Sometimes a team just can’t beat a particular pitcher. That’s a pitcher who has a whammy on them. I looked at this last week with National League teams, so let’s look at the American League teams now.
The basic ground rules are simple. Having looked up career splits for all hurlers with at least 100 wins from 1916-2012, I found out which pitcher most owns a particular team. Typically, there’s a cluster of guys to pick from. When it doubt, win-loss record will be the main way to pick the pitcher. That’s not the most sabermetrically advanced way to do it, but then again, having the whammy means a guy you can’t beat. And wins and losses obviously tell you that.
Also, on some occasions if it’s a bizarre and seemingly random pitcher that has the whammy, I’ll pick him. After all, there’s no shame in having Pedro Martinez dominate you, but some random guy from Tacoma is especially frustrating.
Okay, so here they are, the pitchers with the biggest whammies on each team.
Baltimore Orioles: Roy Halladay: 20-4 (.833), 2.89 ERA
There are plenty of pitchers to choice from against this franchise. Back in the Browns days, Wes Ferrell (38-10, 3.94 ERA) and Lefty Grove (42-17, 3.20 ERA) dominated them. When they shifted from St. Louis to Baltimore in the 1950s, Allie Reynolds (41-15, 2.65 ERA), and Billy Pierce (36-17, 2.22 ERA) owned them. More recently, Andy Pettitte (27-6, 3.52) has the whammy on them.
But Halladay has the gaudiest winning percentage, and if you adjust for era, his ERA is pretty damn impressive. That’ll happen when you have 21 Quality Starts in 27 games started.
Though he’s only lost to them four times, Halladay twice has had a two-game losing streak. As a young kid in 2000, Baltimore beat him twice. Then, after Halladay beat Baltimore eight straight times, they topped him twice in 11 days in 2006. He’s currently on a 10-game winning streak against the O’s.
Boston Red Sox: Gaylord Perry, 22-5 (.815), 2.59 ERA
The Red Sox had a winning record every year Perry was in the AL except in 1983, when they were barely under .500 and Perry was on fumes. So while Perry was a great pitcher, his 22-5 record is as unlikely as it is impressive.
With a doormat Indians team in the early-to-mid-1970s, Perry was 14-1 against Boston with 13 Quality Starts, including 11 in a row. Those weren’t cheap Quality Starts, either. They all were two earned runs or fewer, and all but one a complete game (and that was 8.1 innings pitched).
Lefty Grove was arguably even better: 35-8 with a 2.71 ERA, but Perry faced Boston when they were good; Grove didn’t.
Chicago White Sox: Whitey Ford, 39-21 (.650), 2.17 ERA.
The White Sox had a winning record every season from 1951 to 1967. Whitey Ford pitched from 1950-67. Because the Sox were often New York’s main rival, Casey Stengel would try to pitch Ford against them whenever possible. Because those games meant so much, the Sox frequently did likewise, matching Chicago ace Billy Pierce up against Ford so often that their rivalry is still remembered on the South Side.
So while Ford had the Yankees backing him up, and a .650 percentage isn’t the gaudiest one here, Ford earned this spot. That 2.17 ERA is there for a reason. Ford threw 13 shutouts against the White Sox, the most by any pitcher versus a single franchise in the lively ball era.
Cleveland Indians: Ed Lopat 40-13 (.755), 3.18 ERA.
Eddie Lopat—of course it’s Eddie Lopat!
In his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, former Indians owner Bill Veeck wrote that Lopat had such a big whammy on the club, he actually hosted a “Beat Eddie Lopat Night.” Sure enough, Lopat had an 11-game winning streak against the Indians from 1949 to ’51.
Pedro Martinez was more dominant with an 11-1 record and 1.77 ERA, but Cleveland never had a “Beat Pedro Martinez Night,” now did they?
