Big Games Pitchers, Part IX

January 28, 2014

                I used three other ways of looking at the data, which were:

                1)  To use a higher standard for what constitutes a Big Game,

                2)  To use a lower standard for what constitutes a Big Game, and

                3)  To look at the 35 Biggest Games started by each pitcher, regardless of how big these games were. 

                Andy Pettitte started 82 Big Games; Randy Jones started only one, but Andy Pettitte still had 35 biggest games for Andy Pettitte, and Randy Jones still had 35 biggest games for Randy Jones.   That way, everybody is on an even footing.

                Randy Jones, in his 35 biggest games, was not good; he was 10-16, 3.65 ERA, struck out 70 batters in 240 innings and walked 54. 

                I love that data, for the worst reasons.   I love creating "mythical seasons" or imaginary seasons, and 35 starts LOOKS like a season.    A pitcher pitches well, he can win 20 games.   He can strike out 200 batters, or walk 100; he can pitch 250 innings, or 300, just like a pitcher does in a season.    You can create "league leaders" in every category.   These are the league leaders in each category:

                Innings Pitched

                1.  Bob Gibson, 277.2

                2.  Bob Lemon, 274.1

                3.  Mark Fidrych, 273.2


                Hold on there.  Mark Fidrych started only 56 games his career.  His 35 "biggest" games are really just his career.   Do we want to allow him in this study?

                Sure we do.

                4.   Mel Stottlemyre, 271.2.

                5.  Gaylord Perry, Early Wynn and Warren Spahn, 269.2.



                1.  Ron Guidry, 25.

                2-3-4.   Warren Spahn, Teddy Higuera and Randy Johnson, 24 each.

                5-6-7-8.   Bob Gibson, Bob Lemon, Roy Oswalt and Jon Lieber, 23 each.

                Other 20-game winners:   Johan Santana, 22-5, Milt Wilcox (!), 22-9, Andy Benes, 22-6, Jim O’Toole, 21-4, Mike Cuellar, 21-9, Virgil Trucks, 21-10, Tom Sturdivant, 21-9, Whitey Ford, 21-5, Luis Tiant, 21-7, Roger Clemens, 21-7, Denny Neagle (!), 21-9, Bruce Kison, 21-5, Ian Kennedy, 21-8, Ferguson Jenkins, 20-13, Frank Lary, 20-8, Bret Saberhagen, 20-7, Earl Wilson, 20-7, Allie Reynolds, 20-9, Don Sutton, 20-7, Brandon Webb, 20-9, Cliff Lee, 20-8, Zack Greinke, 20-6, Kris Medlen, 20-5, Chien-Ming Wang, 20-7, Mark Thurmond, 20-8.



                1.  Chris Zachary, 23.

                2-3-4.   Kip Wells, Brian Matusz and Jerry Garvin, 22 each.

                5.  Fourteen pitchers tied with 21. 



                Winning Percentage:

                1.  Randy Johnson (24-4), .857

                2.  Jim O’Toole (21-4), .840

                3-4  Roy Oswalt and Jon Lieber (23-5), .821          

                5-6  Juan Guzman and Pedro Astacio (18-4), .818


                Hits allowed:

                1.  Bill Lee, 287

                2.  Carl Morton, 274        

                3-4.  Jason Dickson and Sid Hudson, 273 each

                5-6.  Larry Sorensen and Ned Garver, 271 each.  


                Runs Allowed:

                1.  Julio Santana, 154

                2-3.   Scott Schoeneweis and Tim Wakefield, 151 each

                4-5   Mike Oquist and Bobby Jones, 150 each 


                Earned Runs Allowed

                (Same guys, just changes the order a little)



                1.  Randy Johnson, 306

                2.  Yu Darvish, 286

                3.   Kerry Wood, 269

                4.  Steve Carlton, 267

                5.  Nolan Ryan, 256



                1.  Bob Wiesler, 162

                (Wiesler made only 38 major league starts, so his 35 "biggest" starts is basically just his career.)

                2.  Eric Plunk, 141

                3.  Edwin Correa, 137

                4.   Herb Score, 135

                5.  Bob Turley, 130



                1.  Randy Johnson, 2.01

                2.  Don Drysdale, 2.16

                3.  Mel Stottlemyre, 2.22

                4.  Gary Peters, 2.23

                5.  Joel Horlen, 2.24


                Complete Games:

                1.  Warren Spahn, 24

                2.  Mark Fidrych, 22

                3.  Connie Marrero, 21

                4.  Bob Lemon, 20

                5.  Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, J. R. Richard, Mike Cuellar and Walt Masterson, 19 each.



