The 1 Percenters

April 14, 2014

                In my data I have pitcher game lines for 241,536 major league games between 1952 and 2013. . ..actually 120,768, but there are two starting pitchers in each game.   With 241,536 games the top 1% would be 2,415.

                As it happens there are 2,440 games in the data with a Game Score of 87 or higher.    It’s actually kind of remarkable that it breaks that close to exactly 1%; the break between 88 and 87 is at 1,875 games, and the break between 86 and 85 is at 3,153 games, but the break between 86 and 87 is almost exactly where we need it to be, right at 1%.

                In the 1960s, 1.9% of pitcher starts would qualify as Top 1% games, or one game in 52; in the years 2000-2009 the only 0.59% of games would qualify, or one game in 170.   In the other decades the percentage of "top 1% games" is between 0.75% and 1.25%.

                A little bit more "decade data", just since we’re here; it’s off topic, but we’re here.   In the 1950s, in my data, the average starting pitcher pitched 6.46 innings per starts; in the 1960s, 6.40; in the 1970s, 6.50; in the 1980s, 6.24; in the 1990s, 6.03; in the 2000s, 5.87; and in the 2010s, so far, 5.95.   These numbers describe the average starting pitcher’s game line in each decade:

 

Years

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Game Score

 

1950s

6.46

6.36

3.16

2.82

2.41

3.25

51.0

 

1960s

6.40

6.05

2.90

2.56

2.11

4.01

53.2

 

1970s

6.50

6.34

3.04

2.70

2.25

3.63

51.9

 

1980s

6.24

6.23

3.07

2.76

2.13

3.58

50.7

 

1990s

6.03

6.22

3.22

2.93

2.17

3.95

49.3

 

2000s

5.87

6.15

3.22

2.97

2.06

4.09

48.7

 

2010s

5.95

5.93

2.95

2.71

1.91

4.60

51.2

 

 

 

             
                               

 

                If you round the box score line off to integers you have 6-6-3-3-2-3 in the 1950s,

6-6-3-3-2-4 in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, and 6-6-3-3-2-5 in our current decade. 

                The typical starting pitcher in the 1950s struck out 3.25 batters per game and walked 2.41, or 135 strikeouts per 100 walks; now it is 4.60 to 1.91, or 230 strikeouts per 100 walks.    The winning percentage of starting pitchers was .484 in the 1950s, .489 in the 1960s, .492 in the 1970s, .493 in the 1980s, .495 in the 1990s, .497 in each of the last two decades.     The ERAs:  3.92, 3.60, 3.74, 3.98, 4.38, 4.56, 4.10.     Starting pitchers accounted for 76% of decisions (wins and losses) in the 1950s, 71% now.  

                In the 1950s 32% of starts were complete games, and 6% were complete game shutouts.   The complete game percentage declined to 26% in the 1960s and 1970s, 16% in the 1980s, 8% in the 1990s, 4% in the last two decades.  Shutouts were 6% in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, 4% in the 1980s, 2% in the 1990s, 1% since 2000.

                Anyway, back to the 1-percenters.  77% of the games which make up the top 1% are complete-game shutouts.    There are four times as many complete-game shutouts which DON’T qualify for the top 1% as those which do.   Another 3% of the top 1% are games in which the only runs allowed are un-earned runs.   14% are games in which the starting pitcher pitched more than nine full innings.   The ERA of starting pitchers in these 1% games is 0.13, and the winning percentage is .983.  The strikeout to walk ratio is 6 to 1; pitchers on average strike out 8 hitters (in these games) and walk one to two.

Nolan Ryan made 773 starts in his career, so we could expect 8 of those games to be top-1% games.  It was actually 52 such games; he exceeded his share by 44 games.  Ryan thus pitched as many outstanding games as an ordinary pitcher would pitch making 5,200 starts, or roughly 150 years in the starting rotation.  Randy Johnson was +32 (38 over 6), Koufax +25 (28 over 3), Tom Seaver +24 (30 over 6), Bob Gibson +23 (28 over 5), Roger Clemens +21 (28 over 7), Jim Maloney +20 (23 over 3), Pedro Martinez +20 (24 over 4), Sam McDowell +20 (23 over 3), and Bert Blyleven +18 (25 over 7).    No other pitcher is +15.

