09 April 2009

Carl Pavano Makes History Again, Sort of

Carl Pavano made his (not) much anticipated return to a major league mound this afternoon, toeing the rubber for the Clevelands against the Texas Rangers in Arlington.

Pavano gave up nine runs, all earned, in only one inning of official work, striking out one and walking three. He allowed two homers, a double and three singles, and faced three batters in the second inning before being sent to the showers. He left two runners on base, both of whom scored eventually, one on a sacrifice fly, the other on a fielder's choice.

This should be no real surprise, as Pavano has been neither healthy nor effective for half a decade, and his spring training stats (5.70 ERA in 23 IP) did not exactly inspire confidence. But still, an ERA of 81.00?

It's not often you see a pitcher give up at least nine runs without getting more than three outs. Since 1993, this has only happened 15 times, which is more than I would have guessed. The last occurred in August 2008, when Brian Bannister let the Yankees have a 10-spot en route to a 15-6 drubbing. An interesting point of note: Kansas City has doled out four of those 15 games, while nobody else has more than two (Arizona).

Bronson Arroyo also did it last year, in June, giving up 10 of the Blue Jays' 14 runs in an embarrassing loss. Such a game occurred only once in 2007, but it was perhaps the worst start in history: 11 earned runs, two outs by Houston's Jason Jennings against the Padres. Someone should have told him he wasn't pitching in Colorado anymore.

The most this has happened in a single year was the four times it occurred in 2006, twice due to the Royals' horrendous pitching. One of those, Mark Redman's 9-earned run, one out start against the Tigers in late September, might be even worse than Jennings', if we use ERA as the barometer. Redman's ERA for that game was (I kid you not...) 243.00!

Then it only happened about once per year, going back to 1993. Interestingly, some of the pitchers who did this weren't really all that bad. Arroyo last year was already mentioned, but Orlando Hernandez did it in Y2K, Tom Gordon in 1995, and Ben Rivera in 1993, each of whom won 12 games in the year this happened, though Rivera had an ERA over 5.00 for the year, and only won the games he did because he was pitching for the eventual NL champion Phillies.

Rookie Jason Simontacchi did it in 2002, when he won 11 games for the Cardinals. Ryan Madson did it in 2006, when he won 11 for the Phillies, though admittedly, he was much better in relief than starting that year, and hasn't started since that year. Redman also had 11 wins in the year he did it, albeit with an ERA of almost 6.00.

But before that? Wow, this almost never happened. Going back to 1954, which is as far as Baseball-reference.com's searchable gme database goes, there are only three more games ivolving at least nine earned runs and three outs or fewer, less than one per decade.

Before 1993, you have to go back to 1987, when Houston's Bob Knepper surrendered nine earned runs to the Cubs in just one official inning, during a season in which he led the NL with 17 losses. Houston stuck with him, though, and he went 14-5 the next year, but then he went 7-12 for two teams the following year and was done. (Interestingly, Rick Sutcliffe gave up seven runs and six walks in five innings in that game, but got the Win!)

The last one before that was in 1976, when journeyman Joe Decker of the Minnesota Twins gave up 10 runs to the Royals (remember when the Royals used to be able to score 10 runs?) in one of the last starts of his career. He lasted about another month, and then disappeared from the majors for three years, before attempting a brief comeback with the recently formed Mariners in 1979.

And finally, lest you think that such things only happen to lousy pitchers, the first such start belonged to none other than Bob Gibson. Excuse me: Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, in 1967. This was a down year for him, only 13-7, 2.98 ERA in 175 IP, but still, nine runs in one inning? Actually, two thirds of an inning? The Cardinals would eventually win the World Series that year, with Gibson finishing 22nd in the MVP voting, but that day the Giants had their way with him. I guess the wind was blowing out at Candlestick Park.

This really doesn't mean much, except that Pavano is likely on his way out, which we all knew anyway. Unfortunately for Cleveland, they're counting on him as their #3 starter.

In case you had any doubts about how the game has changed in the last decade and a half, think about how these out of control pitching performance used to happen about once every 10 or 12 years, and now they happen about once a year.

Good thing we got this year's out of the way quickly!

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