding Atlanta, couldn’t find the ballpark and missed his scheduled start.  I admire the concise description of Pascual Perez, but Perez’ record in Big Games is not sporadic or patchy; it is terrific.

                Teddy Higuera was injured about four years into what appeared to be a distinguished career.     Saberhagen and Dwight Gooden both came up as teenagers in 1984 and won Cy Young Awards in 1985, then went on to underrated careers; I note that their Big Game records are almost identical.    

                Jose Rijo has the best ERA in the data of anyone with ten or more starts in Big Games (1.54 ERA).    Jon Lieber was 22-4 in Big Games, which is obviously impressive, but that was aided by extremely strong offensive support, more than seven runs a game.  


COMMENTS (29 Comments, most recent shown first)


More for Bill's sake:

I like to see if I can mirror your results by using a different methodology. I'm using for my criteria September/October games where the pitcher's team is +/- 5 games out of first, and the team hasn't yet been eliminated or hasn't yet clinched the pennant/division title.

For others:

I know that Bill rarely, if ever, reads the Reader Posts. What Steve161 if referring to is being discussed under a thread called "Morris and Hunter in Big Games", if you're interested/curious.

4:35 PM Jan 25th
To jdmccann: my concern is that a bunch of numbers and rankings will make it look like not only an accomplishment but also an ability. See the Reader Posts for a very interesting follow-up to Bill's work on Jim Kaat. Turns out that, if your definition of a big game is more stringent than Bill's, as rgregory's is, Kaat's performance is less impressive, though still quite good.
3:07 PM Jan 25th
(Well, you're assuming too!) :-)
12:31 PM Jan 25th
Oh, and the Lee Harvey Oswald analogy - fantastic way of distinguishing between talent and accomplishment.​
11:39 AM Jan 25th
If it's not too late to comment here -

" . . . defined by parameters, rather than by values" - just a Bill James aside that is a eureka moment. Of course, data defined by values is more valuable than data defined by parameters. It gives it a whole other dimension. However, it takes someone like James to come out and say so to make it a conscious part of our own mentalities.
11:25 AM Jan 25th
re steve161 - as I think bill has said (and others in comments have said) is not intended to be predictive but rather just a measurement of what pitchers have actually accomplished. so it's not clear to me what the concern is. but I guess I should read neyer's article

8:57 AM Jan 25th
Neyer's article, by the way, is at

There is not a hint, either in the article or the comments, that we might be chasing a phantom.
7:05 AM Jan 25th
I don't see anything in the series to date that indicates a comparison with established performance level, but MarisFan's point is well taken: if you're vintage 1965 Sandy Koufax, you're a pretty good bet to succeed if you do what you've been doing, despite quality of opposition and the fact that your arm has swollen up to twice its normal size.

Two things leave me uncertain as to what I think about this whole exercise. The first, as Bill has indicated, is a lack of any way to tell if a real ability is being measured. Precisely because it's Bill James, there is a danger of elevating random numbers to the status of new knowledge. Rob Neyer has already written an article about this series, even though it's not yet finished.

The second is the single-factor fallacy. We all have a tendency to look for simple explanations: we love to decide that a game or a series was won or lost for a single reason, even though we know better. The concept of the big-game pitcher encourages falling into this trap.
6:47 AM Jan 25th
P.S. for the comment below: I took a look back at this series so far, and I really think it hasn't been made clear whether the rankings will be according to "flat-out" performance in the big games or differentials from the pitchers' overall records.
9:20 PM Jan 24th
A couple of questions regarding how the rankings work....please pardon if these things were indeed indicated and I just didn't get them:

-- Are the rankings intended to indicate just flat-out how well the pitchers did in big games, or the differential between how they did in big games vs. overall?

....and this second question is related....

