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Tough Loss Leaders Since 1920

Posted by Steve Lombardi on January 18, 2011

What pitcher, since 1920, has the most career games where he threw 9+ innings, allowed 3 ER or less, and yet took the loss in the contest?

Here's the leaderboard for this one:

Rk Player #Matching   W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 Ted Lyons 34 Ind. Games 0 34 .000 2.05 33 33 0 0 324.2 313 74 11 82 105 1.22
2 Gaylord Perry 30 Ind. Games 0 30 .000 1.88 30 29 0 0 278.0 223 58 16 54 181 1.00
3 Warren Spahn 28 Ind. Games 0 28 .000 1.90 28 26 0 0 283.2 203 60 17 66 164 0.95
4 Bucky Walters 25 Ind. Games 0 25 .000 1.99 25 24 0 0 235.1 202 52 9 73 65 1.17
5 Early Wynn 24 Ind. Games 0 24 .000 1.92 24 24 0 0 224.2 191 48 11 66 108 1.14
6 Nolan Ryan 24 Ind. Games 0 24 .000 2.24 24 23 0 0 221.1 150 55 11 115 242 1.20
7 Bob Gibson 24 Ind. Games 0 24 .000 2.20 24 22 0 0 224.2 172 55 10 86 191 1.15
8 Red Ruffing 23 Ind. Games 0 23 .000 1.93 23 23 0 0 219.1 164 47 9 66 114 1.05
9 Robin Roberts 22 Ind. Games 0 22 .000 2.03 22 20 0 0 208.0 153 47 14 50 128 0.98
10 Dolf Luque 22 Ind. Games 0 22 .000 1.68 22 22 0 0 214.0 188 40 0 43 75 1.08
11 Red Lucas 22 Ind. Games 0 22 .000 2.06 22 22 0 0 205.0 202 47 1 30 43 1.13
12 Dutch Leonard 22 Ind. Games 0 22 .000 1.52 22 22 0 0 212.2 179 36 5 60 65 1.12
13 Dazzy Vance 21 Ind. Games 0 21 .000 2.09 21 21 0 0 198.1 185 46 4 54 124 1.21
14 George Uhle 20 Ind. Games 0 20 .000 2.22 20 20 0 0 186.1 189 46 3 46 56 1.26
15 Danny MacFayden 20 Ind. Games 0 20 .000 1.83 20 20 0 0 191.2 170 39 4 61 64 1.21
16 Dizzy Trout 19 Ind. Games 0 19 .000 1.77 19 18 0 0 178.1 150 35 5 56 65 1.16
17 Bob Feller 19 Ind. Games 0 19 .000 1.64 19 19 0 0 181.1 123 33 7 80 103 1.12
18 Bert Blyleven 19 Ind. Games 0 19 .000 2.20 19 18 0 0 175.2 147 43 11 37 143 1.05
19 Jim Palmer 18 Ind. Games 0 18 .000 1.99 18 18 0 0 167.0 133 37 10 43 92 1.05
20 Bill Lee 18 Ind. Games 0 18 .000 1.63 18 18 0 0 176.1 146 32 3 48 61 1.10
21 Wes Ferrell 18 Ind. Games 0 18 .000 2.27 18 18 0 0 166.2 154 42 3 58 72 1.27
22 Paul Derringer 18 Ind. Games 0 18 .000 1.96 18 17 0 0 184.0 169 40 3 44 60 1.16
23 Thornton Lee 17 Ind. Games 0 17 .000 1.72 17 16 0 0 162.1 141 31 4 48 67 1.16
24 Burleigh Grimes 17 Ind. Games 0 17 .000 1.93 17 17 0 0 163.1 152 35 3 57 47 1.28
25 Murry Dickson 17 Ind. Games 0 17 .000 2.09 16 15 0 0 172.1 141 40 7 44 68 1.07
26 Billy Pierce 16 Ind. Games 0 16 .000 1.95 16 15 0 0 157.0 127 34 10 49 101 1.12
27 Rick Langford 16 Ind. Games 0 16 .000 1.86 16 16 0 0 145.0 115 30 11 39 60 1.06
28 Carl Hubbell 16 Ind. Games 0 16 .000 1.77 15 15 0 0 167.1 143 33 10 33 72 1.05
29 Jesse Haines 16 Ind. Games 0 16 .000 2.08 16 16 0 0 160.0 133 37 4 35 53 1.05
30 Jim Slaton 15 Ind. Games 0 15 .000 2.18 15 13 0 0 140.2 106 34 14 33 65 0.99
31 Bob Rush 15 Ind. Games 0 15 .000 1.84 15 13 0 0 146.2 113 30 2 45 57 1.08
32 Jimmy Ring 15 Ind. Games 0 15 .000 1.61 15 15 0 0 151.1 134 27 3 33 53 1.10
33 Bobo Newsom 15 Ind. Games 0 15 .000 1.32 15 14 0 0 150.1 114 22 1 51 85 1.10
34 Larry French 15 Ind. Games 0 15 .000 1.57 15 15 0 0 149.1 125 26 8 36 40 1.08
35 Wilbur Cooper 15 Ind. Games 0 15 .000 1.88 15 15 0 0 139.0 137 29 4 34 37 1.23
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/18/2011.


