Don Drysdale and the 1959 Milwaukee Braves

I was reading in Chris Jaffe’s “Evaluating Baseball Managers”, and he wrote how about 1959 Walter Alston started Don Drysdale in 8 games with one in relief against their biggest rivel the Milwaukee Braves. The Braves had a great team that won the National League pennant the previous two seasons.

Drysdale started 36 games that season so normally he would have started 5 games against each team with one extra. So, starting 8 games versus Milwaukee is noticeable. Drysdale also started 7 games against the other contender 3rd place San Francisco. So, he started 15 games against the two other competitors and 21 against the other 5 teams against the league.

I calculated the winning percentage of Drysdale’s opponents if he made 5 starts against every team and it was .491. Because he started more games against better opponents the winning percentage of his opponents for 36 starts was .503.

My question is did doing the strategy work? The Dodgers won the pennant in a two-game playoff (which was officially part of the regular season, so the race was close. Drysdale had 3 wins and 3 losses against the Brave and his ERA was 3.50 which was really close to his seasonal ERA. This was good as the Braves had the best offense in the National League in 1959. Since the Braves tied and had to win two extra games you could say it worked. However, I am going to take you through Drysdale’s pitching against the Braves game by game. By the way Drysdale went 4-2 with a 2.26 against the Giants, definitely helping the Dodgers.

Game 1 May 5 Braves 3, Dodgers 2 16 innings. Drysdale pitched the first 11 against the Braves giving up 2 runs. He had a game score of 76. So, he pitched very well. The Braves won when Hank Aaron hit a two out double with two outs to drive the winning run from first in the bottom of the 16th.

Game 2 May 17 Brave 8, Dodgers 3. The Dodgers were around .500 at the time which was where they expected to be. The Braves were playing great ball and were 19-10 after the victory. Drysdale ended up with a game score of 40. He gave up 5 runs all earned in 7 innings. He had only 3 strikeouts so must have struggled the whole game. The score was tied 2-2 after four innings but Hank Aaron hit a two-run homer to give the Braves the lead. It was the big hit of the day. This Aaron guy seems like a keeper.

Game 3 June 7 Braves 8 Dodgers 2. Drysdale came in the seventh with a 1-0 lead. The first 3 batters hit singles. However, two of the three were ground balls that got to the infield. Drysdale then hit a batter, struck out the opposing pitcher Bob Buhl, then walked a batter. Alston had enough. The reliever Danny McDevitt just added fuel to the fire as all 5 batter he faced reached base (one on an error). The game was basically over at that point.

Game 4 June 15 Dodgers 4, Braves 0. Drysdale threw a shutout, game score 90 which is outstanding. He had 13 strikeouts and only 6 base runners. Dodgers still a little over .500, but just 3.5 games behind the Braves at this point.

Game 5 July 11. Dodgers 7, Braves 5. Sandy Koufax gave up 3 runs in the first 3 innings. In the top of the fourth the Dodgers scored 4 runs with 2 outs. Then Maury Wills doubled. Alston saw this as an opportunity to bring his pitcher Drysdale into the game. As Drysdale was a lot better hitter than Koufax he had him pinch hit for Koufax. Drysdale hit a line drive to left field that the left field made an error on scoring Wills for a 5-3 lead. The Dodgers always held the lead despite Hank Aaron hitting a homerun off Drysdale in the seventh. Drysdale finished the game for the Dodgers and was credited with the victory. At this point of the season the Dodgers were ahead of the Braves.

Game 6 August 8. Dodgers 4, Brave 2. Another good effort by Drysdale, a complete game victory. He had a game score of 77. The Dodgers victory left them 2 games ahead of the Braves.

Game 7. August 18. Dodgers 7. Braves 6. (13 innings) Drysdale comes out in the 11th inning with a 6-5 lead. Can you imagine that today a starter coming out in the 11th inning after giving up 5 runs? Heck, I can’t even imagine a starter coming out in the 11th inning. The second batter is *guess who?” Hank Aaron who hits a homerun off Drysdale to tie the game. Larry Sherry comes in for his 9th game of the season and throws 2.2 scoreless innings to get the win. Drysdale had a game score of 59. He had control troubles with 8 walks which is unusual for him. The victory puts the Dodgers a game and a half ahead of the Braves.

Game 8. September 14. Braves 4, Dodgers 1. Drysdale doesn’t have a good outing. The score is 2-1 after six innings. Drysdale gives up 2 runs in the top of the seventh. He had a game score of 51, not his best start. The Braves are now a game ahead of the Dodgers.

Game 9. September 29. Dodgers 6 Brave 5. 12 innings. Drysdale has his worst effort against the Braves in 1959. The Dodgers are up 1-0 in the extra games. If they win this game they win the pennant. In the first Mathews walks and Aaron doubles. Frank Torre then singles them both in. In the second he gives up an RBI single to opposing pitcher Lew Burdette. In the fifth Drysdale gives up a homerun to Eddie Mathews with one out. He then walks Hank Aaron. Down 4-2 Alston had enough. Johnny Podres comes in the game to pitch for the Dodgers. Drysdale has a game score of 38. However, in the bottom of the ninth the Dodgers down 5-2 hit 4 singles and a game tying sacrifice fly to tie the game. Stan Williams comes into the game in extra innings and pitches 3 scoreless innings. In the bottom of the 12th Carl Furillo who drove in the tying run in the ninth, hits a two out single to drive in the winning run.

Overall Drysdale pitched well against the Braves and was an instrumental in the Dodgers winning the pennant. I would say the strategy worked.



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