Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sandy Koufax Before The Immortality, Part 4: 1960, Almost There

Almost There With A Lot Of K’s Along The Way

Koufax came out smoking in 1960, but his control was not always there when he needed it.

After pitching primarily in relief in April (earning one save in his first relief stint), May brought about a regular spot in the rotation.

His strikeouts were there, but so were too many walks. To be fair, Sandy wasn’t getting the run support he needed either.

In his 5 starts that month, the Dodgers scored 12 runs. And walks aside, Koufax was far from bad. In fact, his one win was almost his first ever no-hitter.

But he walked 30 batters in 48 innings in that month. He only gave up 28 hits and 15 earned runs in that stretch, however. As mentioned he tossed a 1-hitter (but six walks!) and 10 strikeouts in a 1-0 win over Pittsburgh on May 23.

But his other starts all resulted in losses, pushing his record to 1-5 on the season (he had lost a game earlier in relief). Most puzzling was his last May start. A good one. Koufax went 13 innings, and did walk 9, but gave up just 3 hits and fanned 15 in a 4-3 loss to the Chi Sox National League counterparts, the Cubs.

June, though, brought Koufax down even further. He lost his first three starts, although the run support was better. Sandy’s pitching was not, as he was shelled in those outings. His strikeouts remained.

He tossed a 5-hitter for a win in the middle of the month (the Dodgers even scored him 14 runs), then got rocked two more times before finishing the month on a good note with a 7 inning, 3-hitter (plus 10 Ks) for a win. But now his win-losses record was just 3-8.

July was not noteworthy as Koufax started just one game, but August is where I believe Koufax found it.

For good.

He had 6 starts and was good to great in half of them, plus he picked up a strong relief win. Among them were a 4-hitter, a 2-hit shutout, a six-hitter. The bad news is he got rocked in the other three. But suddenly the Ks are back in high gear, AND the walks are suddenly down for good. He fanned 11 in one game, 13 in another, plus 4 in his 2 1/3 relief outing. While he was knocked out early in some of his other games, his walk totals were low. In fact, the rest of the season (15 games) he would only walk more than three batters in a game once.

September was a month of more good pitching, although it would not always show up in the results column. He would get some relief work as well. The run support wasn’t always there.

Amazing thing? Koufax didn’t have one bad performance.

After losing 1-0 in his first start of the month, Sandy had a September 8th start against Cincinnati, which was a win. 8 hits, 3 walks over nine innings, with 10 Ks. Koufax walked just 2 batters his next start and gave up 5 hits and fanned another 11. Then he fanned 8 more in a loss to the Cubs again. That’s the 5 walk game. But in 7 1/3 innings, he gave up just 3 hits and whiffed 8 batters. His final start saw him walk 3 more over seven innings but surrender just 6 hits and fan 7 more. A no decision.

In the last two months of the season, Koufax made 15 appearances, 11 starts. Granted he was 5-5 in them, and one relief appearance resulted in a blown save.

But here’s the good part.

In those last 80 1/3 innings on the season he surrendered just 62 hits and 31 walks, 90 strikeouts, 3.14 ERA, and batters have hit just .211 against him. The opponent’s On Base Average is only .287.

The bad part?

The Dodgers only scored 38 runs for him in those 11 starts.

Maybe I should look more at Sandy’s 1960 overall season statistics, too. Indeed, it is better than it appears. For starters, he’s still pitching in a terrible ballpark. Secondly he gave up just 6.8 hits against per 9 innings, just behind Ernie Broglio for the National league lead in that category. Furthermore, three Dodger pitchers topped the league in K/9 innings. Here we go:

1. Koufax (LAD) 10.1

2. Drysdale (LAD) 8.2

3. Williams (LAD) 7.6

On top of that, Koufax, in just 175 innings, has fanned almost 200 batters (197). That’s second in the league behind Drysdale who has 246 strikeouts. Put it this way, the second highest strikeout total for a pitcher that season, with less than 200 innings, is Jim O’Toole, who is 15th (!) in the league in strikeouts with 124 K in 196 1/3 inning. And Drysdale needed 269 innings to accumulate HIS league leading strikeout total! Leveling the playing field and Koufax is ahead of everyone in Ks. As mentioned earlier, opponents didn’t hit Sandy much that year. He led the league lowest batting average against again with .207! With such a bad ballpark, is an ERA of 3.91 that bad? If it matters, the league ERA in the NL that year was 3.76. So Koufax is only a little worse for wear ERA wise than the average pitcher. Drysdale, despite an ERA of 2.84 was just 15-14 and gave up 7.2 H/9.

