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Cliff Lee’s 16 strikeouts (and loss)

Posted by Andy on May 7, 2011

Cliff Lee pitched  an unusual game last night. He struck out 16 batters in just 7 innings, but allowed 9 hits 3 runs, 1 walk, and took the loss.

Click through for a bunch of stuff about his performance.

First of all, here's a reminder on the most recent pitchers to strike out at least 16 in a game:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Cliff Lee 2011-05-06 PHI ATL L 0-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 9 3 3 1 16 0 117 87 62
2 Brandon Morrow 2010-08-08 TOR TBR W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 1 0 0 2 17 0 137 97 100
3 Ricky Nolasco 2009-09-30 FLA ATL W 5-4 GS-8 ,W 7.2 4 2 0 2 16 0 123 83 81
4 Johan Santana 2007-08-19 MIN TEX W 1-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 2 0 0 0 17 0 112 83 95
5 Jake Peavy 2007-04-25 SDP ARI L 2-3 GS-7 7.0 2 0 0 3 16 0 117 75 86
6 Jason Schmidt 2006-06-06 SFG FLA W 2-1 CG 9 ,W 9.0 7 1 1 1 16 1 124 81 84
7 Jake Peavy 2006-05-22 SDP ATL L 1-3 GS-7 ,L 7.0 3 2 2 1 16 1 114 74 78
8 Mark Prior 2004-09-30 CHC CIN L 1-2 GS-9 9.0 3 1 1 1 16 1 113 81 92
9 Ben Sheets 2004-05-16 MIL ATL W 4-1 CG 9 ,W 9.0 3 1 1 1 18 1 116 91 94
10 Mark Prior 2003-06-26 CHC MIL L 3-5 GS-8 8.0 4 2 2 0 16 1 127 86 82
11 Randy Johnson 2002-09-14 ARI MIL W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 0 2 17 0 126 86 96
12 Randy Johnson 2002-08-25 ARI CHC W 7-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 6 0 0 2 16 0 129 89 89
13 Randy Johnson 2002-04-21 ARI COL W 7-1 CG 9 ,W 9.0 2 1 0 1 17 0 118 82 97
14 Curt Schilling 2002-04-07 ARI MIL W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 1 0 0 2 17 0 127 85 100
15 Randy Johnson 2001-09-27 ARI MIL W 13-11 GS-7 ,W 6.2 7 5 5 2 16 1 126 81 54
16 Randy Johnson 2001-08-23 ARI PIT L 1-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 5 4 4 2 16 1 115 78 65
17 Randy Johnson 2001-07-18 ARI SDP W 3-0 3-9f ,W 7.0 1 0 0 1 16 0 109 68
18 Randy Johnson 2001-05-08 ARI CIN W 4-3 GS-9 9.0 3 1 1 0 20 0 124 92 97
19 Pedro Martinez 2001-04-08 BOS TBD W 3-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 0 3 16 0 112 75 89
20 Ron Villone 2000-09-29 CIN STL W 8-1 CG 9 ,W 9.0 2 1 0 5 16 0 150 90 92
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2011.

Games #4 through #10 are particularly interesting--all of those guys had serious injury problems.

Lee was pulled from the game after the 7th inning, when he still had a chance to set the single-game record for strikeouts. In fact, since 1919, Lee became just the 3rd pitcher to strike out at least 16 in a game in which he pitched no more than 7 innings. There are 5 other such games (2 by Peavy and 3 by RJ) and they are all visible on the list above.

And here are the guys since 1919 to strike out 16+ and take the loss in the game:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Cliff Lee 2011-05-06 PHI ATL L 0-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 9 3 3 1 16 0 117 87 62
2 Jake Peavy 2006-05-22 SDP ATL L 1-3 GS-7 ,L 7.0 3 2 2 1 16 1 114 74 78
3 Randy Johnson 2001-08-23 ARI PIT L 1-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 5 4 4 2 16 1 115 78 65
4 Pedro Martinez 2000-05-06 BOS TBD L 0-1 CG 9 ,L 9.0 6 1 1 1 17 0 130 91 87
5 Randy Johnson 1999-06-30 ARI CIN L 0-2 CG 8 ,L 8.0 7 2 2 0 17 1 134 96 77
6 Randy Johnson 1997-06-24 SEA OAK L 1-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 11 4 4 0 19 2 142 100 68
7 Sid Fernandez 1989-07-14 NYM ATL L 2-3 CG 9 ,L 8.0 6 3 3 0 16 1 121 91 74
8 Dwight Gooden 1984-09-17 NYM PHI L 1-2 CG 8 ,L 8.0 7 2 1 0 16 0 78
9 Nolan Ryan 1974-08-20 CAL DET L 0-1 CG 11 ,L 11.0 4 1 1 5 19 0 99
10 Steve Carlton 1969-09-15 STL NYM L 3-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 9 4 4 2 19 2 70
11 Steve Carlton 1967-09-20 STL PHI L 1-3 CG 8 ,L 8.0 8 3 3 3 16 0 67
12 Jim Maloney 1965-06-14 CIN NYM L 0-1 CG 11 ,L 11.0 2 1 1 1 18 1 106
13 Warren Spahn 1952-06-14 BSN CHC L 1-3 CG 15 ,L 15.0 10 3 3 2 18 1 101
14 Bob Feller 1938-10-02 (1) CLE DET L 1-4 9.0 7 4 4 7 18 0 68
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2011.