Seeing this list made me check out Murry Dickson. Do you know that, in 1952 he lost 21 games that season - but still finished 13th in the league MVP voting that year? And, some think that this season was a breakthrough for the BBWAA because voters ignored win totals in giving the Cy Young to King Felix...

42 Responses to “Tough Loss Leaders Since 1920”

  1. Jerome S. Says:

    Dolf Luque translates into tough luck. I think. Some guy on the internet told me.

  2. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Re Dickson: That '52 Pittsburgh team was awful, one of the worst ever. Last in the NL in both runs scored and allowed, by large margins. I guess maybe the MVP voters felt sorry for Dickson, or saw him as one of the few quality players keeping the team afloat. He pitched 278 IP and only three other Pirates topped 85. Still, it's not like Dickson was a *great* player trapped on a terrible team, and he didn't just receive one or two 10th-place votes (though the individual vote breakdowns are not available).

    Incidentally, it appears that 24 ballots were cast that year, presumably three per city. I wonder why that was and how often it was done. I don't feel like clicking through other seasons right now. This was one of the closest MVP votes ever, with Hank Sauer, Robin Roberts, and Joe Black receiving 23 of the 24 1st-place votes and finishing within 18 points of each other. It is surprising that Black received 8 first place votes while Hoyt Wilhelm, who finished 4th, received none and was 75 points behind. In the ROY voting, Black received 19 1st-place votes and Wilhelm 3. Those were two of the great relief pitching seasons ever.

  3. Tmckelv Says:

    As usual, the 1 (tuff loss) stat doesn't tell the whole story.

    Look at the 4 pitchers with 16 tough losses. I find 2 things interesting:

    1) Rick langford had ROUGHLY less than 1/2 the total career GS of the other 3 pitchers. Langford - 196 GS, Billy Pierce - 432 GS, Carl Hubbell - 433 GS, Jesse Haines - 386. This brings us to the stat - Tough Loss % (which I am sure exists) and exactly what it means in a Historical context.

    2) I find it very interesting that Hubbell and Pierce have virtually the same number of career starts (433 v. 432) and both have 16 tough losses. I know it is a coincidence, but it is cool.

    Once again, I love this site.

  4. Devon & His 1982 Topps blog Says:

    That's funny, Jack Morris ain't on this list.

  5. Johnny Twisto Says:

    It should be noted that there is a semi-official statistic called "Tough Losses" which Bill James defined as a loss with a game score of over 50, and which this site defines as a loss in a quality start. Obviously, the definition being used by Steve is tougher than those.

    Most losses in quality starts (since 1920):

    N. Ryan 107
    G. Perry 103
    P. Niekro 101
    S. Carlton 100
    B. Blyleven 99

    Most losses, game score > 50 (since 1920):

    N. Ryan 128
    G. Perry 110
    B. Blyleven 109
    T. Seaver 105
    D. Sutton 102
    P. Niekro 102

    Obviously the '70s were the era of losing tough.

  6. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Only two pitchers had Lombardi-tough losses last season, Haren and Halladay.

    No one has had one of more than 9 innings since 1992.

