Friday, October 23, 2009

Thinking about Pitching

Everyone raves about legendary St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson’s awesome 1968 season with his incredible 1.12 ERA, but I’ve always been more amazed at how someone who was so dominant that year could’ve possibly lost 9 games. (He won 22.) As it turns out, in his losses Gibson gave up 3, 2, 1, 1, 3, 3, 2, 1, and 2 ER, respectively. Surprise, surprise: the Cardinals didn’t hit much behind him. Duh.

Interestingly, in 1968 he gave up 4 earned runs twice; a W and a ND was the end result in those. In the 4 games he gave up 3 earned runs he got 1 W, 3 L, and a ND. His decisions went as follows:


April: 1-1 (L: 3 ER)
May: 2-4 (L: 2, 1, 1, 3 ER, respectively)
June: 6-0
July: 6-0
August: 4-1 (L: 3 ER)
September: 3-3 (L: 2, 1, 2 ER, respectively)

Gibson threw 304.7 innings in 34 starts. He had 28 complete games, 13 shutouts, and averaged 8.96 innings per start, which is pretty much a compete game. Wow...

Speaking of complete games, former Mets pitcher Ron Darling recently brought up how the number of complete games pitched has steadily declined in the last 40 years.

According to Baseball Almanac, from the late ‘60s and throughout the ‘70s the complete game leaders went from 30 games and the high 20s, to the high teens. The ‘80s saw a drop to mostly totals in the teens. During the ‘90s the likes of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Jack McDowell, and Curt Schilling were the leaders in reaching teen digits in complete games pitched. (McDowell led it twice: ’91, ’92.)

In this decade, we didn’t even get that far: Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay is king with two seasons of 9 complete games; in ‘03 and ‘08. (Liván Hernández had 9 with the Montreal Expos in ’04.)

So, what is it with modern day pitchers? And no, I’m not going to compare a legendary HoFer like Bob Gibson to anyone currently on the mound, but how is it that guys that were barely in shape back in the day routinely pitched complete games—not to mention relievers, who were expected to throw multiple innings per outing—while the physically superior hurlers of today are thought to give a “quality start” when they pitch 6 innings? (And why is a reliever that pitches an inning in 2 consecutive games more often than not unavailable on the third day?) Oh, and these starters were on 4-man rotations, which gave them more playing time but also less rest than the 5-man rotations we see today.

Are young pitchers coming up today not subjected to enough endurance training and development? Is pitching such a commodity now that there is an urge to overprotect the financial investment? Has expansion baseball watered down the pool of quality pitching? (Former Phillies reliever and current MLBN analyst Mitch Williams recently stated, half in jest, “If you’re lefty and have a pulse you’ll pitch in the majors,” or words to that effect.)

As team president, the great Nolan Ryan is said to be instituting changes within the Texas Rangers organization to ensure young pitchers will be able to go further into games. Only time will tell if he is successful. I sure hope so.

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