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July 19, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Sandy Koufax, May 1960

by Geoff Young

Not long ago, Jason Collette and I were chatting on Twitter about high-strikeout games. As the conversation turned from Francisco Liriano, to Sterling Hitchcock, to Sandy Koufax, Jason noted a game in which Koufax threw 193 pitches.

This got my attention, and I checked to see whether this total represented an anomaly or the status quo. Here are the 24-year-old Koufax's first five starts of 1960 (he'd made three earlier relief appearances, throwing a combined 92 pitches):

Date

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

K

Pit

5/6/60

9.2

9

5

5

2

7

15

175

5/11/60

7.2

6

4

4

0

5

5

139

5/19/60

8.2

9

5

3

0

3

10

143

5/23/60

9.0

1

0

0

0

6

10

135

5/28/60

13.0

3

4

3

1

9

15

193

Following his May 23 one-hitter against Pittsburgh, Koufax ranked third in the National League with 43 strikeouts. As he said after the game:

I don't try for strikeouts. If I'm in trouble, I'll try to strike somebody out. If I strike them out, they can't hit the ball and can't score.

But during a ball game, I'd rather have the batters ground out or fly out. It's a lot easier getting them out, say, on a 1-2 pitch, than trying to strike them out. It's more work striking them out.

He wanted to be efficient, he just couldn't execute. We should all have such problems.

Said Koufax after the 193-pitch game, “I walked a few more than I would have liked to, but my control was a lot better than it has been.” He threw 117 strikes.

How did this workload affect Koufax in the short term? Here are the three starts (and one relief appearance) following his 13-inning opus:

Date

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

K

Pit

6/1/60

4.1

8

4

4

0

2

4

65

6/5/60

5.2

3

5

5

0

5

9

111

6/7/60

1.0

0

0

0

0

1

0

15

6/10/60

1.1

1

4

4

1

4

3

36

If Koufax's arm was hurting, the newspapers I checked didn't mention it. Still, those are ugly numbers.

It would be irresponsible to blame Koufax's premature demise on five starts in May 1960. He was worked hard throughout his career. As Jason noted, “From 2004-2012, there were 64 instances of SP's throwing at least 130 pitches in a gm. Koufax did it 64 times himself.”

In graphical form (through July 18, 2012):

 

Years

GS

130+ pit

Pct

Koufax

1955-1966

314

64

.204

MLB

2004-2012

41,612

64

.002

After Koufax's June 10 start, which he lost, his career record stood at 29-35 (.453 WPct). From then on, he went 136-52 (.723). Limitations of the win statistic notwithstanding, this is phenomenal.

Koufax captured three Cy Young Awards and an MVP Award, and ended up in the Hall of Fame. Despite his success, given what we now know about pitcher usage and Koufax's career, it is difficult to view what he did in May 1960 with anything other than incredulity.

Related Content:  Sandy Koufax

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

LynchMob

Has anyone thrown 193 pitches in a game since Koufax?

Jul 19, 2012 09:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Geoff Young
BP staff

Yes, two Dodgers did it in 1961: Stan Williams threw 207 against the Braves on May 17, and Koufax threw 205 against the Cubs on September 20.

Jul 19, 2012 09:39 AM
 
eighteen

Oh, what the owners and Selig wouldn't give to have back those glorious days when they could afford to treat a rare and precious talent like a commodity.

Jul 19, 2012 12:01 PM
rating: 1
 
Brian Cartwright

and there was a game Ryan went 13 IP or so, 19 K, said to be abt 250 pitches.

I believe there is an effect, but it depends on the individual. On July 19, 1955, Vern Law of the Pirates went 18 innings, and 10 more 5 days later, showing no ill effects. In 24 G, 11 GS, 103 IP before the two marathons, 17 G, 11 GS, 69 IP after. His ERA went from 3.40 to 5.58, BB/9 from 2.9 to 3.3, SO/9 from 4.2 to 1.9 and ISO allowed from .072 to .136. Over the immediate next three weeks Law as the worst, 7 G, 4 GS, 20 IP, 8.41 ERA, 398/455/531 batting allowed.

But he came back fine in 1956 and put up another 5 quality seasons. Starting at age 31 in 1961 he had 3 straight poor season with much fewer GS & IP, presumably injuries, but rebounded and pitched until age 37.

Law absolutely had short term effects, the first 3 weeks the worst, the last 6 weeks of the season so-so, the next year recovered.

Jul 19, 2012 14:47 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Geoff Young
BP staff

Thanks for the additional info on Law. A similar thing happened to Joe Oeschger after his 26-inning start in 1920. His next three starts: 19 IP, 29 H, 9.00 ERA. His next six games (five starts) after that: 46 IP, 34 H, 2.15 ERA.

Oeschger's opponent in the May 1 marathon, Leon Cadore, fared better. His next four starts: 31.1 IP, 29 H, 1.44 ERA.

Both men hung on a few more years, but neither was as good as he had been. Cadore's drop in performance was more severe.

As for the Ryan game, I'll address that and others of its ilk in a future post.

Jul 19, 2012 17:16 PM
 
LynchMob

http://articles.latimes.com/2004/jun/13/sports/sp-ryan13 ... sez 235 pitches ... but B-R.com has no pitch counts?

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CAL/CAL197406140.shtml

... seems odd that the pitching coach kept track on a hand-held clicker ...

how/why does B-R.com's page for Koufax in 1960 have pitch counts ...

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=koufasa01&t=p&year=1960

... but the page for Ryan's 1974 doesn't?

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=ryanno01&t=p&year=1974

Jul 19, 2012 17:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Cartwright

Alan Roth, the Dodger's team stat man for many years in the 50's & 60's, kept pitches in his own records which have since been made public.

Jul 19, 2012 17:35 PM
rating: 1
 
godfather

walter alston had no qualms about using "the big jew," as he referred to mr. k; whatever, the career was as magnificent as careers get; today's game is a tad different, so we may never get to know what a strasburg might achieve; the difference is in being asked what you can do rather than being told what you are wanted to do; under today's mindset, even john holmes would be pulled out, so to speak, before finishing

Jul 20, 2012 09:24 AM
rating: 0
 
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