  7. Whiz Says:

    @4 Ah, but Bert Blyleven is 🙂

  8. Steve S. Says:

    Devon @4 - Jack Morris's reputation, deserved or not, would suggest that he would appear on the reverse of these lists (which I'd *love* to see): Most times as winning pitcher when the *opposing* pitcher took a tough loss.

  9. Tmckelv Says:

    Is there a "Lucky Wins" stat also? Like for 5+ ER or some equivalent Game Score?

    But I guess that would be era-related also, like JT pointed out about the tough losses (and 1970's) in #5.

    So I guess we need Tough Loss+ and Lucky Win+ stats. I am sure someone out there would like to work that out.

  10. Tmckelv Says:

    @8 Steve S,

    "Jack Morris's reputation...reverse of this list...Most times as winning pitcher when the *opposing* pitcher took a tough loss."

    I am not sure if you said what you meant.

    That comment would indicate that Jack Morris pitched pretty well (if the opposing pitcher took a tough loss). The reputation discussed on these threads is typically in terms of Morris getting "Lucky Wins" like I mentioned above @9.

  11. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Yes, "Cheap Wins" defined by Bill James as winning with a game score under 50, and by B-R as winning in a non-quality start. Now we just need Steve to come up with the "ultra-cheap win".....

    Since 1920
    most James cheapies

    J. Moyer 58
    E. Whitehill 54
    K. Rogers 50
    A. Pettitte 48
    M. Harder 48
    J. Morris 42

    Calculating the most non-quality start wins is a little tougher, because you need to search both for wins in fewer than 6 IP, and for wins when allowing more than 3 ER, and then add them together. I'll let someone else run with that if they want.

  12. birtelcom Says:

    Jack Morris had 13 of the "9 or more IP/3ER or less" Tough Losses -- just two more would have had him on the leaders list in Steve's original blog post.

  13. John Autin Says:

    @2, Johnny Twisto -- Though you were obviously not focusing on the overall merits of the '52 NL MVP vote, I feel that no mention of that travesty should pass without noting that the WAR leader was Jackie Robinson (by almost a full win), who placed 7th.

    Robinson also led the NL in WAR in 1951 (by more than a win), but ran 6th in the vote, won by his teammate, Roy Campanella. It's not often mentioned, but for the 5 years 1949-53, Robinson was pretty clearly the most valuable player in the majors, with a combined WAR of 43.6; Musial was 2nd at 39.0, and no one else had 30. (For his entire career, 1947-56, Jackie was 2nd to Musial in combined WAR.)

    I still can't understand why Sauer won in '52. And it's not as though a bunch of more deserving candidates split up the first-place votes and Sauer "snuck in"; he got 8 of the 24 first-place votes, tying with Roberts in that department.

  14. John Q Says:

    I don't know if you can easily assign a "tough" loss distinction on all of these games because of the difference in runs scoring during various era's in baseball. For instance there's a big difference between getting 3 runs per game during the mid 60's and getting 3 runs per game during the mid 30's.

  15. Johnny Twisto Says:

    John A, I wonder if there was a perception that Robinson's defense was not up to snuff that season and if that cost him. Now, Total Zone still sees him as good that year (+6), but not as good as previous years. He committed a career high 20 errors (after only 7 in '51). And this was his last season as a full-time 2Bman; he would become sort of a super-utility man for the rest of his career, mostly playing 3B and the OF.

  16. Devon & His 1982 Topps blog Says:

    @#8-#10... Morris is actually #4 in "easy wins", which I defined as 1920-2010, ER>=4 and IPouts< =27. He won 48 games where his ERA was 5.85. Sick eh? He's got the worst ERA in those games, of the top 5 on the list.

    The only 3 above him on that list, Earl Whitehill, Red Ruffing, and Lefty Grove. I was very surprised to see Grove there, but lookin' at the individual games, that seems due to the high offense era he was pitching in.

  17. oneblankspace Says:

    What about complete game losses where the home team does not have to bat/finish batting in the 9th inning? I was at a (Johnny Bench's last) game at Wrigley where Mario Soto allowed the Cubs only 3 runs before being lifted for a pinch-hitter (who was looking for the Reds' first hit against Chuck Rainey) in the top of the 9th.

