The coolest and dullest gopher ball pitchers ever

A few weeks ago, those of you out in reader-land came across an article here at THT: “The coolest and dullest homer hitters of all time.” It was a fun piece, and this is its sequel.

The previous piece’s premise was pretty basic: some home runs are more exciting than others, so let’s look through the home run logs to determine which batters were the most/least likely to hit some particularly fun homers. A “cool” homer is one that would be a highlight of any game you attended.

Since there are also home run logs for pitchers, that article can be flipped on its head: which hurlers surrendered the largest number and greatest percentage of especially cool homers?

By and large, it’s the same categories used in the previous cool/dull homer article. One or two changes have been made though. For one, multi-homer games aren’t counted. After all, while it’s impressive for a hitter to blast more than one in four or five at bats, a pitcher faces maybe 30 batters, so it’s less meaningful. One category replaces it: homers surrendered to the opposing pitchers. It’s cool to see a pitcher go deep on his rival. The other categories remain: grand slams, pinch-hit homers, lead-off homers, walk-off homers, inside-the-park homers, and extra-inning homers.

Some areas, such as walk-off homers and extra-inning shots, are the clear turf for relievers, while others, most obviously lead-off homers, belong to starters. In news that shouldn’t shock anyone, pitchers are different from hitters in how they are used.

To make sure everyone worth looking at is looked at, all the following pitchers are up for grabs here: 1) everyone who allowed at least 150 home runs in his career, 2) all pitchers with at least 500 relief appearances, and 3) all those with a minimum of 300 starts. In all, it works out to 677 pitchers.

Time for the coolest gopher ball pitchers ever, first category by category and then combined:

Lead-off homers

Let’s lead off with lead-offs. Here are the all-time champions at this unwanted way to begin. (Let’s throw in GS to see how many opportunities they had to allow lead offs):

Pitcher	        L.O.	GS
Pedro Martinez	19	409
Jeff Suppan	18	411
Jamie Moyer	17	628
Catfish Hunter	14	476
Phil Niekro	13	716
Woody Williams	13	330
Frank Tanana	13	616
Randy Johnson	13	603
Tony Cloninger	12	247
Rick Reuschel	12	529

Pedro? I never would’ve guessed such a great pitcher would be at the top of the heap. It’s supposed to be someone like Jeff Suppan: a pitcher good enough to last without ever appearing to be that good.

Tony Cloninger’s inclusion is impressive because he had the fewest starts and he is the oldest pitcher on the list. Just think: at one point someone with fewer than 250 starts held the record for most lead-off shots. Then Catfish Hunter broke his mark, and in the 21st century several pitchers topped Hunter. Before Cloninger, the record holder was Billy Pierce, the first man with double-digit lead-offs. Cloninger is more famous for another, much more positive home run feat: he once hit two grand slams in one game.

The most starts without allowing a lead-off? Eppa Rixey, with 554 GS, whose career began in the deadball era. Most starts by a lead-off homer-less pre-Ruth pitcher was Adonis Terry at 406. Most for a purely liveball pitcher was Mel Harder at 433 (only Rixey had more starts).

Since WWII, Dock Ellis has the most starts without ever allowing the first batter to round the bases against him: 317.

Brad Radke has his own claim to fame here, though: he once allowed lead-off home runs in three consecutive starts. As best as I can tell, that is the only time it’s ever happened in the majors: July 10-21, 2004.

Perhaps the greatest pitcher of our time is also the most prolific lead-off gopher-ball-allower of all time.

Walk-off homers

Let’s go to the other end of the game to shine a light on relievers. The following allowed the most game-ending (and thus game-losing) home runs:

Pitcher	       W-O
Roy Face	        17
Rollie Fingers	13
Randy Myers	12
Rich Gossage	11
Lindy McDaniel	11
Troy Percivel	11
Eddie Guardado	11
Jim Brewer	11
John Franco	10
Bruce Sutter	10
WillieHernandez	10

There are a lot of really good pitchers there, but that’s who you entrust with a close lead late in the game.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Roy Face wins easily. Face allowed 141 homers overall—one of the highest totals ever for a reliever (Lindy McDaniel is tops with 172, if you’re curious)—and nearly one in eight ended the game.

Of the men listed above, Rich Gossage allowed the most memorable walk-off, as Famous Amos Otis hit an inside-the-park walk-off on him once.

Most games ended in relief without ever allowing a walk-off dinger? As it happens, the first reliever still owns the title: Jack Quinn, who became MLB’s first full-time reliever 80 years ago. He ended 217 games in relief, but none ended with a walk-off.

