The coolest and dullest gopher ball pitchers everby Chris Jaffe
November 08, 2010
A few weeks ago, those of you out in reader-land came across an article here at THT: "The coolest and dullest homer hitters of all time." It was a fun piece, and this is its sequel.
The previous piece's premise was pretty basic: some home runs are more exciting than others, so let's look through the home run logs to determine which batters were the most/least likely to hit some particularly fun homers. A "cool" homer is one that would be a highlight of any game you attended.
Since there are also home run logs for pitchers, that article can be flipped on its head: which hurlers surrendered the largest number and greatest percentage of especially cool homers?
By and large, it's the same categories used in the previous cool/dull homer article. One or two changes have been made though. For one, multi-homer games aren't counted. After all, while it's impressive for a hitter to blast more than one in four or five at bats, a pitcher faces maybe 30 batters, so it's less meaningful. One category replaces it: homers surrendered to the opposing pitchers. It's cool to see a pitcher go deep on his rival. The other categories remain: grand slams, pinch-hit homers, lead-off homers, walk-off homers, inside-the-park homers, and extra-inning homers.
Some areas, such as walk-off homers and extra-inning shots, are the clear turf for relievers, while others, most obviously lead-off homers, belong to starters. In news that shouldn't shock anyone, pitchers are different from hitters in how they are used.
To make sure everyone worth looking at is looked at, all the following pitchers are up for grabs here: 1) everyone who allowed at least 150 home runs in his career, 2) all pitchers with at least 500 relief appearances, and 3) all those with a minimum of 300 starts. In all, it works out to 677 pitchers.
Time for the coolest gopher ball pitchers ever, first category by category and then combined:
Let's lead off with lead-offs. Here are the all-time champions at this unwanted way to begin. (Let's throw in GS to see how many opportunities they had to allow lead offs):
Pitcher L.O. GS Pedro Martinez 19 409 Jeff Suppan 18 411 Jamie Moyer 17 628 Catfish Hunter 14 476 Phil Niekro 13 716 Woody Williams 13 330 Frank Tanana 13 616 Randy Johnson 13 603 Tony Cloninger 12 247 Rick Reuschel 12 529
Pedro? I never would've guessed such a great pitcher would be at the top of the heap. It's supposed to be someone like Jeff Suppan: a pitcher good enough to last without ever appearing to be that good.
Tony Cloninger's inclusion is impressive because he had the fewest starts and he is the oldest pitcher on the list. Just think: at one point someone with fewer than 250 starts held the record for most lead-off shots. Then Catfish Hunter broke his mark, and in the 21st century several pitchers topped Hunter. Before Cloninger, the record holder was Billy Pierce, the first man with double-digit lead-offs. Cloninger is more famous for another, much more positive home run feat: he once hit two grand slams in one game.
The most starts without allowing a lead-off? Eppa Rixey, with 554 GS, whose career began in the deadball era. Most starts by a lead-off homer-less pre-Ruth pitcher was Adonis Terry at 406. Most for a purely liveball pitcher was Mel Harder at 433 (only Rixey had more starts).
Since WWII, Dock Ellis has the most starts without ever allowing the first batter to round the bases against him: 317.
Brad Radke has his own claim to fame here, though: he once allowed lead-off home runs in three consecutive starts. As best as I can tell, that is the only time it's ever happened in the majors: July 10-21, 2004.
Perhaps the greatest pitcher of our time is also the most prolific lead-off gopher-ball-allower of all time.
Let's go to the other end of the game to shine a light on relievers. The following allowed the most game-ending (and thus game-losing) home runs:
Pitcher W-O Roy Face 17 Rollie Fingers 13 Randy Myers 12 Rich Gossage 11 Lindy McDaniel 11 Troy Percivel 11 Eddie Guardado 11 Jim Brewer 11 John Franco 10 Bruce Sutter 10 WillieHernandez 10
There are a lot of really good pitchers there, but that's who you entrust with a close lead late in the game.
Roy Face wins easily. Face allowed 141 homers overall—one of the highest totals ever for a reliever (Lindy McDaniel is tops with 172, if you're curious)—and nearly one in eight ended the game.
Of the men listed above, Rich Gossage allowed the most memorable walk-off, as Famous Amos Otis hit an inside-the-park walk-off on him once.
Most games ended in relief without ever allowing a walk-off dinger? As it happens, the first reliever still owns the title: Jack Quinn, who became MLB's first full-time reliever 80 years ago. He ended 217 games in relief, but none ended with a walk-off.
