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Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin
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. I recently found another cool factoid about him: he pitched the entire 2011 season (165.1 innings) without allowing a stolen base. What other pitchers have managed this feat since 1950?

Below is a list of the 22 seasons in which a pitcher has qualified for the ERA title yet not allowed any stolen bases. Caught stealing statistics didn’t start being kept reliably until 1950, so I’ve limited this to the seasons since then. The list is sorted by fewest caught-stealings (and thus fewest attempted steals).

Rk Player SB% SB CS Year Tm IP ERA ERA+ PO BK
1 Josh Tomlin
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n/a 0 0 2011 CLE
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165.1 4.25 93 1 0
Max Lanier
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n/a 0 0 1950 STL
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181.1 3.13 137 0 5
3 Kenny Rogers
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0% 0 1 2002 TEX
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210.2 3.84 124 1 1
Terry Mulholland
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0% 0 1 1994 NYY
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120.2 6.49 71 1 0
Whitey Ford
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0% 0 1 1964 NYY
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244.2 2.13 170 4 0
6 Rick Honeycutt
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0% 0 2 1981 TEX
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127.2 3.31 104 2 0
Don Rudolph
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0% 0 2 1962 TOT 176.2 3.62 112 1 1
8 Chris Carpenter
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0% 0 3 2004 STL
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182.0 3.46 124 0 0
Whitey Ford
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0% 0 3 1961 NYY
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283.0 3.21 117 4 0
Billy Pierce
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0% 0 3 1960 CHW
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196.1 3.62 105 1 0
Whitey Ford
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0% 0 3 1959 NYY
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204.0 3.04 119 3 1
Ned Garver
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0% 0 3 1950 SLB
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260.0 3.39 146 0 1
13 Jonathon Niese
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0% 0 4 2010 NYM
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173.2 4.20 93 1 0
Mickey McDermott
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0% 0 4 1952 BOS
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162.0 3.72 106 0 0
Max Lanier
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0% 0 4 1951 STL
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160.0 3.26 122 2 1
16 Carl Erskine
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0% 0 5 1956 BRO
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186.1 4.25 95 2 0
17 Jarrod Washburn
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0% 0 6 2005 LAA
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177.1 3.20 133 2 0
Bob Porterfield
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0% 0 6 1954 WSH
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244.0 3.32 108 0 0
19 Chris Hammond
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0% 0 7 1995 FLA
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161.0 3.80 111 4 1
Geoff Zahn
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0% 0 7 1984 CAL
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199.1 3.12 129 3 0
Whitey Ford
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0% 0 7 1958 NYY
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219.1 2.01 177 6 1
22 Luis Tiant
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0% 0 9 1968 CLE
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258.1 1.60 186 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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: View Play Index Tool Used
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Generated 2/14/2012.

As it turns out, Tomlin’s season was even more amazing than it appeared at first glance. Not only did he not allow any steals–he didn’t allow any steal attempts. That makes him only the second pitcher to qualify for the ERA title without having any steals attempted off of him, and the first such pitcher since 1950.

This is particularly impressive to me, since Tomlin is right-handed; the stereotypical impossible-to-steal-against pitchers seem to always be lefties. In fact, 16 of the 22 seasons on this list are by lefties. Aside from Tomlin, only Chris Carpenter

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, Ned Garver
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, Carl Erskine
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, Bob Porterfield
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, and Luis Tiant
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are right-handed.

In 2010, Tomlin’s rookie year, runners attempted 5 steals, and 3 of them were caught stealing. In a fun twist, both of the successful steals came on the same play in this game

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: a double-steal by Mitch Maier
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(who stole second) and Yuniesky Betancourt
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(who stole home!). So half of the steals that Tomlin has allowed in his career were of home plate. That has to be the highest such ratio ever.

The only other pitcher to go a full season without any steal attempts is Max Lanier

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in 1950. We don’t have records for Lanier’s full career (he pitched in 14 seasons starting in 1938), but in his last 4 seasons from 1950 to 1953, he allowed just 9 steal attempts, none of which were successful. He also added 6 pickoffs in that time. Lanier has two seasons on the list; the other is his 1951, when runners were 0/4.

Based on the 5 balks in 1950, I want to think that Lanier had one of those borderline-illegal moves to 1st base… though he only had 3 balks in the rest of his career, so who knows? That would certainly help explain his absolute dominance in preventing steals.

The only pitcher with more seasons on the list than Lanier is Whitey Ford

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, who had 4 seasons with 0 steals allowed. Overall, runners stole just 29 bases off of Ford in his 16-year career, versus 55 times caught stealing. That’s a measly 34.5% success rate. Actually, those numbers look even better if you ignore the last few seasons of Ford’s career (in which he must have lost his touch). In his first 13 seasons, runners stole 19 bases and were caught 51 times, a 27.1% success rate. Between 1955 and 1961, runners attempted just 29 steals off Ford (about 4 per year) and were successful just 7 times (24.1%).

Oh, and in those 4 seasons on the list, Ford also had 17 pickoffs. So that’s a total of 31 outs on the bases without a single steal over those 4 (non-consecutive) seasons.

Ford had two of the best seasons on the list, posting ERA+ marks of 170 in 1964 and 177 in 1958. Only Tiant’s incredible 1968, in which he had a 186 ERA+ and a 1.86 ERA, is better than those two seasons. And actually, it’s another Ford season that may be the most impressive of all. In 1961, Ford pitched a league-leading 283 innings and didn’t allow a single steal. That’s easily the most innings with no SBs allowed.

Tiant’s 1968 is notable for another reason–he had the most stolen base attempts without a successful steal. No matter how good you are at holding runners on, and no matter how good of a thrower your catcher is (the Indians’ main catcher that year, Joe Azcue

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, was a great thrower), it takes some luck to go 9 straight attempts without even 1 steal.

Tomlin’s 2011 is one of just 4 seasons on the list to have a below-average ERA. The worst of these by far is Terry Mulholland

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‘s 1994. That kind of makes sense, as Mulholland really wasn’t a very good pitcher for most of his career. Still, he was dominant at one thing: preventing steals. Or at least, he was starting in 1992; in Mulholland’s first 5 seasons, runners stole 21 bases in 35 tries, for a bad-but-not-terrible 60% success rate.

Something clicked in 1993, though. That year, runners were just 2/7 on steals, and he never again allowed more than 2 steals in a season. For the last 15 seasons of Mulholland’s career (many of which were spent at least partly in relief), runners attempted just 50 steals and were caught in 36 of those attempts. That’s a 28% success rate.

I look forward to seeing if Tomlin–not to mention the other active pitchers on the list, Chris Carpenter and Jon Niese–can continue to prevent steals in 2012.

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One Response to Pitching Seasons With No Stolen Bases Allowed

  1. Tommy Walker
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    says:

    >So half of the steals that Tomlin has allowed in his career were of home plate. That has to be the highest such ratio ever.

    NO IT DOESN’T– DO YOUR JOB!

    (I keep meaning to comment on the post I inspired about pitchers with many high and low ERA seasons. Main observation was that, while the undertaking unearthed some coolness in its own right, it didn’t really give us a list of inconsistent pitchers. They were *very* consistent in terms of having their best and worst years concentrated in one role or the other between starting and relieving.

    Reply
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