Fun fact: since the 1960s, only once has a walk-off homer been hit by a pitcher: Craig Lefferts on April 25, 1986. Funner fact: Greg Minton allowed it. Minton is mostly famous as the man who tossed 270.1 straight IP without allowing any homers.

Pinch-hit homers

Relievers do very well in this category because most pinch-hit appearances occur later in the game. Here are the champs:

Pitcher	        PH	HRA
Jeff Reardon	20	109
Robin Roberts	15	505
Tug McGraw	14	108
Michael Jackson	13	127
Steve Bedrosian	13	114
WillieHernandez	13	 97
Eight tied	12	

They’re relievers, except Robin Roberts. He makes the list by combining many CG and 500+ homers.

Only one man allowed over 400 homers without any coming from a pinch hitter: Randy Johnson.

Grand slams

Here’s the main event. I nearly made this a separate column since there’s so much. First, who allowed the most?

Pitcher	      Slam	HRA
Kenny Rogers	11	339
Nolan Ryan	10	321
Michael Jackson	10	127
Milt Pappas	 9	298
Frank Viola	 9	294
Jerry Reuss	 9	245
Ned Garver	 9	213
Tom Gordon	 9	176
Lee Smith	 9	 89

Kenny Rogers broke Nolan Ryan’s record, which is nice because they were teammates for a spell.

The Lou Gehrig of pitchers: grand slam champion Kenny Rogers.

Going backwards through time, 19th century pitcher Jack Stivetts set a record by allowing six. That lasted until Larry French and Lon Warneke allowed seven, which survived until Ned Garver shattered it with nine. Then came Ryan and finally Rogers.

The really impressive ones above aren’t Ryan and Rogers but Michael Jackson and Lee Smith. It’s one thing for someone with 300+ homers to end near the top, but a reliever with around (or under!) 100? The heck?

Let’s take this a step further. Baseball Reference also lists (since 1950) how often each pitcher faced a batter with the bases loaded. That gives us a sense of opportunity. Let’s add that column in:

Pitcher	      Slam	HRA	Opor.
Kenny Rogers	11	339	309
Nolan Ryan	10	321	509
Michael Jackson	10	127	198
Milt Pappas	 9	298	169
Frank Viola	 9	294	188
Jerry Reuss	 9	245	269
Ned Garver	 9	213	
Tom Gordon	 9	176	236
Lee Smith	 9	 89	164

This data aren’t there for all Garver’s career, which is why his space is blank. What’s interesting is how often the relievers faced the bases loaded. It’s still less often than the starters, but the gap is narrowed considerably. Milt Pappas did worse than Jackson this way.

This opens up whole new avenues. For example: which pitcher has allowed the highest percentage of grand slams in his bases loaded situation? Cliff Lee: eight slams in 81 opportunities to be slammed. Then Dennis Rasmussen (7/86) and Paul Byrd (8/112).

At the other end are a bunch of guys with zero slams allowed. Jim Palmer famously never allowed a grand slam in his entire career, despite allowing 303 career homers. That’s the most homers allowed by someone with zero slams. Only Eddie Plank had more starts with no slams, and Plank had the advantage of pitching in the deadball era.

In fact, Palmer has the most homers allowed with someone who allowed one or zero slams. Billy Pierce almost matched him, allowing only one slam in his 284 homers allowed. Added bonus: that one slam was hit by Ellis Kinder—a pitcher!

At any rate, the next-most homers allowed by someone with no slams to his credit are: Harvey Haddix (240), Freddy Garcia (233), Mike Krukow (196), Mike Boddicker (188), and Ben Sheets (178). No one approaches Palmer still. But what happens when we shift from homers allowed to bases-loaded plate appearances?

Pitcher	        HRA	Loaded
Jim Palmer	303	213
Joaquin Andjuar	155	156
Doug Jones	 86	149
Mike Krukow	196	148
Harvey Haddix	240	147
Paul Lindlad	112	142
Paul Assenmachr	 73	142
Matt Morris	175	132
Gary Peters	157	131
Mike Boddicker	188	125

It’s still Palmer. It’s a pretty close pack after him, which serves to contrast how far ahead Palmer was.

All this talk of batters faced with the bases loaded brings up a side question: since 1950, who had the most such situations? These guys:

Pitcher	    Slam Op
Nolan Ryan	509
Tom Glavine	428
Steve Carlton	378
Phil Niekro	350
Randy Johnson	343

This is great for two reasons. First: check out how far ahead the Ryan Express is. That’s what happens when you walk far more batters than anyone else. Second, it introduces us to the wonder that was Tom Glavine.

He always had a reputation for being willing to walk a better batter and focus on the lesser ones. This proclivity for situational pitching comes through loud and clear in this data. Fifteen pitchers since 1950 had at least 300 plate appearances with the bases loaded. The other 14 each allowed at least five slams and averaged over seven. Glavine? Just two, despite having well over 400 plate appearances with the bases loaded.