                1-2-3-4.  Bob Porterfield, Ralph Terry, Mickey Lolich and Don Drysdale, 7 each

                5-6-7-8-9-10-11   J. R. Richard, Sandy Koufax, Mel Stottlemyre, Allie Reynolds, Jim Maloney, Luis Tiant and Dennis Leonard, 6 each


                Wins by Team:

                1.  Roy Oswalt, 29

                2-3-4.   Kris Medlen, Bill Stafford and Johan Santana, 28 each.

                5-6-7-8-9-10  Ron Guidry, Randy Johnson, Whitey Ford, Mike Bielecki, Roger Clemens and Andy Benes, 27 each.  


                Cy Young Award:

                Randy Johnson



                You look at the data in different ways to make sure you’re not missing something by just looking at it one way.   Sandy Koufax’ record in all Big Games is pretty unimpressive (28-26), but in the 35 BIGGEST games of his career he was 18-8, 2.44 ERA, 250 strikeouts in 251 innings.   That’s much better, much more Koufaxian.  


                Generally, of course, you see the same things looking at the data one way that you do looking at it another.   If you use a higher standard for what constitutes a "Big" game, then the leader in Big Games pitched is not Andy Pettitte but Jim Palmer (64; Pettitte has 58).    If you use a lower standard, then the leader is not Pettitte or Palmer, but Steve Carlton, with 133.

                That doesn’t matter much; what I am looking for is changes in the way we would evaluate the Big Game pitchers, based on their performance.   I don’t really see anything, other than Koufax.    Using a looser standard of what is a Big Game, Roy Oswalt still has the best won-lost record (48-14), although Warren Spahn is now pushing him, at 49-15, and Dwight Gooden has entered the picture, at 41-13.   I think we would evaluate almost all of the Big-Game pitchers about the same, using either a higher or a lower standard for what is a Big Game, so I’m just basically going to let that data go away.


COMMENTS (28 Comments, most recent shown first)

That's absolutely incorrect. He tore knee cartilage horsing around in the outfield. He pitched as good, actually better, after that incident until his shoulder blew.

You mistakenly look at abuse as a matter of total innings, Which as I explained in The Diamond Appraised and in later articles is not a good correlative measure with later injury and poor aging profiles. Blyleven's innings were spread over full seasons and he was pushed less in individual starts because he was working in a 4-man rotation. His CG% in those two seasons was only 37% and he averaged less than 30 batters per start. Granted, his was not a safe workload and it was a factor in why Blyleven did not age as gracefully as we would have hoped from his great beginning, but he also was nowhere near being among the most abused pitchers in his formative yearswhile Fidrych was off the charts relative to any pitcher his age this side of WW II. Keep in mind that Fidrych did not join the rotation until the 24th game of the year and then went on to throw 24 CGs in 29 starts, a CG% MORE THAN DOUBLE what Blyleven did. He averaged 34.1 batters per start, an extremely dangerous mark at that age and in such a steady pounding pattern. The Tigers did essentially the same thing in 1977 after he came off the DL from his knee surgery, having him throw 7 CGs in his 8 starts. No other pitcher since the end of WW II had had a CG% of even 50% before his 22nd birthday, and here was Fidrych at 31 of 37 (84%) until his rotator cuff blew.
12:32 AM Feb 7th
I don't know that Fidrych's workload was that abusive. Five years earlier, Bert Blyleven threw 278 innings (28 more than Fidrych) in his age 20 season, and 287 in his age 21 season. Fidrych did blow out his shoulder, but it was while horsing around in the outfield. I don't think it was directly related to his workload.
6:28 PM Feb 3rd
@Brewer09| You didn't give an idea what you meant as an "All-Star career" and BJ did not use that term much less define it. My point is that if a pitcher makes two All-Star teams at a ridiculously young age before blowing out his shoulder -- then the chances seem pretty good that f he had remained healthy -- he would make a few more All-Star teams and might meet the standard you have in mind as an "All-Star career."

You did not "just relay" what James wrote in his book. You essentially made the argument that Bill's example of Fidrych in regard to his quite sound theory was appropriate.

The intent of Bill's essay was not to write about Fidrych as much as about the reality that relative low strikeout rates do not correlate with long successful careers. Regrettably he latched on to Fidrych as an example without sufficiently vetting the example. The weakness of that example is that he likely misclassified Fidrych in his mind as a finesse pitcher, and if not, at least grossly underestimated his likely strikeout levels if he had been able to continue his career.

