Sandy Koufax and “Sabbathmetrics”


Sundown Friday will mark the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.  It is a day of atonement, and one is to refrain from work, while attending synagogue and fasting.  This year, Yom Kippur happens to fall on the Sabbath, which itself is a period for rest and reflection.  For Jewish professional athletes, this can sometimes cause some conflict.

In baseball history, there have been roughly 125 Jewish players.  One of the most famous would undoubtedly be the Hall of Fame lefty Sandy Koufax.  In October 1965, in the midst of another typically great season, he refused to pitch game one of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.  (Hank Greenberg, in a similar circumstance in 1934, also refused to play.)

As we approach Yom Kippur, and watch the exploits of Jewish players such as Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler, the VORG wonders if these players perform worse on the Sabbath.  Thus is born a new feature here: “Sabbathmetrics”.

Today we’ll examine Koufax’s record on the Sabbath versus the rest of the week.  We parsed out all of Koufax’s starts by Sabbath/non-Sabbath and here is what it showed:

Though Koufax was dominant and brilliant in virtually every situation (once he learned to take a little bit off of his fastball, and was moved to the rotation full-time), he actually performed slightly better in “non-Sabbath” games.  He had a much better walk rate and WHIP, and his ERA and  winning percentage were improved (the usual caveats about a pitcher’s win-loss record notwithstanding).  His game score, hits per nine innings and homers per nine were virtually the same in both situations. The only meaningful category that he performed significantly worse in during non-Sabbath games was K/9.

While understanding that Koufax made nearly four times as many starts during non-Sabbath days, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t pitch any of his four no-hitters during a Sabbath.

That’s all for this edition of Sabbathmetrics.

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