Detroit Tigers: Red Faber: from 1916 onward: 48-20 (.706), 3.13 ERA
Wait—whoah! How in the hell did Faber do this well against Detroit? All of Faber’s 20-season Hall of Fame career came with Chicago (1914-33), and they were better than Detroit just seven times, and Faber barely pitched in two of those years. In all, the Tigers won 65 more games than Chicago in the days of Faber.
Faber shouldn’t have gone 48-20 against Detroit. He shouldn’t have come close, but he did—because he had the whammy on them.
(Actually, B-ref team schedules list the pitcher of record for 1915 games, and Faber was 2-6 against Detroit that year. That puts him at 50-26. Hey, that’s still fantastic.)
Houston Astros: Steve Carlton: 33-13 (.717), 2.49 ERA.
It’s tempting to put Sandy Koufax in here. Koufax did have gaudier numbers: a 14-2 record (.875) and 1.90 ERA. But Carlton had nearly three times as many starts, and that does matter.
In post-expansion years, Carlos Zambrano is 17-8 against them with a no-hitter.
Kansas City Royals: Justin Verlander: 15-2 (.882), 2.73 ERA.
If you go by ERA, it’s Roger Clemens with a 2.18 mark and 25-7 record. Either one would be a good pick.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Mel Stottlemyre: 19-4 (1.49 ERA).
In AL history, the best ERA by a pitcher who threw at least 100 innings against an opponent is Stottlemyre’s mark against the Angels. That gives him his place here, over Roger Clemens (29-9 record and 2.50 ERA), and Pedro Martinez (9-1, 2.24).
Minnesota Twins: David Wells: 19-6 (.760), 2.36 ERA
This is all a matter of what era you want to pick from. Want to look back to pre-war days when the then-Senators were a typical second-division team? Then you go with Urban Shocker and his 35-14 record. Want something from the Washington-to-Minnesota transition period? Whitey Ford went an amazing 32-10 with a 2.62 ERA against them.
But in recent years, it’s David Wells. Not only does he have a comparable percentage and lower ERA than those other guys, but Wells’ entry here highlights one lamentable fact about the 21st-century Twins: New York owns them, especially come October. The Twins have faced New York four times in the ALDS and are 2-12. Wells started just one of those games, but not surprisingly, he won it.
(Random fact: as a young Blue Jay reliever, Wells appeared in relief in all four games of the ALCS the Twins won, though he didn’t factor in the decisions for any of them).
A great case could be made for Mike Mussina. He actually had a better record: 22-6 against Minnesota. (Man, those Torre-era Yankee pitchers sure did devastate the Twins), but Wells has an ace up his sleeve—a perfect game. Wells’ perfect game in 1998 was against—of course—Minnesota. Yeah, that’s a nice added bonus.
New York Yankees: Frank Lary: 28-13 (.683), 3.32.
Go to Lary’s page on Baseball-Reference.com, and you’ll see his nickname was The Yankee Killer. He earned it.
Against all non-Yankee teams, Lary finished under .500 (100-103), but he beat the Yankees like no one else. The best contenders are Jim Palmer (30-16, 2.84 ERA) and Firpo Marberry (23-11, 4.32 ERA), but they both finished with overall winning percentages well above .600. And Lary scores a bit better than both anyway.
Oakland A’s: Carl Mays: 33-3 from 1916 onward (.917), 1.96 ERA
Famous (or infamous) as the man who threw the pitch that killed Ray Chapman, Mays also killed the A’s.
His 33-3 mark is unlike anything else here in its combination of quantity of decisions and extreme winning percentage. And, incredibly, that record underrates him. B-ref’s splits go back to 1916, but Mays began pitching in 1915. He went 2-0 against the A’s that year, giving him an overall mark of 35-3.
Don’t overlook that 1.96 ERA, either. For someone who did most of his pitching in the high-octane 1920s, that’s also impressive. Sure, the A’s were bad during Mays’ heyday, but no one else pummeled them like he did.