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Here are the guys to allow at least 3 runs (earned or otherwise) in a 16+ strikeout since 1919:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Randy Johnson 2001-09-27 ARI MIL W 13-11 GS-7 ,W 6.2 7 5 5 2 16 1 126 81 54
2 Randy Johnson 2001-08-23 ARI PIT L 1-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 5 4 4 2 16 1 115 78 65
3 Randy Johnson 1997-07-18 SEA KCR W 5-4 CG 9 ,W 9.0 9 4 4 3 16 1 155 106 66
4 Randy Johnson 1997-06-24 SEA OAK L 1-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 11 4 4 0 19 2 142 100 68
5 Nolan Ryan 1976-08-18 CAL DET W 5-4 GS-11 ,W 10.0 9 4 3 5 17 1 72
6 Nolan Ryan 1973-09-27 CAL MIN W 5-4 CG 11 ,W 11.0 10 4 3 7 16 0 72
7 Steve Carlton 1969-09-15 STL NYM L 3-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 9 4 4 2 19 2 70
8 Bob Feller 1938-10-02 (1) CLE DET L 1-4 9.0 7 4 4 7 18 0 68
9 Cliff Lee 2011-05-06 PHI ATL L 0-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 9 3 3 1 16 0 117 87 62
10 Hideo Nomo 1995-06-14 LAD PIT W 8-5 GS-8 ,W 8.0 6 3 2 2 16 0 125 76 74
11 Sid Fernandez 1989-07-14 NYM ATL L 2-3 CG 9 ,L 8.0 6 3 3 0 16 1 121 91 74
12 Nolan Ryan 1974-06-14 CAL BOS W 4-3 GS-13 13.0 8 3 3 10 19 1 88
13 Nolan Ryan 1972-07-01 CAL OAK W 5-3 CG 9 ,W 9.0 5 3 3 3 16 0 78
14 Steve Carlton 1970-05-21 STL PHI L 3-4 GS-8 8.0 9 3 3 2 16 1 66
15 Mickey Lolich 1969-05-23 DET CAL W 6-3 CG 9 ,W 9.0 4 3 3 2 16 1 81
16 Steve Carlton 1967-09-20 STL PHI L 1-3 CG 8 ,L 8.0 8 3 3 3 16 0 67
17 Sandy Koufax 1962-05-26 LAD PHI W 6-3 CG 9 ,W 9.0 5 3 2 2 16 1 132 89 81
18 Warren Spahn 1952-06-14 BSN CHC L 1-3 CG 15 ,L 15.0 10 3 3 2 18 1 101
19 Dazzy Vance 1925-07-20 BRO STL W 4-3 10.0 9 3 3 6 17 0 73
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2011.

And here are the games ranked by the lowest game score:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Randy Johnson 2001-07-18 ARI SDP W 3-0 3-9f ,W 7.0 1 0 0 1 16 0 109 68
2 Randy Johnson 2001-09-27 ARI MIL W 13-11 GS-7 ,W 6.2 7 5 5 2 16 1 126 81 54
3 Cliff Lee 2011-05-06 PHI ATL L 0-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 9 3 3 1 16 0 117 87 62
4 Randy Johnson 2001-08-23 ARI PIT L 1-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 5 4 4 2 16 1 115 78 65
5 Randy Johnson 1997-07-18 SEA KCR W 5-4 CG 9 ,W 9.0 9 4 4 3 16 1 155 106 66
6 Steve Carlton 1970-05-21 STL PHI L 3-4 GS-8 8.0 9 3 3 2 16 1 66
7 Steve Carlton 1967-09-20 STL PHI L 1-3 CG 8 ,L 8.0 8 3 3 3 16 0 67
8 Randy Johnson 1997-06-24 SEA OAK L 1-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 11 4 4 0 19 2 142 100 68
9 Bob Feller 1938-10-02 (1) CLE DET L 1-4 9.0 7 4 4 7 18 0 68
10 Steve Carlton 1969-09-15 STL NYM L 3-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 9 4 4 2 19 2 70
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2011.

Randy Johnson gets no game score in #1 above because he came in in relief! That was the game that was delayed by electrical explosion at Qualcomm Stadium. RJ took over from Schilling in relief when the game resumed the next day. (Interestingly, it appears that Woody Williams resumed pitching for the Padres on the following day...that's amazing!)