                As a percentage, Tim Fortugno made only five starts in his major league career (Angels, 1992), but one of the five was a 3-hit shutout in which he struck out 12 batters, so that’s 20%.  Mike Hartley was one out of 6, Jorge Rubio 1 out of 7 (14%), and Karl Spooner 2 out of 16 (12.5%).  Among pitchers with 100 or more starts, Sandy Koufax had the highest percentage, 9%:

Rank

First

Last

G

1% G

Pct

1

Sandy

Koufax

314

28

9%

2

Jim

Maloney

262

23

9%

3

Nolan

Ryan

773

52

7%

4

Sam

McDowell

346

23

7%

5

Randy

Johnson

603

38

6%

           

6

Pedro

Martinez

409

24

6%

7

Bob

Gibson

482

28

6%

8

Herb

Score

127

7

6%

9

J.R.

Richard

221

12

5%

10

Dean

Chance

294

15

5%

           

11

Tom

Seaver

647

30

5%

12

Ernie

Broglio

182

8

4%

13

Bobby

Bolin

164

7

4%

14

Bob

Veale

240

10

4%

15

Juan

Marichal

457

19

4%

 

 

 

 

 

 

16

Curt

Schilling

436

18

4%

17

Carl

Erskine

172

7

4%

18

Anibal

Sanchez

173

7

4%

19

Roger

Clemens

707

28

4%

20

Brandon

Morrow

102

4

4%

           

21

Don

Wilson

241

9

4%

22

Steve

Hargan

215

8

4%

23

Jim

Bunning

516

19

4%

24

Bert

Blyleven

685

25

4%

25

Gary

Gentry

138

5

4%

           

26

Virgil

Trucks

138

5

4%

27

Johan

Santana

283

10

4%

28

Don

Drysdale

463

16

3%

29

Mickey

Lolich

496

17

3%

30

Luis

Tiant

484

16

3%

           

31

Bill

Singer

308

10

3%

32

Adam

Wainwright

185

6

3%

33

Bret

Saberhagen

371

12

3%

34

Camilo

Pascual

403

13

3%

35

Ferguson

Jenkins

594

19

3%

           

36

Bob

Moose

157

5

3%

37

Mario

Soto

225

7

3%

38

Ron

Guidry

323

10

3%

39

Jim

Palmer

521

16

3%

40

Fernando

Valenzuela

424

13

3%

           

41

Rudy

May

360

11

3%

42

Turk

Farrell

134

4

3%

43

Tom

Sturdivant

101

3

3%

44

Vida

Blue

473

14

3%

45

Juan

Pizarro

241

7

3%

           

46

Gaylord

Perry

690

20

3%

47

Chuck

Estrada

105

3

3%

48

Al

Downing

317

9

3%

49

Hideo

Nomo

318

9

3%

50

Mickey

McDermott

106

3

3%

 

                There were 3,428 pitchers in my data, of whom seven had top 1% games in their first major league start:  Karl Spooner, Juan Marichal, Rudy May, Jimmy Jones (1986 Padres), Pedro Astacio, Steve Woodard (1997 Brewers), and Doug Waechter (Tampa Bay, 2003).    Spooner had top 1% games in his first TWO major league starts—September 22 and September 26, 1954.  Those two games used to be extremely famous, so I’m guessing I don’t need to talk about that now.

                Tim Wakefield, on the other hand, made 463 major league starts without ever landing a game in the top 1%; he is followed by Jeff Suppan (417), Steve Renko (364), Ron Darlink (364), Freddy Garcia (357), and Mike Hampton (355).  Jamie Moyer had only 2 in 638 starts (minus 4.38), Joe Niekro only 1 in 500, and Claude Osteen only one in 488.