Fun fact: since the 1960s, only once has a walk-off homer been hit by a pitcher: Craig Lefferts on April 25, 1986. Funner fact: Greg Minton allowed it. Minton is mostly famous as the man who tossed 270.1 straight IP without allowing any homers.
Relievers do very well in this category because most pinch-hit appearances occur later in the game. Here are the champs:
Pitcher PH HRA Jeff Reardon 20 109 Robin Roberts 15 505 Tug McGraw 14 108 Michael Jackson 13 127 Steve Bedrosian 13 114 WillieHernandez 13 97 Eight tied 12
They're relievers, except Robin Roberts. He makes the list by combining many CG and 500+ homers.
Only one man allowed over 400 homers without any coming from a pinch hitter: Randy Johnson.
Here's the main event. I nearly made this a separate column since there's so much. First, who allowed the most?
Pitcher Slam HRA Kenny Rogers 11 339 Nolan Ryan 10 321 Michael Jackson 10 127 Milt Pappas 9 298 Frank Viola 9 294 Jerry Reuss 9 245 Ned Garver 9 213 Tom Gordon 9 176 Lee Smith 9 89
Kenny Rogers broke Nolan Ryan's record, which is nice because they were teammates for a spell.
The Lou Gehrig of pitchers: grand slam champion Kenny Rogers.
Going backwards through time, 19th century pitcher Jack Stivetts set a record by allowing six. That lasted until Larry French and Lon Warneke allowed seven, which survived until Ned Garver shattered it with nine. Then came Ryan and finally Rogers.
The really impressive ones above aren't Ryan and Rogers but Michael Jackson and Lee Smith. It's one thing for someone with 300+ homers to end near the top, but a reliever with around (or under!) 100? The heck?
Let's take this a step further. Baseball Reference also lists (since 1950) how often each pitcher faced a batter with the bases loaded. That gives us a sense of opportunity. Let's add that column in:
Pitcher Slam HRA Opor. Kenny Rogers 11 339 309 Nolan Ryan 10 321 509 Michael Jackson 10 127 198 Milt Pappas 9 298 169 Frank Viola 9 294 188 Jerry Reuss 9 245 269 Ned Garver 9 213 Tom Gordon 9 176 236 Lee Smith 9 89 164
This data aren't there for all Garver's career, which is why his space is blank. What's interesting is how often the relievers faced the bases loaded. It's still less often than the starters, but the gap is narrowed considerably. Milt Pappas did worse than Jackson this way.
This opens up whole new avenues. For example: which pitcher has allowed the highest percentage of grand slams in his bases loaded situation? Cliff Lee: eight slams in 81 opportunities to be slammed. Then Dennis Rasmussen (7/86) and Paul Byrd (8/112).
At the other end are a bunch of guys with zero slams allowed. Jim Palmer famously never allowed a grand slam in his entire career, despite allowing 303 career homers. That's the most homers allowed by someone with zero slams. Only Eddie Plank had more starts with no slams, and Plank had the advantage of pitching in the deadball era.
In fact, Palmer has the most homers allowed with someone who allowed one or zero slams. Billy Pierce almost matched him, allowing only one slam in his 284 homers allowed. Added bonus: that one slam was hit by Ellis Kinder—a pitcher!
At any rate, the next-most homers allowed by someone with no slams to his credit are: Harvey Haddix (240), Freddy Garcia (233), Mike Krukow (196), Mike Boddicker (188), and Ben Sheets (178). No one approaches Palmer still. But what happens when we shift from homers allowed to bases-loaded plate appearances?
Pitcher HRA Loaded Jim Palmer 303 213 Joaquin Andjuar 155 156 Doug Jones 86 149 Mike Krukow 196 148 Harvey Haddix 240 147 Paul Lindlad 112 142 Paul Assenmachr 73 142 Matt Morris 175 132 Gary Peters 157 131 Mike Boddicker 188 125
It's still Palmer. It's a pretty close pack after him, which serves to contrast how far ahead Palmer was.
All this talk of batters faced with the bases loaded brings up a side question: since 1950, who had the most such situations? These guys:
Pitcher Slam Op Nolan Ryan 509 Tom Glavine 428 Steve Carlton 378 Phil Niekro 350 Randy Johnson 343
This is great for two reasons. First: check out how far ahead the Ryan Express is. That's what happens when you walk far more batters than anyone else. Second, it introduces us to the wonder that was Tom Glavine.
