SweetSpot: George Witt

Halladay's historic home-mound hurling

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
11:15
AM ET
Roy HalladayAP Photo/H. Rumph JrRoy Halladay has been at his best when pitching at Citizens Bank Park.
One of the neat things about this being such a fine season for pitching is that there are some great examples of incredible home-field dominance by moundsmen.

Angels starter Jered Weaver continued his remarkable season pitching in spacious Anaheim, lowering his ERA there to 1.38 after a win on Wednesday. (Good luck guessing who the last pitcher was to finish a season with at least 70 innings and a home ERA that low.) And Brewers ace Zack Greinke has not disappointed at Miller Park this season, where he puts a perfect 9-0 mark on the line on Sunday against the Cubs.

Those are impressive numbers for the statistical traditionalists, but it is Roy Halladay’s performance at Citizens Bank Park that may rank among the most amazing in the history of the sport. He’ll be pitching there again against the Marlins on Saturday.

Why is Doc’s performance so remarkable? Because of these three numbers in his 104 2/3 innings pitched: 102 strikeouts, eight walks and two home runs allowed. In the world of Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), a statistic that estimates ERA based on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed, this translates to a 1.56 FIP. That’s stratospherically good.



Granted, the 2011 version of Citizen’s Bank Park is not playing as the hitter’s ballpark that it’s usually made out to be (check out ESPN.com’s Ballpark Factor page for more), but that troika of dominance still strikes us as a remarkable combination of numbers.

It got us to thinking about other sorts of home-field domination by pitchers. We circled back to the first full season after World War II ended (1946) and with the help of a few resources (including avid Baseball Today podcast listener Naveen) we came up with a few other examples.

How do you think Halladay, Greinke and Weaver compares to these?

Satchel Paige, 1952 St. Louis Browns
Paige had among the most divergent home-road splits of any pitcher ever. He pitched 70 1/3 innings at home, 67 1/3 on the road, and this is what he netted:

Home: 9-0, 1.27 ERA, 8 saves (though saves weren’t "official" stats then)
Road: 3-10, 4.95 ERA, 2 saves

These issues mirrored those of his Browns teammates. The team finished 42-35 at home, 22-55 on the road.

George "Red" Witt, 1958 Pirates
There have only been two seasons since World War II in which a pitcher threw at least 75 innings at home and posted a home ERA below 1.00. Witt’s 1958 season is one of them. It remains as a statistical memory of one of baseball’s forgotten all-time great prospects.



In 1958, Witt was recalled from the minors and was awesome, 9-2 in 18 games (15 starts) with a 1.61 ERA. He put on an amazing show in 10 appearances at Forbes Field, allowing seven runs (five earned) in 75 2/3 innings pitched (an 0.59 ERA), not allowing a home run.

Witt hurt his arm the next spring and the injury proved to be a career-wrecker. He went 2-13 with a 6.29 ERA over the next four seasons, though he did earn a World Series ring with the 1960 Pirates.

Sandy Koufax, 1964 Dodgers
We didn’t want to make this a list of pitchers who were overwhelmingly dominant regardless of venue, but felt we had to include Koufax. He’s the other of the two pitchers to post a sub-1.00 ERA at home, finishing 1964 at 0.85.

There’s a good debate over which Koufax home season was better. This one, or 1965. Here are the numbers; you be the judge:

1964: 12-2, 0.85 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 8.7 K per 9, 6.9 K per BB
1965: 14-3, 1.38 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 11.0 K per 9, 6.7 K per BB

Roger Nelson, 1972 Royals
Four of the five best seasons for home-ballpark WHIP since World War II were thrown by Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal. The fifth was by Nelson (nickname "Spider") who allowed just 45 hits and 15 walks in 76 2/3 innings pitched in at Royals Stadium in 1972.

Nelson appears to have been the beneficiary of the ballpark’s spacious outfield. He allowed just three home runs (one every 25 innings) in Kansas City, yielding 10 (one every 9.6 innings) in other venues.

