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July 19, 2012
Sandy Koufax, May 1960
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):
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:
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):
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.