The downside is that he walked 100 batters for third most in the league. He tied Broglio. He also had 5.1 BB/9 to league the lead. Furthermore, Koufax was tied for forth in wild pitches with 9. But imagine those other kind of numbers despite all that? Pretty good, actually!

Want still more? Sandy had a K to BB ration of 1.97. 14 eligible pitchers (154 IP) topped that, but also, 14 eligible pitchers were below that!


References


Sports Reference LLC. Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Statistics and Information. http://www.baseball-reference.com/. Web. 30 March 2011.

Total Baseball. 1994 Edition. CD-ROM. Chicago, Ill: Creative Media. 1994.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sandy Koufax Before The Immortality, Part 3: 1959

Some Record K’s And A Post Season To Boot!

This was a bit of a disappointing season for Koufax in one respect, but in many other ways it was a good (albeit short) season. Most importantly, Sandy gained valuable experience and contributed to a World Series triumph.

First, Los Angeles improved vastly. The won the pennant with a two games to zero playoff triumph over the Braves, depriving the Hank and Eddie of a three peat.

Koufax’s contribution was a bit minimal, though. He pitched less games, (35), had less starts (23), and even pitched less innings (153 1/3).

The Dodgers themselves relied on other pitchers to get them to the pennant, but Koufax would shine-a-plenty when given the chance.

Koufax was hit hard in his first 4 starts (and 2 relief stints) and found his ERA at 12.27 at the beginning of May. But following a relief stint against the Reds (2IP 1H 0ER 1BB 2K) on May 20th, for the rest of the season it was a very respectable 3.38. Koufax’s relief appearance on that that day gave him the confidence he needed the rest of the season.

Koufax lost his start on May 26th , but he fanned 11 batters and surrendered just 5 hits in 8 1/3 innings against the hot hitting (and fellow West Coasters) San Francisco Giants. He walked 4 batters, which hurt.

He walked 5 more his next start against the Cardinals, and allowed another 5 hits in his six innings, but Sandy struck out nine batters in only 6 innings to win his first game of the season.

His was hit hard and only struck out 4 batters, but also walked only 3 in seven innings for another win on June 6th against Milwaukee. That month saw Koufax get some more work out of the bullpen, as he collected a save. Another game in the middle of the month saw him start against Milwaukee, and again pick up the win. The Braves managed just 2 earned runs and 5 hits.

Before that, he earned a save in a strong relief outing, and had a short start against Pittsburgh.

On June 22, Sandy defeated the Phillies 6-2 in ten innings. While he allowed 10 hits and 3 walks in his 9 innings, he whiffed 16 batters. Wally Post alone was victimized four times. Sparky Anderson fanned twice. Leadoff hitter Joe Koppe fanned 3 times in 5 tries against K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-Koufax.

Sandy's next start was 5 days later and he tossed a shutout, 3-0, allowing just 6 hits and 2 walks and fanning another 8.

The Giants were in for more of the same in a game at the end of June. But fortunately for them, it was only a relief stint by Sandy. Still, it cannot be overlooked that that the Dodger tossed three perfect innings and had five strikeouts.

He pitched well his next start, too, against St Louis (July 3). Although tagged with the loss, he went 7 strong innings, gave up just 2 hits (2 walks) and K’d another 7 batters.

So good was Sandy that he received two votes for player of the month. Indeed, it was a strong June, despite appearing in just 8 games. Elroy Face, the relief ace of Pittsburgh on his way to an incredible 18-1 record that season, got the nod as the winner.

July had certainly started out with such promise for Koufax, but...

A strong relief stint in his next appearance (despite 4 hits and 3 walks) dropped his ERA to a season low 3.33. But, his pitching was taking it’s toll.

It was time for another July injury, just like last season.

On July 11th, follwing as short start, Sandy was out with a sore arm. He would miss 3 weeks.

How would Sandy come back?

The Dodgers were cautious. His first start back (Aug 1st) lasted just 4 innings, but it was a good outing as he gave up just 1 hit. His 4 walks though, signalled a long night, that the Dodgers cut short as he was removed for a pinch hitter. But not before he fanned another 7 batters.

A few more relief stints followed before he was back on as a starter. For a while his wildness returned, and so did the losses. But he did earn his second save later that month. And despite his troubles, he won 3 games in August to boast his record to 8-4.

