Earlier this week, Dave discussed Padres SP Chris Young and his inability to hold runners, essentially claiming that the former basketball prospect is worse at holding runners than anyone else in baseball is at any other skill. The data certainly matches this accusation, as baserunners are 131-144 off of Young in his career, a 91% success rate. In 2007, Young was historically bad, allowing 44 steals with nary a runner being caught. It is easy to blame the catcher for not throwing runners out but this definitely says more about Young than his backstops.
Curious to see who else has had historically bad seasons I queried my Retrosheet database for all seasons since 1954 in which runners attempted at least 30 steals off of a particular pitcher with a success rate of at least the break-even mark of 75% and sorted by success rate. For the record, though pickoffs are factored into failed stolen base attempts, they are ignored for the purposes of this post.
Not surprisingly at all, Young’s 44-44 in 2007 topped the list. Right behind him is A.J. Burnett, also in 2007, who saw 31 runners successfully swipe bags without any being thrown out. These are the only two seasons that match the querying criteria featuring a 100% success rate.
Four different pitchers benefited from having just one runner gunned down: Dennis Eckersley (34-35) in 1977, Mark Clear (33-34) in 1983, Tim Wakefield (30-31) in 1996 and Dustin McGowan (29-30) in 2007.
That 2007 season does not look too good for pitchers and their ability to hold runners on. Not only does the season house three of the six worst seasons in the Retrosheet era but it also saw Greg Maddux allow 37 steals out of 39 attempts, along with Tim Wakefield and Jose Contreras exceeding the break-even point at 41-49 and 25-31 respectively.
Nine of the 20 worst seasons in this regard have occurred since 2000, while only one took place prior to 1960: Glen Hobbie allowed 30 steals in 32 attempts for the Cubs back in 1959. There are not many pitchers who appeared on several occasions on this list, likely due to the fact that they changed some aspect of their delivery to circumvent the issue.
The most frequent violators were Nolan Ryan (10), Greg Maddux (9), Dwight Gooden (7), Joe Niekro (7), Mike Krukow (6), Tim Wakefield (6), Dennis Eckersley (5), Tom Candiotti (5), Bert Blyleven (5), and Hideo Nomo (5). These pitchers were predominantly either knuckleballers, those with freakishly long windups or notorious for caring very little about the running game.
The numbers and reputations of some of these pitchers certainly suggests that success can still be obtained with no ability to control the running game but they comprise a very small sample of the amount of successful pitchers. Chris Young lacks the stuff of a Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and Dennis Eckersley, so he really needs to fix this problem because it is only a matter of time before runners truly exploit his flaw.