There’s more to Glavine than that. I also tracked solo homers allowed and Glavine’s just as impressive there. Of his 356 homers allowed, 243 were solo shots, nearly 70 percent. Among the 677 pitchers in the database, Glavine’s solo percentage is sixth-highest. None of the guys ahead of Glavine are in the top 100 for career homers allowed. Glavine ranks 23rd in homers allowed.

Of the five ahead of Glavine, the man with the most homers allowed is Pedro Martinez, whose 239 homers are tied for 120th place. One hundred seventy of Martinez’s shots were solo ones (all those lead-off homers pay off here!), a scarcely better percentage than that of Glavine.

You know who was also good at situational pitching? Catfish Hunter. Not only did he have a high percentage of homers occur with no one on (250 of 374, 66.8 percent—not Glavine, but still excellent), but he also set an impressive record: most consecutive homers allowed that were not slams. Hunter allowed two slams and a rookie and none afterward: 362 straight homers without a slam. That’s more home runs than Palmer ever allowed.

Tom Glavine: the greatest situational pitcher of his generation.

Inside-the-park homers

There isn’t as much to say here. I wrote a column on this subject a ways back that covered it in much better detail.

The record holder list is dominated by deadball-era pitchers. That’s not surprising. Cy Young is all-time leader, with 54 insiders, followed by his one-time teammate Jack Powell with 40. Both of them started in the 19th century. Among purely 20th century pitchers, Rube Marquard reigns with 38. Among primarily liveball pitchers, Burliegh Grimes is tops with 23. For purely liveballers, its Earl Whitehill with 13. Bob Feller is the only living pitcher with double digit insiders, at 10. In contrast, among guys who pitched recently, the leader is Brett Tomko, with three.

Opposing pitcher homers

These are all fun lists, but this is one that was especially fun to research. This has got to be the most humiliating and humbling homers. Thus the men below are the most humiliated and humbled hurlers:

Pitcher	       PIT	HRA
Pedro Ramos	15	316
Kid Nichols	13	156
Frank Dwyer	13	108
Phil Niekro	12	482
Mickey Lolich	12	347
Gus Weyhing	12	120
Jim Whitney	12	 79
Early Wynn	11	338
Geo. Blaeholder	10	173
Jesse Haines	10	165
John Clarkson	10	159

Pedro Ramos twice allowed the opposing starter to homer twice in a game off of him. As it happens, though, none of his last 100 long balls allowed came from other pitchers.

As for the Deadballers on the list, though there were fewer home runs overall, the further back in time you go, the more complete games pitchers had (giving them more at-bats) and the better they hit (so they had more home runs).

That said, Jim Whitney’s record is especially impressive. No matter how you slice it, pitchers should’ve accounted for no more than one-ninth of the batters he faced, and yet they hit over 15 percent of all shots off of him. Other guys with over one-ninth of their homers coming from opposing pitchers are: Tommy Bond (looking only at post-National Association years), Frank Dwyer, Eddie, Plank, and Bill Dinneen. That’s it.

Most homers allowed without allowing one to the pitcher? It’s all-time gopher ball champion Jaime Moyer, with 511. That’s not fair: he was in a DH-league most of the time. The honor of most homers allowed in a league where pitchers batted without allowing one to a pitcher goes to Don Drysdale. None of his 280 homers allowed came from a hurler. To be fair, he also never had to face himself at the plate, and he was famously one of the best slugging pitchers of all time.

Drysdale does have one ignominious gopher ball claim to fame. On Opening Day 1969, he allowed the first batter of the year to go deep on him. That’s bad, but others have done that too. However, no one else ever allowed the second batter to also crush a homer off of him, but Drysdale did. Heck of a way to start the year. He made up for it by shutting down the opposition after that and winning 3-2. Actually, Drysdale has another nice homer-related claim to fame: though he only allowed three grand slams, two were hit by the same guy. It was Hank Aaron.

Extra-inning homers

Predictably, relievers dominate here:

Pitcher	      X-in	HRA
Roy Face	21	141
Rod Beck	        15	 97
Eddie Guadardo	15	138
WillieHernandez	15	 97
Hoyt Wilhelm	14	150
Rollie Fingers	14	123
Lindy McDaniel	13	172
Randy Myers	13	 69
Jesse Orosco	13	113
Johnny Sain	12	180

Roy Face’s high total makes sense, given his similarly high walk-off home run total. Eight of his extra-inning shots were walk-offs. Actually, several names are on both extra-inning and walk-off lists, which sounds right. Randy Myers has the highest percentage of homers from extra-innings. Sain, though famous as a starter, allowed only two walk-offs in contests he started.

