Koufax: Why is your legacy so great?

Sandy Koufax was inducted into the Hall of Fame 50 years ago as part of the 1972 group alongside Yogi Berra and Early Wynn. He was barely 36 years old, a symbol of both how dominant he was in his prime and how premature his career end was.

Nearly 300 pitchers in American and National League history have started more games than Koufax. Nearly 200 have more wins. Eighty-one have higher WAR (according to Baseball-Reference).

But few have built a more respected legacy than the Dodgers’ left-hander, especially in such a short amount of time.

Koufax only pitched in the majors for 12 seasons and didn’t find his true form until his final six. He was in uniform for the last time before his 31st birthday. Regardless, Koufax’s cap was so impressive that more than a half-century after elbow problems forced him to hang up the hooks, his name continues to come up in conversations of the greatest ever.

Here, 11 reasons why:

At a height never seen

Koufax’s career is divided into two halves, one before fine-tuning his repertoire and the other after.

1955-1960: 4.10 EFEC, 3.94 FIP, 22.5% strikeout rate, 13.4% walk rate, 6.7 WAR
1961-1966: 2.19 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 26.5% strikeout rate, 6.4 walk rate, 46.4 WAR

How dominant was Koufax in those last six seasons? He was called to the All-Star Game every year and led the National League in the following categories: Innings pitched (twice), complete games (two), shutouts (three), wins (three), ERA (five), ERA+ (two times). ) FIP (six), WHIP (four), strikeouts (four), strikeout rate (five), hits per nine innings (five), K-BB rate (three) and WAR (two). Koufax had a nearly 8.0 WAR advantage over any other pitcher during that period and is one of only nine pitchers in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) with more than one season of at least 10 WAR.

Through the front door: 36 WAR in his last four years

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the second half of Koufax’s career was how the southpaw battled the agony during that time after being diagnosed with severe arthritis in his left elbow. Koufax tried all kinds of treatment, but medicine was not as advanced as it is now. There wasn’t much that could be done to ease the pain. Despite that, Koufax pitched more than 1,200 regular-season innings over his past four years, posting a total of 36.3 pitching WAR. The only pitcher in the Live Ball Era to have better numbers in a four-year period were Lefty Grove (1929-1932 and 1930-1933), Randy Johnson (1999-2005) and Pedro Martínez (1997-2000). . No one else has come close to what Koufax has achieved in those last four years.

Best pitching WAR over the past four seasons
1920-2021, according to Baseball-Reference

1) Sandy Koufax (1963-66): 36.3
2) Cliff Lee (2011-2014): 20.2
3) Brandon Webb (2006-2009): 18.8
4) Roger Clemens (2004-2007): 18.2
5) Don Wilson (1971-1974): 18.0

Best of his generation: Five NL titles

In each of his last five seasons, Koufax led the NL in ERA, becoming the only pitcher in history to finish first (AL and NL) in that category for as many years in a row. He also marked the way in FIP in those years. Koufax’s earned run average over those five seasons was 1.95 and he is the only pitcher in the Live Ball Era to have an ERA better than 1.90 in three different seasons. Despite a slow start, Koufax’s 2.76 career ERA is fourth-best in the Live Ball Era, with at least 2,000 stretches thrown.

The king of three Triple Crowns

The Triple Crown is most popular with position players (batting average, home runs, and RBIs), but pitchers also have one (wins, ERA, and strikeouts). Koufax not only won three Triple Crowns on the Old Circuit (1963, 1965 and 1966), but he led the Majors in all three categories in those same seasons. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Koufax is the only pitcher to finish first in the major leagues in wins, ERA and strikeouts in the same season three times, since earned runs became official in both leagues in 1913. Since Koufax He did, every pitcher has combined to do it just three times (Dwight Gooden in 1985, Johan Santana in 2006 and Shane Bieber in the shortened 2020 season).

