To learn a bit more about Carlos Martinez’s 2015 season, in my first post at Viva El Birdos I researched all right-handed pitchers from 1988-2015 who logged at least 162 innings in their age-23 season. There were 77 total pitchers who fit this criteria, and one name in particular, Brad Radke, stood out because he allowed 40 home runs in 1996 while pitching for the Minnesota Twins. This was the most of the group. In fact, going back to 1900, no pitcher in their age-23 season, whether right or left-handed, topped Radke’s 40 surrendered home runs. That Radke was at the top of this list is not surprising. It was the steroid era, after all. And even before that season he was widely-known to give up a lot of home runs. Here he is being lampooned in this remarkable commercial for Sega Sports World Series Baseball II in 1995.
I’ve always believed that having a good sense of humor is more important than being in the Hall of Fame.
Anyway, curious, I looked at all pitchers from 1900-2015 who pitched at least 162 innings in a season and gave up 40 or more home runs. It’s not as common as you would think – it’s only happened 23 times. Robin Roberts was the first to do it in 1955 and it was most recently “accomplished” in 2011 by Bronson Arroyo. Four different pitchers have done it more than once: Roberts (three times – 1955, 1956, and 1957), Phil Niekro (twice – 1970 and 1979), Bert Blyleven (twice – 1986 and 1987), and Eric Milton (twice – 2004 and 2005). Hilariously, looking at those four, that means Milton is the only pitcher in MLB history to give up 40 or more home runs in more than one season and not be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Fergie Jenkins is the only other Hall of Famer on this list – he gave up exactly 40 home runs in 1979.
Jack Morris allowed exactly 40 home runs in 1986 yet still finished fifth in Cy Young voting, the highest anyone on this list finished. Morris also won 21 games that year when that stat meant so much more and led the AL in shutouts. Also, the Cy Young award wasn’t introduced until 1956 and it wasn’t handed out in each league until 1967. This seems relevant because Roberts finished fifth in MVP voting in 1955 even though he allowed 41 home runs.
Blyleven holds the all-time record for giving up 50 home runs in 271.2 innings pitched in 1986 while pitching for the Twins. The 13 other teams in the AL hit 2,094 home runs that year, which means 2.39% of those were hit off Blyleven. Jesse Barfield led the AL in home runs with 40 and faced Blyleven ten times but only tagged him once. Ron Kittle, on the other hand, in just six plate appearances vs. Blyleven took him deep four times.
Of this group Niekro pitched the most innings – a crazy amount of innings, in fact. In 1979, he allowed 41 home runs in 342 innings pitched for the Braves, which, even for that time, sounds pretty reckless. Meanwhile, our poor friend Milton is at the other end of the spectrum. He allowed exactly 40 home runs in just 186.1 innings pitched in 2005.
The pitcher who watched guys circle the bases at the most prolific rate in a season though probably belongs to the late, great Jose Lima. In 2000, while pitching for the Astros, Lima gave up 48 home runs in just 196.1 innings pitched. (That’s nearly one home run every four innings if you don’t feel like doing the math.) Here’s what’s amazing though: he spread out the wealth of those 48 home runs to 43 different batters, including one to pitcher Kerry Wood. Wood’s teammate Sammy Sosa led the NL that year in home runs with 50 but in seven plate appearances didn’t get a single one off Lima. Only Brian Giles, Sean Casey, Henry Rodriguez, Lee Stevens, and Andy Tracy hit more than one home run off Lima that year and they each hit two. One of those 48 home runs belongs to Chris Clapinski, who only saw 121 plate appearances in two seasons in MLB. It was the only home run of his career.
Here’s the complete list:
- Bert Blyleven (1986) – 50 HRs, 271.2 IP
- Jose Lima (2000) – 48 HRs, 196.1 IP
- Bronson Arroyo (2011) – 46 HRs, 199 IP
- Bert Blyleven (1987) – 46 HRs, 267 IP
- Robin Roberts (1956) – 46 HRs, 297.1 IP
- Jamie Moyer (2004) – 44 HRs, 202 IP
- Eric Milton (2004) – 43 HRs, 201 IP
- Pedro Ramos (1957) – 43 HRs, 231 IP
- Denny McLain (1966) – 42 HRs, 264.1 IP
- Rick Helling (1999) – 41 HRs, 219.1 IP
- Phil Niekro (1979) – 41 HRs, 342 IP
- Robin Roberts (1955) – 41 HRs, 305 IP
- Eric Milton (2005) – 40 HRs, 186.1 IP
- Ramon Martinez (2002) – 40 HRs, 217.1 IP
- Brad Radke (1996) – 40 HRs, 232 IP
- Shawn Boskie (1996) – 40 HRs, 189.1 IP
- Bill Gullickson (1987) – 40 HRs, 213 IP
- Jack Morris (1986) – 40 HRs, 267 IP
- Fergie Jenkins (1979) – 40 HRs, 259 IP
- Phil Niekro (1970) – 40 HRs, 229.2 IP
- Orlando Pena (1964) – 40 HRs, 219.1 IP
- Ralph Terry (1962) – 40 HRs, 298.2 IP
- Robin Roberts (1957) – 40 HRs, 249.2 IP
Credit to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index for the research in this post.
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