And as August began to turn into September, Koufax’s earlier form returned.

He pitched a four-hitter, a seven hitter and finally a 10-inning, 5-hitter in succession. It was during these three games that Koufax struck out 18, 13 and 10 batters. 18 Ks was a record for a 9 inning game at the time and 41 strikeouts over 28 innings is incredible.

Koufax got three more starts and 3 more relief appearances, as the Dodgers were in a tight pennant race, but got rocked in all of them.

His wildness had returned again. In a relief appearance on September 20, he got the third out in an inning, and then proceeded to walk three straight batters in the next inning.

The Dodgers finished the season tied with the Braves for 1st. The two teams would face each other in a best of three game playoff.

The Dodgers took the opener. In the second game, Koufax came on to pitch the start of the 9th with the Dodgers behind 5-2.

It started out well enough, as Billy Bruton went down swinging. Next, Eddie Matthews grounded out. But then, Koufax’s wildness made an unexpected appearance.

Hank Aaron walked, as did Frank Torre (Joe’s brother). When Joe Demerit walked, Koufax was out of there. The Dodgers went on to come back and win the game and the pennant anyway.

So it was on to the World Series. Unlike 1955 and 1956, Koufax was on the postseason roster. And it didn’t take long for him to be needed.

In game one, against the American League pennant winning Chicago White Sox, the Dodgers went down hard and fast. Roger Craig, LA’s starter, was knocked out in a 7 run 3rd inning. Chuck Churn faired little better, so Clem Labine took over in the 4th.

After Clem held the White Sox at bay, the score was still 11-0 Chicago. Koufax got into the game in the 5th inning.

He got Jim Rivera on flyball to right. Then Early Wynn, on his was to a combined shutout (And eventually 300 wins in his chequered career), faced Koufax and struck out. Luis Aparicio, the Hall of Fame shortstop, lined out to end the inning.

Koufax began the 6th by getting Nellie Fox, another Hall Of Famer (3rd in a row faced by Koufax) to fly out. Then Jim Landis and Ted Kluszewski, who had both done a lot of damage to Los Angeles, grounded out to short and second, respectively. Ron Fairly pinch-hit for Sandy in the bottom of the frame.

The Dodgers roared back to win the next three games. And then Sandy Koufax was given the chance to put the final nail in the Chi Sox coffin when he was given the start in game 5. A World Series single game record of 92,706 packed into Memorial Coliseum, which gave Koufax trouble.

Not on this day. Koufax went out and stymied the Sox. In the third, he was in a little trouble, but Aparicio was thrown out trying to get to second after singling to left, killing a rally that a had runner on third.

In the fourth, Koufax faltered a bit as Fox singled. Then Landis singled him to third. The Dodgers would be forced to concede the run as Sherman Lollar hit into a double play. 1-0 Chicago. Kluszewski flied out to end the inning.

In the 5th, Sandy polished off Al Smith with a strikeout, followed that with a ground ball and a walk. Koufax then fanned his mound opponent, Bob Shaw, to end the inning.

In the 6th, Aparicio singled, but moved no further as Fox flied out, Landis took strike three and Lollar hit into a force.

In the 7th inning, Sandy fanned Al Smith and the other two batters flied out.

Koufax was removed for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 7th. He finished the game allowing 5 hits, one walk and whiffing 6 batters. The run that scored against him in the forth inning was the only run he allowed. Stan Williams took over and allowed no runs, no hits and 2 walks.

The opposing pitcher, Bob Shaw, lasted 7 1/3 innings and gave up 9 hits and 1 walk, yet somehow the Dodgers failed to score against him (and all of his relievers) as Koufax took a tough 1-0 loss. The Dodgers won game 6 anyway.

The season was a bit of a step back for Sandy Koufax in some ways. But there were also some steps forward. His ERA dropped to 4.05, he walked less than 100 batters (92), and he fanned 173 batters, and even recorded two saves. On the other hand, despite less duty, a lower ERA, he actually gave up more hits (136) than he did last season. That was enough for 8.0 hits per nine innings. This was actually the high water mark for Koufax in his last 9 seasons.

Looking at Koufax on average in nine innings, reveals an upping many of the areas. He averaged 1.4 homeruns allowed per 9 innings. 5.4 walks isn’t good, but it’s an improvement from last season. The BB will steadily decline from this season until 1964 when there is a mild revival. 10.2 strikeouts is almost 3 more per 9 than last season. Never again will Koufax average less than 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings in one season.

