Proceed with caution: the toughest pitchers to run against

Kenny RogersWhich pitchers are the toughest to run against? Well, Kenny Rogers on the left there is certainly among them (what do you think: is that Kenny’s no-look pickoff move to 1st base; or is he staring down the runner on 3rd as he delivers the pitch?)

There are a lot of ways to look at this question. After the jump, I’ll consider a few of them.

The next set of lists all show career results since 1973 for pitchers with a minimum of 1500 IP in that period.

First, the traditional metric of lowest stolen base %.  These are the pitchers who allowed less than 50% successful stolen base attempts.

Rk Player IP SB% PO BB/9 SO/9 SB From To Age BK Tm
1 Kenny Rogers 3302.2 41% 79 3.20 5.36 63 1989 2008 24-43 23 TEX-NYY-OAK-TOT-MIN-DET
2 Gaylord Perry 2713.0 48% 12 2.38 5.62 129 1973 1983 34-44 4 CLE-TOT-TEX-SDP-ATL-SEA
3 Mark Buehrle 2679.0 43% 87 2.03 5.11 54 2000 2012 21-33 15 CHW-MIA
4 Terry Mulholland 2575.2 41% 49 2.38 4.63 35 1986 2006 23-43 3 SFG-PHI-NYY-CHC-TOT-ATL-CLE-MIN-ARI
5 John Candelaria 2525.2 43% 14 2.11 5.96 80 1975 1993 21-39 26 PIT-TOT-CAL-NYY-LAD
6 Chris Carpenter 2219.1 38% 2 2.54 6.88 47 1997 2012 22-37 3 TOR-STL
7 Kirk Rueter 1918.0 34% 30 2.73 3.84 34 1993 2005 22-34 0 MON-TOT-SFG
8 Geoff Zahn 1849.0 35% 25 2.56 3.43 48 1973 1985 27-39 4 LAD-TOT-CHC-MIN-CAL
9 Kirk McCaskill 1729.0 47% 21 3.46 5.22 66 1985 1996 24-35 9 CAL-CHW
10 Brian Anderson 1547.0 49% 58 1.96 4.21 54 1993 2005 21-33 28 CAL-CLE-ARI-TOT-KCR
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/5/2013.

Next, allowing less than 3 stolen bases per 100 IP.

Rk Player IP SB% PO BB/9 SO/9 SB From To Age BK Tm
1 Kenny Rogers 3302.2 41% 79 3.20 5.36 63 1989 2008 24-43 23 TEX-NYY-OAK-TOT-MIN-DET
2 Mark Buehrle 2679.0 43% 87 2.03 5.11 54 2000 2012 21-33 15 CHW-MIA
3 Terry Mulholland 2575.2 41% 49 2.38 4.63 35 1986 2006 23-43 3 SFG-PHI-NYY-CHC-TOT-ATL-CLE-MIN-ARI
4 Bartolo Colon 2393.1 53% 11 2.91 6.89 56 1997 2012 24-39 5 CLE-TOT-CHW-ANA-LAA-BOS-NYY-OAK
5 Chris Carpenter 2219.1 38% 2 2.54 6.88 47 1997 2012 22-37 3 TOR-STL
6 Roy Oswalt 2213.0 62% 6 2.08 7.39 63 2001 2012 23-34 7 HOU-TOT-PHI-TEX
7 Johan Santana 2025.2 55% 20 2.52 8.83 47 2000 2012 21-33 12 MIN-NYM
8 Carlos Zambrano 1959.0 51% 16 4.13 7.52 53 2001 2012 20-31 5 CHC-MIA
9 Kirk Rueter 1918.0 34% 30 2.73 3.84 34 1993 2005 22-34 0 MON-TOT-SFG
10 Geoff Zahn 1849.0 35% 25 2.56 3.43 48 1973 1985 27-39 4 LAD-TOT-CHC-MIN-CAL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/5/2013.

Next, allowing less than 2.25% of baserunners allowed to steal successfully.

