Where Does Colby Lewis’ Non-K Game Rank?

Pitchers can succeed without striking batters out, but a failure to whiff shifts more of the burden to the defense. Based on what we know about pitchers and their controllable skills, limiting the number of balls in play increases the likelihood of a good outing. Strikeouts might not guarantee an out due to the dropped third strike rule, but they result in outs virtually 99 percent of the time.

Successful pitching lines lacking strikeouts are strange to the eyes. They’re even stranger when high-strikeout hurlers post them. You’d think a pitcher like Colby Lewis could easily record one punchout in seven innings of work, but in a May 10 start, he held the Athletics to one run over 7 1/3 innings. And he didn’t record a strikeout.

In honor of Lewis’ odd line — 7 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 0 K — I decided to research two items: the best non-strikeout games in the Retrosheet era, and the highest percentage of non-strikeout starts in a season.

The Best Non-K Games
The first step in evaluating the best non-strikeout games is determining the stat to use. I went with game score, a toy created by Bill James that gauges a starting pitcher’s performance based on his line. It isn’t an end-all metric by any stretch, but it’s usually a decent proxy and, like WPA, tends to tells a pretty accurate game story. A score of 50 equates to an average start. The average game score (GSC) for non-strikeout games is 34, well below what is considered to be an average outing.

Lewis recorded a 63 GSC in his strikeout-less outing, which is funny when compared to his previous start: He posted a 64 GSC on May 5 while striking out 11 hitters.

Is his 63 GSC on the high end of non-strikeout games?

According to Retrosheet it isn’t even close. Since 1950, there have been 18 games in which a pitcher finished with an 80+ GSC while failing to strike out a single batter. Given the game score formula, the maximum in a nine-inning game is 87, so the pitchers below came as close as possible to maxing out without achieving the highest score.

Ken Holtzman, 8/19/1969: 84 GSC, 9 IP-0 H-0 R-3 BB-0 K
Neil Allen, 7/20/1986: 83 GSC, 9 IP-2 H-0 R-0 BB-0 K
Barry Moore, 4/30/1967: 83 GSC, 9 IP-1 H-0 R-2 BB-0 K
Paul Minner, 7/1/1951: 82 GSC, 9 IP-2 H-0 R-1 BB-0 K
Doyle Alexander, 9/2/1984: 82 GSC, 9 IP-2 H-0 R-1 BB-0 K
Frank Lary, 8/3/1955: 82 GSC, 9 IP-2 H-0 R-1 BB-0 K

Holtzman’s game, in case you missed it, was a no-hitter without a single strikeout.

Highest Non-K %
The pitchers below posted the highest percentage of starts without a strikeout in a season, while making at least 25 starts: no, two K-less games in two starts doesn’t count!

Ed Lynch 1983: 10/27, 37%
Jim Hearn 1951: 10/29, 34%
Bob Shaw 1960: 10/32, 31%
Tommy John 1984: 9/29, 31%
Dave Schmidt 1989: 8/28, 30%

What about in the post-strike wild card era?

Nate Cornejo 2003: 9/32, 28%
Kirk Rueter 2003: 7/27, 26%
Kirk Saarloos 2005: 6/27, 22%
Bob Wolcott 1996: 6/28, 21%
Scott Erickson 2002: 6/28, 21%
Mark Redman 2006: 6/29, 20%
Steve Trachsel 2007: 6/29, 20%

Colby Lewis might have posted a strange line, but his game was far from the best non-strikeout start in history. Pitchers with Lewis’ high strikeout rate don’t produce multiple K-less games, so don’t expect to see him  listed among the pitchers on those last two lists when this research is inevitably updated.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

13 Responses to “Where Does Colby Lewis’ Non-K Game Rank?”

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  1. johngomes says:

    the real $$$ question is where does his slider rank amongst starting pitchers in terms of nassssstaaay

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  2. Ryan says:

    Tom Glavine had a complete game no-strikeout no-walk performance on 79 pitches.


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  3. MikeM says:

    Two Kirks on that list. A four-letter name with two “K’s” in it, good for a K% of 50%.

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    • gdc says:

      The opposite of Lewis with 0 K was probably Saarloos whiffing 11 in 5 IP
      Gave up 8 hits and 2 runs trailing 2-1, fortunately that Cliff Lee guy let him off the hook by giving up a salami to Bobby Kielty.
      Los Kirk had 16 starts that year and only two with more than 3 K, the other being a 5 K game his other start against Cleveland, so that 11 K was as much as his next best three games combined.

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  4. Yirmiyahu says:

    Hate to be serious, because this is a fun post.

    But it’s not really fair to Lewis to compare his game to K-less games going back to 1950. Over the time period you’re dealing with, K rate has steadily increased from 4.00ish to 7.00ish, and BABIP has steadily increased from .275ish to .300ish (but has fallen off over the last 2 years).

    Getting guys out on balls-in-play used to be a lot more common, and Colby Lewis’ game is much more impressive considering the era.

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  5. Barkey Walker says:

    “limiting the number of balls in play increases the likelihood of a good outing” yet FIP does not take this into account. Yes, recording Ks and BB does do something, but when there is a ball in play, if it is an out, then there are fewer chances for the pitcher to get a K (or HR or freep), when it is a hit, then there are more chances to get these FIP modifiers.

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    • Victor says:

      You know what FIP stands for right? You make it sound like they unintentionally ignore balls in play (aka. fielding).

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        The point is that FIP is not fielding independent.

        Two situations:

        situation 1, a pitcher has three plate appearances, each batter puts a ball in play. Each batter gets called out.

        situation 2, a pitcher has four plate appearances, in the first three the batter puts the ball in play, but the batter gets on in one of the three. Then, the pitcher gets out the fourth batter (could be a K, could be a ball in play).

        In one situation, the pitcher had three chances for BB, HR, and K, the other had four chances. Fielding is very present in the denominator (though not the numerator).

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      • RC says:

        FIP’s denominator is almost entirely dependant on BABIP. FIP is no more “fielding independant” than ERA is. Its just normalized to league average.

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  6. Old Rungo says:

    Don’t think Jeff Barry was a pitcher… I may be mistaken as I’m new to this, but he looks like an OF.

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