Now, note that he pitched less than an inning per Dodger game that season (154). Actually, he needed 156 innings because of the extra two games. So, none of his per game numbers will count for league leader consideration, unlike 1958.


References

http://www.baseball-reference.com/

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=4D01AAAAIBAJ&sjid=FGUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3373,489482&dq=sandy+koufax+face&hl=en

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sandy Koufax Before The Immortality, Part 2: 1958

1958: Head Of The Class On A Poor Transcontinental Team

1958 saw the Dodgers travel 3013 miles to Los Angeles where Koufax was presented with a problem. Another short left field porch!

The Dodgers played their first 4 seasons in that ridiculous ballpark (Memorial Coliseum), which was build without baseball in mind. To compensate for a distance of 250 feet to the left field foul pole, the Dodgers came up with a huge netting that measured 40 feet tall. This mesh extended to the left field power alley, which was 320 feet from home plate. Sort of like the Green Monster in Fenway, only transparent and even more absurd. Centerfield was a little for forgiving: 425. Right field? 440. Murder on Duke Snider’s bat. Snider hit 40 homeruns in 1957, he would never hit as much as 25 in one season for the rest of his career.

And the homeruns that were hit there? During the next 4 seasons, here are the homerun breakdowns totals for the Dodgers and their opponents at Memorial Stadium:

1958

Left: 182

Center: 3

Right: 8

1959

Left: 132

Center: 1

Right: 39

1960

Left: 155

Center: 3

Right: 28

1961

Left: 147

Center: 7

Right: 38

How did Koufax deal with this scenario? Far from bad, actually.

The Dodgers as a team, however, hit almost rock bottom that year. Many of the Brooklyn veterans looked lost in their new home. Roy Campanella wasn’t even there anymore, as he was paralyzed from an off season car accident. Pee Wee Reese played his last season. And it was only 59 games. Duke Snider was forced to deal with that deep right field fence. It was more like Death Valley for Snider, who played in just 106 games and dropped to only 15 homeruns. Don Newcombe started the season 0-6 with a ERA of 7.86 and was traded to Cincinnati. Johnny Podres was 13-15, Don Drysdale was only 12-13.

Koufax, meanwhile pitched in what amounted to a full season for the first time in his career. His record was only 11-11 and his ERA was 4.48. In addition, only Stan Williams (9-7) Clem Labine (6-6) and Fred Kipp (6-6) could post W-L like Sandy

The Dodgers fell all the way to 7th place (71-83) and their team ERA was 4.47, so Koufax was really no worse in earned runs than any average Dodger pitcher that season. The Dodgers were a team in transaction in more ways than one. Drysdale, only 21, led the Dodgers in innings pitched despite the fact that it was only his second full season.

Koufax kicked off the 1958 season with a perfect relief appearance against the Cubs on April 24. To give you an idea on how bad things were going for the Dodgers, they lost the game 15-2. The inning that Koufax pitched was the ninth. Earlier in the home opener between new San Francisco Giants and new Los Angeles Dodgers, Drysdale was beaten 8-0. The Dodgers need more offence, defense and pitching, eh?

Koufax started his first game, six days into May. He pitched five innings and the number 4 kept popping up in the stat line other than innings pitched: 4 (earned) runs, 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts. A no decision overall.

Two weeks and two relief appearances later, Koufax got another start. This time, the Dodgers and Sandy emerged victorious. And it was a dandy!

Koufax went 11 strong innings, gave up just 3 runs (2 earned), 2 hits, 4 walks, and had 6 strikeouts. All this on just 134 pitches!

Eight days later Koufax had another complete-game win, although this time it was only 9 innings. Koufax allowed just six hits and 4 walks. He fanned only 6, however.

On May 30th, he actually lost a game in relief. But he finished May with his ERA at 3.41. Respectable.

His first June start is one of the most bizarre starts you will ever hear about. Perhaps thought, this is why Koufax (no matter how hard he was to get a hit off) was going to be vulnerable until he harnessed his control.

June 3rd, the start was. A date with wildness for Koufax against the Cincinnati Reds.

Sandy pitched a 1-2-3 first inning. In the second he walked one batter and had no further damage.

The third inning, though, Koufax got himself into a “walking” rut that he couldn’t quite get out of.

Gus Bell led off the faithful inning with an appropriate walk. Then Koufax appeared to settle down as Alex Gammas flied out to center and pitcher Frank Lawrence went down on strikes (#3 for Koufax).