Rk Player IP SB% PO BB/9 SO/9 SB BR From To Age BK Tm
1 Kenny Rogers 3302.2 41% 79 3.20 5.36 63 4940 1989 2008 24-43 23 TEX-NYY-OAK-TOT-MIN-DET
2 Mark Buehrle 2679.0 43% 87 2.03 5.11 54 3591 2000 2012 21-33 15 CHW-MIA
3 Terry Mulholland 2575.2 41% 49 2.38 4.63 35 3757 1986 2006 23-43 3 SFG-PHI-NYY-CHC-TOT-ATL-CLE-MIN-ARI
4 Bartolo Colon 2393.1 53% 11 2.91 6.89 56 3325 1997 2012 24-39 5 CLE-TOT-CHW-ANA-LAA-BOS-NYY-OAK
5 Chris Carpenter 2219.1 38% 2 2.54 6.88 47 3007 1997 2012 22-37 3 TOR-STL
6 Roy Oswalt 2213.0 62% 6 2.08 7.39 63 2813 2001 2012 23-34 7 HOU-TOT-PHI-TEX
7 Jon Garland 2083.1 53% 8 3.02 4.86 63 3017 2000 2011 20-31 1 CHW-LAA-TOT-SDP-LAD
8 Johan Santana 2025.2 55% 20 2.52 8.83 47 2389 2000 2012 21-33 12 MIN-NYM
9 Carlos Zambrano 1959.0 51% 16 4.13 7.52 53 2794 2001 2012 20-31 5 CHC-MIA
10 Kirk Rueter 1918.0 34% 30 2.73 3.84 34 2798 1993 2005 22-34 0 MON-TOT-SFG
11 Geoff Zahn 1849.0 35% 25 2.56 3.43 48 2657 1973 1985 27-39 4 LAD-TOT-CHC-MIN-CAL
12 Vicente Padilla 1571.1 61% 6 3.16 6.42 51 2338 1999 2012 21-34 12 ARI-TOT-PHI-TEX-LAD-BOS
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/5/2013.

So, several of these pitchers appear multiple times on the lists. Some common factors evident for obvious reasons include handedness (mostly left-handers) and lower strikeout and walk totals (therefore, fewer deep counts and fewer pitches to steal on).

Other factors, not so easily measured, are catcher abilities and even ballpark influences (e.g. disincentives to running in a homer-friendly ballpark). To try to isolate pitcher contribution to limiting steals, let’s look at consistency of performance year in and year out. This should result in a variety of catchers represented and, in this free agent era, perhaps also a variety of different teams for many pitchers.

So, same metrics, but measuring number of seasons (min. 162 IP). First, allowing less than 50% successful steal attempts.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Kenny Rogers 10 1993 2008 28-43 Ind. Seasons
2 Chris Carpenter 8 1998 2011 23-36 Ind. Seasons
3 Mark Buehrle 7 2002 2011 23-32 Ind. Seasons
4 Tom Glavine 7 1998 2007 32-41 Ind. Seasons
5 Mike Mussina 7 1993 2003 24-34 Ind. Seasons
6 Kirk Rueter 6 1997 2004 26-33 Ind. Seasons
7 Frank Viola 6 1984 1991 24-31 Ind. Seasons
8 Geoff Zahn 6 1978 1984 32-38 Ind. Seasons
9 Bartolo Colon 5 2000 2005 27-32 Ind. Seasons
10 Rick Langford 5 1977 1982 25-30 Ind. Seasons
11 Ron Guidry 5 1977 1985 26-34 Ind. Seasons
12 John Candelaria 5 1976 1984 22-30 Ind. Seasons
13 Gaylord Perry 5 1975 1982 36-43 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/5/2013.

Less than 3 stolen bases per 100 IP.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Kenny Rogers 12 1993 2008 28-43 Ind. Seasons
2 Mark Buehrle 11 2001 2012 22-33 Ind. Seasons
3 Johan Santana 7 2004 2010 25-31 Ind. Seasons
4 Chris Carpenter 7 2000 2011 25-36 Ind. Seasons
5 Kirk Rueter 7 1997 2004 26-33 Ind. Seasons
6 Curt Schilling 7 1996 2006 29-39 Ind. Seasons
7 Terry Mulholland 7 1990 1999 27-36 Ind. Seasons
8 Roy Oswalt 6 2004 2009 26-31 Ind. Seasons
9 Bronson Arroyo 6 2004 2010 27-33 Ind. Seasons
10 Carlos Zambrano 5 2003 2009 22-28 Ind. Seasons
11 Bartolo Colon 5 2000 2005 27-32 Ind. Seasons
12 Tom Glavine 5 1996 2007 30-41 Ind. Seasons
13 Mike Mussina 5 1993 2002 24-33 Ind. Seasons
14 Frank Viola 5 1984 1991 24-31 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/5/2013.

