Heroes and Bullies

August 6, 2021
  

Heroes and Bullies

Last article in the series.  A "bully", of course, is a pitcher who piles up wins against inferior opponents, but can’t beat a good opponent.  A "hero" is a pitcher who is at his best against the strongest and most threatening opponent. 

I figured a "Bully Score" for each pitcher in each season, and for each pitcher in his career.  The way you figure the Bully Score is simple; you add together:

His wins against #5s,

His wins against #6s,

His losses against #1s, and

His losses against #2s.

 

Then you subtract:

His wins against #1s,

His wins against #2s,

His losses against #5s, and

His losses against #6s. 

 

If he has lots of wins against weak opponents and losses against strong ones, he’ll have a high bully score. 

By the way, I should have mentioned this before.  Do you remember Paul Abbott, who went 17-4 for the 2001 Seattle Mariners? It turns out that he started 15 times against #6 starters that year, and was 12-0 against 6th starters, despite a 3.75 ERA.  You probably suspected something like that. 

 

In raw terms, the highest Bully Score of all time was 89, by Robin Roberts.  These are Roberts’ career records against pitchers of each level:

Opp Starter

GS

IP

W

L

Pct

H

R

ER

SO

BB

ERA

CG

ShO

1

131

975.0

43

68

.387

962

405

363

467

196

3.35

49

4

2

122

912.2

48

56

.462

860

367

334

467

178

3.29

65

9

3

124

908.0

58

48

.547

930

412

380

468

177

3.77

59

12

4

87

614.2

32

35

.478

646

295

268

301

99

3.92

35

2

5

62

495.2

41

16

.719

441

166

158

267

99

2.87

40

7

6

62

497.1

41

10

.804

474

212

178

253

88

3.22

38

6

 

Robin Roberts had the two fantastic seasons against #1 starters, 1950 and 1955, when he was 15-1 against them (8-1 in 1950, 7-0 in 1955.)  But in the rest of his career, he was a 28-67 against #1 starters, whereas he was 41-10 against sixth starters.  His Bully Score is 89:

 

41 (wins against fifth starters), plus

41 (wins against sixth starters), plus

68 (losses to #1 starters), plus

56 (losses to #2 starters), minus

43 (wins against #1 starters), minus

48 (wins against #2 starters), minus

16 (losses to #5 starters), minus

10 (losses to #6 starters).

 

That works out to 206 minus 117, or +89. 

Almost everyone has a Bully Score greater than zero, since it is obviously easier to beat a 5th/6th starter than a#1/#2 starter.  Because most pitchers have Bully Scores greater than zero most years, the totals go up over time; thus, all of the highest raw Bully Scores are for pitchers who had long careers:

 

First

Last

Bully Score

Robin

Roberts

89

Nolan

Ryan

85

Early

Wynn

78

CC

Sabathia

76

Jack

Morris

73

Scott

Sanderson

72

Frank

Tanana

70

Zack

Greinke

68

Bert

Blyleven

65

Dennis

Martinez

62

Bob

Lemon

62

Max

Scherzer

61

Charlie

Root

61

Jeff

Suppan

61

Alex

Kellner

59

Si

Johnson

59

 

What we need, of course, is to make the raw Bully Score proportional to the number of starts that the player made.   When we do that, the bottom two names on the list above jump to the top of the list.  Alex Kellner had a bully score of 59 in 232 starts within our data.  59 divided by 232 is .254, which we will present at 254 for the sake of convenience.  I’m going to start with the top four:

 

First

Last

Starts

Bully

Score

Alex

Kellner

232

59

254

Si

Johnson

243

59

243

Chuck

Stobbs

236

55

233

Milt

Gaston

202

46

228

 

Kellner is an interesting contrast with Robin Roberts.  Both of them came to the majors in Philadelphia in 1948/1949.  Roberts, a rookie with the Phillies, pitched well but went 7-9 as a rookie in 1948, exploded as a star in 1950.  Kellner got into 13 games with the Philadelphia A’s in 1948, but was mostly a rookie in 1949, winning 20 games as a rookie (20-12).  Henever approached that level again. 

Kellner’s twenty wins as a rookie were a complete fluke; he wasn’t anywhere near that good, even as a rookie.  The 1949 Philadelphia A’s had a good year by their standards (81-73), and they happened to score a lot of runs for Kellner.  The A’s collapsed in 1950, Kellner LOST 20 games in his sophomore season and then settled in to a nice run of 11-12, 11-14 type seasons.  He was THEIR number one pitcher; Roberts was the number one for the Phillies, Kellner was the #1 for the A’s, although he was not A #1.  He eventually wound up as a teammate of Murry Dickson in Kansas City, almost ten years later.