  18. Bill Tuck Says:

    Now teams have setup men and closers. Tom Glavine stands out as the pitcher who had more blown saves behind him than anybody else I can remember. Once he stood to be the winning pitcher with two outs in the ninth and nobody on base. The pitch was strike three, but the catcher dropped the ball. The opposition proceded to score several runs and win the game. Tom wasn't the losing pitcher, but it was a game where sloppy plan blew the game. That wasn't the only time something like that happened to Tom, but it was an extreme case.

  19. Bill Tuck Says:

    One year when Billly Pierce was in his prime, I remember he lost four 1-0 games. That year he lead the league with an ERA below 2.00.

  20. Whiz Says:

    Speaking of lucky wins, here is a list of the lowest game scores where the starting pitcher got a win (1920-present). (The App,Dec column doesn't list them as wins for pre-1950 games -- I assume that's because that column uses PBP data instead of box scores to generate the info there, and the PBP data doesn't exist yet.) None are negative, but some are close.

    A negative Game Score is certainly possible. If you remove the game won requirement, you find the lowest game score is -35 -- a list of all negative game scores is here. The lowest Game Score where the team won (though not the starting pitcher) is -8, rather recently.

  21. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Tom Glavine stands out as the pitcher who had more blown saves behind him than anybody else I can remember.

    This would be interesting to know, though it would take a lot of work to figure definitively. It would have to be a good pitcher in the recent era who didn't complete many games and didn't have great bullpen support. Glavine certainly seems like a good candidate to be the real answer.

    I think Pettitte and Rivera recently passed Welch and Eckersley as the top win-save duo ever. I wonder what is the top blown win-blown save duo. It has to be a good combination of pitchers -- a guy who just blew lots of saves wouldn't keep getting the chance for very long. Heck, Pettitte and Rivera might lead that one too.

  22. BunnyWrangler Says:

    Yeah, so I don't know how to link, but Bill Tuck has a good memory. The Glavine game was in 1999; the Braves were in line to beat Randy Johnson, and then things proceeded exactly as Bill described them.

  23. Locode Says:

    So Ted Lyons went 0-34 in 33 games?


  24. Artie Z Says:

    @23 - Lyons went 0-34 in 33 games started. Looking at his game logs from 1933 shows that on August 13th he pitched 9 innings in relief (Jake Miller pitched the first 8 of the 17 inning game) and gave up 2 runs but lost.

  25. Locode Says:

    @23 - Lyons went 0-34 in 33 games started. Looking at his game logs from 1933 shows that on August 13th he pitched 9 innings in relief (Jake Miller pitched the first 8 of the 17 inning game) and gave up 2 runs but lost.

    I knew there had to be an answer. Thanks for doing the diggin.

    Lyons was one of my favorite old timers. Went 14-6 in 1942 at the age of 41 and finished all 20 of his starts. I think he was the designated Sunday double-header guy, which helped keep the regular rotation intact.

  26. John Autin Says:

    Johnny T -- You're probably right that a perceived decline in Jackie's defense was a factor in his getting just 9% of the '52 MVP vote. My guesses on the main reasons, in order of importance:

    1. He had but 75 RBI, despite batting 3rd much of the time. That had little to do with him and much to do with a lack of opportunities; he hit very well with RISP, but had just 135 AB in those situations. The Dodger offensive machine was just a bit off that year; their 775 runs still led the league, but were 80 less than in '51. (In '53 they would explode for 955 runs, 6.16 R/G, 1.21 more than anyone else, en route to a 105-49 record.)

    2. His BA was "just" .308 -- still a respectable 4th in the NL, but 28 points behind both Musial that year and Jackie's own average from 1949-51.

    3. Your point about his defense -- errors up, DPs down. (BTW, I loved what Bill James said about Jackie's high rating in defensive Win Shares -- wondering if it was an illusion, but noting that if so, the illusion followed him all over the field.)

    4. His .440 OBP (106 walks) were underappreciated.

    5. He'd already won an MVP in '49, with a clearly superior season.

  27. John Autin Says:

    @19, Bill Tuck -- I don't mean to contradict you, but the Play Index says that Billy Pierce's season high in CG, 1-0 losses was two, in both 1949 and '55.