-- Are those pitchers that Bill indicated as doing "about as well as we'd expect" NOT going to be in the Top 10, or are they still possibly up there? (It seems they're 'out,' because Bill talks about that group as being distinct from the "Top 10" group, but it doesn't seem to me that having done only "about as well as we'd expect" would necessarily exclude a pitcher from being in the top group -- unless the rankings are based on comparisons to overall record rather than just how well they did in the big games.
9:15 PM Jan 24th
Matt Garza 6-13, 4.79 … he's a free agent this year.

Bill, if it's YOUR team, does this make you ANY less anxious to give Garza max dollars on his contract?

There was a story around 1995, when the Yankees wanted Tino Martinez. The Yankees and Mariners were haggling about whether the key to the deal would be Sterling Hitchcock, or Andy Pettitte. It was reported that finally the Yankees decided to give up Hitchcock, and throw in Russ Davis, because "when Hitchcock gives up a double he glares at his outfielder. When Pettitte gives up a double he curses himself."

Certainly "makeup" plays in at SOME point for a pitcher. Me? Now that I'm aware of Garza's Big Game record, it makes me SOMEWHAT less anxious to have him on my team. Maybe not much, but some.
7:15 PM Jan 24th
The Dwight Gooden stats suggest a potential bias. Everyone knows that in his first three years, Gooden was about as good a pitcher as ever lived -- not so much later on. Those are also the years in which the Mets were perpetually in heart-palpatating pennant races. So Gooden shows up as a clutch pitcher because he was a dominant pitcher right during the clutch part of his career, if that makes any sense. When he declined, he wasn't pitching as many big games. I haven't thought about this systematically, just throwing it out there.
5:59 PM Jan 24th
BTW, it seems to me that we can indeed assume that the 'suspects' that haven't been mentioned yet WILL be in the top 10, because, unless Bill didn't really mean it how he put it, he said that all the other 6 'categories' of people are already covered.

(Gonna take a closer look.....I hope this post won't be yet another that will make me curse over there not being an 'edit' function here.....) :ha:
4:42 PM Jan 24th
So....are we allowed to breathe the names of the 'contestants' that haven't been announced yet? :ha:

Y'all have already said Morris. It pleases me that it looks like he'll be top 10. I'm a big fan of his, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn't particularly have expected it, not because I didn't think he did well but because I wouldn't have thought it would translate into his overall "big game" record soaring above a lot of these other guys.

I think there's a very decent chance that this study will greatly bolster Andy Pettitte's chance for the Hall of Fame. He's seen as borderline, maybe high borderline. If he really winds up among the top group in this study, which it seems he will, I think that will get prominently into the discussion of him in the coming years.​
4:38 PM Jan 24th
I wouldn't say it's a lock that Morris would make the Top 10, since Bill probably would do an essay on Morris going over the Big Games even if Jack bombed in them. Morris Supporters wouldn't buy the data alone, and would need to see the games. Perhaps the same with people who are suspect of Morris.

That said, I think most folks could go over to Retrosheet and even eyeballing the likely higher leveraged seasons and the Aug-Sept of them find it's likely that Jack wasn't going to bomb out:
4:32 PM Jan 24th
Let's see...

Schilling? Tim Hudson? Glavine? Probably Doc Halladay, among the more recent players.

And I'll put money on Bob Gibson.
4:24 PM Jan 24th
If we're 'rooting' for any of our favorites to make the Top 10, part of the background mindset of reading this article is sort of like the Miss America finalists hearing the decisions being announced: They DON'T want to hear their name come up till the end. I was glad to see a couple of my faves not be mentioned. That means (I figure) they'll be in the Top 10. :-)

On other fronts: Two stray things that stood out to me....

"Charlie Hough was 13-5, 2.73—the only knuckleball pitcher who was effective in Big Games."
Jim Bouton and a good share of sabermetricians have talked about the prejudice against knuckleball pitchers, which has seemed unjust. Maybe it isn't totally.

Sal Maglie being 2nd in the MVP vote in 1956, despite not-awesome stats -- didn't know that, even though I look a lot at those old votes. That's amazing, including because it was a pretty strong 2nd (with four 1st place votes) -- and even more interesting when we see that it does correlate with what this study shows about him having a great big-game record.