And even though this has nothing to do with Lee's game last night, you're probably wondering about other high-strikeout relief performances, so here are the top ones since 1919:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str
1 Randy Johnson 2001-07-18 ARI SDP W 3-0 3-9f ,W 7.0 1 0 0 1 16 0 109 68
2 Denny McLain 1965-06-15 DET BOS W 6-5 1-7 6.2 6 2 2 2 14 0
3 Billy O'Dell 1961-07-04 (1) SFG CHC W 19-3 1-9f ,W 9.0 2 1 1 1 13 1
4 Mark Guthrie 1995-05-25 MIN DET W 4-3 3-8 ,W 6.0 4 2 2 0 12 1 87 57
5 Diego Segui 1974-09-22 BOS BAL L 2-7 1-9 7.2 9 4 4 3 12 1
6 Jumbo Brown 1933-06-03 NYY PHA W 17-11 6.1 5 0 0 5 12 0
7 Jim Ray 1968-04-15 HOU NYM W 1-0 14-20 7.0 2 0 0 1 11 0
8 Dave Vineyard 1964-09-07 (2) BAL KCA L 1-6 1-6 6.0 3 2 2 2 11 1
9 Harvey Haddix 1964-06-15 BAL CHW L 1-9 1-9f 8.2 8 2 2 0 11 0
10 Sonny Siebert 1964-05-10 (1) CLE NYY L 2-12 3-8 6.0 7 3 3 3 11 1
11 Dick Radatz 1963-06-11 BOS DET W 7-3 7-15f,BW 8.2 3 0 0 1 11 0
12 Steve Hamilton 1963-05-11 NYY BAL W 13-1 1-9f ,W 8.1 3 0 0 0 11 0
13 Dave Hillman 1959-05-28 CHC LAD W 7-5 1-9 ,W 7.2 5 2 2 1 11 1 103 71
14 Gene Conley 1959-05-02 PHI CHC L 3-4 1-9f 9.0 6 0 0 1 11 0
15 Larry Jansen 1953-08-18 NYG BRO L 3-4 3-10 8.0 2 0 0 3 11 0 119 77
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2011.

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 7th, 2011 at 8:18 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

46 Responses to “Cliff Lee’s 16 strikeouts (and loss)”

  1. Also, pitchers to strike out 16 and allow at least 9 hits:

    Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
    1 Cliff Lee 2011-05-06 PHI ATL L 0-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 9 3 3 1 16 0 117 87 62
    2 Randy Johnson 1997-07-18 SEA KCR W 5-4 CG 9 ,W 9.0 9 4 4 3 16 1 155 106 66
    3 Randy Johnson 1997-06-24 SEA OAK L 1-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 11 4 4 0 19 2 142 100 68
    4 Steve Carlton 1982-06-09 PHI CHC W 4-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 10 2 2 2 16 1 73
    5 Nolan Ryan 1976-08-18 CAL DET W 5-4 GS-11 ,W 10.0 9 4 3 5 17 1 72
    6 Frank Tanana 1975-06-21 (1) CAL TEX W 4-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 9 2 2 0 17 0 78
    7 Nolan Ryan 1973-09-27 CAL MIN W 5-4 CG 11 ,W 11.0 10 4 3 7 16 0 72
    8 Steve Carlton 1970-05-21 STL PHI L 3-4 GS-8 8.0 9 3 3 2 16 1 66
    9 Steve Carlton 1969-09-15 STL NYM L 3-4 CG 9 ,L 9.0 9 4 4 2 19 2 70
    10 Chris Short 1965-10-02 (2) PHI NYM T 0-0 GS-15 15.0 9 0 0 3 18 0 114
    11 Tom Cheney 1962-09-12 WSA BAL W 2-1 CG 16 ,W 16.0 10 1 1 4 21 0 115
    12 Sandy Koufax 1959-06-22 LAD PHI W 6-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 10 2 1 3 16 1 158 107 74
    13 Warren Spahn 1952-06-14 BSN CHC L 1-3 CG 15 ,L 15.0 10 3 3 2 18 1 101
    14 Dazzy Vance 1925-07-20 BRO STL W 4-3 10.0 9 3 3 6 17 0 73
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
    Generated 5/7/2011.
  2. What makes Cliff Lee's 2011 WAR on BR so much different than his WAR on Fangraphs? I know the scales are different, but he's third on Fangraphs while not even listed here.

  3. Tough loss for Lee. Ibanez and Rollins both got leather on 2-out balls hit during the 3-run inning, either one, if caught, would have kept the game at 0-0.

  4. On the third list, I'm fascinated by Nolan Ryan's 13-inning, 8-hit, 10-walk, 19-strikeout game. That is a ridiculous performance all-around. And amazingly, despite walking 10, his game score was 88.

  5. Yetijuice Says:

    My then 6 year old son Roger and I were at the 5/22/06 Atlanta Braves @ San Diego Padres game. John Smoltz and Jake Peavy settled into a pitching duel. Ryan Langerhans 2nd inning two-run home run was the game winning hit. Late in the game future HOFers Mike Piazza and Chipper Jones traded solo home runs. Peavy was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 7th inning with the Pads trailing 2-0. Peavy had thrown 114 pitches.

