When Danny Salazar exited last night's Cleveland Indians game, Cleveland.com's Zack Meisel noted that Salazar's pitching line (4 H, 1 ER, 6 BB, 10 K, 5.0 IP) looked like something you would see in a little league game. That made me curious: How often has something like this happened in the majors? As it turns out, not very often.
Part ineptitude from the Houston Astros offense and part just plain luck, Salazar loaded the bases and allowed zero runs in the first inning. Two of those first-inning base runners got on via walk, George Spring's free base coming on just four pitches. Salazar was able to get out of his own jam by striking out Colby Rasmus, Marwin Gonzalez, and Luis Valbuena, but by then he was already up over 30 pitches and there was no turning back: We were in weird baseball territory.
The strangeness did not stop there, either. Salazar just did not have anything going for him in the second inning. Seemingly everything was outside of the zone, but Astros batters just kept swinging. And once again, following an intentional walk of Jose Altuve and an unintentional walk of Springer, the bases were loaded again. By this point in the inning, Salazar already had two strikeouts in the inning, and he was able to get Carlos Correa to ground out to Francisco Lindor to end it there, yet again unscathed.
Over the next three innings, the story was basically the same. Salazar was wild, but the Astros lineup was feeling adventurous and wanted to see just how far they could chase a pitch out of the zone before their arms snapped off. When all was said and done, Salazar had a pitching line that a nine-year-old Little League star would be bragging about for weeks: 10 strikeouts, five walks, and only one earned run. However, Danny Salazar is a grown man with a grown man's beard, so he probably is not bragging about this one.
The mere act of striking out at least 10 batters and issuing at least five walks while only allowing one run or fewer to score is not that rare at all. Since 1913, the feat has been accomplished 130 times. However, it's usually reserved for pitchers who throw nine innings or more. While we rarely see pitchers go more than nine innings noawadays, 21 pitchers in the history of the game have had a similar line to Salazar in free baseball. Most notably, Jack Harsman struck out 12 Detroit Tigers batters and walked seven in 16.0 (!!) innings of work in 1954 on his way to a 1-0 victory.
The vast majority of these kinds of outings have come in nine-inning complete games -- 78 of them to be exact. Of those 78 nine-inning games, 55 were also shutouts (including one from Bob Feller in 1947). So, clearly, when a pitcher is walking this many batters and striking this many out -- which, more often than not indicates a high pitch count -- it's because the pitcher was doing so well that they were left in regardless of their inevitable noodle-arm. Although, curiously enough, only one of these type of games was also a no-hitter: Nolan Ryan's 4-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on September 28, 1974.
So, getting back to the exact kind of outing Salazar had (at least 10 strikeouts, at least 6 walks, and fewer than two earned runs in fewer than 6.0 innings). The only other pitcher to do such a thing was Baltimore Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on April 12, 2006. Cabrera's line was even more dramatic that day; he issued nine walks and only three hits in 117 pitches. His team lost that day as well, 7-4, but at least they were nice enough to do it in just nine innings.
What if a pitcher issued at least six walks and allowed five walks in five innings but they did not have such a great day, in the end? Well, outside of Salazar and the venerable Daniel Cabrera, only three pitchers have done a similar thing and allowed more than one run. David Purcey allowed four earned runs while striking out 10 and walking six in 2009 and Bobby Witt did it twice n 1986, allowing five earned runs and two earned runs against the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers, respectively.
So, what does all this tell us? Probably not a whole lot. Salazar had a weird day and it did not end in a catastrophe. Weirder things have happened, but now Daniel Cabrera can say his name was written on the internet again in 2016.
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All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index.