Fidrych's chance to demonstrate his ability before blowing out his shoulder came at an extremely young age. Many pitchers who come to the majors at such a young age mature into having higher strikeout rates. I mentioned Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and his 10 All-Star teams and 305 wins, as someone who had a lower relative strikeout rate through the same age. Glavine did not mature into even an average strikeout rate until he was 25 years old. Neither did Greg Maddux for that matter.

Bill's use of Fidrych as an example focuses entirely on Mark's 1976 season, but doesn't see the likelihood of Fidrych's low strikeout rate in that season as a bit of an anomaly. His strikeout rate in the minors was roughly twice as high, and his strikeout rate nosedived in the last six weeks of his rookie year, likely due to fatigue. His ERA also jumped up a run but they were not going to stop working him because that was still a sub-3 ERA. In his second season, Mark's strikeout rate was actually ABOVE AVERAGE until his shoulder blew out.

If Fidrych's workload had not been so abusive and his shoulder had remained intact, I suspect he had a pretty good chance to have what most would mean by an "All-Star career" and writing that same article in 2000, Bill would not have used Fidrych as an example -- not because he had had a successful career, but because Mark would have been perceived as having fairly normal strikeout rates for much of his career.

6:48 PM Feb 1st
@CWright | I know that Fidrych was a two-time All-Star. Does anyone think that is an All-Star career?

I have no vested interest in whether Fidrych had the potential for an All-Star career or not. I am a huge Fidrych fan though. I am just relaying what Bill James wrote in his book. He knows more than I do. If you want to refute what he wrote, read it and refute it. It is on page 289, and the article is called, "Bird Thou Never Wert."
6:05 PM Jan 30th
Basically, would you trade a BB for a K?
1:54 PM Jan 30th
Well, in his first three seasons Glavine's ERA+ were 80, 98, 94, and his K/9s were about 4.4 on average. The Bird finished with and ERA+ 126 and a K/9 of 3.8 for his 1.3 seasons. I read an interview with Bruce Kimm, Fidrych's longtiime catcher and later briefly manager of the Cubs. Kimm says that Fidrych had a wicked 93 mph slider/sinker, pinpoint control, and actually didn't go for Ks because the sinker resulted in so many easy groundball outs and "he didn't want to throw a lot of pitches". Backing that up, he walked less than 2 batters per inning, Glavine walked close to three. It seems to me, possibly, that The Bird's wicked sinker/slider made it unnecessary to work for Ks and therefore kept his walks way down -- I wonder if Bill emphasizes that enough in his dire predictions on non-strikeout pitcher's futures? I'm interested in MF P per PA but I can't find that. But isn't it aesome that we discovered the ultimate outlier in Glavine with who to compare? :-)
1:53 PM Jan 30th
Its remarkable that Randy Johnson is the E.R.A. leader because he pitched in an environment when many runs were scored. The other E.R.A. leaders listed here are from the deadball era of the 1960's, which is what we would expect.

Bill, I often view ERA+ as a good quick and dirty method to compare pitchers from different eras. You commented on one of the "hey Bill" questions that you don't use ERA+, and you haven't used it in this analysis. This suggests that you must have found a flaw or shortcoming with ERA+. What do you see as the problem with ERA+? Do you see a similar issue with OPS+?
11:43 AM Jan 30th
For Brewer09, I don't know what you consider an "All-Star career" or what would make you anticipate one, but Fidrych was in fact a two-time All-Star before blowing out his shoulder as perhaps the most abused young pitcher in the Live Ball Era. Before his 22nd birthday he was 25-11 with a 2.23 ERA. We just put two 300-game winners in the HOF and both of them were losers with ERAs over 5.00 before their 22nd birthdays. And in regard to their strikeout rates relative to their leagues, they were also both below average at that point.Fidrych in fact had a better relative strikeout rate than Glavine did.

9:41 AM Jan 30th
Yeah, but, 23 years later, Bill wrote this about 25 year old Mike Pelfrey, also a groundball pitcher: "Pelfrey, at his age, could still be developing pitches, thus his strikeout rate could shoot up." I believe, with a changeup only added at 20, and his moving fastball, 21-year old Fidrych would have raised his Ks, particularly if his use was brought under control and he wasn't throwing 160 and 170 pitch games. I mean, this wasn't a guy that just started getting hit around like batting practice...he hurts his knee shagging flies. Whether the knee caused the rotator cuff or not seems to be at question.
8:11 AM Jan 30th
James' system was meant for 21-year-olds and Fidrych, mostly because he wrote a few pages in the Historical Abstract specifically about Fidrych and how he was never going to be an All-Star pitcher.