    The game ball for this game went to Atlanta relief pitcher Mike Remlinger. Remlinger did not appear in the game. During batting practice Remlinger tossed a ball over the centerfield fence into the sandbox for Roger. Thanks Mike! That was the first baseball Roger ever got at a ballpark. Later at a 5/3/10 Colrado Rockies @ San Diego Padres game Roger would get five baseballs in a 35 minute span in the sandbox during batting practice. A couple head first dives into the sand netted Roger two of those baseballs.

    The most strikeouts I have seen a pitcher have in a game is 16. Prior to Peavy's 5/22/06 game I saw Nolan Ryan strikeout 16 in a 6/9/79 Detroit Tigers @ California Angels game. Ryan finished with a complete game 4-hit 9-1 win over the Tigs.

  6. Great lists, Andy. @ 4 - Josh. Imagine what his pitch count was! I found a couple of interesting things looking through the game log. The Red Sox scored their first run in the 4th inning. Ryan faced 7 batters without a ball put into play - 3Ks and 4 BBs. there was a situation in the 9th that would probably never take place in a game today. Leading 3-1, Ryan walked Miller to lead off the inning, then got Fisk on a flyball before Yaz hit a homer to tie it up. Rather than getting the hook, Ryan stayed in, walking the next two batters. Think about that for a minute. He had thrown 8.1 innings, with 15 Ks and 10 BBs, had just allowed 3 walks and a homer to the previous 5 hitters and he still finished that inning - and then pitched 4 more. BTW, he gave up 2 hits in the 10th, then retired the final 10 batters he faced.

  7. Ryan got such high game score because the stat puts emphasis on innings pitched. There are points for outs recorded and bonus points for innings completed after the 4th.

  8. Looking at the box score of Ryan's 13-inning game, I saw Luis Tiant pitched a complete game. Fourteen and a third innings! Both starters had to have thrown well over 200 pitches EACH. And both pitchers had very long careers. Why is it again that starters have pitch counts now? They seem to get injured MUCH more often than in years past.

  9. THREAD HIJACK:
    Barry Bonds is now ranked 1,018th on the Elo Ratings. Time to take that part of the website down, and save that corner of the internet for something more intellectually stimulating, like porn?

  10. Ryan was interviewed on Boston sports radio about that game and he mentioned that both he and Tiant pitched again 4 days later.

  11. John DiFool Says:

    By my quick-and-dirty calculations, Lee gave up a .643 batting average on balls-in-play, while his opponent, Derek Lowe, gave up only a .091 BABIP. Hunh.

  12. @8

    I think the evidence points to pitchers getting injured much less nowadays than they used to. I don't have the data, but looking at pitchers of the past I find that tons of them pitched many innings when young and didn't have much left in the tank by the time they hit 30, or even younger.

  13. joseph taverney Says:

    I noticed your first list has 4 guys that I thought were going to be superstars, but then were injured and became inefective.
    Peavy- I guess the jury is still out with him.
    Prior.
    Schmidt, although he started late.
    Sheets, who has the second best loosing season for a pitcher.
    Anyone want to guess the first?
    And I guess you can Johan to that list, as he seems to have caught the injury bug.

  14. This list reminds me of Jerry Koosman's last start in 1976 where he had 11-K's-0-BB's, a game score of 70 and lost the game 2-1. If Koosman had won that game his record would have been 22-9 instead of 21-10 and he may have won the Cy Young instead of Randy Jones.

  15. @2
    On the offense side, the differences between Fangraphs-WAR and BBRef-WAR are fairly subtle. Its mainly defense.

    On the pitching side, the two algorithms are like night and day. BBRef starts with Runs Allowed while Fangraphs starts with FIP There are reasons why one might prefer one over the other but nobody expects them to produce the same order of players... especially this early in the season.

  16. I have today's upset as the Twins beating the Sox again at +144.

  17. Johnson at #17 was a relief appearance

  18. @12 Haha yeah I agree. I love when people make the "Nolan Ryan threw 200 pitches in a game; why can't today's pitchers??" argument as if Ryan wasn't a freak of nature and exception to every rule ever.

    In regards to Lee's start, it's also interesting to note that his one "walk" was given to the pitcher. I put walk in quotes because if you check out the Gameday of this game on MLB.com, you'll see that every single pitch to him was in the strikezone. The ump last night was quite awful.

  19. joseph taverney Says:

    @ 12

    Vida Blue.

  20. @12 and @18

    There are a lot of reasons for why pitchers don't throw as many innings as they used to. For starters, It seems like everyone and their mother throws 95 mph now. That wasn't the case 20 or 30 years ago. Or even 10 years ago.

