Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whatever Happened To The Complete Game?

******Pud Galvin*************Cy Young***************Old Hoss******

In 1879 Will White of the Cincinnati Reds completed all 75 of his starts. Ever since then it has been all downhill for the complete game. In 1884 Pud Galvin completed 71 of his 72 starts but finished second in complete games to Old Hoss Radbourn who completed all 73 of his starts. Old Hoss also managed to win a record 59 games that season which is still the single season record for wins.

Cy Young has won (511) and completed (749) more games than any other pitcher in the history of baseball. His record of 511 wins is considered one of baseballs unbreakable records, but the truth is his 749 complete games is even further out of reach.

Leon Cadore *** Joe Oeschger
Pitchers of earlier generations had a belief that ‘this game is mine". The idea of doing permanent harm to a pitcher’s arm wasn't on anyone’s mind. In 1920 Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger each threw 26 innings in a 1-1 tie called because of darkness. No one was concerned about pitch counts back then, but historians estimate that Cadore threw 345 pitches and Oeschger 319

In 1963 Juan Marichal defeated Warren Spahn 1-0 in a 16 inning game that ended with a Willie Mays homerun. They both threw over 200 pitches.

It was common for good pitchers in baseball's early years to complete 90% of their starts. Two man rotations also meant getting 70-75 starts. 40 years ago it was not uncommon for top starting pitchers to throw 300+ innings and complete a majority of their starts. Today if a pitcher throws 200+ innings he is called an 'Ironman', and a complete game occurs in less than 5% of all starts.

Has the game really changed that much?

Well the answer is yes. Maybe evolved is more accurate. What we are seeing is the cumulative effects of changes to the rules of the game, the economics of the game, pitching strategy and philosophy and equipment (the ball) that have occurred over the past 130 or so years.

Ever since the beginning of organized baseball it seems there has been a conspiracy against pitchers. They are not only outnumbered by position players but of course by the fans who the owners feel come to see the excitement of runs being scored.

Virtually every rule change over the years has favored the hitter rather than the pitcher making it increasingly more difficult to get hitters out. When Pud and Old Hoss were terrorizing opposing hitters and completing all of those games they did it from a distance of 50 feet. That was changed in 1893 to 60 feet 6 inches, where it remains today. The spitball was outlawed and a cork center was added to the baseball making it more lively and ending the 'Dead Ball Era" and ushering in Babe Ruth and the "Live Ball Era".

1968 is known as the Year of the Pitcher. Bob Gibson threw 13 shutouts and had an ERA of 1.12. Denny McClain became baseball's first (and last) 30 game winner since Dizzy Dean, winning 31 games. Don Drysdale threw a then record 58 2/3 scoreless innings. The AL's bating average was an all-time low .231 and the NL average was almost as bad at .243.

It was time to change the rules again. Batting averages weren't the only thing that was down. Owners fearing a lack of fan interest in low scoring games decided what the game needed was more offense. Charlie Finley is quoted as saying "The average fan comes to the park to see action, home runs. He doesn't come to see a one-, two-, three- or four-hit game. I can't think of anything more boring than to see a pitcher come up, when the average pitcher can't hit my grandmother"

Charles Finley
Following 'The Year of the Pitcher' the mound was lowered 5 inches and strike zone was officially reduced in size and conventionally reduced even more, The rule book says it should be from the top of the batters knees to the bottom of his arm pits. However you rarely see a called strike above a hitters belt buckle. In 1973 the Designated Hitter was introduced.
Over the years teams added more starting pitchers to there rotations in order to get more rest between starts. Rotations went from 3 to 4 to the present day 5 man rotations. While the number of starts and innings pitched may have declined, it had also become harder to get hitters out. The increased offensive production over the last 15 years means more pitches per batter and more batters per game. Data on old-time pitch counts is hard to find, but in 1932, Baseball Magazine reported that the average nine-inning game saw about 115 pitches. Today it's around 150. That means that what got you through nine innings back then now only gets you into the seventh.

There has been a growing importance and use of the relief pitcher over the last 30 years. It is one of the most dramatic changes in the game. With the increasing pitch totals required to throw a complete game the necessity for relief specialists has developed. Each team now has set up men and a closer.The average number of pitchers used by a team in a game has grown from two to over around four since the late 1970's.

Economics also has played a role in the decline of the complete game. Teams have huge financial stakes in their starting pitching, much more than they had invested back in the day. No one wants to see one of these high priced guys get injured and certainly no one wants to be accused of overworking them.

On June 14, 1974, Nolan Ryan threw 235 pitches in a 13-inning start against the Red Sox.
"It obviously ruined his arm because he had to retire 19 years later," statistics guru Bill James later told the Los Angeles Times.

Here is an except from the Minneapolis Star Tribune this spring:

Pitchers aren't invincible. Billy Martin learned the hard way in 1980, when he took over a Oakland team with a thin bullpen and pushed his starters to the extreme.

Five young pitchers in their 20's -- Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty and my favorite, Brian Kingman -- completed 93 starts. Bob Lacey also started a game and completed it giving the A's a total of 94 complete games, the modern day record. But when those workhorses broke down, it served as a warning for all managers.

Yes, ironically the 1980 Oakland A's pitching staff which gained notoriety for completing so many games gained may have played a significant role in the decline of the complete game. The same pitchers received almost as much attention for their rapid decline which was attributed to overuse. Soon thereafter pitch counts which had been around for a long time became a way to monitor a pitchers overuse. Today many teams will limit a starter to a certain number of pitches, usually around 100, which makes throwing complete game a rarity.

By the late 1980s, Oakland manager Tony La Russa had changed the way bullpens were used, exploiting lefty-lefty and righty-righty matchups before handing off to closer Dennis Eckersley. In 1990, pitch counts began appearing in USA Today's expanded box scores, holding managers even more accountable for their decisions.

The the historical decline of the complete game:

In the 19th Century Era (1876-1900), starting pitchers completed games 90 percent of the time. In the Dead Ball Era (1901-1919), starting pitchers completed games 67 percent of the time.
In the Live Ball Era (1920-1941), starting pitchers completed games 47 percent of the time.
In the Integration Era (1942-1960), starting pitchers completed games 37 percent of the time.
In the Expansion Era (1961-1976), starting pitchers completed games 26 percent of the time.
In the Free Agency Era (1977-1992), starting pitchers completed games 15 percent of the time.
In the Steroid Era (1993-2005), starting pitchers completed games 8 percent of the time.
In the Present Era (2006- 2008), starting pitchers competed games less than 5 percent of the time

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