A familiar television advertisement from years ago featured the actor John Houseman as pitch man for the investment firm Smith Barney. The tag line had Houseman solemnly intoning ”Smith Barney makes money the old-fashioned way – they earn it!”.

In this post, I’ll look at pitchers who, apart from their run support, earn their losses, and can thank their defense for helping out with their wins.

Here are pitchers who did not allow an unearned run over an entire season (min. 162 IP).

Rk Player Year WHIP ER R IP Age Tm G GS CG SHO W L W-L% H BB SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Francisco Liriano 2010 1.263 77 77 191.2 26 MIN 31 31 0 0 14 10 .583 184 58 201 3.62 112 9
2 Roy Oswalt 2009 1.241 83 83 181.1 31 HOU 30 30 3 0 8 6 .571 183 42 138 4.12 100 19
3 Scott Baker 2008 1.178 66 66 172.1 26 MIN 28 28 0 0 11 4 .733 161 42 141 3.45 122 20
4 Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 1.324 100 100 204.2 26 BOS 32 32 1 0 15 12 .556 191 80 201 4.40 108 25
5 Curt Schilling 2006 1.216 90 90 204.0 39 BOS 31 31 0 0 15 7 .682 220 28 183 3.97 120 28
6 Joel Pineiro 2005 1.481 118 118 189.0 26 SEA 30 30 2 0 7 11 .389 224 56 107 5.62 75 23
7 Kelvim Escobar 2004 1.286 91 91 208.1 28 ANA 33 33 0 0 11 12 .478 192 76 191 3.93 113 21
8 Omar Olivares 1992 1.279 84 84 197.0 24 STL 32 30 1 0 9 9 .500 189 63 124 3.84 89 20
9 Frank Tanana 1990 1.452 104 104 176.1 36 DET 34 29 1 0 9 8 .529 190 66 114 5.31 75 25
10 Rick Sutcliffe 1988 1.336 97 97 226.0 32 CHC 32 32 12 2 13 14 .481 232 70 144 3.86 94 18
11 Dick Ruthven 1976 1.436 112 112 240.1 25 ATL 36 36 8 4 14 17 .452 255 90 142 4.19 90 14
12 Dennis Ribant 1967 1.314 78 78 172.0 25 PIT 38 22 2 0 9 8 .529 186 40 75 4.08 82 16
13 Ted Wilks 1944 1.069 61 61 207.2 28 STL 36 21 16 4 17 4 .810 173 49 70 2.64 135 12
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/15/2012.

I was actually surprised there were as many of these seasons as there are. The frequency prior to the last decade was more what I was expecting. My hunch is that these seasons have become more frequent with the demise of the complete game and the unabated increase in strikeouts - ergo, the longer a pitcher stays in a game and the more balls in play there are, the more chance there will be for an error and an unearned run. Which makes Ted Wilks 1944 season quite remarkable - 16 complete games and just 70 strikeouts (although he did have that league-leading WHIP). I was thinking he also had a makeshift, wartime defense behind him, except that isn’t true. Other than rookie Emil Verban at 2B (an “experienced” rookie at 28), every Cardinal regular was a holdover from the previous season (and, except for outfielder Danny Ditwhiler, for at least two previous seasons). But, I digress.

The other thing that popped out at me was that overall this was a pretty average (or even mediocre) group of seasons – median ERA+ of 100, 5 seasons of 90 or below, 4 of 110 or above. Also, aside from Wilks and a couple of others, a pretty healthy dose of runners on base (only 4 of 13 with WHIP below 1.25) - the formula cited conventionally for putting pressure on the defense and thus inducing errors.

Going to 95% of runs allowed are earned (up to ~5  unearned runs allowed), these are the pitchers with the most seasons.

