A.J. Burnett has thrown a league-leading 23 wild pitches this year in 172.1 innings pitched, one of the grislier stats in an increasingly ugly season. How historic is that?
Well, among pitchers who have qualified for the ERA title since 1893 (the dawn of something like modern pitching, when the mound was moved back to 60 feet 6 inches), Burnett’s rate of one wild pitch per 7.493 innings pitched would be the highest by a fairly significant margin:
Red Ames’ 30 wild pitches qualifies as the post-1893 record. Needless to say, Nolan Ryan in 1981 is the only one of these guys to win the ERA title. (For curiosity – Sandy Koufax in 1958 would have made this list at #9 if he’d thrown just a few more innings). Among pitchers who threw at least 15 wild pitches but didn’t qualify for the ERA title, here’s the top 10; Burnett would rank 12th:
As you might imagine, this was the only season of Stu Flythe’s major league “pitching” career; he was not one of Connie Mack’s finer discoveries. Bobby Witt’s near-legendary rookie season missed by just a few innings topping Burnett.
It would not be useful to chart the guys with higher rates from the pre-1893 era, when you had guys with no catcher’s mitts or shin guards catching pitches thrown from 50 feet, often from a standing position several feet behind the plate. A few high points: Mark Baldwin threw the MLB-record 83 wild pitches (in 513.2 innings, one per 6.19 innings pitched) in 1889; Jim McElroy in 1884 threw 46 wild pitches in 116 innings, one every 2.52 innings pitched, the worst rate for anybody with 100 or more innings. A 19-year-old pitcher named Dan Collins threw 12 wild pitches in 11 innings in 1884; the only other guy to match that in more than 3 innings pitched was Rich Rodas, who threw 5 wild pitches in 4.2 innings for the Dodgers in 1983.
PS – A look at wild pitches on a per-pitch basis here. Funny fact: I saw a tweet linking to that a few days ago, favorited it (I have trouble clicking through links when reading Twitter from my Blackberry so I tend to favorite things to read later) and completely forgot about it until after I wrote this post and started getting a nagging feeling I’d seen something about Burnett’s historic wildness before.
UPDATED after the season: AJ improved just a bit to finish with 25 wild pitches in 190.1 IP, still easily the record (one every 7.61 IP, or every 33.48 batters faced). In the postseason he added 1 more in 5.2 innings, facing 24 batters.