Stolen bases of less than 2.25% of baserunners allowed.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Kenny Rogers 13 1993 2008 28-43 Ind. Seasons
2 Mark Buehrle 10 2002 2012 23-33 Ind. Seasons
3 Chris Carpenter 7 2000 2011 25-36 Ind. Seasons
4 Kirk Rueter 7 1997 2004 26-33 Ind. Seasons
5 Terry Mulholland 7 1990 1999 27-36 Ind. Seasons
6 Roy Oswalt 6 2004 2009 26-31 Ind. Seasons
7 Jon Garland 6 2002 2010 22-30 Ind. Seasons
8 Bartolo Colon 6 2000 2005 27-32 Ind. Seasons
9 Tom Glavine 6 1996 2007 30-41 Ind. Seasons
10 Johan Santana 5 2005 2010 26-31 Ind. Seasons
11 Bronson Arroyo 5 2004 2008 27-31 Ind. Seasons
12 Carlos Zambrano 5 2003 2009 22-28 Ind. Seasons
13 Matt Clement 5 1999 2005 24-30 Ind. Seasons
14 Mike Hampton 5 1997 2004 24-31 Ind. Seasons
15 Curt Schilling 5 1996 2003 29-36 Ind. Seasons
16 Mike Mussina 5 1993 2002 24-33 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/5/2013.

So, no matter how you slice it, our man Kenny comes out on top. But, we do have some new names to go with the holdovers from the career measurements. Any surprises?

Finally, to go to the opposite end of the spectrum, I offer Mickey Lolich. Not to pick on Mickey, but he did have the misfortune of allowing 4 stolen bases in the span of a single plate appearance. Plus a balk, two walks, and a 5th stolen base in the same inning.

Here is the game, from May 18, 1969. Harmon Killebrew comes to bat with runners on the corners and ends up striking out with the bases empty. In between, the two runners on base both score, with all advances coming by way of the stolen base (the manager, by the way, was Billy Martin, one of only 10 players to be caught stealing twice in the same World Series game) .

Inn Score Out RoB Pit(cnt) R/O @Bat Batter Pitcher wWPA wWE Play Description
Bottom of the 3rd, Twins Batting, Behind 0-2, Tigers’ Mickey Lolich facing 1-2-3
b3 0-2 0 MIN C. Tovar M. Lolich -4% 64% Single
b3 0-2 0 1– MIN R. Carew M. Lolich -3% 62% Balk; Tovar to 2B
b3 0-2 0 -2- MIN R. Carew M. Lolich -3% 58% Tovar Steals 3B
b3 0-2 0 –3 MIN R. Carew M. Lolich -5% 53% Walk
b3 0-2 0 1-3 R MIN H. Killebrew M. Lolich -3% 50% Tovar Steals Hm; Carew Steals 2B
b3 1-2 0 -2- MIN H. Killebrew M. Lolich -4% 46% Carew Steals 3B
b3 1-2 0 –3 R MIN H. Killebrew M. Lolich -1% 45% Carew Steals Hm
b3 2-2 0 O MIN H. Killebrew M. Lolich 2% 47% Strikeout
b3 2-2 1 O MIN T. Oliva M. Lolich 2% 49% Popfly: 3B
b3 2-2 2 MIN L. Cardenas M. Lolich -1% 47% Walk
b3 2-2 2 1– O MIN G. Mitterwald M. Lolich 3% 50% Flyball: LF
2 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 LOB. Tigers 2, Twins 2.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2013.

Not to worry, Tiger fans. Those were the only runs the Twins would score as Lolich won an easy one, 8-2.

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25 Comments on "Proceed with caution: the toughest pitchers to run against"

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Brooklyn Mick
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I thought I’d find Andy Pettitte on at least one of those lists, but the fact is that he has a SB% of 66% compared to an MLB avg. of 71% during the same time frame.

While he had a better “pick-off move” than Kenny Rogers, as evidenced by his 96 career pick-offs compared to Kenny’s 76, the numbers say that a great pick-off move alone doesn’t always translate to holding runners on base.

In contrast, Mike Mussina shows up on 3 of the above lists, yet he only picked off 4 runners in his entire career.

