Thursday, December 30, 2010

How Much Of A Yankee Killer Was Frank Lary?

His career record against them was 28-13. From 1955-61, it was 27-10 with a 3.06 ERA while his ERA against everyone else was 3.42. But did he really pitch better or differently against the Yankees?

Let's start with strikeout-to-walk ratio. In those years, Lary's was 1.62 against non-Yankee teams (I included HBP and took out IBBs-all data from Retrosheet). Against NY, it was 1.71. That may seem consistent with the "Yankee Killer" nick name, but over those years the Yankees themselves had a 1.43 ratio while the rest of the league had 1.32. So the typical pitcher had a strikeout-to-walk ratio that was .11 higher against the Yanks than everyone else. Lary was .09 better. So he was doing just about what other pitchers did.

Now HRs or HR rate (I use HRs divided by PAs with IBBs taken out). Lary allowed the Yanks a 2.6988% while he allowed the rest of the league 1.75%. So the Yanks did about 0.948 percentage points better against Lary than the average team from the rest of the AL. But that is just about normal. Over these years, the Yankees had a rate of 3.0097% while the rest of the league had a rate of 2.162%. The Yankees were about 0.848 percentage points better than the league average. So again, Lary's relative performance vs. NY is about what it was for other pitchers.

What about other hits? Lary's non-HR hit% against NY was .199 while against other teams it was .217. So that is a fairly big improvement. Some how he was better at preventing hits against the Yankees than he was against other teams. The Yankees themselves had a .205 rate while the rest of the league had .204. So the typical pitcher allowed more hits (but not alot more) to the Yankees than they normally did.

So it seems like the one thing that Lary was good at when he faced the Yankees was in preventing them from getting singles, doubles and triples. But the difference was only .018. Over, say, 36 PAs per game, that is just .648 hits. The run value of those hits is about .55 (the weighted average of the linear weights values that Pete Palmer established). So that makes a run value of .36 (interesting that that is just about the difference between his ERA against other teams and the one he had against the Yankees, 3.42 vs. 3.06).

The Tigers did score 4.93 runs per game in his starts against the Yankees from 1955-61. They averaged 4.61 runs per game overall. So the hitters rose to the occassion to support him. And maybe the fielders played a role in lowering the rate of non-HR hits he allowed. So it is possible that Lary became the "Yankee Killer" due to the aid of his teammates.


vinnie said...

Interesting. From the fact that the Tigers scored more when he was pitching raises the question of whether or not he was facing the best Yankee pitchers? From a quick glance, it seems he faced the third or forth best starter in the games he won. Could this help account for his success?

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Good point. That is something I wondered about. Here is what I came up with for number of starts by the Yankees

Byrne 3
Ditmar 5
Duren 1
Ford 6
Grba 2
Grim 1
Kucks 3
Larsen 1
Maas 1
Maglie 1
McDermott 1
Monroe 1
R. Coleman 1
Shantz 1
Short 1
Terry 5
Turley 8

Turley, Ford and Terry seem a little low. None of them made even 20% of the starts

Cyril Morong said...

I found the overall ERA of all Yankee starters during these years. It was 3.39. I found every pitcher who had 1 or more start then calculated a weighted average of their ERAs (using the total ERA of each guy, not just when they started). Then I found the weighted average of the ERAs of the guys who started against Lary (weighted by number of games startred). That was 3.47. Not too much different.

Now that does not take into account how long they stayed in any games or what their ERAs were in the season in which they started against Lary. But my guess is that he faced a typical group of Yankee pitchers overall.

vinnie said...

Thanks much for taking the time and in crunching the numbers.
My guess was that after the initial success he had against them, Casey just might have gone with his third orforth best starter or one of his many swingmen to face Lary and that persisted with Houk for most of the rest of his career.
With the exception of Ford, and a couple of good seasons from Turley and possibly Terry, he wasn't facing the best pitching opponent the Yankees had. This could also explain why the Tigers scored more than expected whenever he pitched.
There could be a great study to be made one day of just how much the competition and quality of the opposing pitchers added to or subtracted from the success or failure of some of the great or not so great pitchers and our perceptions of them.
It would be interesting to come up with some kind of metric that could take this into account and give us an even clearer image of every pitchers career and their true value.
Thanks again for taking the time and for the great work you're doing here and elsewhere.

Cyril Morong said...