Anyway, what I wanted you to notice was that Kellner, Si Johnson, Chuck Stobbs and Alex Gaston were all guys like that; they were all pretty good pitchers, not really good but decent, who were stuck for years on really awful teams.  And this is what I did not so clearly understand before; this is what I learned from doing that.  When you have a pitcher like that, a pretty good pitcher stuck for years on a bad team, he can beat the back of your rotation—but he will almost never beat a genuine #1 starter.  This is the data for Kellner:

 

Opp Starter

GS

IP

W

L

Pct

H

R

ER

SO

BB

ERA

CG

ShO

1

50

314.0

8

34

.190

348

208

188

140

147

5.39

13

1

2

52

328.0

12

30

.286

355

183

171

143

134

4.69

18

3

3

31

211.2

16

10

.615

223

102

94

87

70

4.00

12

1

4

41

281.0

18

10

.643

278

136

125

115

108

4.00

17

2

5

27

195.2

12

9

.571

217

106

96

84

84

4.42

12

1

6

31

223.1

18

6

.750

222

113

95

97

80

3.83

16

0

 

Kellner was a 3rd/4th starter, a true level of 3.75.  He was actually able to beat third, fourth starters, and he was 30-15 against 5th and 6th starters.  But when you put him up against true #1 starters, he was just out of his league.  He didn’t have a chance.  Chuck Stobbs, same era, same league, was the same way.  This is the data for Stobbs:

 

Opp Starter

GS

IP

W

L

Pct

H

R

ER

SO

BB

ERA

CG

ShO

1

41

219.2

5

31

.139

252

151

129

115

72

5.29

6

0

2

44

295.1

15

24

.385

288

148

113

128

103

3.44

15

3

3

44

266.0

11

25

.306

317

164

146

123

86

4.94

7

1

4

51

321.1

22

20

.524

347

174

161

113

127

4.51

14

0

5

27

195.1

16

6

.727

163

72

67

109

101

3.09

11

2

6

29

188.2

16

6

.727

202

105

95

86

71

4.53

11

1

 

Stobbs and Kellner would consistently beat the back of the rotation guys, but between them were 13-65 against #1 starters.  And this is a longer list of the bullies, on a percentage basis:

 

First

Last

Score

Alex

Kellner

254

Si

Johnson

243

Chuck

Stobbs

233

Milt

Gaston

228

Johnny

Sain

225

Charlie

Root

213

Jim

Tobin

212

Wes

Ferrell

205

Bump

Hadley

204

Wilson

Alvarez

202

Tony

Cloninger

201

Max

Scherzer

185

Virgil

Trucks

181

Bob

Lemon

178

Scott

Sanderson

177

Curt

Davis

176

Dizzy

Trout

175

Danny

MacFayden

175

Greg

Swindell

175

Doug

Fister

173

 

 

Now, the heroes.

There are two pitchers in history, and only two, who stand out from the crowd for their ability to consistently beat the best pitchers in the league.   There are others you can kind of argue for, guys who did as well against #1 starters as they did against the back of the rotation.  Guy Bush, Vicente Padilla, John Tudor, Claude Passeau, Mike Mussina, Clayton Kershaw, Jack McDowell. . . all of those guys did well against strong opposition.  This is the chart for Mike Mussina:

 

Mike Mussina

Opp Starter

GS

IP

W

L

Pct

H

R

ER

SO

BB

ERA

CG

ShO

1

107

715.1

43

38

.531

683

317

297

551

172

3.74

11

3

2

103

678.1

53

25

.679

659

288

264

563

148

3.50

8

2

3

100

668.0

55

26

.679

633

280

258

522

149

3.48

6

4

4

70

479.2

38

18

.679

459

190

185

374

96

3.47

10

4

5

58

382.2

30

17

.638

362

179

164

299

91

3.86

7

5

6

98

635.0

51

29

.638

657

303

288

503

129

4.08

12

4

 

When Mussina was a Hall of Fame candidate, there would be people who would say that he wasn’t a true #1, but as you can see, he very clearly was.  He was over .500 against #1 starters, and had a .679 winning percentage against twos, threes, and fours.  It is one of the better records in history.  Jimmie Key’s was even better than that:

 

 

Jimmie Key

Opp Starter

GS

IP

W

L

Pct

H

R

ER

SO

BB

ERA

CG

 ShO

1

77

531.0

40

18

.690

474

192

183

314

123

3.10

9

3

2

79

521.0

39

24

.619

480

192

176

288

145

3.04

8

0

3

44

273.0

17

11

.607

279

134

121

156

59

3.99

1

1

4

65

411.0

21

27

.438

437

204

181

257

99

3.96

3

2

5

57

353.1

24

14

.632

339

139

128

213

93

3.26

5

3

6

67

419.1

38

18

.679

428

199

183

252

109

3.93

6

3

 

 

Key, like Mussina only more so, actually pitched better when he was facing a tough challenge than when it looked like a day at the beach.  He had his best Earned Run Averages when facing #1 and #2 pitchers, and we’re talking about 156 starts there, so it’s not that easy to blow it off as random data. 