    Another issue that I don't think gets raised enough is that the advent (and subsequent proliferation of) Tommy John surgery kind of allows pitchers to blow their arms out. Now, I'm not suggesting anyone intentionally does it - because doing so still carries some risk. But 50 years ago, if a guy threw his arm out - he was done. Today....he has a relatively common surgery, followed by a year off, and comes back close to normal.

    Pitchers don't throw as much as they used to, but they throw harder than they used to. Walter Johnson was the fastest anyone had ever seen until Warren Spahn came along. Spahn was the fastest until Nolan Ryan. Now, the delay between new and old "fastest arm ever" is one month.

  21. RE: RYan v Tiant, 1974 - the basic pitch count estimator (3.3*PA+1.5*K+2.2*BB) estimates that Tiant threw 201 pitches and Ryan 242

    BTW - Ryan did pitch 4 days later but Tiant pitched 5 days later

  22. Oh and both Tiant & Ryan injured their arms relatively early in their careers, no doubt due to their high workloads. Ryan obviously recovered but Tiant had to reinvent himself as a junkballer - after his arm problems his K rate dropped to a little over half what it had been before

  23. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I've never heard Spahn considered "fastest ever."

  24. Neil L. Says:

    So for Cliff Lee it was just that one four-batter stretch in the 3rd inning. He struck out the side but went double-single-single-double in between and it was all over.

    It's almost as if Lee was too much around the strike zone. He struck out the four batters who hit him in that inning a total of 6 times in their other plate appearances before he left.

  25. Jonathan Says:

    Lee also struck out 14 of the last 15 batters he retired...got to figure on some kind of leaderboard no?

  26. Maloney and Spahn's games are among only 6 games since 1919 where a pitcher had a 100+ game score and took the loss. Don't know what this will look like after it's posted, but here goes:

    Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
    Al Aber 8/13/1954 DET CHW L 0-1 CG 16 ,L 15.1 9 1 1 3 8 0 101
    Warren Spahn 6/14/1952 BSN CHC L 1-3 CG 15 ,L 15 10 3 3 2 18 1 101
    Dick Fowler 6/5/1942 PHA SLB L 0-1 CG 16 ,L 16 9 1 1 5 6 0 101
    Juan Marichal 8/19/1969 SFG NYM L 0-1 CG 14 ,L 13.1 6 1 1 1 13 1 104
    Jim Maloney 6/14/1965 CIN NYM L 0-1 CG 11 ,L 11 2 1 1 1 18 1 106
    Harvey Haddix 5/26/1959 PIT MLN L 0-1 CG 13 ,L 12.2 1 1 0 1 8 0 107

  27. Brandon Morrow's game is the most recent of just nine 9-inning games with a 100+ game score. All such games have been no-hitters or 1-hitters.

    Interestingly, the earliest such game was only in 1960 (Spahn's 15-strikeout no-hitter against the Phillies).

  28. John Autin Says:

    Every time someone raises the theory that today's pitchers last longer because of fewer pitches per game and fewer innings per season, I ask for the evidence. I am still waiting with an open mind. But until evidence is produced, I'll keep saying it's an open question whether the current strategies are effective for the pitcher.

    Meanwhile, I think it's clearly not a cost-effective strategy for small-market teams to put a low limit on a pitcher's innings during his first few years in the majors, when they control his salary. If you're one of the several teams that never pays market rate for top pitching talent, what is the point of "protecting" your young star for a future in another city?

  29. Neil L. Says:

    Let's see what the game score is for Verlander's no-hitter from today. The Jays were so over-matched. Verlander threw pitches two pitches at 101mph in the eight inning and his change was consistent for strikes at 78 mph!

    What a performance!

  30. Fuzzball Says:

    Re: Strikeouts in a relief appearance. We should not forget the legendary Moe Drabowsky's 11 strikeout performance in relief of Dave McNally in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series.

  31. @20, is there any evidence pitchers throw faster today than ten years ago, twenty years ago, or even thirty years ago? I don't have an axe to grind here, so I'm open to either conclusion. I don't know if there is an answer, or at least a conclusion that can be drawn from reliable data. (My guess, btw, is that Nolan Ryan consistently thew harder than any pitcher ever; I'll explain my reasoning in a second.)

    The less-than-accurate scoreboard readings most fans rely on came into heavy use over the past ten to 15 years, and despite warnings from MLB, we know that teams were manipulating the data for psychological advantage, adding a few miles of velocity for some of their own pitchers, while decreasing it for opposing players. As many here recently no doubt read, Kevin Towers noted that when the Dodgers' Brad Penny was pitching at Petco, they'd show his radar gun readings at 91/92, when he was actually at 95/96. Penny, according to Towers, would try to throw harder, at times causing him to elevate his pitches. Teams are not supposed to influence the radar gun readings, but it's clear that they did.

