Got the whammy, NL teamsby Chris Jaffe
April 08, 2013
Every team has that one pitcher, that one damn pitcher that has the whammy on it. They just can’t beat the SOB. As a Cubs fan growing up in the 1980s, that pitcher was Dwight Gooden. Try and try as they might, it seemed like the Cubs could never top him. At one point he won 22 out of 23 against the Cubs. Now that’s having the whamee on a team.
It's time to find out which pitcher has the biggest whammy on each team. Let’s not restrict it just to current pitchers or hurlers from recent memory. Baseball-Reference.com has pitcher splits going back to 1916, and I’ve got pitcher vs. team splits for everyone with at least 100 wins in that time.
How do you define a pitcher that has a whammy? At the risk of disgracing myself before the classic standards of sabermetrics, I’ll use win-loss records as the main guide. No, it’s not the most advanced or precise metric for looking at a pitcher’s talent.
But think for a second, what does it mean to have a whammy on a team? It means the team just can’t beat him. Obviously, if the pitcher has a great ERA, that’ll get taken into account, but the starting point will be win-loss record. (Also, win-loss records are more consistent over the decades than ERA, a notable fact given that we’re looking at nearly a century of pitchers.)
Generally, you rarely have one pitcher completely stand out from the field when it comes to having the whamee on a team. Usually there are three or four guys you can name. When it comes to picking the whammy man, two factors will be considered.
First is utter domination. The man with the lower ERA and higher strikeout rate gets the nod. (Thus, we’ll usually have guys with great ERAs and great W-L records, which makes sense). Second, and going against the above, are unlikely pitchers. It’s one thing if Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez utterly dominates a team, but isn’t it much more embarrassing if a seemingly generic pitcher can’t be beaten by your team? That’s extra annoying, and hence whamee-worthy.
Anyway, here we go with the list, given with win-loss record and ERA by the pitcher against the team. There's a lot of ground to cover, so for this week it'll just be NL teams. We'll do the AL next time.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Tim Hudson, 7-0 W-L (1.000), 1.33 ERA
In nine starts, Hudson has eight Quality Starts. Only twice has he allowed more than one run against them. Diamondbacks fans must wish Hudson had never left the AL.
Other contenders are Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny. Schmidt’s 15 wins are the most anyone has against Arizona, and Penny is 10-3 with a 1.97 ERA.
Atlanta Braves: Eric Show, 18-3 (.857), 3.37 ERA
Other pitchers have been more dominant than Show. Tom Seaver went 32-10 against Atlanta with a sparkling 2.28 ERA, over a full run lower than Show’s 3.37 mark. Carl Hubbell (34-13, 2.43 ERA) and Pete Alexander (37-21 with a 2.12 ERA from 1916 onward) also crushed the Braves. True, but those men made all teams look bad. But how in Hades do you drop 18 out of 21 decisions to Eric Show?
Okay, fine, so he’s the all-time Padres wins leader. That fact is more a piece of embarrassment for the Padres than a point of pride for Show. In fact, when not pitching against the Braves, Show had a losing record. It’s Atlanta that pushes him atop the all-time Padres win list.
Chicago Cubs: Randy Johnson: 13-0 (1.000), 1.91 ERA.
Going in, I just assumed Gooden would be the guy against the Cubs. But as gaudy as his 28-4 record is, you can’t top a perfect mark. Besides, Gooden’s ERA of 3.35 is well behind Johnson’s mark.
Other pitchers posted more than 13 wins against a particular team, but they all had at least one loss. Johnson also fanned 143 batters in 103 innings against the Cubs. In the 4,244 splits I have on file where a pitcher had at least 100 innings pitched against a team, that’s the highest K rate.
Cincinnati Reds: Red Lucas, 14-1 (.933), 2.90 ERA
This is the toughest call of all as there are two terrifically qualified candidates.
Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean owned the Reds. Not only did he go 27-4 against them, but he had an absurdly brilliant 2.19 ERA, something you rarely see with 1930s pitchers.
Lucas doesn’t have Dean’s ERA nor sheer bulk of games, but he has a 14-1 record. Among pitchers with one loss, that’s the best mark against any club. Lucas has an extra background factor, though. He pitched for the Reds for a decade and piled up his gaudy record against them only after they traded him away. So there’s a revenge factor here. Thus, I gave it to Lucas, but it’s a tough call.