You're welcome. Thanks for your observations. Here are the opposing starters. I think they are in order in any given year of when Lary faced them

1955 Turley
1955 Byrne
1955 Turley
1955 Turley
1956 Kucks
1956 Ford
1956 Byrne
1956 Grim
1956 McDermott
1956 Kucks
1956 R. Coleman
1957 Ditmar
1957 Turley
1957 Turley
1957 Kucks
1957 Byrne
1958 Ford
1958 Maglie
1958 Larsen
1958 Maas
1958 Monroe
1958 Ditmar
1958 Ditmar
1958 Duren
1959 Turley
1959 Shantz
1959 Terry
1959 Ford
1959 Ditmar
1959 Grba
1959 Grba
1960 Short
1960 Terry
1960 Ford
1960 Ford
1960 Terry
1961 Turley
1961 Ditmar
1961 Ford
1961 Turley
1961 Terry
1961 Terry

vinnie said...

Thank you for the research. Just as I supposed. After his initial success against them, with few exceptions, they paired him up for the most part with less than front end of the rotation pitchers. By my own subjective count, of his 42 starts in this period, twelve came against pitchers who were having good years or who could be considered a number one or two starter. This alone should not only have given him the extra edge in those games, but in all likelihood would explain the exceptionally good results he attained.
Add to that, if we checked further, we'd probably find out that the relievers used in those games were the bottom end guys in the bullpen.
Thanks again.

Cyril Morong said...

Again, you're welcome. Thanks for looking at the individual starters.

John said...

Perceptions count for a lot in baseball, and they often die hard.

Some beat writer probably came up with the "Yankee Killer" tag one day early in Lary's career, and the tag just stuck, as tags so often do in baseball.

Be that as it may, most players, pitchers included, can point to opponents they do especially well against, for whatever reason.

I've always suspected that one explanation for this is simply that those opponents happened to come up in the schedule at a time when the player was going well. Or when the opponent was going bad.

Baseball is a game of up-and-down periods. Except for a few extraordinarily consistent players (and teams), performance varies widely from week to week and month to month during the course of a season. If a particular opponent happens to face you at a time when you're going well, then obviously your stats against that opponent will vary in accordance.

I guess what I'm saying is that simple randomness is an extremely powerful "force" in baseball, and rarely given its due by writers.

Perhaps another interesting study: what was the Yankees' W-L record in the week prior to each time they faced Lary, and is there statistical significance to their record against him during those times as opposed to everyone else?

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. You raise some interesting points and that might be an interesting study, although alot of researchers don't believe in the idea of a "hot hand" so it might not matter if the Yankees were going well or not right before they faced Lary. said...

To me, a winning percentage of over 2 victories for 1 defeat against the 1955-61 Yankees is enough to earn the moniker. He earned it.

Cyril Morong said...

edru, you seem to be saying that all you need to know about a pitcher is his won-loss record. I don't think any serious baseball analyst believes that anymore. If he earned the moniker, how did he earn it? Was it giving up fewer hits than might have been expectd, fewer walks, fewer HRs, more strikeouts? It does not look like it.

Cyril Morong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nunyer said...

I think we might be seeing the forest but ignoring the trees here.. I think it probably all comes down to when he was tagged with the nickname. Just taking a quick look at his splits, he went 7-1 with an ERA of 1.86 against the 1958 Yankees, the eventual world champs. He held them to a .204 average, 65 points below their season average... and threw two complete game shutouts as well. That's the kind of season that can earn you a nickname.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. What you say is true, but that season represents less than 20% of his career innings against the Yankees

John said...

The guy had a 3.06 ERA against what was by far the best team in baseball during that era. What was the rest of the league's ERA against the Yankees from 1955 to 1961? Without having the numbers in front of me, I'd be willing to bet it was probably around 4.50, maybe a little higher. Most of those years, the Yankees were averaging about five runs per game.

Lary was pitching a run and a half better than the league against the Yankees, and he had a good team behind him. And that's why he went 27-10.

Cyril Morong said...

But you are not looking at my analysis. How did he get that lower ERA? It wasn't through preventing more HRs or a lower SO/BB ratio. It was a lower average on balls in play. So that means his defense played great behind him. It might not have been anything he did.

Anonymous said...

In an interview with Casy Stengel about his pitching choice against Frank Lary, Casey was quoted as saying that he did not want to waste his best pitcher [presumably Whitey Ford]. So, here's a case for perception by the opposing manager and not just Tiger fans.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and supplying that info. But again, what was it specifically that Lary did better against the Yankees? Was it striking batters out, not walking people, not allowing HRs?

drotthobbie said...