Nolan Ryan, 1972 Angels
There has been talk about how no one benefits more from his home ballpark than Weaver. But Weaver’s home-road statistical differentials pale in comparison to those for Ryan in Anaheim in 1972:

Home: 13-8, 1.07 ERA, .438 opp OPS, 220 K, 89 BB, 22 starts
Away: 6-8, 4.26 ERA, .694 opp OPS, 109 K, 68 BB, 17 starts

These splits raise about 15 different questions, most notably: How the heck do you lose eight games at home, pitching to a 1.07 ERA? Easy, actually, because he lost 1-0 twice, 2-0 twice, and 2-1 twice (his other losses were 3-0 and 4-3).

One last Ryan note from that season: From July 5 to August 9, Ryan made five home starts. In 42 innings, he allowed two runs (one earned) and 11(!) hits, striking out 58 and walking 21. He went 3-2 in those five starts, as this stretch included both of his 1-0 losses.

Steve Stone, 1979 Orioles
The Elias Sports Bureau directed us Stone’s way because of the odd form of his home dominance and a disparity in home-road split for which there may be no equal. Stone was 8-1 with a 1.97 ERA at Memorial Stadium, averaging just 4.6 K/9. Stone paid the price for the inability to overpower on the road, where he had a 6.66 ERA in the same number of starts he made at home (16).

Dwight Gooden, 1984 Mets
That’s not a typo. We’re listing the 1984 version of Gooden and not the 1985 version, partly at Naveen’s suggestion, because Gooden was amazing wherever he was pitching in 1985. In 1984, Gooden was a baseball phenomenon, akin to Fernando Valenzuela three years prior. He built a home-field advantage in the form of the K Corner fan base in Shea Stadium’s upper deck.

“It helped because if I got two strikes, on anything close, the hitter was going to swing, or the umpire was going to ring him up,” said Gooden, who averaged nearly 12 strikeouts-per-nine innings at home (and gave up only three home runs in 118 1/3 innings pitched) during an appearance at ESPN Thursday.

Orel Hershiser, 1985 Dodgers
Few outside Los Angeles may remember that Hershiser was 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA in 1985, partly because of Gooden’s 24-4, 1.53 ERA and partly because of what Hershiser did three seasons later. But Hershiser had one heck of a home run that 1985 season. He was 11-0 with a 1.08 ERA, allowing 16 earned runs and just four home runs in 133 1/3 innings pitched. That included one-hit shutouts of both the Padres and Pirates.

And yes, we’re listing a bunch of Dodger Stadium examples. Because we want to spread the wealth, we limited it to those two, which means omitting the great Valenzuela season in 1981.

Johan Santana, 2006 Twins
Santana was basically perfect in his home ballpark. He finished with a 12-0 mark and a 2.19 ERA. Santana was the first pitcher to finish a season 12-0 or better at home since Billy Pierce went 12-0 at Candlestick Park for the 1962 Giants, the first AL pitcher to do so since Boo Ferriss was 13-0 (with a 3.85 ERA) for the 1946 Red Sox.



Santana’s home winning streak ended up at 17 games, but it is not the longest in modern major league history. Ray Kremer won 23 in a row for the Pirates in 1926-1927.

Josh Johnson, 2010 Marlins
To find a pitcher with comparable home ballpark dominance to Halladay, you have to go back to … last season. In 103 1/3 innings at Sun Life Stadium, Johnson struck out 127, walked 21, and yielded just two home runs. At 1.54, his FIP actually comes out slightly better than Halladay’s. But there’s a big difference between doing that sort of thing in the soon-to-be-abandoned Marlins home ballpark, which usually doesn’t rate homer-friendly and doing it in Citizens Bank Park.

Honorable Mentions: Courtesy of Naveen, a few others of a ridiculously good home-field advantage nature: Juan Marichal (1966, 1969 Giants), Bert Blyleven (1974 Twins), Jon Matlack (1978 Rangers), Bob Tewksbury (1992 Cardinals), Roger Clemens (1997 Blue Jays), Kevin Brown (1999, 2000 Dodgers), Jake Peavy (2008 Padres) and Tim Lincecum (2009 Giants).

Lastly our trivia answer: Mike Morgan was the last pitcher to finish a season with a home ERA that matched or bettered where Weaver is now. Morgan must have gotten the benefit of Wrigley Field a few times. He finished with a home ERA of 1.38 for the 1992 Cubs.

Mark Simon is the Baseball Research Specialist for ESPN Stats and Information. He thinks 1986 is the best baseball season ever. Follow Mark on Twitter @msimonespn and the Mets blog at ESPNNewYork.

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