However, Johnny Temple walked, as did Frank Robinson. Bases loaded. Smoky Burgess walked, 1-0 Cincinnati. Then when Sandy fell behind in the count to Steve Bilko, he was removed for Don Bessent. Bilko walked, which counts as a walk against Sandy. 2-0, Cincy.

So the wild lefty has walked 6 in 2.2 inning. The Reds scored 4 more runs that inning. A total of five were charged to Koufax.

Koufax, did however win his next start. And it was against the eventual pennant winning (for the second straight season) Milwaukee Braves, who beat the Dodgers to the punch in franchise shifts. The Braves had moved to Milwaukee in 1954  If you can’t beat another team in attendance because there home is in nowhereville (Yes! I know that isn’t a word. I invented it!) and yours isn’t? Join ‘em!

Join 'em out west! Only go further!

However, the Braves couldn’t beat Koufax on this day and he fired seven innings of six hit ball. The control was back, and Sandy struck out eight (Aaron only once, and ditto for Mathews, though), a season high thus far. This time, he walked but two batters, for his third win on the 1958 campaign.

After two more starts and two more relief appearances (to little effect), he picked up a win in his third relief appearance of the month. This was Sandy's 5th straight game of facing the Pirates. 3 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk and 4 punch-outs.

Then it was time for a doubleheader, June 24th.

Sandy would pitch in both to pick up a win and a save.

In the opener, though, he actually blew the save. But it should be noted that starter Don Drysdale, and relievers Fred Kipp and Johnny Klippstein where all hammered off the mound.

Klippstein had entered the game in the forth ahead 6-3, but couldn’t hold it, thus he also got charged with a blown save. Jonny left in the 6th with Los Angeles back on top  9-8. Koufax came in with one out and a runner on second.

Koufax allowed an infield single as the Dodgers got out that problem, still ahead.

After cruising through the 7th, despite a walk, Koufax was given another run to work with by LA. Now a nice 2 run lead!

However, even here Koufax couldn’t hold it. A walk, a double and a single in the eighth tied the score, earning Koufax his blown save.

Sandy stayed right with it, though, and his perseverance was rewarded soon enough. In the ninth he punched out the side despite allowing another walk, and then the Dodgers took the lead for good in the top of the 10th.

Koufax nailed down the win despite surrendering a single and still another walk in the final bottom frame.

The second game a little easier as he needed just two thirds of an inning to earn his first save of the season, This was another game that required extra innings.

He last start in June was on the 27th, as he faced Milwaukee again. It was essentially the same story as last time, as Koufax dominated the Braves again (9IP, 6H, 1ER, 2BB, 8K). Win # 6 on the season for Sandy.

The very first day of July saw him toss another good start. 7 2/3 strong innings 7 hits, 3 earned runs, just 2 walks, for still another win. This upped his win loss record to 7-3.

July would be a strange month for Koufax, as he really didn’t pitch that bad, except for 2 starts. There weren’t any more good starts, however. He managed to start 8 games that month with no relief appearances, but back came the walks. And I mean, the BB really came back. What happened in his second start of the month might explain that.

In that start (July 5th), Koufax was off to a great game against the Cubs. But in the second inning, Jim Bolger hit a ground ball that Koufax ran to cover first on. Bolger was out, but he collided with Sandy and the lefty sprained his ankle on a spiking. It took a while to come back. And when Koufax did make it back, he took him a while before he could regain his earlier form.

Sandy Koufax's first game back was July 18th and showed some rust, as he lasted just 2/3 innings against the Phillies. He walked 4 batters. The two outs he recorded were on strikeouts.

The Dodgers decided to give him the start the very next day, given his quick exit.

It was a so-so performance. But he couldn’t overcome the walks (6) in just 7.1 innings. Those lead to 4 runs, 3 earned.

It got even worse his next start against the Pirates, as Koufax failed to get a single batter against Pittsburgh. It was the second game of a doubleheader. Actually, in that outing, he would face just 2 batters. When Roberto Clemente doubled home a run, Sandy was out of there. The Dodgers lost the game 6-2 and this earned Sandy his 4th loss.

He won his next start to make it 8 wins on the season. It was a mixed bag of a start. He went the distance and gave up just 7 hits. Along the way he fanned 7 other batters. Now for the bad part: 4 earned runs and four walks!