He always had a reputation for being willing to walk a better batter and focus on the lesser ones. This proclivity for situational pitching comes through loud and clear in this data. Fifteen pitchers since 1950 had at least 300 plate appearances with the bases loaded. The other 14 each allowed at least five slams and averaged over seven. Glavine? Just two, despite having well over 400 plate appearances with the bases loaded.
There's more to Glavine than that. I also tracked solo homers allowed and Glavine's just as impressive there. Of his 356 homers allowed, 243 were solo shots, nearly 70 percent. Among the 677 pitchers in the database, Glavine's solo percentage is sixth-highest. None of the guys ahead of Glavine are in the top 100 for career homers allowed. Glavine ranks 23rd in homers allowed.
Of the five ahead of Glavine, the man with the most homers allowed is Pedro Martinez, whose 239 homers are tied for 120th place. One hundred seventy of Martinez's shots were solo ones (all those lead-off homers pay off here!), a scarcely better percentage than that of Glavine.
You know who was also good at situational pitching? Catfish Hunter. Not only did he have a high percentage of homers occur with no one on (250 of 374, 66.8 percent—not Glavine, but still excellent), but he also set an impressive record: most consecutive homers allowed that were not slams. Hunter allowed two slams and a rookie and none afterward: 362 straight homers without a slam. That's more home runs than Palmer ever allowed.
Tom Glavine: the greatest situational pitcher of his generation.
There isn't as much to say here. I wrote a column on this subject a ways back that covered it in much better detail.
The record holder list is dominated by deadball-era pitchers. That's not surprising. Cy Young is all-time leader, with 54 insiders, followed by his one-time teammate Jack Powell with 40. Both of them started in the 19th century. Among purely 20th century pitchers, Rube Marquard reigns with 38. Among primarily liveball pitchers, Burliegh Grimes is tops with 23. For purely liveballers, its Earl Whitehill with 13. Bob Feller is the only living pitcher with double digit insiders, at 10. In contrast, among guys who pitched recently, the leader is Brett Tomko, with three.
Opposing pitcher homers
These are all fun lists, but this is one that was especially fun to research. This has got to be the most humiliating and humbling homers. Thus the men below are the most humiliated and humbled hurlers:
Pitcher PIT HRA Pedro Ramos 15 316 Kid Nichols 13 156 Frank Dwyer 13 108 Phil Niekro 12 482 Mickey Lolich 12 347 Gus Weyhing 12 120 Jim Whitney 12 79 Early Wynn 11 338 Geo. Blaeholder 10 173 Jesse Haines 10 165 John Clarkson 10 159
Pedro Ramos twice allowed the opposing starter to homer twice in a game off of him. As it happens, though, none of his last 100 long balls allowed came from other pitchers.
As for the Deadballers on the list, though there were fewer home runs overall, the further back in time you go, the more complete games pitchers had (giving them more at-bats) and the better they hit (so they had more home runs).
That said, Jim Whitney's record is especially impressive. No matter how you slice it, pitchers should've accounted for no more than one-ninth of the batters he faced, and yet they hit over 15 percent of all shots off of him. Other guys with over one-ninth of their homers coming from opposing pitchers are: Tommy Bond (looking only at post-National Association years), Frank Dwyer, Eddie, Plank, and Bill Dinneen. That's it.
Most homers allowed without allowing one to the pitcher? It's all-time gopher ball champion Jaime Moyer, with 511. That's not fair: he was in a DH-league most of the time. The honor of most homers allowed in a league where pitchers batted without allowing one to a pitcher goes to Don Drysdale. None of his 280 homers allowed came from a hurler. To be fair, he also never had to face himself at the plate, and he was famously one of the best slugging pitchers of all time.
Drysdale does have one ignominious gopher ball claim to fame. On Opening Day 1969, he allowed the first batter of the year to go deep on him. That's bad, but others have done that too. However, no one else ever allowed the second batter to also crush a homer off of him, but Drysdale did. Heck of a way to start the year. He made up for it by shutting down the opposition after that and winning 3-2. Actually, Drysdale has another nice homer-related claim to fame: though he only allowed three grand slams, two were hit by the same guy. It was Hank Aaron.
