Bronson Arroyo and 40-Homer Pitchers

As of this writing, Bronson Arroyo is making his 31st start of the season. Remarkably — perhaps because his opponent is the hapless Houston Astros — he hasn’t given up a home run (or even an earned run) through eight scoreless innings (as of press time).

This is remarkable because through Arroyo’s first 30 starts and 182 innings he had allowed a whopping 44 home runs. He is only the sixth player in history to ever reach this mark and only the 23rd pitcher to ever allow even 40 home runs in a season. Of both groups, Arroyo’s 182 innings is the lowest (second is Eric Milton‘s forgettable 2005 campaign, also coming as a member of the Reds). Only Shawn Boskie‘s 1996 campaign featured fewer starts (28), and he also made nine relief appearances.

Interestingly enough, this 40-homer club actually features some of the best pitchers of all time, and it even includes a few very solid seasons. Among these 23 seasons we see Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven (twice), Robin Roberts (thrice), Ferguson Jenkins and Phil Niekro (twice), as well as Jack Morris, who remains on the ballot. And although giving up home runs is obviously the worst possible outcome for a pitcher, most of these guys still managed to perform well even with 40 or more homers allowed.

Arguably, the best season of the bunch comes from Morris, who allowed 40 home runs in 1986. He threw 267 innings, for a poor 1.4 HR/9, but he also had one of his best years control-wise, walking only 2.7 batters per nine innings (perhaps related?). He ended with a 98 FIP- and, thanks to an 81% strand rate, a very solid 80 ERA- (3.27 raw ERA). If there’s any competition, it comes from Roberts’s 1955 campaign, in which he allowed 41 bombs in 305 innings, recording a 3.61 FIP (90 FIP-) and 3.28 ERA (83 ERA-). Morris recorded a 3.9 fWAR and a 4.7 bWAR; we don’t have fWAR for Roberts’s season, but his 1955 was worth 4.1 bWAR.

In all, seven of these seasons were worth an ERA- of 85 or better and 11 of the 23 were average or better by ERA-, which shouldn’t be surprising — if these pitchers didn’t offer other skills, they wouldn’t have been allowed to pitch enough innings to tally 40 home runs allowed.

At least, that’s true if they were on good enough teams. Eric Milton had a 151 ERA- for the Reds in 2005, the worst of the entire group, but that Reds’ team was littered with ERA- totals approaching 200 or higher. Remember Luke Hudson? Me neither.

That seems to be the case for this year’s example, Bronson Arroyo. He carried an ERA- of 137 into Wednesday’s tilt, and even with a very solid start against Houston, he’ll likely end up with the second-worst ERA- of the group, with only Milton posting the more futile season. The Reds pitching depth fell like flies over the season. With Johnny Cueto missing time due to injury, Edinson Volquez failing to find the magic, and players like Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney simply not good enough, Arroyo was forced to slog through the season. At least it looks like he’ll fall short of setting one of baseball’s more dubious records.

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22 Responses to “Bronson Arroyo and 40-Homer Pitchers”

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  1. Hurtlocker says:

    The amazing stat is that Bert Blyleven gave up 50 homers one year!! Wow!!
    (he also gave up two inside the park homers to Dick Allen in the same game in 1972)

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Blyleven was a very frustrating pitcher, he had a huge number of shutouts (especially given how recently he pitched) but also a huge number of blowouts. I think this is part of why he did so poorly until the Saber folks came along and helped him out.

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  2. James says:

    How often does a pitcher give up more home runs than the MLB leader hits? When was the last time? Sounds like a good trivia question…

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    • James says:

      Nevermind, it was the comment above (Jesse Barfield hit 40 in ’86, Blyleven surrendered 50). Sorry!

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Also happened in 1974. Mickey Lolich gave up 38 and Mike Schmidt hit 36. Before that was 1917. Common in the deadball era and in the 1800’s, for obvious reasons (few HR’s, lots of innings pitched).

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      • Eric R says:

        At the League level:

        2004 AL Moyer 44 vs Man-Ram 43
        1986 AL Blyleven 50 vs Barfield 40
        1975 AL Jenkins 37 vs George Scott & Reggie Jackson 36
        1974 AL Lolich 38 vs Dick Allen 32
        1973 AL Hunter 39 vs Reggie Jackson 32
        1971 AL Perry 39 vs Bill Melton 33
        1965 AL Mudcat Grant 34 vs Conigliaro 32
        1957 AL Pedro Ramos 43 vs Sievers 42
        1956 NL Robin Roberts 46 vs Snider 43
        1937 NL Lon Warneke 32 vs Ott&Medwick 31
        1918 NL Jack Coombs 10 vs Cravath 8
        1917 NL Phil Douglas 13 vs Robertson&Cravath 12
        1909 NL Hooks Wiltse 9 vs Red Murray 7

        Happened most years, 1905 and earlier.

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      • TK says:

        Well, it looks almost certain that it will happen in the NL for the first time 55 years.

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  3. terry says:

    arroyo just threw a CG SO today, a zero percent chance of likelyhood, just like the colorado rockies were suppose to win the NL WEST in your article “buster posey injury opens door for rockies”

    you called the rockies the “real competitor!” wow jack moore! geesh!

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  4. Ian R. says:

    It’s pretty amazing that Morris had an 81% strand rate despite allowing 40 home runs. Maybe there is something to the notion that Morris was a born winner. Or maybe it was just a really flukey season.

    Probably the latter.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Curt Schilling gave up 37 HR in his outstanding 2001 season.

      The reason this is able to occur is because he didn’t walk anybody. So, many of the HRs were solo shots, and due to challenging hitters in the zone with his fastball.

      He had a 10.27 K% and a 1.37 BB% … leading to strand rate of 85%.

      In other words, with the bases empty, he was very aggressive in the strike zone. His comments were congruent with the issue.

      2.98 ERA, 7.6 fWAR … and 2nd in CYA voting.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Jack Morris “pitched to the score”. *big grin*

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  5. gnomez says:

    How do you write this article without mentioning Jose Lima?

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  6. RMR says:

    Arroyo was forced to slog through the season? That’s not the way it seems around Reds country. At virtually every opportunity Arroyo has insisted that he be kept in the rotation and basically intimated that he’d file a grievance if the Reds tried to DL him for fatigue, despite having mononucleosis and experience a big drop in velocity.

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  7. I remember Luke Hudson!

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  8. Aaron W. says:

    “players like Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney simply not good enough…”

    LeCure has an xFIP of 3.50, a K rate of nearly 1 per 9 and perfectly acceptable BB and HR rates. This isn’t to say that he’d be that good for 200 innings, but how in the world is that “simply not good enough”?

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  9. Not real important today with tiny parks to pitch, as a Red fan more interested in total hits and walks allowed on other than homeruns given up—Harang in San Diego will attest to that.

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