Rk   Yrs From To Age  
1 Curt Schilling 7 1998 2006 31-39 Ind. Seasons
2 Jamie Moyer 6 1997 2009 34-46 Ind. Seasons
3 Steve Trachsel 5 1998 2006 27-35 Ind. Seasons
4 Eric Milton 5 1998 2005 22-29 Ind. Seasons
5 David Wells 5 1996 2005 33-42 Ind. Seasons
6 Cole Hamels 4 2007 2011 23-27 Ind. Seasons
7 Ted Lilly 4 2004 2011 28-35 Ind. Seasons
8 Jarrod Washburn 4 2002 2009 27-34 Ind. Seasons
9 Mike Mussina 4 1992 2000 23-31 Ind. Seasons
10 Greg Maddux 4 1992 2007 26-41 Ind. Seasons
11 Luis Tiant 4 1973 1978 32-37 Ind. Seasons
12 Preacher Roe 4 1945 1951 29-35 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/16/2012.

Obviously, heavily tilted to pitchers of the past 20 years with much reduced numbers of complete games and also much higher strikeout rates resulting in fewer balls in play. Among the 29 pitchers with 3 such seasons are: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Jered Weaver, Matt Cain, Jeff Francis, Derek Lowe, Livan Hernandez, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Al Leiter, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Kevin Appier, Tom Browning, Rick Sutcliffe, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton and Jim Palmer. Actually, that’s most of those 29 pitchers – as you can tell, preponderantly name pitchers.

For a career (min. 1000 IP), here are the retired players whose unearned runs are less than 6% of their runs allowed.

Rk Player IP ER R From To Age G GS CG SHO W L W-L% H BB SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Curt Schilling 3261.0 1253 1318 1988 2007 21-40 569 436 83 20 216 146 .597 2998 711 3116 3.46 127 347
2 Woody Williams 2216.1 1031 1096 1993 2007 26-40 424 330 10 2 132 116 .532 2217 711 1480 4.19 103 309
3 Jarrod Washburn 1863.2 848 900 1998 2009 23-34 312 300 9 4 107 109 .495 1855 569 1103 4.10 108 240
4 Jose Lima 1567.2 917 972 1994 2006 21-33 348 235 9 1 89 102 .466 1783 393 980 5.26 85 267
5 Rick Helling 1526.1 793 842 1994 2006 23-35 301 234 10 4 93 81 .534 1540 562 1058 4.68 101 247
6 Jim Deshaies 1525.0 702 743 1984 1995 24-35 257 253 15 6 84 95 .469 1434 575 951 4.14 91 179
7 Orlando Hernandez 1314.2 604 641 1998 2007 32-41 219 211 9 2 90 65 .581 1181 479 1086 4.13 110 177
8 Arthur Rhodes 1187.2 538 560 1991 2011 21-41 900 61 5 3 87 70 .554 1033 516 1152 4.08 109 126
9 Adam Eaton 1178.2 647 688 2000 2009 22-31 209 201 3 0 71 68 .511 1253 448 855 4.94 84 167
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/20/2012.

So, every player is from the past 30 years, and most are of the low-CG and high-K style prevalent in that period.

Going to a higher threshold for the 1961-90 period, here are are the retired players (min. 1000 IP) whose career unearned runs are less than 8% of their runs allowed.

Rk Player IP ER R From To Age G GS CG SHO W L W-L% H BB SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Dennis Eckersley 2815.1 1091 1181 1975 1990 20-35 604 361 100 20 169 140 .547 2625 659 1938 3.49 116 291
2 Mike Flanagan 2637.0 1142 1240 1975 1990 23-38 420 403 101 19 165 136 .548 2672 842 1419 3.90 100 242
3 Scott McGregor 2140.2 949 1031 1976 1988 22-34 356 309 83 23 138 108 .561 2245 518 904 3.99 98 235
4 Rick Sutcliffe 2130.0 906 984 1976 1990 20-34 357 296 64 16 133 105 .559 2010 856 1412 3.83 103 178
5 Kevin Gross 1469.1 656 712 1983 1990 22-29 265 221 29 11 80 90 .471 1447 583 996 4.02 93 133
6 Mike Smithson 1356.1 690 745 1982 1989 27-34 240 204 41 6 76 86 .469 1473 383 731 4.58 92 168
7 Joey Jay 1132.1 492 534 1961 1966 25-30 195 158 49 11 75 67 .528 1092 407 727 3.91 97 120
8 Don Aase 1109.1 468 503 1977 1990 22-35 448 91 22 5 66 60 .524 1085 457 641 3.80 104 89
9 Sammy Ellis 1004.0 463 503 1962 1969 21-28 229 140 35 3 63 58 .521 967 378 677 4.15 88 118
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/28/2012.

