Atlanta Braves starter Shelby Miller takes the mound today at Wrigley Field, and he's hoping to break a stretch of 16 winless starts in a row. His last win came on May 17 -- that was the game in which he was deprived of a no-hitter against the Marlins with two outs in the ninth inning -- but don't blame him: Miller has a 3.03 ERA in this 16-start stretch, has given up two or fewer runs in nine of those starts and has allowed just five home runs. The Braves just don't score for him. They've been shut out three times and scored one run five times. Sometimes they score after Miller has departed, like his last start, when they scored in the 10th inning to win 2-1.
Going 16 starts without a win isn't really all that unusual -- it's happened 16 times since 2010 -- but most pitchers who go through a long winless drought aren't pitching near as well as Miller has. Of the 61 pitchers to have even 12 winless starts in a row since 2010, only six have had an ERA of less than 4.00, and only one of those compares to Miller:
Going back to 1960, no other pitcher compares to these two. In part because guys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s pitched a little deeper into games and thus got more decisions. But the bad luck Miller and Jeff Samardzija pitched through is otherwise unprecedented in the past 55 years.
What about tough-luck seasons?
Overall, Miller is 5-9 with a 2.43 ERA in 24 starts. Samardzija's stretch came over two seasons, so at least he got an offseason mixed in.
Does anyone compare to Miller? Via a search on Baseball-Reference.com, only two other pitchers have started at least 24 games with an ERA of less than 3.00 and won five or fewer games:
Joe Magrane led the National League in ERA that season, though it's a little misleading -- he allowed 17 unearned runs among his 57 runs allowed. Still that's a tough-luck season: Three of his five wins were shutouts. He had 11 starts when he allowed two runs or fewer and didn't get a win.
If we raise the standard to seven wins instead of five, we get a few more tough-luck seasons, including Samardzija's 2014:
As you might expect, the 1992 Angels were last in the league in runs scored. If Jim Abbott allowed three runs, forget about it: He had zero wins all season when he allowed three or more runs.
A couple other tough-luck seasons worth mentioning:
The 2014 Phillies weren't a terrible offensive team -- they were ninth in the NL in runs scored -- but Cole Hamels should have won more games. He allowed more than three runs just three times in 30 starts, a remarkably consistent season. But he won just two games in 14 starts when he allowed two or three runs.
But if there's a candidate to challenge Miller for unluckiest season ever, it's probably Nolan Ryan. Remember that 1987 was the rabbit-ball year. Ryan led the NL in ERA, strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio -- and losses. Let's see that happen again. The Astros scored two or fewer runs in 16 of his 34 starts. Ryan lost one 1-0 game and three 2-1 games. He had no-decisions in starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer.
So here's rooting for Miller. He's certainly due for a W.