I grew up in that period.What "nunyer" commented on for 1958 is probably the reason for the Yankee Killer label. I remember broadcasters and writers using that term for him. All of the analysis with numbers is over doing it.

mingpooh said...

This is an old analysis, and the comments have been excruciating in their detail, but how about the most obvious questions: did any other pitcher have anywhere near this winning percentage against the Yankees during these years? Remember, the Yanks made the WS 6 times during this periods, so it wasn't like Lary was pitching against the St Louis Browns. And even if Stengel could have managed to manipulate his pitching rotation and match up his lesser pitchers against Lary, it wasn't a second string lineup which was batting for the Yanks. Don't over think this. During those years, for whatever reason, Lary just had their number

Cyril Morong said...

Can you explain why any part of my analysis is wrong? said...

With a 'no comment' to preclude your need to validate your analysis--
I believe the difference with Lary vs any mathematic aspect was that he simply made clutch pitches when he had to-- in clutch situations.

That? Is baseball.
You can tear it into as many pieces as you like-- but it comes down to what outcome occurs on any given pitch-- and the game situation of that pitch.

Simply? Lary was great when required.


Cyril Morong said...

He was not clutch. See his splits at Baseball Reference

Look at the OPS he allowed by leverage. His best situation by far is low leverage

High Lvrge 0.700
Medium Lvrge 0.713
Low Lvrge 0.662

Anonymous said...

just a test, to see if it works, more to follow if so

Anonymous said...

I am 75 years of age. I am fascinated by your analysis, because I suffered through the pain of Lary's dominance as youngster, even though much of your explanations I don't follow. As a die hard Yankee fan as a boy, but not thereafter, I suffered through watching in person quite a few Frank Lary complete game victories, mostly in Detroit, once in New York. And I seem to hear most of them through the voice of Mel Allen. It was awful.

But if you don't mind my saying, I think much of his success can simply be attributed to luck. Those advocating indexing in the stock market point to those few who slaughter the index and say, using the odds of getting say tails on 16 consecutive coin flips, for example, that their outlandish success can be attributed to luck, considering the number of people trying to beat the market or even playing the market. Same thing here, there are a lot of games, a lot of pitchers etc.

From 1949-1964 when the Yankees won 13 pennants in 15 years, they did not win two games out of three over those years, even though one of those 2 years when they did not win, they won 103 games, 1954. What other sports dynasty in other major sports did not win two out of three, or even came close to not doing so? So in baseball it just goes to show that no matter how good you are, even if you have lineup of say many Hall of Famers, you are going to lose a lot of games, simply by chance. In other words, in baseball over the long haul, being good, or even being great, is not enough to win two out of every three games. It simply can't be done. Why?

From all the games I watched or listened to Mel Allen on the radio, I don't ever remember the Tigers making a horrible error at a crucial time of the game when Lary pitched (or even Don Mossi in his prime). And it seemed to me that the Tigers always hit the cover off the ball when Lary pitched, Charley Maxwell and Al Kaline in particular. What a lucky break for Lary.

It would also seem fair to discount 1959 the year the Yankees truly were horrible. Lary won 5 times vs NY in 1959, but Mossi won 6 and Calvin Julius Caesar whatever McLish also won 5 times.

I may well have misunderstood your excellent research, but I don't see that you have come up with a viable explanation for Lary's success. Why is randomness not a possibility? Or does Cybermetrics discount luck in baseball?

Don McLean
410-5070 Fairview Street
Burlington, Ontario
Canada L7L 0B8
905 635 9997

Cyril Morong said...


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and post your comments. Randomness is always a possibility. Your point about the stock market is a good analogy. It may have been luck that the Tigers hit a bit better and fielded a bit better when Lary pitched.

You might like this article "The Statistical Mirage of Clutch Hitting"

It raises the issue of luck determining who looks like a clutch hitter.


Doyice Cotten said...

I, like Don McLean earlier, was a die-hard Yankee fan during the Frank Lary era. You have a lot of statistics, but the fact is that Lary did master the Yankees with regularity unmatched by any other pitcher of the era. It seemed at the time that Lary, who incidentally won over 100 games during his career, could throw his glove out on the mound and win.

At the time, and still today, look on Lary as a Yankee-killer ... and let me assure you, I was NOT a Lary fan.

Sometimes perception is correct -- statistics or no statistics.

Doyice Cotten