Colorado Rockies: Brad Penny: 14-3 (.824), 3.13 ERA
Penny sure likes to whip the hell out of recent expansion teams, doesn’t he? He’s an honorable mention against the Diamondbacks and gets the honor here. He’s 95-91 against everyone else.
Randy Johnson gets the honorable mention here, not just because of his 19-8 record and 2.47 ERA, but because he fanned 251 batters in 211 innings.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Juan Marichal: 37-18 (.673), 2.36 ERA
This is a special one. Not only was Marichal the longtime ace of LA’s longtime archrivals, the Giants, but the Dodgers were really good when Marichal was in his prime. They won three pennants in the ‘60s while Marichal’s team won “only” one (and that was only after a historically great pennant race against the Dodgers). Marichal owned LA, though. In a 13-month period in 1963 and '64, he went 8-1 against the Dodgers.
Of course, that’s not what you think of when you think Marichal versus the Dodgers. His shocking decision to attack John Roseboro with a baseball bat in the middle of an August, 1965 game is what typically comes to mind. But Marichal had this team’s number.
J.R. Richard deservers a mention, as he went 15-4 with a 1.86 ERA. Rather bizarrely, Shane Rawley, of all people, went 9-0 against LA. Aaron Sele was nearly as good, 7-0. But Marichal had a quantity of starts against a high-quality Dodger team and had the whamee on them.
Miami Marlins: Tim Hudson: 14-4 (778), 2.95 ERA
Hudson loves the new teams, doesn’t he? Hudson and Penny ought to go bowling together or something. Johan Santana is another candidate, with a 6-1 mark and 1.70 ERA, but it’s not enough games. John Smoltz is close to Hudson at 15-6 with a 2.72 ERA. But the difference is one more win and two more losses, so Hudson noses ahead of him.
Milwaukee Brewers: Jeff Suppan: 13-2 (.867), 3.20 ERA
This is another great “Wait, what? This guy?” pick. I mean, Jeff Suppan? Yeah, he was an adequate pitcher who ate a lot of innings for a number of years, but no self-respecting team wants Suppan to own it. Be owned by Randy Johnson. Be owned by Steve Carlton. There’s no shame in that. But … Jeff Suppan? Yeah, there kind of is shame in that.
Milwaukee was so impressed with Suppan that the franchise signed him to a big multi-year contract, only to have Suppan again prove that he specializes in preventing Brewer victories. Well, that’s a bit too harsh, as his 29-36 record in Milwaukee is bad but not terrible. But it’s sure a far sight worse than 13-2.
Jim Palmer (22-10, 2.77 ERA), and Wilbur Wood (21-9, 3.00 ERA) also had a whammy on Wisconsin.
New York Mets: Sandy Koufax: 17-2 (.895), 1.44 ERA.
Makes sense. Match up a pitcher going through one of the best peaks of all time against a fledgling expansion team. It’s not surprising that one of Koufax’s no-hitters came against the Mets. In all, Koufax surrendered 5.44 hits per nine innings against the Mets, one of the best marks by any pitcher in any split.
A lot of pitchers had gaudy marks against the Mets back in the 1960s. In fact, Koufax wasn’t the most impressive. Larry Jackson was 21-2 against them. I’d give him the nod here, but Koufax’s 1.44 ERA is the best ever by a pitcher with at least 100 innings against a team. That gives him the nod.
Jackson was also in the running against Houston with an 18-6 mark there. Though he was 39-8 against the ’62 expansion teams, he was 194-183 overall in his career, so Jackson was 20 games under .500 when he didn’t face these two teams. Impressive.
Since the 1960s, Greg Maddux has the best whammy on the Mets, with a 35-19 record. The most unlikely whammy belongs to Mike Krukow, a 22-7 mark for a 1970s pitcher with a 124-117 overall career record.
Philadelphia Phillies: Carl Mays: 13-0 (1.000), 2.85 ERA.
No one has ever topped Johnson’s 13-0 undefeated mark against the Cubs, but Mays did equal it. Or rather, Johnson equaled Mays, as Mays pitched over a half-century before Johnson did.
