A Brief Look at Young Relievers Who Gave Up Walk-Offs in the Playoffs

Buster Olney tweeted the following today:

History tells us that young closers who blow postseason leads in big moments rarely recover…

Well there haven’t been a whole lot of closers to give up walk-off home runs, so here’s just a selection of relievers (a number of whom were relievers) to give up major home runs in the playoffs.

2011 — Neftali Feliz (23)
The jury’s still out on this one, but almost definitely he’ll be fine. There’s way too much evidence that a talented young pitcher can rebound.

2009 — Jonathan Broxton (25)
This one doesn’t make much sense. Broxton blew a game in the 2008 playoffs and dominated in 2009, so clearly this isn’t the case. In the 2009 playoffs, he blew another game. Then he was amazing in the first half of 2010, until he was abused and could no longer pitch. Playoffs has nothing to do with this and every Dodgers blog has beaten this horse to a bloody pulp.

2005 — Brad Lidge (28)
I imagine this guy and the guy two below are who Buster Olney is thinking of. Lidge gave up a huge dinger to Albert Pujols in the ’05 playoffs in the top of the 9th. He then gave up a big walk-off homer to Scott freaking Podsednik in the World Series. Lidge had a tough year the next year, but recovered with some good BABIP in the following seasons. He never repeated his 2004 season, but his 2005 season wasn’t his 2004 season, so who knows what Olney is thinking of.

2003 — Jeff Weaver (26)
This is an odd case. Weaver was dumped by the Detroit Tigers to the Yankees in 2002. Though he was decidedly average in Detroit, he was pretty awful in New York in 2003. Then, in the World Series, he gave up a walk-off dinger to Alex Gonzalez in Game 4 of the World Series. (Really? College was a blur). Weaver was traded to the Dodgers in the off-season and, get this, had two decent seasons. The problem here is Weaver wasn’t a particularly good pitcher, so “decent seasons” means he kept his hits rate low enough and wasn’t rewarded for it (his ERAs were league average). Weaver bounced around a couple of times, had another good season with the Dodgers in 2009 and was out in 2011.

2001 — Byung Hyun Kim (22)
I think this is the other guy Olney is thinking of. Kim was a nubile 22 when he pitched against the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. He gave up a couple of extra-inning losses in the 2001 World Series, though the D-Backs eventually won it. Kim was amazing in 2001, as he was in 2002 and 2003. The problems began in 2004, though, as his hit rates had progressively risen every year for three years. That’s usually a very bad sign. As you can imagine, 2005-2007 weren’t good years for him and he was out of MLB before the age of 29.

1993 — Mitch Williams (28)
A lot of 28-year-olds. Williams gave up a walk-off to Joe Carter in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Before we get inT. Williams after the fact, check this out: Williams AVERAGED giving up 6.9 walks per 9 innings between 1986 and 1991. That was balanced by a 6.6 hits/9 ratio. So when he started giving up more hits in 1992 and 1993 … his ERA somehow remained somewhere in the same range. Reliever fluctuations!! Anyway, Williams absolutely stunk after the 1993 season, and somehow even worse than before. Amazing.

1975 — Pat Darcy (25)
Darcy gave up the walk-off to Carlton Fisk in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Although he was decidedly average (3.58 ERA, 101 ERA+) in 1975, he gave up 9.2 hits per 9 innings and walked 4.2 in 130 innings. That’s a recipe for disaster. Darcy blew up the next year (6.23 ERA) in 39 innings and never reached the majors again.

1960 — Ralph Terry (24)
You know this one. Ralph Terry gave up the walk-off to Bill Mazeroski in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. It was maybe the greatest moment in baseball history. Terry wound up pretty decent. He pitched about 1000 innings over the next five years with a 107 ERA+ (which is a 3.47 in the mid-60s). In 1962, he pitched 298 innings with a 3.19 ERA and won the World Series MVP. Pretty dang good. His career ended in 1967, I’m guessing because of injury because it wasn’t like he was bad at the time.

1957 — Bob Grim (27)
In 1957, Grim was a Yankees pitcher with a few years under his belt. He was about league average, sometimes better than, but had injuries after pitching 199 innings in his first year. In the 1957 World Series, he gave up a walk-off to Eddie Mathews in game 4–a game that changed the series to 2-2 and an eventual Milwaukee Braves win. Grim had a few years where he was able to play again, but he was never very good after that. Strangely, it wasn’t anything psychological, it was just that his numbers caught up to him. For most of his career, Grim had the same pitcher he always was, but a small bump in his hits/9 numbers registered with the same number of walks/9 at that time and that was pretty much all she wrote.

1949 — Don Newcombe (23)
Newcombe gave up a walk-off home run to Tommy Heinrich in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series. In 1956, seven years later, he won the MVP and Cy Young in the same year.

There’s a lot of other pitchers that have given up walk-offs in major games throughout history and a surprising number of them are recognizable names. Ralph Branca (1951), Dave Stewart (1981), Jarrod Washburn (2004), Francisco Rodriguez (2007), just to name a few. They’re not recognizable for the home runs they allowed, but for their overall talent. Even in the names posted above, some are recognizable because they had amazing talent. The ones you recognize only because of their name didn’t have as much.

In 2010, Ryan Madson gave up a home run to Juan Uribe in the 8th inning of a 2-2 game in Game 6 of the NLCS. It cost the Phils the series. Dude’s doing pretty dang good and will be paid like he’s worth it this off-season.

So no, talent reigns supreme and Feliz has a lot of it.

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