Have you ever been perusing statistics and suddenly have a player just grab your attention? Maybe you have to be a baseball geek to do that. Guilty! Tommy Byrne pitched in the American League from 1943 to 1957. He wasn't a Hall of Fame pitcher, though he did win a World Series game and made an All Star team. But he fascinates because he had the weirdest career of any pitcher in the Twentieth Century.
Think of Tommy Byrne as an Oliver Perez who won more games than he lost. That's not even a fair comparison because he was effective much longer than one season and started a ton of games. Let's take one two year stretch where he pitched for the Yankees in 1949 and 1950. He made 63 starts in those two seasons and won 30 games against 16 losses. Heck, it was the Yankees, right? They had a great team. He should have had .652 winning percentage on teams that won that many games. But it was the way he did it that is so remarkable.
He pitched 399.1 innings in those two seasons and completed 22 games despite walking 339 batters! Byrne averaged 7.6 walks per nine innings in those two seasons. He led the league in walks and in Hit By Pitches. In fact, he led the league in walks three times and HBPs five times. During those two seasons he walked a batter every 5.5 plate appearances. Add in the people he hit with a pitch those two seasons and he either walked or hit a guy every 4.9 plate appearances. His 179 walks in 1949 is the eighth highest total since 1900. Five of those spots ahead of him are occupied by Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan. Is it any wonder that his nickname was, "Wild Man"?
If you take his entire career into account, he either hit a batter or walked them every 5.5 plate appearances. He pitched 1362 major league innings and gave up 1037 walks for a total of 6.9 walks per nine innings. He only struck out 766 batters. To put that in perspective, Nolan Ryan, the most prodigious walker of the 20th Century, finished his career with 4.7 walks per nine innings. The aforementioned Oliver Perez currently sits at 5.1 walks per nine innings for his career. And yet Byrne had a better winning percentage in his career than Ryan and is certainly way ahead of Oliver Perez. Somehow, Bryne completed 65 of his major league starts and threw 12 shutouts in his career.
While Byrne was wild, he was stingy with the hits. he led the league in hits per nine innings with 5.7 in 1949 and he finished his career with a 7.5 mark. The Fan guesses you could call that effectively wild.
But the gift keeps giving with Byrne. He was not only the most unusual pitcher, but he could also hit. He had 80 hits in his career as a pinch hitter and batted .238 for his career with 14 homers and 98 RBIs in 655 plate appearances. Unlike his pitching though, he didn't walk very much.
If you want to know more about the life of Tommy Byrne, check out his wikipedia page linked above or click here for his major league totals.