So I spent a few bucks and renewed my subscription to the Baseball Reference Play Index that I’d let lapse a few years back. It’s not that expensive, but it is a frivolous item for me since I don’t do anything at all professionally related to baseball. It’s a lot of fun though. So, starting with a search I did a number of years ago regarding most walks given up in a shutout, I decided to see what the most walks given up in a win was.
In the interim, the Play Index has been improved and expanded. When I had a subscription before it only searched games back to 1957, now it’s 1908 for the regular season and 1903 for the postseason. So the result set goes back a ways further and there’s quite a few folks (nearly 100) who have given up 10 BBs and still gotten the win. So limiting it to 11 we get a more manageable list of 32. Despite the rarity of it, two pitchers managed to do it twice; Bobo Newsom and Lefty Tyler both managed to throw complete games, win, and give up 11 walks more than once.
Most games on the list have surprisingly low runs allowed and the winning team has a lot of runs scored. Though, upon reflection, this does make sense; if a manager is going to risk leaving his pitcher in when he’s not on top of his control, odds are the pitcher isn’t giving up too many runs and the team is building him a pretty safe lead. The average runs scored behind the winning (walking) pitcher is 7.8, while the opponent average runs for the game is only 3.9. Moreover, the ERA for the pitchers actually doing the walking in these games is only 3.23 (if I’m doing my math correctly).
Another oddity is that only 4 of these games went to extra innings. You’d think that to rack up that many walks without surrendering too many runs, you’d need as many innings as possible, but most did it within the regulation 9 and only 19 of 32 pitched complete games. 3 didn’t make it through 7 innings and Bump Hadley in 1932 and Sammy Ellis in 1962 each only managed 5 innings.
There are fun things all over this list. In one of those Bobo Newsom games mentioned above, he managed to allow no more than 4 runs total, despite surrendering the 11 walks requisite for this list, plus 10 hits across 9 innings. Steve Barber in 1961 walked 11, struck out 11, and got the complete game win… yep, in 11 innings. Turns out my original search was also missing another shutout; because it only went back to 1957 at the time, it missed Lefty Gomez’ complete game shutout in 1941. (He did it with a lot more run support, and Stottlemyre did manage 8 and a third.)
But the most amazing game on this list, for my money, has to be the one I was searching for in the first place. The most walks given up in a single game by a winning pitcher is an astonishing 15, by Boardwalk Brown in 1913. He pitched the Philadelphia Athletics to a win, giving up 5 runs and walking 15 over only 7 and two-thirds. If you’re thinking, “Wow, he put nearly 2 men on base every inning on average”, you’re wrong. He also gave up 10 hits over those same 7.2, so he put more than 3 men on base per inning. Luckily, his team scored 16 behind him to secure the victory.
The fun facts never seem to stop. Detroit sent up a pinch hitter for their pitcher at a couple points, one of whom was rookie Wally Pipp. He had a solid career, but later secured lasting ignominy by being the man who was replaced by Lou Gehrig after taking a day off.
The Tigers managed to commit 7 errors leading to 7 unearned runs (the difference in the game!). 3 of the errors were made by Ty Cobb!
The A’s had a 10-1 lead going into the bottom of the 8th where Brown then gave up 4 earned and got yanked and replaced by… future Hall of Fame pitcher Eddie Plank. Plank started 30 games that year, but this was one of his 12 relief appearances that he also made. Didn’t go so well, though the A’s managed to score 6 in the top of the 9th to put the game away, Plank gave up a run in the bottom of the 8th before getting the final out of the inning, and then gave up another three in the bottom of the 9th, just to add some spice to the proceedings. Plank also walked one, making the team total 16.