    The season high in CG 1-0 losses (1920-present) is four by Roger Craig of the '63 Mets. Nine other pitchers had three such losses in a season.

    Career leader is (of course) our latest overdue HOFer, Bert Blyleven, with nine. Eight of those came from 1971-76. The last was in '85 -- the only one he lost on a HR, hit by Carlton Fisk; winning pitcher in that game was Tom Seaver, with his 61st and last shutout.

  28. Johnny Twisto Says:

    He'd already won an MVP in '49, with a clearly superior season.

    There does seem to be some evidence that the voters will look for a good story and prefer not to vote for the same guy every year. And to an extent, I don't mind this. I think MVP/HOF discussion is fascinating. Everyone's got their own opinion, some of them are stupid, some of them are smart, the smart ones don't all agree. In most seasons, there are multiple guys with a reasonable argument for the MVP, and if the voters want to lean to someone who hasn't won it before, or who makes a more interesting story, so be it. Now, was Sauer a reasonable choice in '52? I'm not sure, I'd have to look closer, but he doesn't look like a great choice.

    I'll also add, while I'm skeptical of the "splitting the vote" theory, it is possible this occurred with the '52 Dodgers. (Then again, Dodgers won MVPs in '49, '51, '53, '55, and '56 with similarly loaded teams. So, I'm back to being fully skeptical.)

  29. Mike Felber Says:

    If it is very close, then an argument could be made for the new guy winning the MVP. But so often it has not been. If a Mantle, Musial, Williams, Mays deserved 5-8 MVPs, that is what they should have received.

    Also, those who make team & context significant factors say that 'value' should be interpreted as whether you can help a team get to the post season. Ignoring that this rewards a player for the fortune of being on a better team, not weighing just how much value he added, an unrecognized problem there is that there is no reason to assume that value should, or was intended to mean, what they presume. Why would not value mean how much raw value you can add to a team, instead of whether your team happens to be good enough for you to push them over the top?

    If it is really close, & a guy on a winner player even better under the pennant race pressure, then give it to him. But overwhelmingly just being on better teams is rewarded. This, & an engaging story line or novelty, are not rational or fair ways to consider giving an historic award.

  30. John Autin Says:

    Johnny Twisto -- I'm not entirely opposed to "good story" as a rationale for MVP voting, but it seems very haphazardly applied. A "good story" is often a guy doing much better than expected (like the Manager of the Year award), or getting early notice for some particular stat or quirky achievement that is really a great measure of overall performance. Or something like Jimmy Rollins declaring "we're the team to beat" in spring of 2007, then having a career year as the Phillies rallied to edge the Mets for the division title; Rollins was terrific, but he wasn't anything like the best in the NL that year. (He made 504 outs, for goodness' sake!)

  31. John Autin Says:

    @30, I meant to say, "...getting early notice for some particular stat or quirky achievement that is NOT really a great measure of overall performance."

  32. John Autin Says:

    Johnny T -- Perhaps the phenomenon we're calling "vote splitting" isn't actually reflected in the final votes, but happens in the "primaries," so to speak. I think sometimes the great players on a great team are eliminated from MVP contention because none really stands out above his teammates; if the voter can't find a reason to favor one of them, he eliminates all of them as #1 and moves on to candidates on other teams.

    For example, the 1998 Yankees (114 wins): Derek Jeter had his best year (close 2nd to A-Rod in WAR), but Bernie Williams went .339-26-97 and Paul O'Neill .317-24-116. I think that if Jeter had the same stats but was clearly the best on his team, he would have done much better than 2 first-place votes and a 3rd-place finish in the voting (which ended up salivating over JuanGone's 157 RBI).

    Someone in another thread pointed out the '54 Indians (111 wins) as an example of actual vote splitting: Larry Doby, Bobby Avila and Bob Lemon each got 5 first-place votes, but Yogi Berra won the award with 7 first-place votes.

  33. John Autin Says:

    Back to the official topic:

    -- Play Index reports that the most losses of 8+ IP and 2 runs or less (1920-present) belong to Robin Roberts with 37; Gaylord Perry is 2nd with 30.

  34. barkie Says:

    Re: Jack Morris

    I think it began as an homage to his reputation as one who "pitched to the scoreboard".