                An average pitcher has a one-in-one million chance of having top 1% games in any three consecutive starts.  There have been six pitchers in my data who have had top-1% games in three consecutive starts.

                Camilo Pascual pitched a 3-hitter against the Kansas City A’s on May 9, 1960, striking out 11 hitters although he did give up an un-earned run.    Pascual followed that up with a 4-hit shutout of the Yankees, also with 11 strikeouts (May 14), and then an 11-inning, 5-hit shutout of the Detroit Tigers (May 18).   To give you some sense of how impressive this is, no major league pitcher had pitched two consecutive top-1% games since 1957.  Pascual (and the guys below) did three in a row.

                Jim Maloney on September 25, 1964 pitched a 1-hit shutout against the Mets, striking out 8.    In his next start, September 29, he pitched 11 innings of 3-hit shutout baseball, striking out 13, but did not get a win as the Reds lost, 1-0 in 16 innings.   Maloney had several starts in his career in which he carried a no-hitter into extra innings, but this was not one of those games; in this game he gave up two singles in the third and a leadoff single in the 7th, but no runs, no other hits and thirteen Ks.   That was his last start of 1964, but in his first start of 1965 he pitched another 1-hit shutout, striking out 8.

                Sudden Sam McDowell in 1966 pitched consecutive 1-hitters against the Kansas City A’s and the White Sox (April 25 and May 1), then pitched 12 innings in his next start, giving up one run but getting no decision.   He struck out 28 batters in the three games (8-10-10).

                Gaylord Perry pitched a 3-hit shutout against the Dodgers, August 28, 1967, striking out 9.    In his next start, September 1, he pitched 16 shutout innings against the Reds, striking out 12, but left with the game tied 0-0.   The Giants eventually won the contest, 1-0 in 21 innings.    Taking his next turn on schedule on September 6, Perry pitched another 3-hit shutout against the Angels.    He followed that up, incidentally, with another 3-hitter, but the Game Score for that one is only 85, and then he pitched 4 more outstanding games to finish the season.    In September of 1967 Perry pitched 69 innings with an ERA of 0.78.   The heavy workload took its toll on his arm, however, and he was only able to pitch 291 innings in 1968 (with a 2.44 ERA), and he had to retire just 16 years later.  

                Teddy Higuera pitched a 10-inning, 3-hit shutout of the Cleveland Indians (August 26, 1987), followed that up with a 1-hit shutout of the Royals (September 1) and a 2-hit shutout of the Twins (September 6).   He struck out 26 batters in the three games (10-9-7).    Higuera was the only pitcher in 1987 to pitch two in a row, and he pitched three in a row. 

                Randy Johnson on May 28, 1997, pitched 8 innings of 4-hit shutout ball against the Rangers, striking out 15 batters.    He didn’t finish the game, perhaps because he had thrown 132 pitches through eight.   He followed that up with a 2-hit shutout of the Blue Jays, striking out 9 (June 2), and then, for those of you who are difficult to impress, a 1-hit shutout of the Tigers, striking out 15 (June 8).     Johnson was also the only pitcher in 1997 to pitch two in a row, and he pitched three in a row.   Even in 1967, the year Gaylord threw three in a row and a pitcher’s year, only one other pitcher was able to throw two straight, that being Gaylord’s teammate, Juan Marichal.  

                There have been 71 other times when pitchers had top-1% games in back-to-back starts.   Chronologically:

Billy Pierce, August 3 and 9, 1953

Whitey Ford, June 12 and 16, 1954

Karl Spooner, September 22 and 26, 1954

Jack Sanford, June 1 and 7, 1957

Camilo Pascual’s three in a row, 1960

Sandy Koufax, May 23 and 28, 1960

Turk Farrell, August 2 and 6, 1962

Ernie Broglio, September 29, 1962 and April 9, 1963

Johnny Podres, July 5 and 10, 1963

Dean Chance, June 2 and 6, 1964

Bob Bruce, September 20 and 27, 1964

Jim Maloney’s three in a row. 

