You can’t win if your teammates don’t score: the toughest-luck seasons ever for major league pitchers

I’ve written about Jeff Samardzija’s winless start to the 2014 season. In nine starts to this writing (5/17/14), Samardzija has a 1.62 ERA — by far the best of any pitcher ever who was winless through his first nine starts of the year — and he has not allowed more than three earned runs in any game. That got me thinking: who has had the most winless starts in a season in which he allowed three or fewer earned runs?

Twenty times a pitcher has had 20 or more such starts:

Player Year #Matching W L ERA IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Jack Nabors 1916 24 Ind. Games 0 15 2.45 143.1 117 39 59 44 1.23 PHA
Nolan Ryan 1987 23 Ind. Games 0 13 2.75 140.2 94 43 65 170 1.13 HOU
Claude Osteen 1975 22 Ind. Games 0 10 3.82 115.1 135 49 52 34 1.62 CHW
Rollie Naylor 1920 22 Ind. Games 0 18 3.04 130.1 152 44 56 46 1.60 PHA
Pete Schneider 1915 21 Ind. Games 0 15 2.65 142.2 136 42 53 59 1.32 CIN
Dennis Lamp 1978 21 Ind. Games 0 10 2.37 129.0 118 34 27 45 1.12 CHC
Joe Horlen 1968 21 Ind. Games 0 12 2.60 124.2 122 36 45 52 1.34 CHW
John Dopson 1988 21 Ind. Games 0 10 2.91 136.0 112 44 51 80 1.20 MON
Steve Bedrosian 1985 21 Ind. Games 0 8 2.76 124.0 109 38 58 80 1.35 ATL
Brandon Webb 2004 20 Ind. Games 0 8 2.68 117.2 107 35 70 94 1.50 ARI
Claude Osteen 1965 20 Ind. Games 0 10 2.54 141.2 125 40 38 77 1.15 LAD
Phil Ortega 1967 20 Ind. Games 0 8 3.28 120.2 110 44 33 66 1.19 WSA
Jim McGlothlin 1969 20 Ind. Games 0 11 2.92 111.0 97 36 32 59 1.16 CAL
Jim Kaat 1965 20 Ind. Games 0 8 2.45 106.1 110 29 32 54 1.34 MIN
Ken Hill 1989 20 Ind. Games 0 11 3.38 122.2 110 46 58 71 1.37 STL
Bob Forsch 1976 20 Ind. Games 0 6 3.18 116.0 117 41 39 43 1.34 STL
Phil Douglas 1917 20 Ind. Games 0 14 2.38 136.0 137 36 21 70 1.16 CHC
Jose DeLeon 1991 20 Ind. Games 0 7 2.32 112.2 90 29 45 86 1.20 STL
Tom Bradley 1972 20 Ind. Games 0 12 3.38 114.2 105 43 30 102 1.18 CHW
Doc Ayers 1914 20 Ind. Games 0 10 2.41 123.1 119 33 19 69 1.12 WSH
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Jack Nabors finished his career with a 1-25 record (read that out loud — “one and twenty-five” — so it sinks in) with an adjusted ERA well below league average…but it wasn’t all his fault. After the Philadelphia A’s won four American League pennants in five years from 1910-14, owner/manager Connie Mack sold almost all his best players in the face of financial competition from the Federal League. In 1915, when Nabors went 0-5 as a rookie, the A’s season record was 43-109. Then in 1916, when Nabors was 1-20, the A’s were 36-117 and may have been the worst major league team of all time.

Nabors started 30 games in 1916, and in 25 of them he allowed three earned runs or fewer. Of those, he won one, his third start of the year. Of course, those 25 starts include seven in which he pitched no more than four innings. He was victimized as much by his teammates’ poor fielding as he was by their poor hitting. For instance, Nabors lost five starts in which he went at least seven innings and allowed no more than one earned run, a total of three earned runs allowed in those five starts (0.66 ERA). But he allowed at least two unearned runs in each of those five games. Not that it helped that his teammates were shut out in two of them and scored just one run in another…

Nabors was a victim of the flu pandemic that swept the world in 1918 and died in 1923 at age 35…much tougher luck than anything he faced as a member of the Philadelphia A’s.

If you played in a Strat-o-Matic or other simulation game based on the 1987 season, you wanted Nolan Ryan on your pitching staff. After all, he led the National League in ERA and strikeouts and allowed the fewest hits per nine innings. But his record was just 8-16, and in 23 of his 34 starts he allowed no more than three earned runs and did not get a win.

Note Claude Osteen is on this last twice, for seasons ten years apart. In 1965, his first season with the Dodgers, he ranked ninth in the National League in ERA for a pennant-winning team, but his record was just 15-15 as the Dodgers had a nasty habit of not scoring much for him. (They didn’t score much for anybody that year, but it seemed to have more of an impact on Osteen.) His toughest luck came on June 21, when he took a one-hit shutout into the ninth against the lowly Mets only to lose, 1-0, when Billy Cowan led off the ninth with a home run.