The first four names on the list are generally well-regarded pitchers though, aside from Eckersley, do not have impressive ERA+ scores during this period.

Similarly, for the 1941-60 period, pitchers with career unearned runs of less than 9% of runs allowed (only the highlighted four were less than the 1961-90 8% threshold).

Rk Player IP ER R From To Age G GS CG SHO W L W-L% H BB SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Preacher Roe 1911.2 726 795 1944 1954 28-38 332 261 101 17 127 84 .602 1901 502 955 3.42 117 199
2 Herm Wehmeier 1803.0 961 1044 1945 1958 18-31 361 240 79 9 92 108 .460 1806 852 794 4.80 84 210
3 Carl Erskine 1718.2 763 830 1948 1959 21-32 335 216 71 14 122 78 .610 1637 646 981 4.00 101 199
4 Jim Wilson 1539.0 686 743 1945 1958 23-36 257 217 75 19 86 89 .491 1479 608 692 4.01 94 151
5 Tiny Bonham 1451.2 507 556 1941 1949 27-35 219 181 100 18 94 69 .577 1418 274 441 3.14 116 113
6 Bob Turley 1443.0 552 592 1951 1960 20-29 241 198 74 22 92 66 .582 1111 891 1070 3.44 107 110
7 Billy Hoeft 1402.0 637 685 1952 1960 20-28 279 182 71 16 77 83 .481 1421 522 835 4.09 97 138
8 Red Munger 1228.2 523 574 1943 1956 24-37 273 161 54 13 77 56 .579 1243 500 564 3.83 103 85
9 Hal Brown 1147.2 499 546 1951 1960 26-35 254 135 32 7 61 55 .526 1136 299 501 3.91 98 112
10 Paul Foytack 1094.1 495 539 1953 1960 22-29 215 144 52 6 60 63 .488 994 481 630 4.07 99 116
11 Billy Loes 1075.2 460 503 1950 1960 20-30 290 121 39 8 74 58 .561 1021 382 590 3.85 101 105
12 Carl Scheib 1070.2 581 634 1943 1954 16-27 267 107 47 6 45 65 .409 1130 493 290 4.88 85 99
13 Brooks Lawrence 1040.2 491 539 1954 1960 29-35 275 127 42 5 69 62 .527 1034 385 481 4.25 96 110
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/28/2012.

A fairly unimpressive assortment of pitchers, with only 2 of 13 with an ERA+ above 110, and two others (Wehmeier, Scheib) with attrocious scores of 85 or less.

For 1920-40, these are pitchers with career unearned runs less than 12% of runs allowed. Only the highlighted two were less than 10%, and none were below the 1941-60 threshold of 9%.

Rk Player IP ER R From To Age G GS CG SHO W L W-L% H BB SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 General Crowder 2344.1 1072 1204 1926 1936 27-37 402 292 150 16 167 115 .592 2453 800 799 4.12 105 137
2 Ed Brandt 2268.1 974 1084 1928 1938 23-33 378 279 150 18 121 146 .453 2342 778 877 3.86 100 134
3 Syl Johnson 2165.2 977 1099 1922 1940 21-39 542 209 82 11 112 117 .489 2290 488 920 4.06 105 172
4 Bullet Joe Bush 1725.2 761 863 1920 1928 27-35 270 215 129 13 118 94 .557 1777 687 631 3.97 103 79
5 Tex Carleton 1607.1 698 770 1932 1940 25-33 293 202 91 16 100 76 .568 1630 561 808 3.91 100 105
6 Johnny Allen 1545.0 636 715 1932 1940 27-35 244 199 99 15 117 53 .688 1449 595 900 3.70 119 69
7 Oral Hildebrand 1430.2 692 781 1931 1940 24-33 258 182 80 9 83 78 .516 1490 623 527 4.35 108 99
8 Ted Blankenship 1330.2 634 719 1922 1930 21-29 241 156 73 8 77 79 .494 1462 489 378 4.29 94 63
9 Schoolboy Rowe 1295.2 580 649 1933 1940 23-30 216 166 88 16 96 56 .632 1357 368 601 4.03 113 85
10 Jack Knott 1261.0 702 795 1933 1940 26-33 275 151 47 4 67 81 .453 1441 524 397 5.01 97 112
11 Bob Feller 1105.1 392 440 1936 1940 17-21 161 135 89 10 82 41 .667 865 621 973 3.19 140 44
12 Johnny Marcum 1099.1 569 630 1933 1939 23-29 195 132 69 8 65 63 .508 1269 344 392 4.66 102 90
13 Bill Dietrich 1041.1 582 661 1933 1940 23-30 215 117 44 8 53 65 .449 1113 540 387 5.03 92 79
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/28/2012.