He walked another 5 in his next start, as the Braves finally defeated Koufax for the first time that season. Koufax sort of beat himself, really, as he walked another five batters in just 7 1/3 innings.

The poor control continued into August as the Reds knocked Sandy out after just 4.2 innings in his first start of the month. The whole month was really a washout. He had one great start in which he fanned 10, walked only 3 and gave up just 4 hits in 8 1/3 innings.

He started five more games and relived once the rest of the month. Sandy Koufax failed to get to the eighth inning of any of those starts. The walks, and now the hits, were just too much for Koufax and the Dodgers' patience. He ended the month by losing four straight starts. Now the lefty was a win one, lose one pitcher (9-9) on a team that would finish 12 games below .500.

It wasn’t a start, but his first appearance in September really got the ball rolling on a good month for Koufax.

On September 3rd, in a game against San Francisco, Stan Williams was knocked out in the second inning. After Babe Berrier pitched them out of that frame, it was Koufax’s turn from 3 until 9.

And it was a fine 7 innings: 2 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts!

Win #10!

Could he do it from 1 to 9, though? In his next four appearances, half of them starts, he couldn’t. Sandy's  ERA was now 4.92, following a 1.2 inning start against Cincinnati on September 16.

However, to borrow a phrase, “Save your best for last”, Koufax delivered in his last two starts.

First came a 7 IP, 6H, 0ER, 5BB, 6K performance against the Cubs. Good enough for his eleventh win on the season.

Then he faced the Cubs again in the Dodgers 153rd and second last game of the season. Sandy gave up just one earned run in complete-game 5-hitter that included 9 strikeouts. The downside was 7 walks and his 11th loss, 2-1.

His eleven wins are even more impressive when you consider that he tossed a career high (to that point) of only 158 2/3 innings. Of his 40 games pitched, only 26 were starts.

As for the bad numbers, the ERA can be explained partially because of the home park. Here is his home / road numbers. Note the difference:

Home

2-6 5.60 ERA 62.2 IP

Road

9-5 3.75 ERA 96 IP

A bit of a difference, eh? In addition to starting out 7-3 in the first half, his ERA at that time was 3.54. All this just before that ankle injury. Then the wheels came off in the second half, as Sandy went just 4-8 with a 5.36 ERA the rest of the way. In September, however Sandy notched his best ERA month (2.90).

He walks have shot up to 6 per game (105 total, second most walks allowed in the league). Also, he led the league in wild pitches with 17. His strikeouts are down to 131, for 7.4 per nine innings.

On the plus side however, Koufax surrendered just 132 hits for 7.5 H/9 and .220 batting average against. This would be the first of 8 times he would lead the league in lowest batting average against. Only Sam Jones allowed fewer hits against per nine innings.


References


"Chicago Cubs 7, Los Angeles Dodgers 1." Retrosheet, 1996. Web. 27 Mar. 2011. <http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1958/B07050LAN1958.htm>

Sports Reference LLC. Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Statistics and Information. http://www.baseball-reference.com/. Web. 27 Mar. 2011.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sandy Koufax Before The Immortality, Part 1: 1957

The Brooklyn Years

Sandy Koufax, to me was the greatest pitcher ever. But prior to 1961, would anyone have said that? His first six years weren’t that great.

Or were they? I was recently reading one of my favourite baseball books, Clearing The Bases, by Allen Barra where he remarked that Sandy was “a much better pitcher before 1961 season then is generally recognized”.

I was actually intrigued by this. Barra mentioned that Koufax lead the league in lowest batting average against 8 times in his career. And if he only had six great (or 1 good and 5 great) seasons, that must mean he was doing something right before '61!  Furthermore, Richard made note that he thought that Koufax had seven good years, including 1960, when he was just 8-13. I generally don’t consider that kind of record to be a great year. Add to that his ERA was high (3.91). His prime was his last 5 years before arthritis curtailed his career after the 1966 season, right?

So I decided to give his first 6 seasons a go, to look at real numbers and the circumstances to see if all suddenly came together. So here is what I'm going to do:  leading up to 1962, broken down in the first three seasons (limited duty), in Brooklyn and thereafter, one blog per full (or almost) season.

Koufax’s first two years as a bonus baby for the still-Brooklyn Dodgers (1955, 1956) aren’t really worth mentioning because he pitched (41 2/3 and 58 2/3 innings) so little. Still, he had a good ERA his first season (3.02), albeit, again, few appearances.

