The rivalry of hammer versus nailby Chris Jaffe
April 22, 2013
The last few weeks here at the mighty THT, I wrote a pair of columns looking at what pitchers had the biggest whammy on each of the 30 major league teams. Those were a fun pair of columns, and they set things up for the obvious flip-side question: which pitchers were the most whammied by teams? In other words, who couldn’t buy a win against particular rival squads?
This time, let’s not go team-by-team looking for a pitcher to pair up with every franchise. If you do that, you mostly get a bunch of entirely forgettable pitchers, the worst guys to survive for a long time as major league innings-eaters. There’s no fun in that, so let’s adjust our goals.
Let’s look at the guys with the worst records overall, the guys with the strangest records, the worst records versus a rival by Hall of Famers, and so on. (My sample is of guys who had at least 100 wins from 1916 onward, so we’ll miss the truly lousy pitchers, but there are plenty of obscure and forgettable names with barely over 100 wins and middling careers.)
As was the case in the last few articles, the primary focus here will be on win-loss records. No, it’s not the most sabermetrically advanced way of looking at things. Yes, win-loss records do have substantial flaws. But when you talk about a team having the whammy on a pitcher, the most annoying thing is a chronic inability to beat that club. ERA won’t be ignored, but win-loss records will be the main focus.
Let’s start by looking at guys with the worst records versus a given team.
The most whammied pitcher of all
Nothing quite says the team has a whammy on a pitcher like a pitcher completely unable to beat a club. As near as I can tell, the all-time whammy is Kevin Millwood versus the Minnesota Twins.
Forteen times Millwood faced off against the Minnesota squad, and he never won a single game. His record against the Twins is 0-9, easily the most losses for a winless pitcher against a single squad. To be fair, his hitters have let him down considerably. Half the time they score two or fewer runs, including three different shutouts.
But Millwood hasn’t helped his own cause much, either. He’s allowed 141 Minnesota base runners in just 82 innings while fanning only 44. Under the circumstances, he’s lucky his 5.82 ERA against the Twins isn’t much worse.
Only one other winless pitcher has more than six losses against a rival squad. That would be Doc Medich, who was 0-7 versus the Yankees. Medich is the sort of pitcher you’d expect to be mentioned here: a forgettable hurler who wasn’t especially good. He could wail on the weak sisters of the league—he was 12-1 against the Mariners—,but got creamed by the Yankees. In nine starts and one relief appearance, he lasted barely over 40 innings with a 6.91 ERA.
There are nine different 0-6 records in my file, and impressively, Millwood has one of them, too. In fact, his 0-6 features the worst ERA of any of them: 9.10. As an added bonus, it came against the Braves, the squad he became a star with at the turn of the millennium. Turns out he kept helping them win after going elsewhere.
One final thing before moving on. Jeff Suppan was 0-5 with a 6.08 ERA versus the Yankees, a fact especially notable because he posted a win against all 29 other clubs. Had he just broken through there, he’d be on the very short list of pitcher with a win against all 30 clubs.
From no wins to few wins
Okay, what are the most extreme cases of guys with very few wins against a team? Here are the pitchers with the most losses versus just one win against a rival club:
W L Team Pitcher 1 16 NYY Red Ruffing 1 10 NYY Mike Torrez 1 10 NYG Carl MaysWell now, that sure is something. No one can quite compare with Red Ruffing, now can they? And he’s a Hall of Famer!
Then again, he became a Hall of Famer based on his work with the Yankees. He always had a strange career. He began as the most reliable arm for some truly dreadful Boston Red Sox clubs in the 1920s. Somehow, despite pitching for a horrible squad, Ruffing’s win-loss records were typically worse than his team's overall marks. In all, he was 39-96 with Boston.
Then they traded him to the Yankees in 1930, and he excelled, going 231-124 in the Bronx. Strangely, the man with a worse record than his horrible Red Sox team won at a better clip than his historically great Yankee club. Go figure.
Even Ruffing’s win wasn’t very impressive. He allowed four runs in six innings in a game Boston won, 8-7. To be fair, another time he lost 3-2 thanks to a pair of unearned runs. His most impressive performance might’ve been the time he allowed eight runs, though. Yeah, sure, he allowed eight runs, but that’s because he pitched 15 innings. He got a no-decision as Boston won in 18 frames.
Then again, the Yankees did have his number. In 145 innings, Ruffing surrendered 162 hits, 80 walks, and 110 runs. You don’t go 1-16 without some pitching problems.
But as horrible as Ruffing’s record is, the one that really caught my eye is just below it. Mike Torrez! Mike Torrez against the Yankees! Of course, of course it’s Mike Torrez against the Yankees! What else!
Huh? You see, Torrez is probably best remembered for a game he threw against the Yankees, the Bucky F. Dent game to decide the 1978 AL East division title. Boston had blown a spectacularly huge lead to the Yankees in division race, and in the winner-take-all game, they went with Torrez on the mound.
Looking at the numbers above, that sure sounds like a bad move, doesn’t it? To be fair, his ERA of 4.19 against them isn’t too bad (though it’s better than a 21st-century ERA of 4.19 due to era and all that), but that doesn’t look good.
His win actually came earlier in 1978, but he also had two losses in the month before the game that made Bucky Dent famous.
As for Carl Mays, he was a real creature of extremes. The previous columns noted he was 13-0 against the Phillies and 35-3 against the A’s. He really was all or nothing.