    Pitch-f/x should eliminate this manipulation and start to give us some consistent readings in the coming years, but Pitch-f/x has only been rolled out over the past few seasons and is still not being used at all parks. Even in parks where it's installed, some teams will still use their own radar gun readings for the scoreboards, perhaps because they want to ensure as many triple-digit readings as possible. Good marketing if you have a flamethrower or two on the team. It is a bit interesting that many of Chapman's highest veocities have been recorded at home, while his lowest velocities have been recorded away, even at parks that use Pitch-f/x. I'm really not sure what's going on there. Maybe both sets of numbers are suspect.

    Scouts were using radar guns *reguarly* as far back as the '80s, but we don't have access to that data, and the type of radar guns being used greatly impacted the readings (some of the early radar guns used to record the pitch crossing home plate, while later ones recorded the pitch out of hand at peak velocity, causing as much as a nine mph difference in readings), also making comparisons difficult. Radar gun readings first came about in the 1970s, but were a rarity, used ocassionally around major events, such as the All-Star Game and World Series matchups. (Ryan and Gossage, for example, were clocked at 103 mph during the 1978 All-Star Game.)

    Does Chapman throw harder than Gossage? Beyond Gossage's 103 mph reading from the All-Star game, he was clocked at 104 mph at a game in Baltimore, and one unofficial reading had in at 107.9. I say unofficial (although to me almost all radar gun readings are unofficial) because I can't find reference to it anymore, so now it's falling into the categories of #folklore, #mythmaking and #legend. At the end of Gossage's career, at 42, a thousand relief appearances over 22 seasons, he was still at times being clocked in the mid-90s, long after his peak years and peak velocity. So does Chapman throw harder than Gossage? My guess is no, yet we really don't know, and we never will. Gossage didn't have scoreboard radar gun readings on every pitch. If he did, or he existed today at his peak, we'd probably be seeing headlines of Gossage hitting 104!, 105!, 106!, maybe beyond. The few times he was clocked, they were getting 103 and 104 readings, and I think it's unlikely they just happened to catch his fastest pitches. Ditto for Ryan.

    So getting back to Ryan, there is no evidence that any pitcher today throws harder than Nolan Ryan did at his peak. Ryan was clocked at 101 mph (100.9) for what still stands today as the official speed record. It stands simply because no other pitcher has either agreed to, or been subjected to the scientific validation required to establish a new record. For all the reasons I mentioned above, and many others, all the radar gun readings are suspect, so it's hard to say new speed records are being set "weekly." They are not. We are just seeing the data points on a daily basis now, as opposed to years between data points when the technolgy wasn't readily available and deployed.

    In Ryan's case, his 100.9 pitch was clocked ten feet from home plate. Decrease in velocity is pretty easy to calculate, although what we don't know is Ryan's stride and release point, and if the pitch was actually clocked ten feet in front of home plate, or 9.5 feet or 10.5 feet, so that does impact the exact speed number when trying to calculate Ryan's pitch out of hand and at peak velocity. You'll see the peak velocity numbers vary on that specific pitch range from 106.3 to 108.1 mph. More amazingly, it was recorded late in the game (I believe it was the 9th inning) on something like his 150th pitch. So now, what are the chances that the very first game Ryan was clocked that he threw the hardest pitcher ever, both for him and ever in the history of MLB? Let's just say it's effectively zero. Ryan is an outlier in many ways, so while it's unlikely that was the fastest pitch he ever tossed, I do think it's likely that he is the fastest pitcher ever, at least on average peak velocity. Is it possible a some other pitcher threw a single faster pitcher than Ryan? Sure, although I'm not convinced. It's still likely Ryan.

    I would think the *average* velocity today is higher than ever, but I can't be sure. Part of it has to do with higher numbers of relief pitchers who can give max velocity, such as we're seeing with Chapman or others like Zumya, Wholers, etc.; and better scouting identfying more high end-end talent. Yet I'm not sure if starting pitchers throw harder. Take a collection of starters from the past 10-15 years (Johnson, Clemens, Verlander, Pedro, Ubaldo) and then another collection of starters say from 1965-1980 (Ryan, Koufax, Gibson, Seaver, McDowell) and I don't know which group throws harder. If I had to pick one, I'd guess the older group, and they did it over a higher volume of innings.

    Anyway, sorry about the rambling note. I do think the average velocity today is higher, the conditions are better, the game is higher competitve level. Yet I don't know if everything about the game is better, or today's baseball players do everything better, including throwing a baseball. If I had to guess who was the hardest thrower ever, I'm pretty comfortable it's the man known as the Ryan Express. Sorry Aroldis Chapman. We just didn't have the radar guns on the older group of pitchers every time they stepped on the mound.

  32. John Autin Says:

    @22, Anon -- "Tiant & Ryan injured their arms relatively early in their careers...."
    -- If an early injury could guarantee a career anywhere close to Ryan's or Tiant's, pitchers would be lining up around the block to get their arms mangled.

