Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Strasburg-Cole matchup and a history of #1 vs #1 picks

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Gerrit Cole won the latest installment of #1 versus #1 overall drafted pitchers.  AP Photo via sporting news.

Gerrit Cole won the latest installment of #1 versus #1 overall drafted pitchers. AP Photo via sporting news.

I saw a cool stat while idly watching a Nats-Pittsburgh game a few weeks back.  The match-up between Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole was the 11th time ever that #1 overall picks faced each other in baseball history.

What a great stat.  So naturally I wanted to look up the other ten.  I was hoping that I could find this data in the Baseball Reference Play Index, but couldn’t find it, so I went with a “brute force” method of finding the 11 matchups by scouring b-r.com’s play index data for each of the handful of pitchers entire career game logs.

The draft has existed since 1965.  In that time just 17 pitchers have been drafted #1 overall (including this year), and a few of them barely had careers.  Thus the rarity of this occurence.  While researching this article, I found myself looking more closely at all seventeen #1 overall picks, but moved that to a subsequent post, so look out for that in the future.

Meanwhile, here the 11 matchups are, in descending chronological order:

  • 11th: Stephen Strasburg vs Gerrit Cole 5/24/14: Strasburg gives up 3 in 7 while Cole gives up 2 in 6 and gets the win.  Pittsburgh d Washington 3-2.
  • 10th: David Price vs Luke Hochevar 8/21/12.  Seven years have passed since the last 1/1 matchup by this time.  Here, both pitchers threw 8 shutout innings (Hochevar giving up just 1 hit) and Kansas City prevailed by getting a run in the 10th.  This game was likely the greatest game Hochevar ever pitched (game score of 87), slightly better than a 3-hit shutout he had in 2009.   Hochevar was pretty-well awful as a starter for years with Kansas City but transformed himself into a great middle reliever in 2013; he suffered a blown elbow and had Tommy John surgery in March.
  • 9th: Kris Benson vs Paul Wilson 5/16/05:  Nearly a decade has passed since we had a #1 vs #1 matchup.  Here, neither guy was pitching terribly well in 2005, but Benson got the better of Wilson on the day.  Benson gave up just 2 runs in 7+ innings while Wilson got beat around for 7 runs in 5 1/3.   After the game, Wilson hit the disabled list and eventually had shoulder surgery for labrum and rotator cuff issues, which cost him the rest of 2005 and all of 2006, and he never appeared in another game.  So Wilson’s last ever MLB appearance was his sole #1 versus #1 matchup.
  • 8th: Ben McDonald vs Tim Belcher 6/27/96: McDonald was enjoying a nice bounce-back season after leaving his original team (Baltimore), and threw a nifty 7ip/3hit/1 run performance to beat Belcher’s Royals.
  • 7th: Ben McDonald vs Tim Belcher 4/11/94: McDonald was off to a great start for Baltimore, while Belcher was not for Kansas City.  Odd how these two guys both met up again, both with new different teams.   McDonald again threw 7+ innings of 2 run ball to beat Belcher on the day.
  • 6th: Ben McDonald vs Mike Moore 9/2/92: Their second meeting in two weeks, McDonald threw 6 innings but Moore threw 9 innings of 1 run ball; the game was won in the 10th by Baltimore.
  • 5th: Ben McDonald vs Mike Moore 8/23/92: Moore again got the better of McDonald, who gave up 6 in 6 for the loss.
  • 4th: Andy Benes vs Tim Belcher 4/8/92: Benes got the better of Belcher on the day, though both pitched well.
  • 3rd: Ben McDonald vs Mike Moore 5/7/91: McDonald hit hard early and Moore gets a win over his fellow #1 overall pick.
  • 2nd: Mike Moore vs Floyd Bannister 6/24/1988.  Moore pitched a 4-hit shutout to beat Bannister and the Royals in a rematch of their first 1-1 meeting four years prior.  Bannister gave up 7 runs (4 earned) in 3 2/3′s innings to get knocked out in the first ever matchup of former #1 overall picks.
  • 1st: Mike Moore vs Floyd Bannister 6/27/84: The first ever meeting between #1 overall picks took nearly 20 years to occur, thanks to just a couple of pitchers being taken first overall in the first two decades of the draft and thanks to bad timing.  This meeting was nothing to write home about though; neither guy pitched that badly, but neither figured in the decision after each gave up 3-4 runs in 5 innings.

Mike Moore appeared in 5 of the 11 one-vs-one matchups and his teams were 4-1 in these five games.   Bannister’s teams went 1-1 in his two appearances.  Ben McDonald also appeared in 5 of the 11 one-vs-one games and his teams went 3-2 in the games.   Belcher’s 3 games all resulted in losses for his team, despite (arguably) Belcher having the most accomplished career of any #1 overall drafted pitcher.   There’s only been 3 such meetings in the last 20 years, all featuring more recently drafted pitchers.

I also found these games where two former #1 overall picks both appeared, but one (or both) was in relief:

  • Kris Benson vs Andy Benes 7/20/02: Benson got the start and the win while Benes pitched 3 innings of mop-up duty as St. Louis fell behind by 10 runs.
  • Tim Belcher vs Matt Anderson 9/7/00: Belcher got the start and the win with 6ip/3er, while Anderson pitched the last out of the 8th for the losing team.
  • Tim Belcher vs Matt Anderson 7/14/98: Belcher got the start and got blasted; Anderson pitched the 7th and got a hold.
  • Mike Moore vs Floyd Bannister 6/12/92.  Moore got punched out of the box early and Bannister picked up the victory by pitching the 14th inning.
  • Ben McDonald vs Floyd Bannister 5/17/91: McDonald started and pitched a complete game win while Bannister relieved the losing starter in the 5th.
  • Mike Moore vs Floyd Bannister 4/17/91.  By this time in their careers, Bannister was relegated to the bullpen, but they did “face” each other in this game.  Moore threw 7 innings of 1-run ball for the victory.

Just for completion sake, who are the 6 pitchers not mentioned already who were picked #1?  That would be 2014′s Brady Aiken, 2013′s Mark Appel (neither of which has appeared in a major league game yet, obviously), along with Bryan Bullington (who bounced around the league for a few years but never matched up with any of his fellow draft picks), Brien Taylor (the 1991 #1 overall pick who never made it above A-ball), and David Clyde (who was the first pitcher to go #1 overall but didn’t last long enough to get any matchups with subsequent picks).

Stay tuned for a look at all seventeen of these guys, their stories and their careers in a future post.

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