One of the less well-noted happenings prior to the 2012 season was a change in one of the career pitching leaderboards. With the retirement of Tim Wakefield, there was a new active leader in career wild pitches, one Allan James Burnett.

A.J.’s ascension to the top rung was well-deserved, coming on the heels of 3 seasons with the spectacular aggregate total of 58 wild pitches. To put that number in perspective, at least five pitchers, at the time they became active leaders in this category, had compiled career wild pitch totals not exceeding A.J.’s three-year mark. For the curious, those players were Freddie Fitzsimmons (1935, 1942), Bill Hallahan (1935), Bump Hadley (1939), Johnny Allen (1942), and Warren Spahn (1959).

After the jump, a look at where A.J. fits into the pantheon of the game’s wildest hurlers.

A.J. currently stands at 135 wild pitches for his career, reaching the century mark with his first wild pitch of the 2011 season. Burnett wasn’t the fastest to 100 wild pitches – Matt Clement holds that honor, the only pitcher to do so in under 1400 innings pitched. Since 1901, here are the career wild pitch leaders, by IP threshold.

IP Limit Player WP IP From To Age BB SO ERA ERA+ BF Tm
500 Scott Williamson 72 439.1 1999 2007 23-31 244 510 3.36 136 1864 CIN-TOT-BOS-CHC-BAL
1000 Jason Grimsley 96 936.2 1989 2006 21-38 498 622 4.77 97 4208 PHI-CLE-CAL-NYY-KCR-TOT-BAL-ARI
1500 Juan Guzman 105 1483.1 1991 2000 24-33 667 1243 4.08 112 6373 TOR-TOT-TBD
2000 Jim Maloney 124 1849.0 1960 1971 20-31 810 1605 3.19 115 7745 CIN-CAL
2500 Sam McDowell 140 2492.1 1961 1975 18-32 1312 2453 3.17 112 10587 CLE-SFG-TOT-NYY-PIT
3000 David Cone 149 2898.2 1986 2003 23-40 1137 2668 3.46 121 12184 NYM-TOT-KCR-NYY-BOS
3500 Red Ames 156 3198.0 1903 1919 20-36 1034 1702 2.63 108 13080 NYG-TOT-CIN-STL
4000

4500

5000

Jack Morris 206 3824.0 1977 1994 22-39 1390 2478 3.90 105 16120 DET-MIN-TOR-CLE
5500

6000

Nolan Ryan 277 5386.0 1966 1993 19-46 2795 5714 3.19 112 22575 NYM-CAL-HOU-TEX
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2012.

Here are the only pitchers to average better than 1 wild pitch per 100 batters faced over a career (min. 3000 IP).

Rk Player WP Rate IP From To Age BB SO ERA ERA+ BF Tm
1 Nolan Ryan 277  81.5 5386.0 1966 1993 19-46 2795 5714 3.19 112 22575 NYM-CAL-HOU-TEX
2 Jack Morris 206  78.3 3824.0 1977 1994 22-39 1390 2478 3.90 105 16120 DET-MIN-TOR-CLE
3 Charlie Hough 179  90.3 3801.1 1970 1994 22-46 1665 2362 3.75 106 16170 LAD-TOT-TEX-CHW-FLA
4 Joe Niekro 172  88.2 3584.1 1967 1988 22-43 1262 1747 3.59 98 15166 CHC-TOT-DET-ATL-HOU-NYY-MIN
5 Red Ames 156  83.9 3198.0 1903 1919 20-36 1034 1702 2.63 108 13080 NYG-TOT-CIN-STL
6 John Smoltz 145  98.4 3473.0 1988 2009 21-42 1010 3084 3.33 125 14271 ATL-TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2012.

During the 2012 season, A.J. also passed the century mark in hit batsmen, becoming just the 16th player with career marks of 100 or more wild pitches and hit batsmen.

