Stopped Before Making His Start

Friend of the VORG Andrew H asked:

Now, there HAVE been plenty of starts where a pitcher was listed as not facing a single batter, with no pitches listed:

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP Pit BF
Orval Overall 1913-06-09 CHC NYG L 3-11 GS- 0.0 0
Don Newcombe 1960-07-17 (2) CIN PIT L 0-5 GS-1 0.0 0
Tom Brewer 1961-05-15 BOS CLE L 2-13 GS-1 0.0 0
Vicente Romo 1969-09-13 BOS NYY W 5-2 GS-1 0.0 0
Ed Halicki 1976-08-08 (1) SFG ATL L 1-2 GS-1 0.0 0
Nate Robertson 2005-07-08 DET TBD W 7-3 GS-1 0.0 0
Clayton Richard 2013-06-21 SDP LAD W 5-2 GS-1 0.0 0
Alex Wood 2015-07-09 ATL COL L 3-5 GS-1 0.0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/22/2016.

However, many of these games took place before pitch data was recorded for individual hurlers, so that makes the sluething a bit more difficult. Using game recaps from ESPN, The Sporting News, The New York Times and even fan baseball blogs, I was able to eliminate most of the games listed above. In most of these cases, the pitcher DID start the game and DID make AT LEAST one pitch, before (most of the time) leaving due to injury. However, the Official Baseball Rules state that:

If, when pitchers are changed, the count is
2 balls, 2 strikes,
1 ball, 2 strikes,
1 ball, 1 strike,
1 ball, no strike,
no ball, 2 strikes,
no ball, 1 strike,
the official scorer shall charge that batter and the actions
of that batter to the relief pitcher

That’s what happened in all but one of those cases. The “batter faced” ended up getting charged not to the starter, but to the reliever.

We did have exactly one instance of a pitcher making no pitches in a start:

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt
Don Newcombe 1960-07-17 (2) CIN PIT L 0-5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/22/2016.

So what happened to Newcombe? According to the New York Times recap of the game, “. . . the Reds’ starting pitcher in the second game, did not face a batter. The Pirates complained that his left shirt sleeve was fluttering. Newcombe changed, but was ejected when he continued the dispute. Cal McLish replaced Newcombe.”

The Sporting News reported it thusly, “Newcombe was slated to start for the Reds, but was thumbed before making pitch in argument with umpires, who had ordered him to change sweatshirt because one sleeve was shorter than other.”

Post-script: Less than 24 hours after originally posting this, Mariners starter Adrian Sampson injured himself during warmups for the bottom of the 1st inning in his start against the Tigers Thursday afternoon. He was immediately relieved by Vidal Nuno, but is still listed as the starting pitcher, with no pitches thrown. So we apparently now have our second-ever “zero-pitch start”.

3 thoughts on “Stopped Before Making His Start

  1. This refers to a relief appearance, not a start, but:
    On 9/15/71, Astros pitcher Larry Yount (older brother of Robin) was called upon to make his major league debut in the top of the ninth. He hurt himself while warming up, however, and that was it for his major league career. He’s credited with an appearance, but never threw a pitch.

  2. Hello Diane,

    Many people prefer to get the bad news out of the way first. It appears that some sinister person has ripped one or more pages out of your copy of the Official Baseball Rules.

    Better news. A complete copy of the Official Baseball Rules can be found online at
    http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/y2016/official_baseball_rules.pdf
    including this part:
    Rule 9.20 Comment: The official scorer shall credit a player
    with having played on defense if such player is on the field for
    at least one pitch or play.

    So, you are essentially searching for instances where the official scorer and/or Baseball Reference has failed to comply with the Official Baseball Rules. (Gratuitous remark about fish in a barrel omitted in the interest of diplomacy.) If the listed starting pitcher is not on the field for at least one pitch, he can neither be credited with a game pitched or a game started.

    Here is one example of a game where the listed starting pitcher faced zero batters and threw zero pitches, and the rules were correctly applied.
    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1987/B08030NYN1987.htm
    According to a comment in the Retrosheet event file, Sid Fernandez, the listed starter, was injured warming up. Correctly, he is credited neither with a game pitched or a game started, and this game is counted as an appearance in his batting statistics. Incorrectly, he is not listed in the box score, nor does this game appear in his batting game log at Retrosheet. No one said this was easy.

    The current rule has not always been in the book. Here is another example where the exact same thing happened, and the rules AT THE TIME were correctly applied.
    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1967/B09030SLN1967.htm
    Here, Don Wilson is correctly credited with one game pitched, one game started, and zero batters faced. This shows up as such on his game log pages at both Retrosheet and Baseball Reference, so whatever methodology you used to identify such games was almost perfect, ALMOST PERFECT being a special case of WRONG. No one said this was easy.

    In my sadly antiquated set of Retrosheet data, I find more than two dozen cases of a starting pitcher facing zero batters, including Wilson and the ones you listed. Pitches thrown is not an official statistic, but all the cases you rejected have a corroborating comment to that effect. To find the Fernandez-type cases, those where a listed but not statistically credited starting pitcher threw zero pitches, an ambitious researcher would need to search the comment records in Retrosheet’s raw event files, which have no fixed format, and are not always present in the Wilson-type cases.

    As for Adrian Sampson, although he is listed as a pitcher in the box score at both mlb.com and espn.com, his statistics and game logs pages at both sites correctly show that he was not credited with a game pitched on June 23. The box score at mlb.com shows Sampson with a Game Score of 40, which makes absolutely no sense, while the box score at espn.com correctly calculates a Game Score for Vidal Nuno, and correctly credits Nuno with the start on his player page.

    Although I lack the data to provide an exact count, the set of games started with zero batters faced and zero pitches thrown includes Don Newcombe, Don Wilson, and countless others, but not Adrian Sampson.

    Always enjoy reading your blog, and often learn something, even when the something I learn does neither me nor anyone else a bit of good. Did I mention that no one said this was easy?

    — Michael

  3. Going from memory: on 9/15/50, Cloyd Boyer was injured while warming up for his start. Red Munger was rushed in and wound up pitching the whole nine innings. Boyer was credited with the GS, Munger with the CG.

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