    "... no doubt due to their high workloads"
    -- Whose high workloads? Tiant's pre-injury MLB workload was modest, by standards of that time: In his 20s, he never topped 258 IP; he averaged 215 IP from age 24-28; and he appeared just once among the IP leaders in his 20s (ranking 7th in '68). Meanwhile, Ryan didn't log more than 152 IP in the majors until age 25, averaging 127 IP for his first 4 full years in the majors (1968-71, and he did not pitch at all in the minors those years). Yes, he averaged 314 IP from age 25-27, and in '75 he was limited to 28 starts and 198 IP. But after that, he went back to pitching a lot of innings. BTW, you can practically win a Cy Young Award nowadays with 198 IP.

    "after [Tiant's] arm problems his K rate dropped to a little over half what it had been before"

    What period are you referring to? I can't find any dividing line for which your statement is not true.

    I don't know if there's a definitive answer to exactly when Tiant suffered the injury that caused him to change styles. Some think he was pitching hurt in 1969, although he logged 250 IP. He missed a good bit of the 1970-71 seasons, so the injury could have happened in late '69 or early '70. To give your argument the best possible advantage, let's say that Tiant's "before" career lasted through 1968, and his "after" career was 1969 and later.

    His K rate from 1969 to the end of his career was 64% of his K rate through 1968: 8.4 K/9 through '68, 5.4 after. That's not really "a little over half."

    Also, the argument that the injury destroyed Tiant's K rate ignores 3 significant factors:
    (1) Most pitchers saw their K rate decline in '69, when the mound was lowered. Tiant's "before" period was entirely within the low-scoring years of the '60s.
    (2) His "before" period ends with his age-27 season, while his "after" period includes 9 full seasons from age 30 on. Most pitchers have a higher K rate in their 20s than their 30s.
    (3) Tiant pitched about 1,900 innings in the DH era in the AL, which surely cost him some strikeouts. In 1973, first year of the DH, age 32, he fanned 206 in 272 IP, or 6.8 K/9 -- 6th in the AL.

    I think the lowered mound, the aging process, and the DH are more than enough to explain a drop from 9.2 K/9 in '68 to 6.8 K/9 in '73. So, while Tiant definitely did change styles after the injury, and no longer had a dazzling fastball, it's not clear that he was less effective at inducing strikeouts, if you compare things on a level field.

    Finally ... Tiant carried a heavy load after the injury, averaging 281 IP from 1973-76, and incidentally, pitching that 14-inning game that got this discussion started.

  33. Neil L. Says:

    @31
    Robmer, an articulate and well-thought-out post.

    What I can add to your thread is that Justin Verlander was clocked twice in the eigth inning yesterday by the opposing team's gun at 101 mph. Not likely at Ryan's pitch count in the measurement you mention, but impressive enough to put Verlander near the top of current hard throwers.

  34. A side note about the Warren Spahn 18 K, 15 IP loss on June 14, 1952. Spahn hit a HR in the bottom of the 6th for the Braves' only run of the game.

  35. @28 and others re: pitchers pitching longer.

    This came up a few days in the post about teams with multiple 36+ year-old pitchers with 25+ starts. So, I did PI queries from 1901-2010 for ALL 36+ year-olds with 25+ starts and, normalizing for the number of teams in the majors each year, there's an undeniable shift, starting in the early 80s, for teams to have more older pitchers as regulars in their rotation. Why that is the case is open to speculation, but I don't think there can be any doubt of the trend.

    I don't what to drop 110 lines of data in this post, but if you run the same query, normalize the pitcher counts to the number of MLB teams each year, and then do a scatterplot of a normalized "pitchers per team" variable - the early 80s shift is clearly visible and quite pronounced. To give you an idea of the shift, the yearly average of "pitchers per team" aged 36+ years and making 25+ starts is 0.13 for 1901-1981, and 0.27 for 1982-2010. So, Basically doubled from the dividing line.

  36. Johnny Twisto Says:

    JA #32:

    You make a good point that the league K-rate dropped after the strike zone was changed. But that doesn't seem sufficient to explain the change in Tiant's performance.

    Tiant came up in '64, and apparently he was pitching hurt in '69 (certainly his performance changed quite a bit). From '64 through '68, he pitched about 950 IP, and averaged 8.4 K/9, 40% more than league average. After '69, he missed a lot of '70-'71. Then from '72-'75, he pitched 1022 IP, and averaged 5.7 K/9, or 12% more than average over that period. (If you carry it out over the rest of his career, he averaged 5.1 K/9 for '76-'82, or about 9% more than average.)

    Tiant's drop was due to much more than the prevailing winds. But you are correct that he didn't pitch that many IP for the times and it seems silly to blame his injuries on overuse.

  37. Johnny Twisto Says:

    there's an undeniable shift, starting in the early 80s, for teams to have more older pitchers as regulars in their rotation.