Rk Player IP HBP WP From To Age G GS CG SHO W L BB SO ERA ERA+ Tm
1 A.J. Burnett 2162.2 107 134 1999 2012 22-35 345 340 22 10 137 121 888 1971 4.05 104 FLA-TOR-NYY-PIT
2 David Cone 2898.2 106 149 1986 2003 23-40 450 419 56 22 194 126 1137 2668 3.46 121 KCR-NYM-TOT-NYY-BOS
3 Orel Hershiser 3130.1 117 121 1983 2000 24-41 510 466 68 25 204 150 1007 2014 3.48 112 LAD-CLE-SFG-NYM
4 Tim Wakefield 3226.1 186 134 1992 2011 25-44 627 463 33 6 200 180 1205 2156 4.41 105 PIT-BOS
5 Kevin Brown 3256.1 139 108 1986 2005 21-40 486 476 72 17 211 144 901 2397 3.28 127 TEX-BAL-FLA-SDP-LAD-NYY
6 Charlie Hough 3801.1 174 179 1970 1994 22-46 858 440 107 13 216 216 1665 2362 3.75 106 LAD-TOT-TEX-CHW-FLA
7 Bob Gibson 3884.1 102 108 1959 1975 23-39 528 482 255 56 251 174 1336 3117 2.91 127 STL
8 Randy Johnson 4135.1 190 109 1988 2009 24-45 618 603 100 37 303 166 1497 4875 3.29 135 MON-TOT-SEA-ARI-NYY-SFG
9 Frank Tanana 4188.1 129 119 1973 1993 19-39 638 616 143 34 240 236 1255 2773 3.66 106 CAL-BOS-TEX-TOT-DET
10 Jim Kaat 4530.1 122 128 1959 1983 20-44 898 625 180 31 283 237 1083 2461 3.45 108 WSH-MIN-TOT-CHW-PHI-STL
11 Roger Clemens 4916.2 159 143 1984 2007 21-44 709 707 118 46 354 184 1580 4672 3.12 143 BOS-TOR-NYY-HOU
12 Bert Blyleven 4970.0 155 114 1970 1992 19-41 692 685 242 60 287 250 1322 3701 3.31 118 MIN-TOT-TEX-PIT-CLE-CAL
13 Gaylord Perry 5350.0 108 160 1962 1983 23-44 777 690 303 53 314 265 1379 3534 3.11 117 SFG-CLE-TOT-TEX-SDP-ATL-SEA
14 Nolan Ryan 5386.0 158 277 1966 1993 19-46 807 773 222 61 324 292 2795 5714 3.19 112 NYM-CAL-HOU-TEX
15 Phil Niekro 5404.0 123 226 1964 1987 25-48 864 716 245 45 318 274 1809 3342 3.35 115 MLN-ATL-NYY-CLE-TOT
16 Walter Johnson 5914.1 205 154 1907 1927 19-39 802 666 531 110 417 279 1363 3509 2.17 147 WSH
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/13/2012.

It’s really not a bad club to be in – 7 HOFers, one who should be a can’t miss selection, and 4 or 5 others just on the outside looking in. I’m showing A.J. at the top of this list not because he is the newest member, but because of his innings pitched total, over 700 fewer (3+ seasons worth by today’s standards) than the next lowest total. A.J. also ranks lowest in ERA+, although there he’s running neck and neck with Wakefield, Charlie Hough and Frank Tanana.

Burnett is also lowest (actually, tied for lowest) of this group in another category – number of qualifying seasons with fewer than 10 of both WP and HBP.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 David Cone 1 1994 1994 31-31 Ind. Seasons
2 A.J. Burnett 1 2001 2001 24-24 Ind. Seasons
3 Tim Wakefield 1 2002 2002 35-35 Ind. Seasons
4 Charlie Hough 3 1982 1989 34-41 Ind. Seasons
5 Randy Johnson 6 1990 2008 26-44 Ind. Seasons
6 Bob Gibson 7 1961 1974 25-38 Ind. Seasons
7 Nolan Ryan 7 1974 1991 27-44 Ind. Seasons
8 Orel Hershiser 7 1984 1995 25-36 Ind. Seasons
9 Kevin Brown 7 1989 2003 24-38 Ind. Seasons
10 Walter Johnson 8 1913 1926 25-38 Ind. Seasons
11 Jim Kaat 10 1963 1976 24-37 Ind. Seasons
12 Phil Niekro 10 1970 1986 31-47 Ind. Seasons
13 Gaylord Perry 13 1964 1983 25-44 Ind. Seasons
14 Bert Blyleven 13 1970 1989 19-38 Ind. Seasons
15 Roger Clemens 13 1987 2005 24-42 Ind. Seasons
16 Frank Tanana 15 1974 1993 20-39 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/13/2012.

Burnett, Cone and Wakefield might well be said to be the wildest of the wild – only once compiling a season remotely suggestive of a “tame” campaign.

Finally, are hit batsmen an “artifact” of wildness? Or, does compiling high HBP totals imply more purpose and intentionality? The answer probably depends on the pitcher. However, one way to approach this question might be to look at the pitchers showing the most extreme variation between HBP and WP.

Here are pitchers since 1901 with the greatest imbalance between career HBP and WP, with a minimum 50 of each. First, the largest imbalance in favor of wild patches.

Factor Player HBP WP From To Age BB SO Tm
2.5 x Joe Niekro 65 172 1967 1988 22-43 1262 1747 CHC-TOT-DET-ATL-HOU-NYY-MIN
Jack Morris 58 206 1977 1994 22-39 1390 2478 DET-MIN-TOR-CLE
John Smoltz 57 145 1988 2009 21-42 1010 3084 ATL-TOT
Steve Carlton 53 183 1965 1988 20-43 1833 4136 STL-PHI-TOT-MIN
2.25 x Red Ames 64 156 1903 1919 20-36 1034 1702 NYG-TOT-CIN-STL
Sam McDowell 59 140 1961 1975 18-32 1312 2453 CLE-SFG-TOT-NYY-PIT
Mike Moore 55 135 1982 1995 22-35 1156 1667 SEA-OAK-DET
2 x Larry Cheney 59 119 1911 1919 25-33 733 926 CHC-TOT-BRO
Christy Mathewson 55 114 1901 1916 20-35 828 2492 NYG-TOT
Larry Dierker 50 104 1964 1977 17-30 711 1493 HOU-STL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2012.