Adding it up

So how to add the above to determine the coolest and dullest gopher ball pitchers? First, let’s note this is entirely arbitrary. That’s OK, because—and there’s no point in kidding anyone about this—ranking them by coolest is just a gimmick to present all these lists in one column.

No matter how it’s done, some groups will be preferred: deadballers with their inside-the-park homers; relievers with pinch hits, walk-offs, and extra-innings; and starters with leadoffs. There are two ways of looking at it: raw score (based on coolness points given for the above categories), and percentage, Cool Gopher Ball (CGB) score divided by total homers allowed.

One limitation to add: look at only guys who allowed 200 or more homers. The others helped flesh out the above lists, but like batting average, you need a minimal sample size to qualify for the CGB formula. That tosses out most relievers and deadballers.

Ultimately, the formula is:

1.5 times grand slams, plus

1.5 times pinch-hit homers, plus

1.5 times lead-off homers, plus

Two times homers by opposing pitchers, plus

Two times walk-off homers, plus

Inside the park homers, plus

Extra inning homers.

Basically, I think walk-off and opposing pitcher homers are the coolest, so they rank the highest. Extra inning homers are nice, but not as impressive and also the most irrelevant as they’re almost all used by relievers with under 200 career homers allowed. Insiders have more to do with the hitters, fielders, and park than the pitchers.

Add it all up and the highest raw score is 86, by Elroy Face. That isn’t too surprising. He only allowed 141 homers overall, so he won’t qualify for the percentage. Next highest is Cy Young with a CGB of 80, in his 138 homers allowed. Thanks, inside-the-park homers. Then you finally get someone with over 150 career homers allowed: Robin Roberts, with 78.5 CGB in his 505 homers allowed.

What are the top percentages? Among men with 150+ homers allowed, these guys:

Pitcher	        HRA	 CGB         %
Ted Lyons	223	  61	27.35% 
Wilbur Wood	209	54.5	26.08%
John Klippstein	203	  51	25.12%
Bob Forsch	216	53.5	24.77%
Stan Bahnsen	223	  50	22.42%
Ron Kline	        217	  48	22.12%
Pedro Ramos	316	69.5	21.99%
Early Wynn	338	  71	21.01%
Juan Pizarro	201	  41	20.40%
Jim Lonborg	233	  47	20.17%

Most of these guys worked as relievers and starters, which makes sense. If Face allowed 59 more homers with zero coolness points, he’d still stomp on this field.

Ted Lyons allowed six walk-offs, five lead-offs, five by opposing pitchers, three pinch-hit ones, six slams, seven extra-inning ones, and 11 insiders. That’s some nice, well-rounded coolness.

The best percentage among the 400+ homer pitchers is Robin Roberts, though Gaylord Perry (399 HR) topped him.

And now, for the dullest percentages:

Pitcher	        HRA	 CGB	    %
Mike Mussina	376	  12	3.19%
Kevin Tapani	260	   9	3.46%
Dennis Leonard	202	 8.5	4.21%
Doyle Alexander	324	  14	4.32%
Rick Reed	213	 9.5	4.46%
Sidney Ponson	223	10.5	4.71%
Charles Nagy	217	10.5	4.84%
Bartolo Colon	256	12.5	4.88%
Jimmy Key	254	12.5	4.92%
Esteban Loaiza	259	13.5	5.21%

Mussina never allowed an opposing pitcher homer (thanks, DH!), or a walk-off, or an insider, or an extra-inning one, and only one pinch-hit, three lead-off, and four slams.

Actually, let’s note the real dullest gopher ball pitcher: Dock Ellis. His 140 homers earned him four CGB: an insider and two slams. That’s it. He was shut out in the other categories.

Mike Mussina: even the homers he allows don’t attract attention.

References & Resources
This column was based on big heaping gobs of research done at the Home Run Logs at

The bit about only one pitcher hitting a walk-off HR in the last 40 years came from this post at the B-Ref Blog.

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11 years ago

For leadoff homers it’s not just a deadball/liveball issue but an era adjustment for pre and post-Bobby Bonds.  The elder Bonds would be the only leadoff homer threat in Dock Ellis’ day whereas in Pedro’s day there wasn’t just an overall homer increase but specifically a change from middle infielders and centerfielders (likely leadoff hitters) going from like 5 HR to 15 HR/year.

11 years ago

How about Jack Fisher, career 193 homers yielded, but several were notable.. the long ball to Ted Williams in his final at bat, of course the 60th of the season in 1961 to Roger Maris, and last but probably least the first home run ever at Shea Stadium