Let’s take it a step further: guys with two wins:
W L Team Pitcher 2 19 NYY Dennis Martinez 2 19 WAS Danny MacFayden 2 12 MIL Charlie Hough 2 12 ATL Ryan DempsterDennis Martinez sure had his problems against the Yankees. The one I get the biggest kick out of is MacFayden, though. It’s one thing to have serious trouble against the Yankees. Hey, they’re always good. But to get routinely pummeled by the Senators? That’s … unexpected.
To be fair, MacFayden pitched when Washington was at its best. And MacFayden pitched for the horrible late 1920s Red Sox, right alongside Red Ruffing. Yeah, but like Ruffing, MacFayden found his way to the Yankees, and he still couldn’t beat Washington. And Washington at its best was a high-quality team, but there are plenty of high-quality teams out there that didn’t post wins like that.
MacFayden also has the distinction of the worst record for a pitcher with three wins against an opponent. His 3-16 mark against the A’s narrowly edges out Rudy May’s 3-15 lifetime record against Baltimore.
Pushing it forward to four wins, and it is Jim Clancy in a landslide. His 4-17 record against the Tigers is the only four-win mark with more than 13 losses.
Fibonacci Win Points
This is another way of looking at things. Fibonacci Win Points are a Bill James creation designed to combine winning-percentage and wins-losses in a way such that pitchers with short careers won’t dominate the leaderboards. (After all, a guy with a 1-0 record is No. 1 in winning percentage, but who cares about a 1-0 pitcher?)
The formula is percentage times wins, added to wins over .500 (or subtract wins under .500, as is the case here). This combines the rate-ness of percentage with the heft of substantial sample size.
Based on that, here are the most owned pitchers by a rival squad:
W L FWP Team Pitcher 8 33 -23.4 BRK Ken Raffensberger 11 31 -17.1 NYY Alex Kellner 2 19 -16.8 NYY Dennis Martinez 2 19 -16.8 WAS Danny MacFayden 6 24 -16.8 PIT Si JohnsonWe’ve already run into the 2-19 boys. The others are from a long time ago. Raffensberger was a pretty good pitcher in the 1940s and 50s NL, but one with chronically bad run support. More importantly for our purposes, he also was a lefty, and in those days the Brooklyn Dodgers ate left-handed pitchers alive.
Incredibly, Raffensberger got off to a nice start against the Dodgers. A win on June 7, 1944 (yes, the day after D-Day), gave him a 3-1 record against Brooklyn. Then he was 5-32 the rest of the way as the Dodgers lineup developed a core of terrific right-handed hitters to feast on Raffensberger and any other lefty who got in their way.
Kellner was Connie Mack’s last 20-game winner when he went 20-8 for the 1949 A’s. It was all downhill from there as he led the league in losses each of the next two seasons. He was 101-112 in his career, which means 90-81 when not facing the Yankees.
Okay, that’s all nice, but win-loss records aren’t the most precise metric out there. Let’s look at something a bit more sabermetrically-friendly: ERA. Here are the worst ERAs by hurlers with at least 100 innings pitched against a given team:
ERA W L Team Pitcher 7.39 5 13 NYY Vern Kennedy 7.17 6 13 BOX Jaime Moyer 6.97 3 11 NYY Jamie Navarro 6.92 6 7 TBD Esteban Loaiza 6.78 5 14 SFG Darryl KileWho is Vern Kennedy? A forgotten pre-WWII pitcher. He won 20 games once, but he also led the league in walks that same season. A few years later, Kennedy led the league in losses. He was in his prime at the same time Joe McCarthy’s’ Yankee juggernaut was.
As for the others, the only one I have any real commentary on is Darryl Kile. What helps drive his ERA up so high is pitching for the Rockies in Coors Field. That, and he wasn’t pitching at all well in those days, in sea level or in the clouds.
Whammied Hall of Famers
Okay, this is too much about forgotten forgettables. In the spirit of Red Ruffing, what are the worst records by Hall of Famers against particular teams?
Well, you have to mention Early Wynn versus the Yankees. In his four-decade career, Early Wynn had 100 starts and over 700 innings pitched against the perennial AL heavyweights, and ended up with a record of 33-58.
Yes, the Yankees were great during all of Wynn’s career, but then again he pitched for some damn good teams as well, the Indians and White Sox, who were the main rivals to New York in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.
That 58-loss total is, by far, the most losses any pitcher has against any team since at least Walter Johnson, and probably ever. Since 1916, no other pitcher has more than 48 losses against a rival squad.
The man with 48 losses? Longtime White Sox ace Ted Lyons. And, of course, they came against the Yankees. Lyons was 28-48 against New York and 232-182 against everyone else.
Turning to the National League, Warren Spahn provides further evidence that lefties couldn’t beat the 1950s Dodgers. He was 24-37 against them, and it would’ve been much worse, but Milwaukee hid him against them for a few years when their batting order was at its most dangerous against southpaws.
Though he’s not in Cooperstown yet, Greg Maddux will be, and he sure struggled mightily against Arizona. He was 3-11 with a un-Madduxian 5.37 ERA.
Current whammied pitchers
What about guys still out there? How are they doing?
Mark Buehrle has been a high-quality pitcher for years now, but you’d never know that if you saw him face off against only the Yankees. He’s 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA. CC Sabathia perfectly matches that 1-8 mark against the Yankees, but since he pitches for them now, he doesn’t have to worry about them much. Also 1-8 is Derrek Lowe against St. Louis, with an ever worse 6.79 ERA.
Some guys just can’t seem to beat certain teams. That’s the way things go when a squad has the whammy on you.
References and Resources
Info comes from Baseball-Reference.com's pitcher 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.