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August 21, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Micah Owings

by Jim Baker

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On Saturday, Micah Owings of the Arizona Diamondbacks had one of the better hitting performances of the season, getting 11 total bases and driving in six runs. There will be better outings by players this year, but not a whole lot of them. Certainly, there won't be any by pitchers, the fraternity to which Owings belongs and one not picky about its members' skills with the lumber. In fact, Owings day with the stick is arguably one of the best ever by a pitcher. His outstanding hitting performance was coupled with a quality start, too, which brings up the question, how does this rate in terms of combined performance?

To answer this question, we have to define our terms. To keep it simple, I decided to use the scoring method that is employed in my fantasy league. I wouldn't recommend this for evaluating players beyond a single game, but I think it works well for this purpose; some of you are probably in leagues that use this method. On offense, a point is assigned for every total base, walk, run scored, run driven in, and stolen base. For pitchers, 10 points are assigned for a victory, and one for every out recorded and strikeout. A point is subtracted for every hit or walk allowed and two points are subtracted for each earned run allowed. So, a complete game, four-hit shutout with two walks and five strikeouts would be worth 36 points.

The next trick is establishing thresholds, Kerry Wood totaled 56 points in his famous 20-strikeout game against the Astros in 1998. All 56 points came as a pitcher, though, as he went 0-for-3 at the plate. His 56 points is going to better all of the games we discuss today, but it doesn't count since we're looking for superb combo performances. That means the trick is defining minimum pitching and batting contributions.

On May 4, 1969, Blue Moon Odom of the A's drove in six runs against the Seattle Pilots with a double and a three-run homer. He scored a 14 with the bat, but walked nine Pilots and barely squeaked by with a win, getting just eight points on the pitching end; he will not be on this list. Mel Stottlemyre, Sr. had a five-hit game on September 26, 1964 while pitching a shutout, but only had nine offensive points, so he won't be included either. Obviously, finding great pitching performances isn't the problem, it's identifying the outstanding hitting performances by pitchers first and then working from there.

Since 1957, only 16 pitchers have had games in which they had 14 or more offensive points. Lowering the offensive contribution to 13 increases the list to 32. Lowering it to 12 adds another 19 players and lowering it to 11 adds an additional 37 performances. I'm inclined to go with 14 as a minimum. In doing so, though, we would miss these three games:

55 total points: Milt Pappas, Baltimore Orioles; August 27, 1961
Our database goes back to 1957, so our discussion today will be limited to games played since then. There are a number of candidate games prior to that time, including Jim Tobin's three-home run performance on May 13, 1942, and Wes Ferrell's no-hitter on April 29, 1931 in which he hit a home run and a double. It would be an upset if Ferrell, the best-hitting pitcher ever, had not had a candidate game.

Pappas held the Twins to two hits and surrendered three walks while striking out 11 batters. He hit two solo home runs off of Pedro Ramos, accounting for two-thirds of the Orioles scoring, making his split for this game 43/12.

52: Rick Wise, Philadelphia Phillies; June 23, 1971
Wise no-hit the Reds and drove in three of the Phillies' four runs with two home runs. Wise's split was 39/13. The no-hitter was a very impressive feat in that the Reds' lineup contained Pete Rose, Lee May, Tony Perez, and Johnny Bench, as well as young versions of George Foster and Hal McRae. Granted, 1971 was a down year for the Big Red Machine, but still…

52: Sonny Siebert, Boston Red Sox; September 2, 1971
Siebert very nearly did it all in this game, driving in all three runs with two homers while limiting the Orioles to three hits and two walks while striking out seven for a 39/13 split. It was games like this that could be pointed to by the anti-DH forces who were girding their loins for the fight that was just over the horizon.