He didn’t pitch much more in his second season as the Brooklyn Dodgers, for the second season, played in a seven game world series with the Yankees.

1957

In 1957 Koufax was used enough to start to make his mark. He was only 5-4 in 34 games and tossed just 104 innings, but his 122 strikeouts were good enough for 9th place among National League hurlers. That’s also 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). His ERA dropped from 4.91 in just 58 2/3 innings in 1956, to 3.88 in this season.

With 51 walks, he averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings (BB/9). That’s not great, and would be a problem for Koufax until 1962, although, as you will soon see, he would begin compensating for that, this season with high strikeout marks and low hit totals against.

Speaking of which, he surrendered just 83 hits against for 7.2 hits per 9 innings (H/9). Opponents batted just .216 against Koufax.

Although he started 13 just games, he also finished 12 other games. In none of the games he finished did he earn a save. Also, because he pitched less than an inning per Dodger game (154), Koufax is not eligible for consideration when it comes to leading the league in any per game or per nine inning stats.


References


Barra, Allen. "Grove, Koufax And Clemens, A Comparison Across Time." Clearing The Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates Of The Last Century. St. Martin's Griffin ed. New York: Thomas Dunne Books (An Imprint Of St. Martin's Press), 2003. Print, pp. 168-170.

Sports Reference LLC. Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Statistics and Information. http://www.baseball-reference.com/. Web. 25 Mar. 2011.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How The Great One Missed Out On 100!

Wayne Gretzky was off and flying in the 1981/82 season. He'd gotten 164 points the previous season, and was just 20 years old. What a season he would have!

After 39 games he had 50 goals, the last five coming in an 8-5 victory over the Flyers in game 39!

After 64 games, he had 79 goals; the last three coming in a 6-3 win over the Sabers.

Gretzky kept right on going. With three goals in the next two games, it was now 82 goals in 66 games. That’s 1.24… goals per game. Continue that pace for the next 14 games and you’re at 99.39…goals in one season. So close to 100, eh?

But here is what happened next, and for the rest of the season:

Game 67 (Enters with 82 goals and 99 assists!) at Montreal. The Habs, seeking revenge for last year's playoffs, hold Gretzky to 2 assists in the first two periods and nothing at all in the third. 3-3 tie that sees the Habs honour Gretzky as The Rocket himself presents Gretzky with a trophy (A fishermen and paddle, remember?). The Oilers swarm all over Rick Wamsley at one point and, FAIL TO SCORE!

Game 68 (82 goals, 101 assists coming in) @ Quebec. Carbon copy of previous game, 2 assists, NO goals. 6-4 for the Nords. Quebec once had an NHL team??? You know, they CAN get another. Let’s all keep are hockey sticks crossed.

Game 69 (82 goals, 103 assists coming in) at Colorado. That's Colorado Rockies, not Avalanche.  Wayne's old buddy Chico Resch does him and the rest of the Oilers in by holding the Oil to just two goals (5 for Col, btw) and NO points for Wayne. 5-2 final for Colorado.

Game 70 (82 goals, 103 assists coming in) at LA. Wayne must not have liked LA, THEN! And in a preview of what will soon transpire in the playoffs, it’s 3-0 Kings after two before finally the Oilers make a game of it. The Oilers get two goals (two assists from Wayne), but it's the Oilers THIRD straight loss! 3-2 final.

Game 71 (82 goals, 105 assists coming in) vs. Buffalo. Don Edwards (The victim of goals 77, 78, 79) gets a chance at redemption and takes it! 44 shots against him, but just two goals for the Oilers. No points for Gretzky and another loss for Edmonton! A low scoring affair by those days’ standards. In addition to just two tallies for the Oilers, The Sabers get just 3. For those who enjoy extra curricular activities in hockey, this one was a fight filled game! Another 3-2 loss.

Game 72 (82 goals, 105 assists coming in) vs. Vancouver. At last, a win. No goals though for Gretzky. Another fight-filled game that not only has blood, but something else red. But also Ketchup himself! Yep, that’s Steven Heinz in net for 'Nucks. Grand total of 23 shots for the Oilers, but Steven can’t CATCH UP to 5 of them! Gretzky does get 3 assists. Vancouver makes a game of it, however, by popping in 3 themselves. Vancouver gets 39 shots as Grant Fuhr continues to impress in the Oiler net.