P.S. Bill, not sure why you don't think people would be surprised at LARSEN'S overall big-game record. I knew he had other good World Series games, but I wouldn't have expected anything like that "big game" regular season record.

3:52 PM Jan 24th
Hey Bill! Off the subject I suppose, but you're assuming Oswald was in fact the shooter or one of the shooters.

Apologies in advance if this triggers any discussion here on this :-) but hey, somebody's gotta say it....
3:25 PM Jan 24th
I forget--does this group of "Big Games" include post-season games or only regular season Big Games?​
2:28 PM Jan 24th
Also, Bill, now that you've defined and gathered Big Games, is it possible we might see another article or two on who the best (and worst) Big Game hitters were, given a minimum number of plate appearances?
2:11 PM Jan 24th
I bet Madison Bumgarner would tell you that he has a man's last name first. And I bet that managers avoid starting knuckleballers in big games if they can help it. Nobody trusts a trick pitch.
1:07 PM Jan 24th
Bill, a request, if you have the time and/or inclination: Could we see the game score averages for pitchers in their Big Games? It's great that you provided the e.r.a.'s as well as the total team runs for and against. Tanana's bad won-loss record seems a bit unlucky for a 4.04 e.r.a.
From your game score/winning pct article, a 4.04 e.r.a was associated with game scores of 49-50, which would go along with a winning pct of .442-.476, suggesting an 11-13 record. I know you said he got pounded in at least 8 starts, but perhaps overall, by game score average, he wasn't so bad. I don't know if average or median game score would be the way to look at them, but either would be great to see. Thanks for the series.
11:43 AM Jan 24th
He also left out Bert Blyleven, Morris's opposite (Morris has a clear Hall of Fame Won/Lost record, but his other stats, like ERA and its components, are just bulk ordinary; Blyleven has a great ERA and its components, but his Won/Lost record is bulk ordinary). I don't know if either is top 10 anything, but they'll get their own essays.
11:39 AM Jan 24th
David Kowalski
Kaat has gone from a likely Hall of Famer to a borderline one. As everybody around here knows, 250 wins used to be automatic for 20th century pitchers but the bar has been raised to 300.

One thing I'll always remember about Kitty Kaat is his nickname. The second thing is that a friend of mine had a brother who pitched with Kaat in the Washington minor league system. He was one of two finalists to be called up by the Senators but they wisely chose Kaat. The guy never made the bigs, even for the proverbial cup of coffee.

By the way, the friend was Director of Parks and Recreation for Clearwater, Florida. That meant he was responsible for the Phillies' spring training home which also served as a minor league park.
10:57 AM Jan 24th
Seeing that Bill did not talk about Jack Morris, and since this was a Jack Morris inspired thread, I can only presume that Morris is going to be in the top 10.

10:33 AM Jan 24th
1. I guess my memory of Tom Seaver's career as "a bunch of good years for bad teams" is at best incomplete, given his pretty high count of big games. 2. About predictive value - a comparison between these lists and postseason performance (I see a scatterplot in my head) is the comparison that jumps to mind. 3. I'm posting this before finishing the article (so I don't forget the thought), so if Bill did #2 somewhere in there I will look especially dense for suggesting it.
10:26 AM Jan 24th
I will just say that if these 19 guys did not crack the top 10, then the top 10 must have been extraordinary.​
10:06 AM Jan 24th
Bill, can you tabulate what the average W-L% of the opponents in Big Games is, to understand how much flattening should occur?
9:12 AM Jan 24th
Bill, you said it a lot better than I did, but the "what he did do" rather than the "what he could do" argument was what I was talking about after part I, regarding Morris (et al). It's always seemed that analysts struggle to separate between a player's ability and his accomplishments. I've never been able to convince anyone; maybe you can.

Your article tomorrow, about Kaat, could well be an indicator of how far-reaching your influence is these days. My guess is that you are about to move his name to the top of the list for about half the Veteran's Committee.
8:59 AM Jan 24th
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