Finish what you start.
Completing a game on the mound used to be expected of starting pitchers. It was your game to win or lose. Just like how hitters have caught the homerun bug, things have changed.
Today you hear things like, the manager just wants to get him through 5 innings and then the bullpen will take over.
Somewhere along the line in MLB history, teams began restricting the innings of their starters … for no reason. Pitchers were pulled not because they were struggling but because their managers wanted to “limit workload”.
This first table is extremely interesting. I simply used the amazing tools at Baseball Reference to take a sampling of several statistics at the beginning of each decade in baseball history.
The table begins at 1930 because the play-by-play data before this is too incomplete and unreliable to trust.
The column headers are explained as follows:
- Top-10 IP/GS – this is an average of the top-10 leaders in innings per start
- League Avg IP/GS – this is the league average innings per start
- Top IP/GS – this is the MLB leader in innings per start
- Top INN – this is the MLB leader in total innings
|Year||Top-10 IP/GS||League Avg IP/GS||Top IP/GS||Top INN|
If you thought that pitchers threw a lot in the 1940s and 50s, check out this list from Baseball Reference which shows that pitchers in the 1880s and 90s were throwing two to three times more innings per season than today’s pitchers.
The two biggest jumps in this table are from 1980 to 1990 and from 2010 to 2018. Pitchers were no longer throwing 300 innings per season in the 1990s. Workhorse pitchers who went 8+ innings each start were also extinct by 1990.
Look at where we are today! The average pitcher can barely make it through 5 innings. Even the strongest, most durable arm of 2018 could not average 7 innings per start.
Forget About Complete Games
When baseball began, the starting pitcher was expected to finish his game. It was a disappointment if he had to come out early. It meant he was getting hit around.
The table below is fascinating. Thanks to FanGraphs, I was able to compile complete game and shutout stats to see how the way managers handle their pitchers has evolved.
Take a look.
|Year||Complete Games (%)||Shutouts|
In 1900, over 80% of starts were complete games. In 2018, it was less than 1%!
These days, a pitcher needs to be dominating and have an ultra-low pitch count or the manager will not even consider letting him try for a complete game.
Speaking of pitch count, tune in later this week for Part 2 of “The Demise of the SP” where I will dig up the pitch count stats and analyze how changes in starter and bullpen usage have impacted fantasy baseball.
See you on top!