Fidrych was a talented pitcher. People do realize and remember that. He was more fun than five Hall of Famers. That doesn't mean he was going to have an All-Star career had he been luckier.​
1:09 AM Jan 30th
lol...correction, "striking out more hitters than he walked".
11:32 AM Jan 29th
I have great familiarity with Fidrych and had the privilege to see him pitch in person 4 times in 1976. I have no idea if he threw 93, but have no doubt he threw much harder than the average groundball pitcher. His low strikeout rate in his rookie year was an anomaly. His K-rate in the minors had been almost twice as high, and it really jumped in the majors in his second season until he tore his rotator cuff in Baltimore in early July. This is based on only 69 innings because of the time he was recovering from the minor knee surgery, but his K-rate in 1977 before the shoulder injury was an above average 5.1, a nearly 50% increase over his rookie year. He was also pitching even better than he had in his great rookie year. (Going into that game in Baltimore he was 6-2, 1.83 ERA and had allowed only 2 unearned runs.)

In Fidrych's rookie year Houk had him face 47 batters in an extra-inning game and I estimate Mark threw about 170 pitches that day. Before blowing his shoulder out a month before his 22nd birthday, Houk had Fydrich throw a complete game in 31 of his 37 big league starts. In that time Mark was 25-11 (for a weak Tiger club) with a 2.23 ERA in 319 innings. He had been an incredibly talented pitcher, and I hope that will always be realized and remembered.
11:10 AM Jan 29th
I know Bill's predictive data, but there are outliers...somewhere I found that the predictor was right 77 percent of the time. Fidyrich had a 93 mph fastball with movement, extraordinary three decades ago, and had only just developed a changeup. And his control was good, striking out more hitters than he faced even with the low strikeout total. All at that age. I'm not sure Bill's system is meant for 21 year olds All-Stars if you really read it. Seems to talk more about .500 24 year olds.
8:46 AM Jan 29th
@oldbackstop Houk "let" him pitch all those innings and complete games because managers didn't care about pitch counts and innings counts. No one, least of all Houk, thought he was doing anything particular unusual. Also:

1. The first injury of Fidrych's career was not a pitching injury. In spring training 1977, he tore the cartilage in his knee when he was goofing around in the outfield. He didn't start the season until late May and was 6-4, 2.89 at the All-Star break. He turned down an All-Star invite, because he was recovering from knee surgery.

2. Fidrych was never going to have a great career. Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, said Fidrych's season was a fluke season. He didn't strike out batters. He didn't dominate. A high strikeout rate is the leading indicator of future success for young pitchers. Fidrych's strikeout rate was below average.

Fidrych is one of my favorite players, but a possible All-Star career wasn't snuffed out by Houk. He was never going to have an All-Star career, because he hurt his knee and couldn't record strikeouts.
1:25 AM Jan 29th
That's OK Oldbackstop, next time just call him, "The Bird." Everyone will know. If baseball had one, 'the bird' per every 100 players, it might challenge the NFL. "After allowing the Detroit Tigers Wives Club to cut his hair for charity, Mark said, "It was like Samson and Goliath." May he rest in peace, he was working when he died. Virgil Trucks, sounds like a hemorrhoids treatment.
1:23 AM Jan 29th
Okay, JDW. my adrenaline is pumping in this exchange, because by switching Fidyrich for Jones, I feel I have gained a significant strategic advantage over you. Fidyrich is in the pool despite, really having the one jawdropped year, 24 complete games in in a 19-9 season in 1976. So, for his 35 games, he is third in innings pitched because of that one year. (he was 21 and only had 27 GS the rest of his career, and was out of baseball at 25, wonder why). But Detroit finished 24 games out that year in 5th place. They threw Fidrch complete games 11 out of his last thirteen starts including a 10 and 11 inning game. In 1977 he went 6-4 was injured and out after July 12 and they finished 26 games out. The next year he was done in April. In 1979 he was done by May 1. In 1980 Detroit finished 4th with 84 wins, a little bit of a Big Game pennant race opportunity, perhaps. Fidyrick came back from whatever and started his season on August 12 but went 2-3 with a 5.68 ERA and Detroit finished 19 back. Bill says up above "Do we allow him in the study? Sure we do." But I'm interested in clarification. OKAY, The real question in all of this is, after I looked all this up, is why does Ralph Houk let a 21 year old rookie lead the league in complete games (and his second start wasn't until May 5). Could it be because he was the most bizarrely entertaining pitcher of our generation and put butts in seats after a 1975 campaign when Detroit went 57-102. The Fidrych's arm "goes dead" in his words, and it isn't until 1985 they discover a torn rotator cuff. Rant over, peace out.
8:23 PM Jan 28th
Wow -- and we could say the most impressive thing about Connie Marrero isn't any of this, but that he's still with us at 102 (thanks for the hint, David K) -- 103 in April.

