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:
|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|
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…
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?
|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|
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 14…a 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:
|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|
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:
|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|
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 Hermanson, Roger 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:
|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|
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:
|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|
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.