    Many on this board hate this phrase, but for those of us who watched Morris a lot, it certainly seemed there was something to it.

    For those unfamiliar: a pitcher who pitches to the scoreboard is a slacker who just manages to keep the opposition to a lower run total than his own. These guys are said to be able to bear down in tight games, and tend to care less about mental lapses when the lead is greater.

    Additionally, "scoreboard pitchers" have a reputation as one whose accomplishments are not easily defined by stats. They are, pitchers of contrast.

  35. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Play Index reports that the most losses of 8+ IP and 2 runs or less (1920-present) belong to Robin Roberts with 37

    And nine of those losses were to the Giants. Twice, in games ten years apart, Willie Mays hit a solo homer to beat him 2-1.

  36. mr.baseballcard Says:

    Wow. After reading so many posts about the newest HoFer Bert Cryleven, I thought for sure Bert would have been at the top of this list. Apparently other pitchers also have tough-luck losses and still keep their winning percentage above .534. Who'd of thunk it?

  37. Martin Milner Says:

    Neat list, but does not take into account that the losing pitcher in an away game gets a complete game for pitching 8 innings, which can still be a "tough loss".

  38. Steve S. Says:

    Tmckelv @ 10: I said what I meant, but reading your post and the stats on Morris's Lucky Wins, and thinking about it more, I realize I said only half of what I meant!

    Barkie @34 got my point regarding Morris's reputation of "pitching to the scoreboard". Such a pitcher would be expected to be on *both* the list of "Lucky" Wins and the list of Wins when the other guy got a tough loss.

    If such a pitcher existed.

    At the height of Morris's notoriety as, supposedly, such a pitcher (probably right around 1990), I did a study (never published) involving him and about 10 others who started 30 games or more one season. First I sorted all the innings begun by the pitcher in question based on the score when the pitcher took the mound (e.g., tied, trailing by 1 run, leading by 4, etc.). Then I summed across all the innings in each category to compile the ERA of each pitcher in each situation.

    If the Morris-defenders were correct, you'd expect his ERA to be lower in close games and for his ERA to increase as his team's lead increased.

    Wanna guess the outcome? Absolutely no evidence that any pitcher's performance varied in any predictable way according to the score at the start of an inning.

    Big surprise.

  39. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    the losing pitcher in an away game gets a complete game for pitching 8 innings, which can still be a "tough loss."

    If you expand the search to "Pitcher Lost, Complete Game, (requiring IPouts>=24 and ER<=3), sorted by greatest number of games in all seasons," Lyons still leads with 57, followed by Perry with 51, Walters and Blyleven with 47, Ruffing with 45, Spahn and Ryan with 44, Niekro with 43, Roberts and Luque with 42, Gibson with 41, and Leonard with 40.

    Two notes:

    1. Jim Tobin had 33 such losses . . . out of 112 career losses. Tobin (29.5%) and Bucky Walters (47/160, 29.4%) had the highest percentage of =8 CG losses that I was able to find. Blyleven is at a very unremarkable 18.8% (47/250).

    2. Walter Johnson had 23 tough-luck (=8) CG losses in the years for which B-R has game logs (1920-27). It's impossible to be certain of CGs in earlier seasons, of course, but from a quick dip into Washington's 1908-19 game scores at Retrosheet, I estimate a minimum of 35 more tough-luck CG losses for Johnson, and a maximum of 81 more. He'll lead this list handily when (if?) all the data is assembled.

  40. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Sorry about the "=8"s in that previous post. What I meant to write, using the greater-than and less-than symbols, was "less than or equal to three [earned runs]/greater than or equal to eight [innings pitched]." I forgot that those symbols are also HTML formatting commands.

  41. Dan Says:

    I thought Nolan Ryan would have been higher, just due to the amount of games pitched, plus being on some pretty bad teams.

    With all the press about Felix Hernandez 13-12 W-L record this year, he only had 1 Tough Loss.

  42. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Dan, what do you mean? If you're going by Steve's definition, Felix didn't have any tough losses (there were only two in MLB all season, see my post #6). If you're going by B-R's definition, he had 8, most in the AL. By Bill James's definition, he had 6, tied for the most in the AL.