Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pitching Twice Your Age

Yesterday, Bill over at The Daily Something discussed Tuesday night's matchup between the 46-year old Jamie Moyer and the 23-year old David Price. The most interesting aspect of the game to Bill seemed to be the fact that Moyer is literally twice Price's age, at least when you're looking at seasonal ages. This is what Bill had to say:
"I don't think baseball-reference or retrosheet can do this yet (I could be wrong), but I'd really like to know how often one starting pitcher in a game has been twice the (seasonal) age of the opposing starting pitcher. I bet you could find a bunch of them just by looking at the last few years of the likes of Moyer, Ryan and Johnson and the first few of Feller and Newhouser. But anyway...I'd like to know, but not enough to actually go looking."
Well, if there's one thing I like to do, it's check out random queries like that, so I thought I'd give it a try. Using the games found in the Retrosheet database (all 100,000+ of them), I found the seasonal age of each game's two starting pitchers and found the difference in the two pitchers' ages. From there, it's plenty simple to find the games where one starting pitcher was at least twice the age of the other starting pitcher.

As of the end of the 2008 season (so Tuesday's game between Moyer and Price isn't counted here), there have been only 86 games in the Retrosheet era where one pitcher was twice the other's age. Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by a few men (after all, it's not like there are dozens of 40-year old pitchers in the league every year), but none more so than Phil Niekro. Of the 86 games, the elder Niekro brother is responsible for 25 of them. Nolan Ryan appears on the list next most often, with 11 games.

The games with the biggest difference in ages between the two pitchers are:
Largest Difference in Age Between Two Pitchers
(Older Pitcher at Least Twice the Age of Younger Pitcher)

Date......Older Pitcher..Seas Age..Younger Pitcher...Seas Age..Difference
9/25/65...Satchel Paige.....58.....Bill Monbouquette....28.........30
9/8/85....Phil Niekro.......46.....Jose Rijo............20.........26*
5/9/86....Phil Niekro.......47.....Joel Davis...........21.........26*
5/3/86....Phil Niekro.......47.....Joel Davis...........21.........26*
5/30/86...Phil Niekro.......47.....Juan Nieves..........21.........26*
6/25/65...Warren Spahn......44.....Larry Dierker........18.........26*

* Sorted by difference in actual age, largest to smallest

I should have guessed that the Satchel Paige game would sit at the top of the list. When the oldest pitcher to ever pitch in a game is 58 years old, then it's to be expected that he would account for the largest difference in age between starting pitchers. Beyond that game, which is really a unique event and outside of the standard flow of the season, the September game between Phil Niekro and Jose Rijo becomes the game with the biggest age difference between starters.

The game did not go as you might expect, with a young phenom fireballer facing the ancient knuckler. Rijo could not get out of the 2nd inning, giving up 6 runs on 5 hits and 4 walks (though he did strikeout 3 of the 5 batters that he retired). Niekro, on the other hand, went six full innings before being taken out in the 7th after walking the leadoff hitter. Overall, he gave up 4 earned runs on 4 hits and 5 walks (with 6 strikeouts thrown in there). Niekro's Yankees beat Rijo's A's 9-6 that night.

The next six spots on the list have an age difference of 25 years; they all belong to Phil Niekro. You can see the full list of the games here (only the games shown above are sorted by difference in actual age).

And, just to finish off the topic, here is the full list of pitchers who show up on the list more than once. As I said before, it's pretty top-heavy with the same names. The Phil Niekro number is pretty incredible, but I also like how his brother Joe shows up a few times too. What an interesting pair of brothers.
Phil Niekro......25
Nolan Ryan.......11
Warren Spahn......7
Jamie Moyer.......5
Joe Niekro........4
Charlie Hough.....4
Gaylord Perry.....4
Tommy John........3
Roger Clemens.....3
Randy Johnson.....3
Murry Dickson.....3
David Wells.......2
Steve Carlton.....2
One last thing: this list only shows those pitchers who were twice the age or older of their opponent. There are a number of other games where one pitcher was 20 or 21 or even 22 years older than his opponent but wouldn't show up on this list because the opponent was, for example, 24 years old. The first example of that doesn't show up until you get down to the 23-year age differences (where, once again, it's a 48-year old Phil Niekro facing a 25-year old Joe Johnson).


Bill said...

Wow, nice work, Lar. I obviously didn't think that hard about it -- I talked quite a bit about Niekro later on in that post, but didn't think to mention him in the part you quoted. Totally forgot about Satchel.

I really need to get more familiar with retrosheet. I haven't the faintest idea of how to make it do something like that.

Ron Rollins said...

Thy this link. It can explain how if no one else does first.

Bill said...

Thanks, Ron. I've bookmarked it for when I have time to do all the things the author was presuming I was already doing. :)

lar said...

That link the Ron gave is great. It's what I used to get my retrosheet database set-up. My job has to do with running SQL queries and such, though, so it wasn't too hard for me to figure out how to get to the data once it was set-up. If you're not familiar with SQL, it might take a little more work.

Colin Wyers, who wrote that primer, also set up a wiki for this kind of thing. It didn't really get much traction, so there isn't a whole lot there, but it's good to know about anyway: BaSQL Wiki. I really should see about contributing more...

Ron Rollins said...


Thanks for the other link. I hadn't seen that before. I have so many ideas for posts if I can just get the time to learn the database set up.

It's a great tool, and perfect for bloggers.