Bob Veale, September 30, 1964 and April 12, 1965

Sam McDowell, August 31 and September 4, 1965

Bob Gibson, August 31 and September 5, 1965

Sam McDowell’s three in a row.  

Woodie Fryman, June 26 and July 1, 1966 

Jim Bunning, July 23 and 27, 1966

Juan Marichal, April 29 and May 3, 1967

Gaylord Perry’s three in a row, 1967

Luis Tiant, April 28 and May 3, 1968

Bob Gibson (2), May 1 and 6, 1968

Woodie Fryman (2), May 17 and 22, 1968

Jumbo Jim Nash, May 17 and 22, 1968 (same dates as Fryman)

Bob Gibson (3), August 28 and September 2, 1968

Mickey Lolich, September 9 and 15, 1968

                Warming up for the World Series.  

Steve Blass, September 15 and 20, 1968

Jim Maloney (2), September 25 and 29, 1968

Juan Marichal (2), September 12 and 16, 1969

Ken Holtzman, June 3 and 8, 1971

Vida Blue, July 9 and 16, 1971

Luis Tiant (2), August 19 and 25, 1972

Nolan Ryan, August 27 and 31, 1972

Andy Messersmith (yeah, it sure is), August 30 and September 3, 1972

                Note here that Ryan and Messersmith were teammates in 1972.

Don Sutton, September 22 and 27, 1972

Nolan Ryan (2), July 15 and 19, 1973

Tom Seaver, August 15 and 20, 1973

Don Sutton (2), April 11 and 15, 1975

Dave Goltz, August 31 and September 9, 1976

Luis Tiant (3), September 21 and 25, 1976

Nolan Ryan (3), September 29 and October 3, 1976

Dennis Eckersley, May 25 and 30, 1977

Nolan Ryan (4), April 29 and May 5, 1978

Ron Guidry, June 12 and 17, 1978

Mike Flanagan, August 15 and 20, 1979

J. R. Richard, September 21 and 25, 1979

Steve Rogers, September 27 and October 2, 1981

Orel Hershiser, July 14 and 19, 1984

Dwight Gooden, September 7 and 12, 1984

Orel Hershiser (2), April 21 and 26, 1985

Fernando Valenzuela, May 20 and 24, 1986

Jack Morris, July 13 and 18, 1986

Teddy Higuera’s three in a row, 1987

Mike Moore, August 14 and 19, 1988

Dave Stieb, September 24 and 30, 1988

Sid Fernandez, September 21 and 26, 1989

Tommy Greene, May 23 and 28, 1991

Randy Johnson, April 11 and 20, 1992

Randy Johnson (2), September 21 and 26, 1993

Hideo Nomo, June 24 and 29, 1995

Randy Johnson’s three in a row, 1997. 

Curt Schilling, April 5 and 10, 1998

Randy Johnson (4), July 11 and 16, 1998

Roger Clemens, August 25 and 30, 1998

Pedro Martinez, September 4 and 10, 1999

Pedro Martinez (2), May 6 and 12, 2000

Pedro Martinez (3), May 28 and June 8, 2000

Chan Ho Park, September 24 and 29, 2000

Curt Schilling, May 9 and 14, 2003

Mat Latos, May 7 and 13, 2010

R. A. Dickey, June 13 and 18, 2012

 

                These streaks tend to occur in September, because a streak like this is a very extreme example of percentages compounding.    Batting averages drop just a few points in September, but a streak like this involves a pitcher pitching to about 60 hitters, so that a small percentage advantage—whether it comes from the pitcher’s ability, the weakness of the opposition or from the weather--is compounded to the 60th power.