    I see you controlled it for expansion, as that was my first thought. My second thought is that the 4-man rotation didn't really become ingrained until the early-60s, and the 5-man rotation in the late-70s. Prior to that teams might have a few regular starters, and some swingmen, who would start and relieve, adjusted for the schedule. What would the chart look like if you looked at the number of old SP w/ 25+ starts PER all SP w/ 25+ starts? I expect there's been an increase but I think it may not be as dramatic.

  38. John Autin Says:

    @35, Doug -- Thank you for the interesting data.

    Can you think of any way to normalize the comparison taking into account the following two developments?:
    (1) The schedule increase from 154 games to 162 in 1961/62; and
    (2) The gradual adoption of the 5-man rotation.

    These two factors have led to an increase in the number of pitchers per team of any age who make 25+ starts in a season:

    -- From 1901-60, an average of 2.79 pitchers per team made at least 25 starts.
    -- From 1961-2010, the average was 3.16, an increase of about 13%.

    Using a dividing line of 1981/82, as you did, yields similar ratios: the average for 1901-81 was 2.87 per team; for 1982-2010, 3.21 -- a 12% increase.

    This fact alone likely accounts for some of the increase in starters age 36+. And while a 12% rise is obviously far from the 100% surge you charted, the modest 25-start requirement might further skew the numbers towards the older pitchers, if those pitchers tend to be less durable than younger ones.

    I ran the search a couple more times using different thresholds for GS, but the results were always similar: More pitchers per team making N starts over the past 30-50 years than there were before.

    Might it make sense to run the search with a 23-start requirement for the 154-game schedule, and a 25-start requirement for the 162-game schedule?

  39. John Autin Says:

    @37, Johnny Twisto -- You type faster than I do! (Or I'm just more long-winded.)

  40. John Autin Says:

    JT @ 36 -- Good point, comparing Tiant's K rate to the league average for each period, which makes it clear that he was, in fact, less effective at inducing strikeouts. I still think that aging should also be taken into account in such a comparison, because I think (though I haven't run the numbers) that most pitchers have a lower K rate in their 30s than their 20s.

  41. Johnny Twisto Says:

    True that on the reduced K-rates for older pitchers. (I haven't run any #s either.) Considering that wouldn't eliminate the size of Tiant's reduced "K+," but it would probably reduce it a bit.

  42. @37, @38.

    Thanks JT and JA for the ideas.

    I've tried JT's idea, and as he suspected, the results aren't as pronounced using the first metric, but only slightly so.

    Looking at 36+ year-old pitchers with 25+ starts as a percentage of all pitchers with 25+ starts, the average of the yearly percentages looks like this:
    1901-1981: 4.7% of 25+ start pitchers were 36 years or older
    1982-2010: 8.2% of 25+ start pitchers were 36 years or older

    The percentages for the 1901-1981 period are slightly inflated due to the war. And, the figures AFTER the war are also pretty interesting. Take a look:
    1942 8.3%
    1943 6.5%
    1944 11.4%
    1945 22.9%
    1946 8.6%
    1947 7.5%
    1948 2.6%
    1949 1.9%
    1950 0.0%

    There was also a curious 10-year period from 1925-34, when the number was 6.8% or higher every year, including 11.4% or higher in 1927, 1928, 1930 and 1931. Prior to 1925, the highest point was 6.1% and was only above 5% one other year. What was going on here? My wild guess is batters were tearing up the young guys who weren't allowed to throw spitters anymore, and managers responded by using more older guys who could still throw the wet one. But, even if that is part of the answer, I'm sure there's much more to it than that.

    I've just read JA's idea, so haven't tried that yet. I'll give it a shot.

  43. Hey, does that 16+ and the loss have the 2 record setting K games at their time? I think that one of Feller's set the record at 18, and I am pretty sure Carlton's 19 was the one that set the record. He had 2 strikes on Swoboda 4 times, IIRC. Twice he got the K, the other 2 times Swoboda hit a 2 run HR.

  44. One other note on the Johnson 16-K relief performance. I listened to this game on the radio and i had forgotten that Schilling/Johnson had taken a no-hitter into the 8th before Wiki Gonzalez broke it up with a 2-out single in the 8th!

  45. Check out Spahn's 15-inning Complete Game with 18 Ks in 1952!

    Whata horse this guy was.

    363 wins We all know that one, but how about a couple more numbers:

    13 twenty-win seasons!!

    382 Complete Games!!

    And on and on...

    This guy deserves more mention when we talk about the great, great players.

  46. John Autin Says:

    Spahn's greatness lay in his phenomenal consistency and durability.

    -- He had very good seasons like clockwork: 10 seasons between 3.0 and 6.0 WAR, more than any other pitcher. (No. 2: Mike Mussina and Ted Lyons, 9 each.)

    -- He rarely had a brilliant season: Ten of his thirteen 20-win seasons came with an ERA+ of 125 or less; that's twice the number of any other modern pitcher.

    Spahn won exactly 21 games 8 times. There have been 168 such seasons in modern history; Spahn alone accounts for (appropriately) 1/21st of that total.