Predictably, relievers dominate here:
Pitcher X-in HRA Roy Face 21 141 Rod Beck 15 97 Eddie Guadardo 15 138 WillieHernandez 15 97 Hoyt Wilhelm 14 150 Rollie Fingers 14 123 Lindy McDaniel 13 172 Randy Myers 13 69 Jesse Orosco 13 113 Johnny Sain 12 180
Roy Face's high total makes sense, given his similarly high walk-off home run total. Eight of his extra-inning shots were walk-offs. Actually, several names are on both extra-inning and walk-off lists, which sounds right. Randy Myers has the highest percentage of homers from extra-innings. Sain, though famous as a starter, allowed only two walk-offs in contests he started.
Adding it up
So how to add the above to determine the coolest and dullest gopher ball pitchers? First, let's note this is entirely arbitrary. That's OK, because—and there's no point in kidding anyone about this—ranking them by coolest is just a gimmick to present all these lists in one column.
No matter how it's done, some groups will be preferred: deadballers with their inside-the-park homers; relievers with pinch hits, walk-offs, and extra-innings; and starters with leadoffs. There are two ways of looking at it: raw score (based on coolness points given for the above categories), and percentage, Cool Gopher Ball (CGB) score divided by total homers allowed.
One limitation to add: look at only guys who allowed 200 or more homers. The others helped flesh out the above lists, but like batting average, you need a minimal sample size to qualify for the CGB formula. That tosses out most relievers and deadballers.
Ultimately, the formula is:
1.5 times grand slams, plus
1.5 times pinch-hit homers, plus
1.5 times lead-off homers, plus
Two times homers by opposing pitchers, plus
Two times walk-off homers, plus
Inside the park homers, plus
Extra inning homers.
Basically, I think walk-off and opposing pitcher homers are the coolest, so they rank the highest. Extra inning homers are nice, but not as impressive and also the most irrelevant as they're almost all used by relievers with under 200 career homers allowed. Insiders have more to do with the hitters, fielders, and park than the pitchers.
Add it all up and the highest raw score is 86, by Elroy Face. That isn't too surprising. He only allowed 141 homers overall, so he won't qualify for the percentage. Next highest is Cy Young with a CGB of 80, in his 138 homers allowed. Thanks, inside-the-park homers. Then you finally get someone with over 150 career homers allowed: Robin Roberts, with 78.5 CGB in his 505 homers allowed.
What are the top percentages? Among men with 150+ homers allowed, these guys:
Pitcher HRA CGB % Ted Lyons 223 61 27.35% Wilbur Wood 209 54.5 26.08% John Klippstein 203 51 25.12% Bob Forsch 216 53.5 24.77% Stan Bahnsen 223 50 22.42% Ron Kline 217 48 22.12% Pedro Ramos 316 69.5 21.99% Early Wynn 338 71 21.01% Juan Pizarro 201 41 20.40% Jim Lonborg 233 47 20.17%
Most of these guys worked as relievers and starters, which makes sense. If Face allowed 59 more homers with zero coolness points, he'd still stomp on this field.
Ted Lyons allowed six walk-offs, five lead-offs, five by opposing pitchers, three pinch-hit ones, six slams, seven extra-inning ones, and 11 insiders. That's some nice, well-rounded coolness.
The best percentage among the 400+ homer pitchers is Robin Roberts, though Gaylord Perry (399 HR) topped him.
And now, for the dullest percentages:
Pitcher HRA CGB % Mike Mussina 376 12 3.19% Kevin Tapani 260 9 3.46% Dennis Leonard 202 8.5 4.21% Doyle Alexander 324 14 4.32% Rick Reed 213 9.5 4.46% Sidney Ponson 223 10.5 4.71% Charles Nagy 217 10.5 4.84% Bartolo Colon 256 12.5 4.88% Jimmy Key 254 12.5 4.92% Esteban Loaiza 259 13.5 5.21%
Mussina never allowed an opposing pitcher homer (thanks, DH!), or a walk-off, or an insider, or an extra-inning one, and only one pinch-hit, three lead-off, and four slams.
Actually, let's note the real dullest gopher ball pitcher: Dock Ellis. His 140 homers earned him four CGB: an insider and two slams. That's it. He was shut out in the other categories.
Mike Mussina: even the homers he allows don't attract attention.
References and Resources
This column was based on big heaping gobs of research done at the Home Run Logs at Baseball-Reference.com.
The bit about only one pitcher hitting a walk-off HR in the last 40 years came from this post at the B-Ref Blog.
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.