K is for Koufax: 382 in one year

With his powerful fastball and devilish curveball, Koufax was a hitter’s nightmare, especially in the era before the mound was lowered in 1969. He finished in the top 10 in the NL in strikeouts in his last 10 seasons (1957- 1966) and among the top three seven times. Koufax led the Majors in 1961 (269), 1963 (306), 1965 (382), and 1966 (317). Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Nolan Ryan are the other three pitchers in the Modern Era (since 1900) to reach 300 strikeouts three times. That total of 382 in 1965 was a mark, surpassed only by Ryan (383 in 1973).

Home Sweet Home: Domination at Dodger Stadium

Dodger Stadium didn’t open until 1962, and it’s no coincidence that Koufax’s career took off from there. The new facility was a pitcher’s paradise back then, but Koufax was untouchable there. Here is the effectiveness he had at Dodger Stadium, exceeding 100 innings on each occasion: 1.75, 1.38, 0.85, 1.38 and 1.52. That 0.85 mark is a Live Ball Era record for any stadium (minimum 100 innings) and those five seasons rank in the top 100. Including the postseason, Koufax made 88 starts at Dodger Stadium and allowed more than three runs only four times (4.5%).

Best effectiveness in any stadiumMin 500 IL, 1920-2021

Award Collector: Three Cy Youngs in four years

Koufax is one of 10 pitchers in major league history to win at least three Cy Young Awards and is one of 10 to do so in an era when there was a single award (1956-1966) for both leagues, instead of accolades. separate for the American and National. All three were in a span of four seasons, which remains three of the most dominant campaigns in history. Koufax won the award in 1963 (he was also the NL MVP), 1965 and 1966 unanimously. In 1964 he finished in third place. It was the first mound to win the award in consecutive years, a club that so far has 11 members. Koufax is the only one to win a Cy Young in his senior year.

Mr. no-hitter: He threw four

Ryan holds the record with seven hitless, runless games, the last being at age 44 — 14 more than Koufax had in his last Major League appearance. Besides Ryan, there is no other pitcher to match Koufax’s four no-hitters, who achieved them in a period between June 30, 1962 and September 9, 1965. He is the only one to complete a no-hitter in four years in a row, in three of which he struck out at least 12 opponents. The left-hander joins Cy Young himself as the only pitchers to pitch a perfect game plus three no-hitters. Koufax’s perfect was on September 9, 1965, when he also struck out 14, a mark for a match of these characteristics.

October owner: 0.95 ERA in the postseason

Koufax has one of the best postseason records. He made eight appearances in the World Series, including seven starts (all in the Fall Classic, at a time when there was only one round) and pitched 57 innings with a 0.95 ERA. He remains the best in history for a pitcher with at least five postseason starts and second best for anyone with 40 or more innings, second only to Panamanian Mariano Rivera (0.70). Koufax struck out 61 batters in those 57 stretches, pitched four complete games and posted two shutouts.

Brilliant in the Fall: Two-time World Series MVP

The Dodgers won three of the four World Series Koufax participated in (1959, 1963 and 1965) and he had a lot to do with it. In the last two, Koufax was the MVP, becoming one of three multiple winners of the award, along with fellow Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson.

Against the Yankees in 1963, Koufax set a postseason record – which has been equaled or broken six times since – by striking out 15 in Game 2, before returning on three days’ rest to complete the Yankees’ sweep. in the fourth engagement with a complete game. Against the Twins in 1965, when Koufax sat by to watch Yom Kippur in Game 1, he was beaten in Game 2 but came back with a bang, throwing shutouts in Game 5 (three days rest) and in Game 7 and decisive (two days of rest) clash. Koufax remains the latest pitcher to complete multiple shutouts in the same World Series.

Koufax’s cap was so impressive that even having hung up the hooks at age 30, there was no question of his path to Cooperstown. When Koufax first appeared on the ballot in 1972, he easily surpassed the 75% minimum of the vote with 86.9%. It is a higher percentage than that obtained by Warren Spahn (83.2%) and Whitey Ford (77.8%). Koufax was just 36 years old at the time, making him the youngest inductee into the Hall of Fame.


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Koufax: Why is your legacy so great?