Hall of Fame Killers
Any Seamheads reader should know by now that thereâ€™s a lot of good information at baseball-reference.com. In particular, in the Play Index. For instance: in the last decade, Miguel Tejada led the majors with 223 groundball double play, 28 more than runner-up Paul Konerko. That is only one ground ball short of Jim Riceâ€™s 224 in the 1980sâ€”the most by any player in any decade.
This article will look at Hall of Fame-caliber hittersâ€™ individual matchups. Who bedeviled them, and how did they do it?
Hank Aaron: .305/.374/.555 in 13,940 career plate appearances
Bob Bruce: 3.85 ERA, 1.324 WHIP in 1,122.1 career innings pitched
Aaron vs. Bruce: 7-40 (.175), 6 strikeouts, 4 walks
Bruce was a stalwart in the Astrosâ€™ rotation from 1962-1966, topping out with a 15-9 record in 1964. For his career, though, the curveball specialist had a losing record and a 3.85 ERAâ€”nothing special in that low-scoring decade. In those five seasons, Aaron was averaging 38 homers a season with a .313/.382/.564 line. Bruce is the only pitcher to face Aaron at least 40 times and not allow an extra-base hit; all seven of Hankâ€™s hits off the righty were singles.
Willie McCovey: .270/.374/.515 in 9686 career plate appearances
Dick Ellsworth: 3.72 ERA, 1.331 WHIP in 2155.2 career innings pitched
McCovey vs. Ellsworth: 1-20 (.050), 7 strikeouts, 2 walks, 1 RBI, 1 GIDP
Ellsworth, a fastballing lefty, is one of only four pitchers since World War II to both win and lose at least 22 games in a season. The others: Robin Roberts, Denny McLain and Randy Jones. He is also the second-winningest Wyoming-born pitcher in baseball history, behind Tom Browning. This trivia obviously weighed heavily on the mind of McCovey, who managed to get only two balls out of the infield in 22 plate appearances against Ellsworth, who relied on a sinkerball.
Carl Yastrzemski: .285/.379/.462 in 11,988 career plate appearances
Bill Champion: 4.69 ERA, 1.525 WHIP in 804.1 career innings pitched
Yastrzemski vs. Champion: 1-20 (.050), 2 strikeouts, 5 walks
Champion topped out with 11 wins for the 1974 Brewers, and never made the playoffs. Against Yastrzemski, he may have had some luckâ€”among the 19 outs he recorded were three lineouts and only two strikeouts. He also walked Yaz 20 percent of the times he faced him. That is nothing compared to Milt Wilcox, who faced the Boston slugger 74 times and walked him 19 times.
Harmon Killebrew: .256/.376/.509 in 9,831 career plate appearances
Ike DeLock: 4.03 ERA, 1.426 WHIP in 12,380 career innings pitched
Killebrew vs. Delock: 8-46 (.174), 17 strikeouts, 4 walks
Delock featured a sinker and a curve, both of which were simply too much for Killebrew. On September 21, 1958, Killebrew represented the winning run for the last-place Senators, but made the final out by grounding out against Delock. The Hammer did, however, record his first career triple off Delock on May 22, 1959.
Johnny Bench: .267/.342/.476 in 8,669 career plate appearances
Mike Krukow: 3.90 ERA, 1.349 WHIP in 2,190.1 career innings pitched
Bench vs. Krukow: 2-25 (.080), 5 strikeouts, 1 walk
Krukow, a right-hander, developed a split-finger fastball at the Roger Craig Academy as a member of the Giants. His reward was a late-career resurgence, as he won 20 games in 1986 at age 34 and came in third in Cy Young voting. Bench reached base in three of their first four matchups, but was retired 22 times in a row after that.
Pete Rose: .303/.375/.409 in 15,861 career plate appearances
Don Nottebart: 3.65 ERA, 1.276 WHIP in 928.1 career innings pitched
Rose vs. Nottebart: 6-33 (.194), 9 strikeouts, 2 walks
Nottebart, a right-handed sinkerballer, had his heyday with the Astros from 1964-66, when he averaged 25 starts a season. Over Roseâ€™s long career, he recorded 451 hits against Houston, most of any team besides the Braves (486). Of the six hits he got off Nottebart, just one was for extra bases. Nottebartâ€™s 9 strikeouts of Rose are by far the most for Rose against a pitcher he saw fewer than 35 times.
George Brett: .305/.369/.487 in 11,624 career plate appearances
Scott Bailes: 4.95 ERA, 1.492 WHIP in 679.2 career innings pitched
Brett vs. Bailes: 4-23 (.174), 2 strikeouts, 2 walks, 1 RBI, 3 GIDPs
The left-handed Bailes threw a slowish fastball and slider and also mixed in a curveball early in his career, when he was a starter. He never struck out many battersâ€”fewer than five per nine innings in his careerâ€”and only got Brett out on strikes twice. Bailes is now a city councilman in Springfield, Missouri.
Tony Gwynn: .338/.388/.459 in 10,232 career plate appearances
Dan Schatzeder: 3.74 ERA, 1.315 WHIP in 1317 career innings pitched
Gwynn vs. Schatzeder: 2-18 (.111), 1 strikeout, 2 walks, 1 GIDP
Schatzeder, the pride of the University of Denver, pitched for nine teams in a 15-year career. He was the winning pitcher for the Twins in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series, but spent most of his career with the Expos.
It figures that even Schatzeder, Gwynnâ€™s peculiar nemesis, only got him on strikes once. No pitcher ever struck Tony Gwynn out 10 times in his career; Nolan Ryan came the closest, with nine. Greg Maddux faced Gwynn 103 times and never struck him out. The only other players with at least 8,000 plate appearances who were never whiffed ten times by one pitcher (since 1947): Nellie Fox, Jason Kendall and Mark Grace.
Barry Bonds: .298/.444/.607 in 12,606 career plate appearances
Paul Assenmacher: 3.53 ERA, 1.323 WHIP in 855.2 career innings pitched
Bonds vs. Assenmacher: 5-37, 12 strikeouts, 4 walks, 1 HR, 3 doubles, 4 RBIs.
Assenmacher, who threw a looping overhand curve, is tied for fifth in most strikeouts of Bonds, but is only 50th in plate appearances against him. On the other half of the ledger, only Bob Tewksburyâ€”another soft-tosserâ€”walked Bonds fewer times in at least 40 plate appearances.
Tied for fifth in most Ks of Bonds but only about 50th in PAs. With 40+ PAs, only one pitcher walked him fewer times: Bob Tewksbury (3 in 52). Neither man ever walked him intentionally. The pitcher who faced Bonds the most without ever issuing an IBB? Sid Fernandez, against whom Bonds went 18-69 with 10 walks.
Sources: Baseball-Reference Play Index; The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers.