Bronson Arroyo and 40-Homer Pitchers

As of this writing, Bronson Arroyo is making his 31st start of the season. Remarkably — perhaps because his opponent is the hapless Houston Astros — he hasn’t given up a home run (or even an earned run) through eight scoreless innings (as of press time).

This is remarkable because through Arroyo’s first 30 starts and 182 innings he had allowed a whopping 44 home runs. He is only the sixth player in history to ever reach this mark and only the 23rd pitcher to ever allow even 40 home runs in a season. Of both groups, Arroyo’s 182 innings is the lowest (second is Eric Milton‘s forgettable 2005 campaign, also coming as a member of the Reds). Only Shawn Boskie’s 1996 campaign featured fewer starts (28), and he also made nine relief appearances.

Interestingly enough, this 40-homer club actually features some of the best pitchers of all time, and it even includes a few very solid seasons. Among these 23 seasons we see Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven (twice), Robin Roberts (thrice), Ferguson Jenkins and Phil Niekro (twice), as well as Jack Morris, who remains on the ballot. And although giving up home runs is obviously the worst possible outcome for a pitcher, most of these guys still managed to perform well even with 40 or more homers allowed.

Arguably, the best season of the bunch comes from Morris, who allowed 40 home runs in 1986. He threw 267 innings, for a poor 1.4 HR/9, but he also had one of his best years control-wise, walking only 2.7 batters per nine innings (perhaps related?). He ended with a 98 FIP- and, thanks to an 81% strand rate, a very solid 80 ERA- (3.27 raw ERA). If there’s any competition, it comes from Roberts’s 1955 campaign, in which he allowed 41 bombs in 305 innings, recording a 3.61 FIP (90 FIP-) and 3.28 ERA (83 ERA-). Morris recorded a 3.9 fWAR and a 4.7 bWAR; we don’t have fWAR for Roberts’s season, but his 1955 was worth 4.1 bWAR.

In all, seven of these seasons were worth an ERA- of 85 or better and 11 of the 23 were average or better by ERA-, which shouldn’t be surprising — if these pitchers didn’t offer other skills, they wouldn’t have been allowed to pitch enough innings to tally 40 home runs allowed.

At least, that’s true if they were on good enough teams. Eric Milton had a 151 ERA- for the Reds in 2005, the worst of the entire group, but that Reds’ team was littered with ERA- totals approaching 200 or higher. Remember Luke Hudson? Me neither.

That seems to be the case for this year’s example, Bronson Arroyo. He carried an ERA- of 137 into Wednesday’s tilt, and even with a very solid start against Houston, he’ll likely end up with the second-worst ERA- of the group, with only Milton posting the more futile season. The Reds pitching depth fell like flies over the season. With Johnny Cueto missing time due to injury, Edinson Volquez failing to find the magic, and players like Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney simply not good enough, Arroyo was forced to slog through the season. At least it looks like he’ll fall short of setting one of baseball’s more dubious records.

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The amazing stat is that Bert Blyleven gave up 50 homers one year!! Wow!!
(he also gave up two inside the park homers to Dick Allen in the same game in 1972)

Barkey Walker
Barkey Walker

Blyleven was a very frustrating pitcher, he had a huge number of shutouts (especially given how recently he pitched) but also a huge number of blowouts. I think this is part of why he did so poorly until the Saber folks came along and helped him out.