The Phillies had the worst go of it in the 20th century of any club, so they have the biggest stable of pitchers who owned them. Among the most notable runners-up, ill-deserving Hall of Famer Jesse Haines went 45-14 against Philadelphia while Pat Malone went 30-5. Against everyone else, Malone was 104-87, a nice mark, but nothing like his record against this team.
In more recent decades, Fergie Jenkins was 26-8, which is interesting because Philadelphia traded a young Jenkins away. Even more recently, Darryl Kile was 14-3 against the Phillies.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Sal Maglie: 25-6 (.807), 2.29 ERA
In the early 1950s, Maglie was a great Giants pitcher, and the Pirates were a terrible National League squad.
The great Hubbell also had his way with Pittsburgh, going 49-21. More strangely, the best recent pitcher against Pittsburgh was Suppan: 16-4. Maybe this was the key to Suppan’s longevity. He was an opportunist who specialized in whumping on the lesser teams of this earth. Or maybe it’s just a fluke. As nice as his winning percentage was, Suppan’s 4.15 ERA against the Pirates is nothing notable.
St. Louis Cardinals: Steve Carlton: 38-14 (.731), 2.98 ERA.
Carlton’s .731 record is amazing not only because he had so many starts, but also because the Cardinals really weren’t that bad when he pitched. They weren’t great in the 1970s, but you wouldn’t expect Carlton to own them so much.
But there is a back story. Carlton came up a Cardinal and had his first 20-win season in St. Louis. The Redbirds traded him, and I don’t know if that gave him extra motivation when he played them, but it couldn’t have hurt.
San Diego Padres: Tom Seaver: 33-10 (.767), 2.02 ERA
Some pitchers keep showing up, either as also-rans or winners. Suppan notwithstanding, they are typically among the best pitchers. Seaver arguably deserves the whammy award for Atlanta and earns it against the Padres. Aside from his overall terrific numbers, the Padres were on the wrong end of Seaver’s most famous game, the day he fanned 19 batters, including the last 10 in a row on April 22, 1970.
From 1969-75, Seaver was 18-1 against San Diego with a 1.57 ERA , two or fewer runs allowed in 17 of his 21 starts, and 189 whiffs in 183 innings. That, my friends, is having a whamee on a team.
As long as someone is going to dominate you like that, it better be an iconic arm like Seaver. Less excusably, Joe Niekro was 25-10 with a 2.58 ERA and Jack Billingham went 21-8 with a 3.20 ERA.
San Francisco Giants: Bob Welch: 19-4 (.826), 2.92 ERA
Pitching for the Dodgers from 1978-97, Welch was seemingly unstoppable against the Giants. No only did he win 19 of his 23 decisions, he began his career 17-2 against them. The Giants beat him in his last start in 1986 and then turned around and topped him again in Welch’s 1987 debut.
Welch had his revenge, though. In his last start as an NL pitcher, he threw a complete-game, one-hit shutout against the Giants. Only a Mike Aldrete sixth- inning single prevented it from being a no-hitter.
That proved to be Welch’s last laugh. Even though his Oakland A’s faced the Giants in the 1989 World Series, Welch never took the mound, and when the Series came back on track, the A’s went back to the top of their rotation. It was his start that was postponed by the earthquake. Given how well Welch handled the Giants in his career, as long as San Francisco was going to have a game delayed by earthquake, that would be the one to have it.
Washington Nationals: Terry Mulholland, 17-5 (.773), 3.11 ERA
Terry Mulholland? Uh, okay, Terry Mulholland. Though mostly remembered as a lefty reliever who hung around forever, Mulholland was a pretty good pitcher in his prime. He’s still not the sort of guy that ought to go 17-5 against any self-respecting team, though.
In nine consecutive starts in the early ’90s, he notched a win in every contest. He completed five of those starts, allowing one run or fewer in each. In all, he went 9-0 with a 1.68 ERA over 75 frames. Now that’s a whammy. Montreal finally topped Mulholland in 1995, but then he went 3-0 against them the following year.
Actually, Jerry Reuss has an even better case to be listed here than Mulholland. Reuss was 20-5 with an ever lower ERA, 2.42. However, in the start that mattered most, Reuss came out on the losing end. The Expos beat him in the 1981 NLCS, though the Dodgers overcame that to take the pennant.
Well, that covers the NL. Tune in next week when we look at the AL.
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.