So, that’s it – just 10 pitchers since 1901 with twice as many WP as HBP. There seem to be two types of pitchers represented – the truly wild as represented by Sudden Sam, and the purposely wild (if that isn’t an oxymoron) pitchers with outstanding SO/BB ratios (Smoltz, Carlton, Mathewson) who, if they were going to miss, would miss away instead of in.

Now the pitchers with the greatest imbalance in favor of hit batsmen.

Factor Player HBP WP From To Age BB SO Tm
2.5 x Jamie Moyer 146 57 1986 2012 23-49 1155 2441 CHC-TEX-STL-BAL-TOT-SEA-PHI-COL
Dave Stieb 129 51 1979 1998 21-40 1034 1669 TOR-CHW
2.25 x Pedro Martinez 141 62 1992 2009 20-37 760 3154 LAD-MON-BOS-NYM-PHI
2 x Eddie Plank 190 88 1901 1917 25-41 1072 2246 PHA-SLM-SLB
George Uhle 113 55 1919 1936 20-37 966 1135 CLE-DET-TOT-NYY
Aaron Sele 112 54 1993 2007 23-37 798 1407 BOS-TEX-SEA-ANA-LAD-NYM
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2012.

Even fewer pitchers on this side of the imbalance ledger. And, with Pedro, Dave Stieb and Eddie Plank among them, my assumption has to be that, with this group, purpose more than accident was the principal factor contributing to this imbalance.

Therefore, should we infer that the least intentional pitchers in terms of hit batsmen might be the ones with the least imbalance between HBP and WP – pitchers who were as likely to miss on one side of the plate as the other? Let’s see.

These are the pitchers since 1901 with careers of 50+ WP and HBP, and with HBP = WP +/- 5% .

Rk Player HBP WP From To Age BB SO Tm
1 Charlie Hough 174 179 1970 1994 22-46 1665 2362 LAD-TOT-TEX-CHW-FLA
2 Jim Kaat 122 128 1959 1983 20-44 1083 2461 WSH-MIN-TOT-CHW-PHI-STL
3 Orel Hershiser 117 121 1983 2000 24-41 1007 2014 LAD-CLE-SFG-NYM
4 John Lackey 101 97 2002 2011 23-32 569 1465 ANA-LAA-BOS
5 Rick Reuschel 88 89 1972 1991 23-42 935 2015 TOT-CHC-PIT-SFG
6 Dwight Gooden 78 76 1984 2000 19-35 954 2293 NYM-NYY-CLE-TOT
7 Kip Wells 70 67 1999 2012 22-35 635 963 CHW-PIT-TOT-STL-SDP
8 Ray Culp 70 73 1963 1973 21-31 752 1411 PHI-CHC-BOS
9 Woodie Fryman 68 68 1966 1983 26-43 890 1587 PIT-PHI-TOT-DET-MON-CIN
10 Tom Glavine 66 65 1987 2008 21-42 1500 2607 ATL-NYM
11 Jose DeLeon 62 60 1983 1995 22-34 841 1594 PIT-TOT-CHW-STL
12 Bobo Newsom 61 60 1929 1953 21-45 1732 2082 BRO-CHC-SLB-TOT-WSH-DET-PHA-NYG
13 Mordecai Brown 61 61 1903 1916 26-39 673 1375 STL-CHC-CIN-TOT-CHI
14 Allie Reynolds 57 59 1942 1954 25-37 1261 1423 CLE-NYY
15 Jesse Haines 57 55 1918 1937 24-43 871 981 CIN-STL
16 Roy Parmelee 55 53 1929 1939 22-32 531 514 NYG-STL-CHC-PHA
17 Carl Hubbell 53 53 1928 1943 25-40 725 1677 NYG
18 Brad Penny 52 52 2000 2012 22-34 606 1260 FLA-LAD-TOT-STL-DET-SFG
19 Steve Sparks 52 54 1995 2004 29-38 520 658 MIL-ANA-DET-TOT-ARI
20 Larry McWilliams 52 52 1978 1990 24-36 542 940 ATL-TOT-PIT-STL-KCR
21 Pete Broberg 52 50 1971 1978 21-28 478 536 WSA-TEX-MIL-CHC-OAK
22 Nelson Briles 51 50 1965 1978 21-34 547 1163 STL-PIT-KCR-TEX-TOT-BAL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2012.

Interesting group. A number of softer tossers with less impressive SO/BB ratios and some fireballers (Gooden and Hubbell, particularly) who could intimidate just with their stuff, even without frequent resort to the purpose pitch. Or, perhaps like Bob Gibson (who at 102/108 just missed making this list), they just exhibited greater control in throwing their purpose pitches.

Or, maybe you’ve inferred something different. Let us know.

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