Artie Z
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That was my first thought as well – where is Andy Pettitte? I actually thought the card was of him at first glance – lefty in a Yankee uniform and the discussion is about baserunners. I’m thinking that Ivan Rodriguez had a little to do with the numbers Kenny Rogers put up, though Rogers did have 39 career pick offs which did not result in a caught stealing (he had 76 total pick offs). Pettitte had 40 pick offs in his career which did not result in caught stealing. I’m guessing if Pudge the Younger had been catching Pettitte that… Read more »
MikeD
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Pettitte has an excellent pick-off move, something he no doubt uses to blunt the running game, but having a great pick-off move is only one aspect in slowing the running game. The overall motion, amount of deception, and time to the plate play big parts. Having had the opportunity to see Mussina pitch, I would say that he could vary the amount of time he would hold and deliver a pitch as well as any pitcher I remember. Runners could not figure out when to run. With Pettitte, it’s a do-or-die approach. If runners guess right, they have a decent… Read more »
Thomas
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Didn’t Kenny Rogers spend a lot of those seasons in question with Ivan Rodriguez as his catcher?

Not suggesting he wasn’t good at holding runners or anything, but it would kinda push those # of seasons charts in his direction. (Unfortunately b-r.com is blocked for me at work, or I’d come up with more concrete numbers here, sorry.)

Ed
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Josh Tomlin doesn’t have enough innings pitched but if he did, he’d definitely be on the lists. So far, in 341.2 innings pitched, he’s allowed 5 stolen bases (in 10 attempts). Most impressive was his 2011 season in which there wasn’t a single attempt against him in 165.3 innings. And between 2010-2012 he pitched over 250 innings in a row without a successful steal.

Tomlin by the way is a righty, making his feat even more impressive.

bstar
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I think it’s hard to identify what portion of controlling the running game is attributed to the pitcher and what portion is attributed to the catcher. Kenny Rogers is a good example with Pudge catching for him. Andy Pettitte not showing up on these lists with Jorge Posada catching is another. Also consider the case of Chris Carpenter, whose stolen base numbers look quite different with Yadier Molina catching in St. Louis as opposed to his numbers with the Blue Jays. Carpenter in Toronto: SB% against – 74.4 / SB per 100 – 3.7 Carpenter in St Louis: SB% against… Read more »
bstar
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I can’t seem to write a post anymore without an error. Here are the correct numbers for Carpenter:

Carpenter in Toronto SB% against: 43%
Carpenter in St Louis SB% against: 31%

Richard Chester
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Doug: Would you be able to check this out? I have read that Whitey Ford holds the seasonal record for the most IP without a SB against him. In 1961 he threw 283 such innings. Altogether he had 4 seasons of 0 SB with more than 162 IP.

Richard Chester
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Duog: Never mind, I checked it myself. Ford is in third place being bested by Hal Newhouser in 1945 and 1946 with 313 and 292 IP respectively.

Richard Chester
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Now that I have finished my breakfast I went back to BR and saw that for Newhouser’s totals in 1945 and 1946 there are quite a few PA for which data is not known. Ford’s data in 1961 is complete so I guess it can be concluded that he holds the official record.

no statistician but
Guest
RC: Ford was simply the best at holding runners on first out of fear. What he might have done against Brock or Henderson is hard to say, of course, but the only AL team in his career that was consistently into stealing bases, the White Sox, were 4 out of 16 against him. In an era when baserunning was very conservative he picked off 48, and through 1964, before Ellie Howard’s arm went, allowed 19 SBs in 70 attempts a 27% success rate. Contrast Billie Pierce, also very good: between 1949 and 1961—10 pick offs, 46 SBs out of 118… Read more »
Richard Chester
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Those 4 seasons of 0 SB against Ford are the most since 1951. No one else has more than 1.

MikeD
Guest

One thing I meant to note yesterday. It’s interesting that almost all the candidates for toughest-to-run on are modern. I by modern, I’m talking most seem to have pitched in this century, the aughts.

Is this a question of access to data? My gut says with the greater appreciation of SB%, I can see more reckless running in early years, leading to higher caught rates, yet Geoff Zahn, who retired in 1985, seems to be the most ancient member of this group.

Apologies if I missed an explanation of this when I first read it.

MikeD
Guest

Never mind. It was right upfront. 1973 forward!

Although that leads to the next question. Why 1973? Is it a data issue?

mosc
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You know, this thread reminded me how much the baseball discussion has changed. When a guy used to get on first, the discussion used often turn to how a guy pitches out of a stretch, runner’s tendencies, pitchers pickoff moves, catcher’s watching the baserunners instead of their pitchers, etc. Probably also some mentions about the guy at the plate’s RBI total as well (as an indication of how likely that runner was to come home). Now, we talk about OBP, RISP, run probability, crazy shifts, there’s no time anymore for discussing the stretch. I try to explain baseball to people… Read more »
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