He's a good candidate for running a "reverse Brock2" (or whatever number Bill took it to). He didn't play in the majors till he was 39, then had a nice little career. If we run it backwards into a normal progression, I wonder if it might give him 350 wins.

Coming up with Connie Marrero's is one of the delights of studies like this.

P.S. Off the subject, but I think the "Oswald" thing in the early article was a foreshadowing, even if not exactly conscious. :-)
6:35 PM Jan 28th
That was supposed to be Mark Fidyrich. My bad.
6:31 PM Jan 28th
Setting aside that this was more of a "let's take a look" method than one Bill is hanging the premise of his piece on...

Does anyone honestly think Randy Jones' 35th "biggest" game (i.e. determined by Big Game Score) was against scrubs and September call ups?

* 285 career starts between 1973-82
* 111 of them (39%) were against the Dodgers, Reds, Pirates & Phillies
* Those teams were 3484-2771 (.557) in those years

Jones' "big games" are simply going to come earlier in the season, before the Pads/Mets were eliminated, against division "rivals" (such as the Reds and Dodgers in those year) or good teams (those teams as well as ones like the Pirates & Phils). They just aren't going to hit that 310 level, and few are going to even come close.

In turn, a chunk of his best probably came in 1978 when the Pads were over .500.
5:43 PM Jan 28th
Being played much earlier in the season is sort of disqualifier for a Big Game, no? 56 starts is about two seasons, maybe 28 starts after the All Star game, probably eliminated by September, no? Well I'm sure the big guy will come whack me in the head momentarily...
2:45 PM Jan 28th
That might be a little extreme, Backstop... if the sample was culled exclusively from September games I would agree with you; it would be a concern since a lot of those games WOULD be played by teams who didn't care, but I think most of those games were simply played earlier in the season.
12:45 PM Jan 28th
@ventboys. I understand measuring everyone, but if Randy Jones only had one Big Game by these admittedly liberal standards, what was his 35th least big game like? Pitching to scrubs and callups in late September?
12:17 PM Jan 28th
This is great information and a great series of articles. Providing alternative cut-off points for what constitutes a big game increases the robustness of the analysis. I commented earlier that I was concerned that the cuf-off point was arbitrary, but this article addresses my earlier concern.

Taking the biggest 35 games for each pitcher also creates a big enough sample so that we don't need to be too concerned that the results are due to chance.

Well done.
11:45 AM Jan 28th
I'm enjoying this series articles. One question, though - I'm assuming the Bill Lee that leads in hits allowed is the Spaceman and not the 1940's NL Hurler?
11:44 AM Jan 28th
David Kowalski
Conrado Marrero

Wow! In his case he not only gets better with age, it is extreme age. 102 and counting or is it only 101. Ace Parker is on the outside looking it. Spoiled by playing football, I guess, even for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
8:38 AM Jan 28th
What about combining playoff games, since they are all big?
8:13 AM Jan 28th
I see your point, Backstop; a lot of those games won't be big games in the grand scheme.... I can see it the other way, though. I think it's impressive that a pitcher with only 56 starts was that good in his biggest 35. This could be a fun way to distill out a few of those "what might have been" guys. How did Herb Score fare, or Steve Busby, or Dennis Leonard?
8:13 AM Jan 28th
Hey Bill, really love this series, should say that before nitpicking :-). I would say that some qualifying career limit should be put on this to keep out the glaring anomalies. Mark Fidyrich, as you say, only had 56 career starts....I would guess his 35th rated Big Game looks nothing like anything we are attempting to measure here, and including guys like him pushes other guys down the various leaderboards. You, of course, are doing the work, but I'd think some number of career starts...150? or HOFers plus some point in the HOF Monitor?
6:45 AM Jan 28th
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