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Is Koufax Overrated?
Posted: 06 September 2006 07:05 PM   [ Ignore ]

That ought to get some attention.  I was browsing through the 1962-1967 box scores for the LA Dodgers at, and I noticed something kind of peculiar:  Sandy Koufax rarely pitched against the #1 starter of the opposing team.  That was usually Drysdale’s job.

This leads me to wonder, in light of the debate over Drysdale’s suitability for the HOF (or HOM), how much Koufax’s records are inflated by who he pitched against.  I haven’t done a rigorous examination of the question, but not pitching against Marichal and Gibbons and their ilk must have helped a little.  Contrarywise, since Drysdale was almost always facing the ace of the other team’s staff, this might help explain why his W-L records are only a little above team.

Just a speculation, but I wonder if, when evaluating pitchers in the light of history, it isn’t relevant to consider who they compiled their stats against.


Posted: 07 September 2006 08:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]

You raise some interesting issues in your post—but, even without considering them, the answer to the question you pose in the title of the topic is most certainly “yes.”



Posted: 08 September 2006 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]

Drysdale started an inordinate number of games against the Braves and the Giants, who were major rivals of the Dodgers in the 50s and 60s respectively.  Koufax started much more “evenly” against all opponents, though fewer games against the Giants than any other opponents except the expansion teams.

Interestingly, both Koufax and Drysdale show 2.99 career ERAs against the Giants (for games that Retrosheet records on their split page).  But Koufax went 17-10 against them, and Drysdale went 30-31.  So there is doutbless something to the theory that Drysdale would draw the tougher pitching matchup.  But there could be other factors at work, including simply the strength of the Giant lineup during years when Drysdale was the top Dodger starter and Koufax was still in his early pitching wilderness, not starting as much against anybody. 

“Overrated” depends of course on how highly someone’s rated.  If people try to tell you that Koufax was the greatest pitcher who ever lived, they are really just incorrect.  If they try to tell you that he was the greatest National League pitcher 1963-66, they have some good points on their side.

Posted: 09 September 2006 09:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]

I’m more interested in the methodological aspect of the question than where Koufax stands.  It seems curious that from 62-67, his peak years when he was arguably that best NL pitcher, he was the #2 man in the Dodgers’s rotation.  Since Drysdale is kicked for not winning as much as he should have, and Koufax is lauded for being a big winner, the fact that Drysdale usually was pitching against the better opposition pitchers ought to be taken into consideration.


Posted: 10 September 2006 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]

There is a Primate who studied this type of stuff.  He goes by “Dag Nabbitt”.  I’ll see if I can summon him.


Designated Sitter: Occasionally brilliant, always astigamatic.

Posted: 11 September 2006 08:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]

I’ve looked at [bleep]loads of pitcher vs. team splits.  I actually have over 24,000 of them in one file.  The most innings any pitcher had against any single team in one year?  Don Drysdale, 1959, vs. the Braves.  That year the teams ended in a dead heat and the Dodgers won a best of 3 playoff.

Tangent:  Second most innings vs one team by a pitcher?  Toothpick Sam Jones.  Also 1959.  Also against the Braves.  Drysdale led the league in K’s.  Jones led the league in Wins, Shutouts, Opponent Batting Average and ERA.  Those two men combined for over 10% of all IP against the Braves that year.

Reason #321,438 why the Braves didn’t 3-peat as NL champs in ‘59.


I don’t know Jaffe from a hole in the wall; he’s not a friend of mine or something .  .  .  He does really good research. .  .  .  and I learned a great deal from reading his book. —Bill James

“Way back in the 20th century, Bill James wrote the first essential book about baseball managers. Chris Jaffe has just written the second.”—Rob Neyer

Posted: 22 September 2006 12:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]

Here’s a post I made exactly on this subject over a year ago.

I don’t think it’s undue praise at all.  Perhaps statistically Koufax does not compare favorably with certain other pitchers.  I’d agree that he (re: his career numbers) certainly does not compare favorably with other HOF pitchers, but “undue praise”?