But there are two pitchers, and only two, who separate themselves from the crowd in this respect.  One is Sandy Koufax:

 

Sandy Koufax

Opp Starter

GS

IP

W

L

Pct

H

R

ER

SO

BB

ERA

CG

ShO

1

60

413.1

27

20

.574

314

128

111

404

138

2.42

22

8

2

78

570.0

47

16

.746

426

178

151

610

158

2.38

39

12

3

60

414.2

28

16

.636

308

143

132

430

148

2.86

23

7

4

55

365.1

25

14

.641

296

144

134

376

140

3.30

23

8

5

34

253.0

17

13

.567

173

81

69

255

90

2.45

15

3

6

27

186.0

15

6

.714

138

76

66

199

67

3.19

12

2

 

Note that Koufax faced sixth starters only 27 times in his career.  I mentioned earlier that he faced sixth starters 9 times in 1963, but that was a fluke.  The 9 in 1963 was a third of his career total. 

You have to understand:  Sandy was just BETTER than everybody else.  Before Koufax—and mostly since Koufax—the Cy Young Award was a debatable thing.  One can reasonably argue that before Koufax, there wasn’t a single Cy Young Award winner who actually deserved the award.  None of the previous awards were unanimous.  Only one was close to being unanimous.  Some of the selections were pretty clearly wrong.   But Sandy won the award unanimously three times, because he was just clearly better than everybody else.  He would beat the other #1s because he was better than they were.  There haven’t been very many pitchers like that in history. 

But also, he rose to the challenge. Look at the data above.  His ERA went DOWN when he was challenged.  Other pitchers didn’t do that.  Bob Gibson didn’t do that.  Juan Marichal, as fantastic as he was, didn’t do that.  Koufax did.  Give him two runs, and he would beat you.

And the other guy whose data stands out in this respect is Bret Saberhagen.  There are seven pitchers in history who have negative bully scores, meaning that they beat the good pitchers even more than they beat the bad.  There are seven guys on that side of the ledger, but four of them are -3 or less.   Jimmie Key is -7, Bret Saberhagen is -13, and Sandy Koufax is -25. 

But Saberhagen’s record, in a sense, is almost more impressive than Koufax’. 

 

Bret Saberhagen

Opp Starter

GS

IP

W

L

Pct

H

R

ER

SO

BB

ERA

CG

ShO

1

80

562.1

35

25

.583

502

170

151

371

96

2.42

16

1

2

75

507.0

36

18

.667

482

205

196

339

97

3.48

15

3

3

62

393.1

23

24

.489

398

186

170

251

75

3.89

12

2

4

52

370.0

21

15

.583

341

143

131

283

72

3.19

12

6

5

43

294.2

21

15

.583

288

125

113

195

31

3.45

9

2

6

59

364.1

26

17

.605

386

180

168

242

82

4.15

12

2

 

Alex Kellner and Chuck Stobbs had much better records against #5 and #6 starters than Koufax and Saberhagen did.  Kellner and Stobbs were 28-15 against fives, 34-12 against sixes, winning percentages of .651 and .739.  Koufax and Saberhagen were 38-28 against fives (.576) and 41-23 against sixes (.641). 

Saberhagen had the same ERA when facing #1 starters that Koufax did, 2.42, and about the same winning percentage.   Koufax is number one on the hero chart, -25 to -13, and Saberhagen is number 2.    But notice this:  Koufax faced 60 #1 starters in his career.  Saberhagen, in a career of similar length, faced 80. 

Also, Bret Saberhagen was a great pitcher, but he wasn’t Sandy Koufax.  He had higher to jump to touch the rim than Sandy did.  Sandy had a 2.42 ERA against #1 starters, but it was in that ballpark even when he was kind of coasting.  Saberhagen’s ERA in starts against all other pitchers was 3.63.  He cut it by more than a full run when he was matched up against somebody on his level—and again, that’s 80 starts. 

I’ve tried to explain this before, but Saberhagen was the closest thing I ever saw to a perfect pitcher when he was healthy.  I don’t mean that he was better than Clemens or Pedro or Maddux or the Big Unit; he didn’t last as long, didn’t have as many great years.  But he was the only guy I ever saw who was at the top of the scale in every category.  His control was fantastic.  His fastball was really fast, probably 100 on a good day with a modern radar gun.  His changeup wasn’t Pedro’s or Maddux’s, but it was a top of the line change up.  His curve and his slider. . . just outstanding.  His pickoff move was tremendous.  He fielded his position brilliantly.  His "pitchability"—his understanding of how to pitch, when and where to throw each pitch—was at the level of Mussina or Maddux or David Cone, the best I ever saw.  

And when you needed him to be there, he was there.  In this study, he doesn’t get any points for pitching a shutout in the seventh game of the World Series. 

 

Thank you all for reading.  

 
 
 
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