Then in 1975, Osteen’s final year in the majors with the White Sox, he had 22 starts in which he didn’t win and allowed no more than three earned runs…but he didn’t really pitch all that well in those games. Note that in those 22 starts he had a 3.82 ERA and a bloated 1.62 WHIP. Included were three losses in which he was knocked out before the end of the third inning. Osteen didn’t pitch very well in his other games, either, finishing the year with a 7-16 record and a 4.36 ERA.

Remember Dennis Lamp? I’ll give you a pass if you don’t…he finished his major league career with a .500 record and never won more than 11 games in a season. But in his first year in the majors, he looked like a pretty good pitcher, despite a 7-15 record for the Cubs. Note his performance in his 21 winless starts in which he allowed no more than three earned runs: a 2.37 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. That’s darn good pitching for not winning. A few poor outings left his overall season ERA at a still-respectable 3.30. Lamp had three no-decisions in which he went at least seven innings, allowed just one run, and his teammates went on to win after he left the game.

I showed in my previous post that the 1968 White Sox hold the all-time record — by a wide margin — for most games in which the starting pitcher allowed three earned runs or fewer and did not get a win. The pitcher who has the most of those games was Joe Horlen with 21, followed by Gary Peters and Jack Fisher, with 15 each, then Tommy John, Cisco Carlos and Bob Priddy with 13 each. In John’s 13 games he had a 1.94 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP — and no wins.

Jim Kaat still managed to go 18-11 for the pennant-winning 1965 Twins even though he had 20 starts in which he allowed no more than three earned runs and did not win, with a superb 2.45 ERA in those 20 games. But Kaat did allow an unusually high number of unearned runs (27) in those games, with four in one start and six in another. Teammate Mudcat Grant, who pitched more innings, allowed only eight unearned runs all season.

The most recent pitcher on the list, Brandon Webb, also allowed a lot of unearned runs (21 in 20 games).

Okay, let’s raise the tough-luck bar…how about the most non-winning starts in a season allowing no more than two earned runs?

Player Year #Matching W L ERA IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP Tm
Jack Nabors 1916 18 Ind. Games 0 10 1.78 106.1 84 21 1 45 28 1.21 PHA
Brandon Webb 2004 17 Ind. Games 0 6 2.34 100.0 95 26 8 59 76 1.54 ARI
Nolan Ryan 1987 17 Ind. Games 0 9 2.15 104.2 65 25 7 41 129 1.01 HOU
Sam McDowell 1968 17 Ind. Games 0 11 1.47 110.1 78 18 6 51 106 1.17 CLE
Jim Kaat 1965 17 Ind. Games 0 7 2.10 85.2 91 20 7 30 48 1.41 MIN
Doc Ayers 1914 17 Ind. Games 0 9 2.10 102.2 98 24 2 16 56 1.11 WSH
Clayton Kershaw 2009 16 Ind. Games 0 2 1.53 94.0 59 16 3 42 105 1.07 LAD
Tommy Hanson 2010 16 Ind. Games 0 5 1.74 98.1 75 19 3 24 85 1.01 ATL
Jose DeLeon 1991 16 Ind. Games 0 6 1.69 90.1 63 17 6 31 68 1.04 STL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Let’s raise a tough-luck toast to Sam McDowell, who lost 11 starts in which he gave up no more than two earned runs in 1968…although we should note he allowed 19 unearned runs in those 11 games. Still, you gotta feel for a guy who lost an 11-inning 1-0 game in which he struck out 14a three-hitter in which he struck out 14…another 1-0 game in which he pitched a complete-game five-hitter…and a game in which he pitched nine shutout innings only to see his teammates win it in 12. McDowell finished the year second in the American League in ERA, behind teammate Luis Tiant, despite a mere 15-14 record. (Tiant, getting better support, went 21-9.)

Note the unusual season for Clayton Kershaw in 2009: 14 no-decisions in starts in which he allowed no more than two earned runs, including nine in which he allowed no more than one (and in those he allowed no more than one run of any kind). Of course, in seven of those games he was pulled before the end of the sixth inning…but three times he threw at least seven shutout innings before coming out of a scoreless game.

Let’s make it tougher: most non-winning starts in a season allowing no more than one earned run:

Player Year #Matching W L ERA IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Fred Toney 1916 12 Ind. Games 0 7 0.70 90.0 54 7 23 51 0.86 CIN
Sam McDowell 1968 12 Ind. Games 0 7 0.87 83.0 58 8 38 87 1.16 CLE
Pete Schneider 1917 10 Ind. Games 0 8 1.01 71.0 69 8 19 25 1.24 CIN
Jack Nabors 1916 10 Ind. Games 0 5 0.76 59.1 46 5 19 13 1.10 PHA
Lee Meadows 1916 10 Ind. Games 0 7 0.58 77.1 51 5 22 37 0.94 STL
Dennis Lamp 1978 10 Ind. Games 0 5 0.92 59.0 49 6 11 20 1.02 CHC
Clayton Kershaw 2009 10 Ind. Games 0 1 0.58 61.2 29 4 28 68 0.92 LAD
Jim Kaat 1965 10 Ind. Games 0 5 1.13 47.2 50 6 12 27 1.30 MIN
Jose DeLeon 1991 10 Ind. Games 0 2 0.83 54.0 32 5 14 36 0.85 STL
Roger Craig 1963 10 Ind. Games 0 8 0.90 80.1 68 8 19 43 1.08 NYM
Tom Candiotti 1993 10 Ind. Games 0 2 0.88 72.0 51 7 18 62 0.96 LAD
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Fred Toney‘s games included a 16-inning 0-0 tie in which he pitched the first 11 and a 12-inning 1-1 tie in which he went the distance. He also lost a pair of 1-0 games.