Two things:  First of all, people that mention him in the same breath as Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson when talking about the greatest pitchers of all time are giving him undue praise.  Second, when the discussion comes up about great peaks, I always bring Pedro Martinez up, simply because he has probably the highest peak of all time of any pitcher.  Nine times out of ten someone will argue the case of Sandy Koufax.  I’d say both of these common situations qualify as undue praise because it’s really not even a question in either case.

Sandy’s numbers are inflated for a few reasons.  First, Dodger Stadium, a great pitchers’ park, opened in 1962.  At the same time, the strike zone was widened (edit:  by “widened” I actually mean stretched up to the shoulders, I believe) and the groundscrew at the stadium would raise the mound for he and Drysdale, as the rule enforcing the height of the mound was not very well enforced until after the ‘68 season when Gibson and McLain each won the Cy and MVP awards for the AL and NL, respectively.  That, along with the strike zone being contracted back to where it was before, ended the 2nd great pitchers’ era… 2 years after Sanford retired.

This raising of the mound is especially notable, since Sandy’s ERA was over a run higher on the road than in LA.

I think you need to listen more to what players say who played against him.  Listen to the announcers who watched his entire career.  Listen to the fans who saw him play.

Every time you hear a player, fan, or announcer talk about the good ole’ days, take it with a grain of salt.  I’m sure Sandy was one of the most feared players of his time to go against.  I know people that watch just about every Red Sox game, but really don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to baseball.  Nothing wrong with that, but personal observations don’t always hold up against the numbers, especialy when a guy pitched in an era favorable to his kind, in a stadium basically groomed for he and Mr. Drysdale, and who has a story of “going out on top” which the media ate up and regurgitated into what is today The Legend of Sandy Koufax.

He was phenomenal and like all phenomenons he didn’t last as long as we’d have liked.  It doesn’t mean what people say about him is untrue, or undue.  In fact, I’d say it’s hard to overstate just how good he was.

He was a great pitcher.  There’s no question about that.  However, while it may be hard to overstate how good he really was, people have found ways to do it for the last 39 years pretty well.

Posted: 29 September 2006 07:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]

The reason Koufax wasn’t pitching against Gibson and Marichal is that those two pitchers wouldn’t pitch against him, whenever possible.  Several times, Juan would “skip a day” when facing the Dodgers so he could go against Drysdale.

As far as whether to consider a pitcher’s opposition when considering their acreer, one must consider who they faced as batters, not the opposng pitcher.

Posted: 04 October 2006 09:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]

Whether or not this fact makes Koufax overrated, he still kills Pedro in peak value and it’s not close.

Posted: 15 October 2006 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]

I’ve been looking at Koufax and comparing him to Kevin Brown for at least a year now.  So far, what I’ve found is that, over their 6 year peaks (I chose this just to give Koufax an advantage), Brown is slightly more effective (160 ERA+ as near as I can tell, compared to 157 for Koufax), but Koufax pitched 250 more innings.  Of course, Brown has the advantage of 4 more full seasons we have to contend with (a full season being defined as 200+ IP), as well as another 5 of 100-200 IP (3 of which qualify for the ERA title), and 4 more years of 73.1, 63.2, 23.1, and 5 IP, while Koufax has 4 of 100-200 IP (1 ERA qualifying), and two more of 58.2 and 41.2 IP. Of course, you all can get this easily on BR. 

I want to ask my question thusly - if both Koufax and Brown were on the same HOM ballot, with no one else of any consequence to consider, who gets ranked #1?  I’m inclined to rank Brown ahead of Koufax, because of the greater number of good seasons, many of which are comparable, if you think about pitcher usage and how it has changed, as well as the advantages Koufax recieved (for instance, the mound, which may or may not have its full effect included in the park factors, I’m not sure).

Posted: 02 April 2009 02:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]

First of all, nowadays the term “overrated” most of the time is used as a synonym for “s*ck”. I would never use that definition to describe Koufax. If we are to be fair though, we must evaluate Koufax’s whole career.
His reputation has been fueled by a six-year (61-66) period which he was…well… God. The six years prior however, were mediocre at best.
If Koufax didn’t have to retire due to arthritis (or if a bold doctor suggested something akin to Tommy John surgery, and it worked), we wouldn’t be having this discussion. However, since he did, the answer to your query is yes.
In no way, however, did he s*ck.

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