Matthew Taylor: Measuring historical dominance by Orioles pitchers

Which Orioles pitchers have had the most dominant individual outings by modern statistical measures? That’s one of the questions that came to mind for me as I read Joe Sheehan’s article “The Case for ... The Pedro” in the May 25 edition of Sports Illustrated.

Sheehan discusses Corey Kluber’s May 13 outing for the Cleveland Indians, during which he struck out 18 batters and walked none, and makes the case that, “To strike out a lot of hitter, while walking few or none ... is the pinnacle of great pitching.” He identifies Kluber’s effort this month as “one of the greatest outings a pitcher has ever had.”

Kluber’s start was the 10th best since 1995 according to the Game Score measure created by Bill James. The best? That was Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout, no-walk one-hitter in 1998.

Sheehan notes that striking out at least 15 batters while walking none is more rare than a no-hitter in the modern era. No-hitters are most often team efforts; high strikeout, low-walk performances are all about the pitcher, he explains.

“Statistical analysis tells us that a pitcher controls his strikeouts and his walks far more than he controls what happens after a ball hits a bat,” Sheehan writes. “To strike out a lot of men while walking few or none is the pinnacle of great pitching - even if we don’t have a word for it yet.”

Sheehan dubs these outings “The Pedro” in honor of Pedro Martinez.

Unfortunately, the most recent example of “The Pedro” comes to mind in relation to the Orioles is Michael Pineda’s 16-strikeout, no-walk performance in seven innings for the Yankees on May 10.

Let’s wash the taste of that example out of our mouths by digging a little deeper into Orioles history.

The Most Dominant Orioles Outings: Mike Mussina and Erik Bedard are the only two Orioles pitchers to have 15 strikeouts in a game. Mussina did it twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs during the 1997 American League Championship Series. Bedard did it once in an outing that pitching coach Leo Mazzone called “one of the greatest performances I’ve seen.” Each pitcher had one 15-strikeout, no-walk appearance.

This is one instance where the numbers and the mind’s eye are aligned. Mussina’s 1997 playoff effort stands out for me among the greatest pitching performances I’ve watched during my lifetime.

If Bedard and Mussina have had the most dominant outings for the Orioles by Sheehan’s “Pedro” measure, then Mike Flanagan and Connie Johnson at least deserve a mention. Flanagan had 13 strikeouts and no walks in a 1978 outing versus the Red Sox, while Johnson had 14 strikeouts and one walk versus the Yankees in 1957.

The Best Orioles Game Scores: The Game Score measure Sheehan mentions is described on Baseball-Reference.com as follows:

“Start with 50 points. Add one point for each out recorded, (or three points per inning). Add two points for each inning completed after the fourth. Add one point for each strikeout. Subtract two points for each hit allowed. Subtract four points for each earned run allowed. Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract one point for each walk.”

So in short, Game Score rewards strikeouts and punishes walks consistent with Sheehan’s focus, while also factoring in the length of outings as well as the number of hits and runs allowed.

Only one Orioles pitcher ranks in the top 20 for Game Score this season: Ubaldo Jimenez. Go figure.

Jimenez’s April 11 outing versus the Blue Jays ranks 19th in baseball so far this season by Game Score. He struck out eight and walked one while allowing one hit and no runs. Kluber’s May 13 game is the top performance in 2015 by Game Score.

To Sheehan’s point about the relative rarity of “The Pedro,” Jimenez has tossed a no-hitter during his career, but he has never had a 15-strikeout, no-walk performance.

Jimenez’s career-high for strikeouts in a game is 13, which he has accomplished twice. The most strikeouts he has ever recorded without giving up a walk is 10. He has done so twice, both times during the 2013 season.

Overall, Mussina is the Orioles pitcher to have the most outings with a Game Score of 90 or greater. He did it a total of nine times during his career with the Orioles and the Yankees. That ranks 16th in baseball history. Nolan Ryan, who posted a Game Score of 90 or greater on 31 occasions, leads the category.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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