Baseball’s strangest and most amazing team pitching splits: 1957-2007by Chris Jaffe
March 31, 2008
Last year, for whatever insane ideas of my own, I thought it would be a real hoot to go to Baseball Reference and download an absurd number of hitting and pitching splits for every single team from 1957-2007. In all, I logged in 147 different splits for 1,280 teams (and I'm sure I'll get the ones from 1956 soon). If you're curious, you can scroll to the bottom of this page and see a list of what splits I lifted from Sean Forman.
This offseason, I posted two articles based the hitting splits and one looking at the most historic nuggets from 2007. This should be the last article in the series. Here I want to discuss the strangest and most amazing pitching splits in recent times. And by "recent times" I mean since Dwight Eisenhower's re-election.
Oh, I should note that while my main goal is to look at the wildest and most interesting pitching splits, but my last article focusing exclusively on hitting splits was six months ago, and I've found a few more doozies on that side of the ledger since then. For instance...
1. Curse of the Bambino, Part 595,769
Oct. 2, 1978. Bottom of the ninth inning at Fenway Park. The Red Sox were a team on the verge of infamy. In a story that has been recounted endless times over the last 30 years, the Sox had choked away a 14.5 game lead, fall behind the Yanks, only to rally themselves and force the one game playoff that took place on this day.
Down 5-4 with only three outs left to play, their No. 9 hitter was due up. Manager Don Zimmer went with reliable Dwight Evans as his pinch hitter. If anyone could tie the game and possibly save the season with one swing it was he. Many in Fenway could take heart at this momentary sympathy.
Any especially keen observes knew Evans was doomed. No, not because of any fictional curse from Babe Ruth. Not because Zimmer was a rotten manager. Not because the Yankees couldn't be beat. No, it was something much simpler.
Red Sox pinch hitters, through 162 games and right innings, hadn't driven in a single damn run all season. In the last 50+ years, they are the only team in baseball to manage zero pinch hits over the regular season.
Admittedly, this was partially caused because they had so few attempts: only 34 on the year. But jeez, no RBIs at all? For perspective, last year NL pitchers managed an RBI every 10 PA. Can't your pinch hitters do half that good?. Not these Red Sox.
Oh, and Dewey Evans? He flew out to left.
2. The 1974 Expos: the official pitching staff of William F. Buckley
Conventional wisdom has it that a team ought to have at least one lefty in the starting rotation, and one or two more in the bullpen. This way you can keep the opposition honest.
Well, conventional wisdom got lost in the translation up in Montreal in 1974. That year, Montreal's lefties threw 15.1 innings. That's barely one percent of the team total.
They broke camp with one southpaw, Balor Moore. He pitched in three of their first 19 games and was shipped to the minors in late May. Up in his stead came rookie Terry Enyart. He pitched once in June, and then again on July 5. The rest of the year, through 86 games and 3,203 batters faced, the Expos never used another southpaw.
I have no idea why they did this. Apparently they weren't sure either because that offseason they acquired lefty Dave McNally's still warm corpse and made him the Opening Day starter in 1975.
3. The Mother of All Meltdowns.
Here's a fun one—well, for me it dredges up traumatic childhood memories, but leaving that aside, it's a fun question. What team had the greatest decline in team wide ERA after the all-star break? I have first and second half ERAs for every team. Just divide the former into the latter and see.
The answer is the 1985 Cubs, who followed up a first half ERA of 3.41 with a second half mark of 5.04. Folks, this makes a lot of sense. They were the defending NL Central champs behind their rotation of Steve Trout, Scott Sanderson, Dennis Eckersley, and of course Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe. They picked up right where they left off in 1985, jumping out to a four-game lead with a 35-19 record.
But the end had already begun. In late-May, both Trout and Sutcliffe went on the DL. A temporary problem, it was thought. They team rushed them back as Sanderson and Eckerlsey replaced them on the disabled list. The team kept racing them back out instead of letting any get the rest they needed and the result was a disaster.
By August, the entire starting rotation was on the DL. From the time they shut down Sanderson for the season on Aug. 13 until Trout returned on the 24th, none pitched. Their fifth starter, Dick Ruthven, had also been shut down for the season. Their entire starting rotation was on the DL at the same time. Now that's impressive.
The four men who started 62 of the team's first 87 games began only six in August and 11 in September. Oh, and they finished under .500, well out of the race.
4. Not at all surprising, but still impressive
The 1980 Oakland A's have their claim to fame. Their starters threw the most innings of any team since 1957.
If you know you're baseball history, you could've guessed that. They're famous as the gang Billy Martin chewed up. Five starters, ages 24 to 28, started 159 games, completing a staggering 93. Rick Langford completed 25 of his last 27 starts. Aside from that, he went 8.2 innings in one, and tossed 10 innings in a 15-inning marathon in the other.