Game 73 (82 goals, 108 assists coming in) vs. Los Angeles comes to Edmonton to invite Wayne to play for their team someday. Marcel Dionne’s career can be summed up by this game. He gets a goal early in the first, early in the second, and then the rest of the game overshadows his efforts. By the way, Dionne has 45 goals himself at this point. Gretzky gets an even strength marker at 15:55 to pull the Oilers to within a goal, but then Pat Hughes takes a penalty and the Oilers try to make it out of the period down just one.

Gretzky though, makes sure they head for the dressing room tied by potting a short handed tally at 17:54.

Rick Fox and Mark Messier (Up to 44 goals himself) trade tallies in the third, and the game ends 3-3. Good game for Mario Lassard, as he stops 34 of 37 Oiler shots.

Game 74 (84 goals, 108 assists coming in) vs. Pittsburgh. Legend has it that someone came to this game with a crystal ball and said, “Not tonight, but someday, I see someone called Mario, someone called Jaromir, someone called Ron, and later still, someone called Sid, someone called Evgeni, someone called Jordan, ALL playing for the Pens someday.”

Alas, SOMEDAY was NOT this day! The best the Pens could do with was Dionne. No, not Marcel, but rather Dion (as in Michel Dion) in net. 42 shots for each team. The difference was that 10 of them were goals for the Oilers and just 3 went in for Pitt. Chalk up 3 goals and two assists for Wayne.

Game 75 (87 goals, 110 assists coming in) vs. Calgary. Things looked bleak for the Oilers, as it was 3-1 with less than 7 ½ minutes remaining. But then an assist for Wayne on Messier’s PP goal and Gretzky’s 88th twenty-three seconds later made it a 3-3 final. No overtime or shootouts back then, SORRY!

Game 76 (88 goals 111 assists coming in) at Calgary. 7,234 who came ALL felt warm at the end of the game. Not from Calgary, but rather Edmonton. By the time Calgary netted their second (and final) goal of the night, the Oilers had FOUR courtesy of 2 goals and 2 assists by Gretzky. Mercifully, he would be held off the score sheet the rest of the way! 7-2 Edmonton.

Game 77 (90 goals 113 assists coming in) at Colorado. Mile high, but mild shot totals for both teams, and scoring galore! That’s the way to describe it. Gretzky is in on half of Edmonton’s goals (1G, 2A), but Colorado scores six themselves and we have another tie.

Game 78 (91 goals, 115 assists coming in) at LA. The Oiler’s don’t get ahead 5-0. They get ahead only 4-0 before the Kings get one by future NHL exec Mike Murphy. Messier makes it 5-1 by the end of 2. It is then that #92 is scored. A buck fifty in, Gretzky scores from Anderson for his LAST regular season goal of 81/82. The game ends, 6-2 Edmonton, with Gretzky getting an earlier assist.

Game 79 (92 goals, 116 assists coming in) vs. LA. The Oilers run up the score again. And this time, the Kings have had enough. Penalties! 165 minutes. 20 seconds left in the 1st, and almost nobody made it to the dressing room. The second period is tamer, but Fogolin is so incensed that he doesn’t make it to 0:01 of the third as he get ejected for fighting!

As for the scoring. It was 3-1 Kings. Then, all Edmonton the rest of the way! 1:31 seconds before all that first period mayhem, Gretzky picks up an assist. He had plenty more of those!

The third period saw some Oiler penalties and a whole lot of Oiler goals. Five to be exact! Gretzky got the assist on Hunter’s 16th, and with time winding down (23 seconds to go), Gretzky and Anderson again are involved in a 50th goal. That of Mark Messier. As before, their celebration costs the Oilers. Bruce Hood calls the Oilers bench for a minor, just like when the Oilers bench got 2 for Gretzky’s 50th that season! Finally, the game ends!

Game 80 (92 goals, 119 assists) vs. Winnipeg. Exactly halfway through the first period, Gretzky and Anderson set up Kurri’s 32 goal (Only 32?) and final goal of the year. No more scoring from the Oilers, who had just scored their second goal of the game. A tally by Winny makes it closer in the third, but the Oilers hang on for a 2-1 win.


The information used herein was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by The Hockey Summary Project. For more information about the Hockey Summary Project please visit:

http://hsp.flyershistory.com

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http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/hockey_summary_project/


References


Hockey Fights, Stats, Reviews and Trading. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2011. <http://www.http://dropyourgloves.com/>

Hockey Summary Project. 10 Jan. 2001. Web. 11 Mar. 2011. <http://hsp.flyershistory.com>