But for tough luck, how about Roger Craig of the hapless 1963 Mets, who lost eight starts in which he gave up no more than one earned run, tying a single-season record held by three other pitchers. Five of the losses were by 1-0 scores, two were 2-1 and the other was 2-0. Craig finished the season with a 5-22 record and led the National League in losses for the second straight year.

Eight times in 1963 Craig pitched at least eight innings, allowed no more than one earned run, and did not get the win…that’s tied for the single-season record (at least since 1914) with the unfortunate Jack Warhop of the 1914 Yankees. (The Yanks were shut out in seven of Warhop’s games, and the other was a 1-1 tie.) Craig’s seven starts with at least eight innings allowing no more than one run of any kind and not getting a win is the single-season record. And Craig set another record in 1963 by losing six starts in which he allowed just one run. (Hall of Famer Jim Bunning holds the career record in that category, losing 17 starts in which he allowed just one run…he pitched at least seven innings in each.)

Well, you know where we’re going next: most non-winning starts in a season allowing no earned runs:

Player Year #Matching W L IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP Tm
Reb Russell 1914 6 Ind. Games 0 3 16.0 14 0 0 7 6 1.31 CHW
Jimmy Key 1985 6 Ind. Games 0 0 30.1 20 0 0 9 12 0.96 TOR
Clayton Kershaw 2009 6 Ind. Games 0 0 38.2 18 0 0 16 43 0.88 LAD
Dustin Hermanson 1997 6 Ind. Games 0 0 33.1 13 0 0 11 24 0.72 MON
Roger Clemens 2005 6 Ind. Games 0 0 40.0 17 0 0 9 43 0.65 HOU
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Yeah, that is a weird line for Reb Russell, who did not complete five innings in any of those six starts and didn’t even get through two innings in three of them. He allowed at least one unearned run in four of those games.

In the cases of Dustin HermansonRoger Clemens and Clayton Kershaw, not only did they allow no earned runs in their six non-winning starts, they didn’t give up any unearned runs either. No one else has had that many non-winning starts without allowing a run.

Let’s see the career record in that category: most starts in which the pitcher allowed no runs but did not get a win:

Player #Matching IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Nolan Ryan 19 Ind. Games 96.0 35 0 31 113 0.69 NYM,CAL,HOU,TEX
Greg Maddux 18 Ind. Games 117.1 68 0 15 75 0.71 CHC,ATL,LAD,SDP
Roger Clemens 16 Ind. Games 105.1 54 0 30 110 0.80 BOS,TOR,NYY,HOU
Chris Young 15 Ind. Games 78.2 40 0 33 62 0.93 TEX,SDP,NYM,SEA
Rick Reuschel 15 Ind. Games 90.2 53 0 21 51 0.82 CHC,NYY,PIT
Jarrod Washburn 13 Ind. Games 79.0 46 0 23 65 0.87 ANA,LAA,SEA,DET
Jimmy Key 13 Ind. Games 78.0 50 0 17 36 0.86 TOR,NYY,BAL
Orel Hershiser 13 Ind. Games 66.1 30 0 24 37 0.81 LAD,SFG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Ryan’s record is somewhat tainted because he was knocked out before the end of the fifth inning in eight of those starts, including one in which he faced only one batter and another in which he faced only two. Maddux, on the other hand, pitched at least five scoreless innings in a start without a win 16 times and Clemens 15 to rank one-two in that category.

But for real tough luck, how about pitching at least nine innings in a start without giving up a run — and not getting a win? Your career leaders:

Player #Matching IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Don Sutton 7 Ind. Games 66.0 35 0 19 34 0.82 LAD,HOU,MIL
Tom Seaver 6 Ind. Games 58.0 25 0 16 56 0.71 NYM
Jim Perry 5 Ind. Games 50.0 25 0 7 23 0.64 MIN,DET,CLE
Phil Niekro 4 Ind. Games 38.0 19 0 9 19 0.74 ATL
Jerry Koosman 4 Ind. Games 41.0 21 0 9 41 0.73 NYM
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Sutton’s losses include one game in which he pitched 10 scoreless innings and another in which he threw 11. Seaver and Perry each had four games in which he pitched at least 10 shutout innings without a win.

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One thought on “You can’t win if your teammates don’t score: the toughest-luck seasons ever for major league pitchers

  1. John Reinan

    And don’t forget — Fred Toney also had one of the toughest single losses in history, when he and Hippo Vaughn both pitched 9 hitless innings. Toney gave up a couple of runs in the 10th and took the loss as Vaughn completed his no-hitter.

    Reply

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