Laudable preliminaries out of the way, the list that follows are the best combo games since 1957 where the pitcher contributed at least 14 points on the batting end:

50: Micah Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks; August 18, 2007
A full house beats a pair, or something like that. Owings did the seemingly impossible: he totaled more offensive points than Tony Cloninger did in his famous two-grand slam game of 1966. No pitcher since 1957 had had more than nine total bases in a game until Saturday, when Owings produced 11 with his two home runs, double and single. He amassed 21 points of offense, beating Cloninger by one. Without considering the pitching contribution, this is one of the single-greatest offensive outpourings ever from a pitcher. Aside from three pitches to Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Jeff Francoeur that ended up out of the park, Owings didn't allow a hit or a walk while striking out seven Braves. He was pulled after 78 pitches, so it is conceivable he could have gone the route in spite of allowing two home runs in the seventh. Had he been able to finish the game without further damage (unlike his relievers, who allowed the Braves three more runs), there might not be any debate at all about the greatest combo game ever.

49: Rick Wise, Philadelphia Phillies; August 28, 1971
Two months after his two-homer no-hitter, Wise was at it again. This time, he drove in five of the Phillies' seven runs while posting a pitching line of 9 8 3 3 2 11. His split was 34/15.

48: Pedro Ramos, Cleveland Indians; May 30, 1962
Ramos threw a three-hit shutout at the Orioles while hitting a grand slam and a solo shot at the plate. He walked two batters but struck out just one.

47: Tony Cloninger, Atlanta Braves; June 16, 1966 and July 3, 1966
It's really not very sporting to have a lineup that includes Felipe Alou, Joe Torre, Rico Carty, and Hank Aaron while having the pitcher chipping in with multi-homer games. Cloninger held the Mets to one run on five hits on June 16 while hitting two- and three-run homers in his own support; the Braves won that one 17-1. Four starts later, he was a little less successful on the mound against the Giants, surrendering three runs on seven hits and two walks but he more than made up with it at the plate, smacking two grand slams and driving in another run with a single. His splits were 31/16 and 27/20. He and Owings are the only pitchers to score over 20 offensive points in the Expansion Era.

46: Earl Wilson, Detroit Tigers; August 13, 1966
It's no surprise to find Wilson on this list, as he was one of the best-hitting pitchers of his era. In this game, his fourth start of the season against the team that had traded him the previous offseason-Boston-he reached base four times on two singles, a home run, and a walk. He drove in five men and scored three times for an offensive score of 15. On the pitching side, he allowed one run on four hits while walking four and striking out four. It was the best hitting game of his career, and one of his better pitching performances.

45: Don Cardwell, Chicago Cubs; September 2, 1960
Cardwell hit two home runs and a single for a batting line of 5 3 3 3. He whiffed nine Cardinals but allowed eight hits and three earned runs.

43: Milt Pappas, August 11, 1972; Chicago Cubs
Pappas is one of those guys whose name pops up all the time. His achievements go so far beyond just being the guy who was traded for Frank Robinson by the Orioles to the Reds. In this game he doubled, homered, singled and drove in five runs. He held the Mets to five hits and didn't walk a batter in this 29/14 split. However, his lone strikeout victim was opposing pitcher Jon Matlack.

42: Robert Person, June 2, 2002; Philadelphia Phillies
Person had one of the best hitting performances ever for a pitcher, made even more so in that he did all of his damage before being lifted after just five innings of work against the Expos. He drove in seven men with two home runs and had a 23/19 split.

42: Jim Bunning, May 18, 1959; Detroit Tigers
Bunning was 4-for-4 against the Red Sox, and missed the cycle by a double (no pitcher has ever hit for the cycle). In his first at-bat of the day, he was called on to sacrifice, and did so successfully. Bunning allowed 12 baserunners but only two runs while striking out five for a 26/16 split. Lew Burdette, Walt Terrell, Dontrelle Willis, Claude Osteen and Randy Wolf have also had winning games in which they had 14 or 15 offensive points.

So, how does Owings rate? Offensively, he's right up there at the very top-perhaps even the best ever, all things considered. Combo-wise, he is certainly in the mix. Not finishing the game cost him points, especially against competition that plied their trade at a time when pitchers did so as a matter of course. Let's put it another way: his performance was good enough that it can be entered into the argument as the best combined hitting/pitching performance ever.

Thanks to William Burke and David Laurila for contributing research, and to reader Vic McFadden for the topic idea.

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