In more recent times, the A’s were owned by Bob Feller (46-16), Vic Raschi (26-5), Steve Barber (22-7), and Luis Tiant (23-10). Please note that Tiant did some of his pitching against the A’s in the 1970s, when they won three straight championships.
Oh, and readers from last week’s piece may remember Mays also was the man with the whammy on the A’s. He went 13-0 against the then-Philadelphia A’s. In all, he’s 48-3 against the Philadelphia teams. Unreal.
The City of Brotherly Love was certainly the city that Carl Mays loved. And owned.
Seattle Mariners: Doc Medich; 12-1 (.923), 2.83 ERA
By all rights, this belongs to Pedro Martinez. He was 13-1, better than Medich. His ERA is far better: 1.57. The only loss came in Martinez’s last game against them when he was a Met. So it’s nearly a perfect 13-0 record.
True, but Medich isn’t far behind at 12-1. More importantly, he’s just Doc Freakin’ Medich. Who the heck gets owned by Doc Freakin’ Medich? He was a mediocre pitcher who peaked before the Mariners began, but the Mariners just could not stop him. I love the randomness of it all.
Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Appier, 8-1 (.888), 1.86 ERA.
The whammies generally aren’t as impressive with the newer teams, because they are so new.
Tim Wakefield tops everyone on wins. He went 21-8 against them, pretty damn impressive (though with a lackluster 3.71 ERA). This is yet another team Pedro Martinez shined against, going 11-4 with a 1.99 ERA.
True, but Appier had an even better ERA than Martinez, and the difference in their win-loss record is 3-3, a .500 mark, hardly the mark of the man with the whammy. Nine decisions are typically low for the whammy pitcher, but you make do with what you have.
Texas Rangers: Camilo Pascual: 13-1 (.929), 1.97 ERA
This is interesting for a few reasons. When Pascual pitched, the Rangers weren’t the Texas Rangers but the new Washington Senators. The old Senators had moved to Minnesota to become the Twins, taking their franchise history with them, while this expansion team took their place.
Pascual was a pitcher on the old Senators and new Twins. He was the ace of those last staffs by the original Senators. In 1959, he led the league in complete games and shutouts while posting a 17-10 record for a last-place club that went 46-81 with other hurlers recording the decisions.
The new Senators brought out the best in the last lion of the old Senators. He was proving a point and extra motivated. Heck, he probably had the home-field advantage in both parks, with the Washington faithful glad to see him return.
Not only was Pascual 13-1, but he was nearly even better. In 1965, he allowed one run in nine innings while fanning 13 but got a no-decision as the game went into extra innings (in which Washington won).
On June 30, 1963, Pascual had to leave early despite pitching three scoreless innings while fanning five. Apparently, he injured himself scoring from first on a teammate’s triple. Minnesota won both of those games.
But even without those two contests, no one compares with Pascual’s gaudy winning percentage.
If you want someone who faced Texas during their Rangers years, there is Dave McNally: 27-7 with a 2.29 ERA. More recently, Barry Zito is 18-6 with a 3.78 ERA. Bartolo Colon begins 2013 with a mark of 18-7 and a 3.66 ERA.
Toronto Blue Jays: Luis Tiant, 9-0 (1.000), 2.08 ERA.
Again, nine decisions is less than I’d normally like, but it’s 9-0. That’s worth noting. And with a stellar, ERA, too.
Tiant had 11 starts against Toronto, and his first two were no-decisions. He won all of the remainder, courtesy an absurd 1.34 ERA in those outings. He had good run support but didn’t need it. Only once in those final nine starts did Tiant surrender more than two runs, and that was just three tallies.
Tiant’s old teammate, Mike Torrez, nearly matched him, with an 8-1 record. More recently, it’s a bunch of pitchers who spent time on the Yankees: Mike Mussina (25-12), Roger Clemens (24-12), and Andy Pettitte (22-13).