As a group, mostly a nondescript set of hurlers, with only 3 of 13 with ERA+ above 110. Players’ equipment and field conditions probably contributed a bit to higher error rates in this period.

Finally, for the 1901-19 period, here are pitchers with unearned runs of less than 22% of runs allowed, almost double the threshold of the 1920-40 period. Only the highlighted pitchers were below 20%.

Rk Player IP ER R From To Age G GS CG SHO W L W-L% H BB SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Babe Adams 2064.2 570 725 1906 1919 24-37 308 247 148 30 131 95 .580 1848 326 790 2.48 120 35
2 Bob Harmon 2054.0 761 957 1909 1918 21-30 321 240 143 15 107 133 .446 1966 762 634 3.33 90 44
3 Dick Rudolph 1923.1 548 699 1910 1919 22-31 253 222 167 26 116 97 .545 1817 362 756 2.56 107 29
4 Ray Caldwell 1857.1 620 746 1910 1919 22-31 272 214 160 19 108 104 .509 1644 626 850 3.00 101 43
5 George Suggs 1652.0 571 720 1908 1915 25-32 245 185 115 16 99 91 .521 1722 355 588 3.11 103 40
6 Dave Davenport 1537.0 501 641 1914 1919 24-29 259 186 96 18 73 83 .468 1399 521 719 2.93 101 22
7 Pol Perritt 1430.0 457 583 1912 1919 20-27 239 174 93 23 89 78 .533 1372 377 532 2.88 94 41
8 Erskine Mayer 1427.0 469 600 1912 1919 22-29 245 164 93 12 91 70 .565 1415 345 482 2.96 99 43
9 Al Demaree 1424.0 439 556 1912 1919 27-34 232 173 84 15 80 72 .526 1350 337 514 2.77 100 34
10 Gene Packard 1410.1 472 602 1912 1919 24-31 248 153 86 15 85 69 .552 1393 356 488 3.01 99 28
11 Bob Shawkey 1324.1 390 479 1913 1919 22-28 218 150 98 18 89 67 .571 1132 453 572 2.65 108 24
12 Jim Shaw 1323.2 401 513 1913 1919 19-25 234 157 79 17 72 80 .474 1102 584 675 2.73 105 14
13 Stan Coveleski 1148.1 302 376 1912 1919 22-29 176 132 86 17 82 53 .607 1014 292 423 2.37 129 13
14 Bernie Boland 1017.2 340 406 1915 1919 23-27 198 110 58 10 67 47 .588 868 390 354 3.01 96 11
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/28/2012.

Unearned runs are much more prominent in this period with few strikeouts, a lot of balls in play, and also lots of small-ball plays (bunts, hit-and-runs, steals) that test defenses and induce errors. Again, players’ equipment and field conditions may also have played a sizable factor in contributing to errors. As a whole, this group of pitchers are arguably the best of any of the career lists.

One initial surprise for me is how many lesser quality pitchers made these lists. But, on second thought, maybe that isn’t such a surprise. After all, poor pitchers can surrender runs quite readily, without any assistance from the defense. Also, they’re more likely to get yanked early, reducing the chances of errors behind them. Conversely, better pitchers will surrender fewer runs in total, so any unearned runs they allow will represent a higher percentage of runs than for lesser hurlers.

 

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