With 1261.3 innings thrown by their starters, they don't just top the list, they dominate it. Here are the leaders:
1980 OAK 1261.1 1968 SFG 1182.0 1968 STL 1180.2 1969 STL 1179.1 1971 CHC 1178.2
Look, I know they're the hardest worked staff ever, but great googley moogley, they threw a half-inning more per game than their top rivals! That boggles the mind. Making it even more dramatic is how tightly packed numbers 2-5 are. Second place is exactly halfway between the Billy Ball A's and 75th place (a tie between the 1959 Brewers and 1969 Tigers, if you're curious). Insane.
5. April of the Damned
In my column from last month on team splits, I noted in passing that the 1980 Royals had the best single month team wide batting average, as they hit an absurdly high .332 in July. As nice as that is, there's an even bigger story on the pitching ledger.
Turns out, much to my surprise, that the highest month-long batting average allowed is even higher, as the 1994 Twins had opponents tee off on them with a .337 mark. This shouldn't happen. The worst allowed stat should never be higher than the best achieved. The single-season homers allowed mark isn't as high as the most homers in a season, for instance. Teams try to concentrate greatness on their roster, not ineptitude.
Besides, the worst average allowed should never come in April due to the game's annual temperature curve. The Twins staff was so bad, that 108 games into the season, opponents were still hitting .300 against them for the entire season—and due to the strike, the Twins only played 113 games. For the record, no entire offense has hit .300 for the entire season came in 1950.
The best pitcher on the staff was Scott Erickson, who posted an ERA of 5.28 for the month. Over 180 of their 220 innings came from men with ERAs over 6.00. Almost two-thirds of their work came from men with ERAs over 7.00. They had only two games all month were teams scored fewer than four runs against them, and 14 games when they gave up at least eight. They gave up 60 in a five-game span. Remarkably, they went 9-16 that month, as they went 8-3 when holding teams to seven or fewer runs.
The staff recovered after that. Oh, they still weren't any good, but they were merely dreadful instead of being historically pathetic. But that's about as bad a start as any staff has had in quite some time.
6. Thank God for the offense
As noted already, the 1980 A's had the most innings from their starters, but the Milwaukee Brewers from that era also had a rather memorable collection of starters. These guy weren't especially durable, but they did have one claim to fame: they couldn't strike anyone out.
Among all 1,270 teams, the fourth fewest strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) belong to the 1980 Brewers starters. The third least K/9 come from the 1979 Brewers. The second-worst strikeout mark is held by the—can ya guess? —1978 Brewers. And the champion rotation at relying on their defense belongs to—um, well, actually, it's the 1981 Cards. Goddamn Whitey Herzog goofing up a perfectly good stretch.
Apparently staffs built around Larry Sorensen, Mike Caldwell, Bill Travers, and Mule Haas have their limitations. When losing Jim Slaton causes your rotation to lack power pitching, you got issues.
7. A helluva time to forget how to do what you do best
In 1976, Minnesota had a rather middling pitching staff. Sure, they were below average in ERA+, walks, and homers allowed, but they had one saving grace. They were fifth in the league in strikeouts. In general, they struck out every 8th batter, a nice figure back then.
They only had one problem. They were incapable of blowing anyone away if the bases were loaded. In 145 plate appearances, nearly one a game, they whiffed only five. That's the worst strikeouts per plate appearance ratio any team in the last 50 years has had. If they'd kept that pace up all season, the staff would've struck out 215 men, not the 762 that they did. Predictably, hitters took advantage, hitting .366/.375/.496 in that situation.
8. Who needs God on your side when you got Don Sutton?
At the All-Star break in 1976, things weren't going quite according to plan for the Dodgers' pitchers. A staff ERA of 3.69 in Dodger Stadium was disappointing to say the least. They were a below average staff for a team that prided itself on winning with pitching.
Relief iron man Mike Marshall had broken down, Tommy John was still getting used to his brand new arm, and Sutton was just plain lousy, posting an unseemly 4.74 ERA. In their last four games before the break, they allowed 21 runs.
But that three-day rest did them a world of good. In the remaining 76 games, they posted a team ERA of 2.26, the best any team has had in either half since 1957. Really, I would've guessed one of the 1968 teams. That's the obvious choice. Every other recent pitching record comes from that year.
Rick Rhoden was the only starter with an ERA over 3.00, and he was only at 3.10. Making up for him, two starters were under 2.00. The team got a 1.93 mark from the immortal Doug Rau, whoever the hell he was. Pacing the staff was the original bad hair boy himself, Don Sutton. He posted an incredible 1.49 ERA and a 12-2 record while completing 10 of his 16 starts.