                On the other end, Larry Jackson, Cardinals star of the 1950s, 24-game winner with the Cubs in 1964. ..Jackson was victimized by a top-1% game by the opposition starter 16 times in his career, the number you would expect if he made 1600 starts.   He actually made 429 starts.   Other pitchers who ran into a buzz saw more often than expected:  Jim Bunning (14), Tom Seaver (14), Luis Tiant (13), Don Cardwell (12), Chuck Finley (12), Catfish Hunter (12), Steve Carlton (11), Bob Friend (11), Clay Kirby (11), Bob Veale (11), Roger Clemens (10), Ferguson Jenkins (10),  and Don Sutton (10).

                Roger Craig in 1963 was on the wrong side of a 1% game by the opposing pitcher five times in 1963, when he went 5-22.  Juan Pizarro the same year (1963) went 16-8, 2.39 ERA despite being victimized by 1% games four times in 28 starts.

 
 

COMMENTS (12 Comments, most recent shown first)

shthar
Anyway to figure out if young or old pitchers throw more of these games?

I would suspect most of these games are thrown by pitchers under 30, but who knows.


11:30 PM Apr 20th
 
3for3
What about the other 1 percent. That would be fun to see, especially if any HOFers are there
10:52 PM Apr 15th
 
briangunn
"Maloney had several starts in his career in which he carried a no-hitter into extra innings..."

I count only one - 6/14/65, when Maloney's no-no was broken up in the 11th by Johnny Lewis of the Mets. Am I missing others?
12:21 PM Apr 15th
 
Hal10000
Kind of surprised not to see Greg Maddux on that list. I'm guessing the system is a bit heavy on high-strikeout pitchers.
8:18 PM Apr 14th
 
raincheck
Thanks Bill. Jolly Dodger is right, we can't forget to just enjoy the game. I grew up in So Cal and used to love watching Ryan pitch for the Angels. Yeah, there were very ugly walk filled nights, I was well aware of the down side. But when he was on it just amazing to see.

Also glad to see a list with Maloney so high. He used to torture the Dodgers so I always thought of him as a great pitcher. Then he just sort of dropped out sight. Good hitter too.
6:37 PM Apr 14th
 
RangeFactor
In their late 20's / early 30's, the closest similarity score to Nolan Ryan was Sam McDowell, and vice versa. It's easy to forget how great McDowell was; his injuries and personal problems caused him to fall off the proverbial cliff way too young. Those of us who are older fans are not shocked to see him mentioned here.
2:26 PM Apr 14th
 
wovenstrap
I think you once argued, Bill, that no-hitters tend to cluster mildly before the All-Star Game and before the end of the season, when fatigue and disarray tend to build up. A hot pitcher in cold weather facing a couple of teams who happen to be fraying.... there's a recipe for some streaks, there.
11:57 AM Apr 14th
 
jollydodger
About it not being fair: I love witnessing these instances, but don't forget, they can happen for portions of the game as well. Last week or the week before, Felix Hernandez was facing the Angels, gave up 3 early runs…but in those middle innings, he was filthy. Utterly untouchable. And it was lovely to watch.

I'm as numbers-geeky as anyone, but we should never forget to appreciate the beauty of the game - the sniffs of dominance, impossible athleticism, etc. A pitcher can be struggling, yet carve up a MVP-caliber hitter like a prized ham. Mmmm, ham...
11:48 AM Apr 14th
 
jollydodger
Going to have to look up Jim Maloney. Never heard his name before this article. Thank you.
11:44 AM Apr 14th
 
sbromley
I think when a pitcher is that good the umpires should switch to a smaller plate. It just isn't fair to the other players.
9:54 AM Apr 14th
 
OldBackstop
Great article, Bill ! I think I'll win some bets on whether SPs pitched longer into games in the '70s or 50s....
8:34 AM Apr 14th
 
mauimike
..."on September 6, Perry pitched another 3 - hit shutout against the Angels." That was to easy. Was that a test? It was against Houston.
6:38 AM Apr 14th
 
 
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