From Aug. 1 to October the Dodgers played 59 games with a team ERA of 1.98. In 26 of those games, they allowed 0-1 run. They did that despite facing the Big Red Machine, who had probably the greatest line-up in baseball history, 10 times in those two months.
No one ever talks about this brilliant stretch because:
1. The Reds had put the pennant race away.
2. Their slow start obscured how brilliantly they did.
3. They only went 45-31 in the second half and 37-22 in that two month stretch.
Though forgotten, it's as good as any staff has pitched for that long since there were 48 stars on the flag.
9. Loneliness of the Long Distance Pitching Staff
Every team has to throw 8-9 innings a game, depending on if the home team is ahead or not. Every once in a while they have to go a bit longer. And because pitching places a strain on the arm, those extra-inning contests are especially grueling on the hurlers.
So which team was worked hardest? Well, Baseball Reference doesn't give innings pitched for extra innings, but they do list plate appearances. The honor for most plate appearances waded through goes to the 1969 Twins, who faced 302 batters in overtime. An average team faces about 140.
They had 19 extra-inning games, which are a lot, but not a historically huge number. No, for them it was how long the games lasted.
Opening Day: They faced the Royals in that team's debut game. It went 12 innings. The very next day they had a 17-inning marathon. Incredibly, by year's end that would only be their third longest game. Eleven times they went at least 13 innings.
Rookie manager Billy Martin had relief ace Ron Perranoski pick up much of the load. Almost one-fourth of the batters he faced that year came after the ninth. On another occasion, Martin had Jim Kaat pitch essentially a complete game in relief, as he struck out 10 in 9.1 innings to pick up a win.
10. The Brian Sabean challenge
Lastly, let's go back to hitters for a second. An e-mailer whose name I forgot (sorry, Guy Whose Name I Forgot) asked me to look through my splits to see what's the worst infield of all-time. Apparently, he has the misfortune of being a Giants fan and wants to see if his squad can be the cream of the crap in this regard.
Sadly, that may not be possible as the 1995 Cards set a pace that almost no team can match. You judge hitters with a stat called sOPS+. This takes a team's park-adjusted OPS in a certain situation and compares it to the average performance in that same situation. The pre-LaRussa Cards had an sOPS+ of 66, several points lower than any of the other 1,269 teams.
How bad was it? Their best hitter was John Mabry. He was the only starting infielder with an OPS+ over 70. The rest of the infield: Jose Oquendo, Scott Cooper and Tripp Cromer combined had an OPS+ only three points higher than Edgar Martinez did that year.
In 2,900+ plate appearances, they posted a line of .228./.295/.325 and an OPS of .620. For perspective, Omar Vizquel had an OPS of .621 in 2007. Last year 161 men qualified for the batting title. Only two had an OPS worse than .620. For 162 games, St Louis' entire infield hit like Omar Vizquel.
Well, these columns have no big point. I just hope you found some of this junk interesting and entertaining.
References and Resources
First off, I could not have done this research without Baseball-Reference's Play Index. Sure, anyone can access the team splits, but if you subscribe to PI, you only have to go to the league splits page, click on a the red text for a given split, and then every team's stats for that split will appear. It saves at least 90% of the work.
I looked up 147 splits for all team—65 pitching and 82 hitting. Rather than last each individual split, I'll give you the categories I took them from and how many splits existed in each category. The 65 pitching splits were: platoon (8), home/away (2), halves (2), months (6), outcome (2), pitcher role (2), opposition defensive position (2), bases occupied (10), outs (3), clutch stats (7*), innings (13*), and days rest (14).
I * clutch stats and innings because there are actually eight and 14 stats there currently. When I started taking out stats, there were eight clutch stats, then one—close/late—disappeared. It came back, but I only had a partial sample, so I tossed it out. I only have 13 for innings because, for reasons unclear to me, Baseball-Reference lists "Extra Innings" and "Innings 10+" as two separate splits. Seems a little redundant to me.
The following 82 hitting splits were tapped: platoon (8), home/away (2), halves (2), months (6), defensive position (15), batting order (12), bases occupied (10), outs (3), clutch (7*), innings (13*), power/finesse (2*), ground ball/fly ball (2*).
I have the same problem with innings and clutch stats here. With power/finesse & GB/FB, I made a stupid error. Both have three categories—a neutral, and two ends. I accidently filed the two neutrals together, causing them to be hopelessly entangled. They're out of the sample.
In some cases, there are fewer than 147 splits for a team—strike years can lose a month, with DH-leagues I don't include how pitchers bat, nor do I use opposition defensive position. Whenever feasible and possible, I used all splits.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.