Times Have Changed

In the process of the last post I looked at the 1974 Orioles’ pitchers down the stretch run (starting August 29, 1974) and went to compare them to major league pitchers at large … looking at the 86 pitchers who threw 35 or more innings over that stretch (during which Baltimore played 34 games), I was struck even more than usual by the pitcher dominance of the era. Of those 86, for that period:
*Pitchers with ERAs of below 2.00: 18
*Pitchers with ERAs of below 2.50: 28
*Pitchers with ERAs of 5.00 or higher (mind you, this only requires a bad month): four.
*Pitchers who allowed one home run or more per 9 innings: 15.
*Pitchers who allowed no home runs at all: 5 (including Bert Blyleven in 55.2 innings).
*Pitchers who allowed more than a hit per inning: 17
*Pitchers who threw between 4 and 7 complete games in a little over a month: 22
*Starting pitchers who threw no complete games: 9
*Starting pitchers who threw 65 or more innings: 8
*Relievers who threw 40 or more innings: 2

5 thoughts on “Times Have Changed”

  1. There was a post on powerlineblog.com that discussed how pitchers who went on two days rest in the World Series (and won three games such as Mickey Lolich) are essentially extinct. To say it is a different game is true, and is an understatement in my opinion.
    So we probably can agree that there is a massive amount of specialization centered around pitch counts, seventh inning only specialists, lefties only specialists, set-up men, closers and whatever else is going on.
    Crank, in your world of computer driven metrics, can you figure out if the average pitching career has been lengthened by such specialization (and babying)? I would be willing to give up on the “in my day” rant, if it can be shown that a four man rotation trying to win with complete games prematurely wore out more pitchers then than today. Or, to rephrase, it’s different, yes, but is it better?

  2. And what surprises me is that despite the kid glove treatment today’s pitchers receive, the injury rate seems unabated compared to eras past.

  3. We don’t need computer stats to know that pitchers now last far less than they used to. The number of pitchers who would turn in close to 300 innings a year as recently as the 70s and 80s (which is several baseball generations removed I guess) was more. Off the top of my head, those who pitched more frequently, and for more innings:
    Palmer, Seaver, Carlton, Morris, Sutton, The Niekros, the Perrys.
    Anyway, it’s not that they were tougher, but the conditions of the game that changed. As I see it:
    1. The strike zone is much smaller now. The umps in the 70s and some in the 80s were around for the dead ball days of the 60s.
    2. It was the beginning of the mutant oil filter stadia (still love the word), meaning much more foul outs.
    3. Closers were becoming fashionable, since it does make sense to insert a fresh ace to end the game. Lyle, Gossage, Sutter.
    4. No steroids, so no enhanced bat speed to create more protective foul balls that now go into the stands instead of outs in the smaller parks.
    5. Pitchers are told to pitch every 5th day, instead of every 4th. THey have to, since they make more pitches in fewer innings, due to the changed K Zone. Seaver used to pitch 8-9 innings, strike out 12, walk only 2, and last 100 pitches.
    6. Pitchers don’t take a full windup anymore. Byrd is now a rarity, and is considered a throwback. Seaver took a full windup, Gibson and Marichal were extreme, Koufax did it. So they pitch more with their arms than their legs now.
    7. Pitchers have always been subjected to a higher injury rate. You rarely remember them unless they were already great. Koufax will always be remembered, and was enshrined. So was Dean. Gooden was on their level, but because he did it to himself, won’t be remembered. Otherwise, you do remember the pitchers around for 20 years, because, they, like everyday players around that long, are there because they were great. Or Jesse Orosco.
    8. Pitchers, especially lefties, have always been considered a comodity. And a vital resource. I can see Bob Short insisting that pitchers be paid 1/5 what a regular gets, but the normal owner has them on the higher end of the payscale.
    In short, thicken the bats, ban steroids and keep them away, and slightly enlarge the strike zone, and you will see pitchers last longer. Then there will be a huge outcry to change the game from a low scoring dull one. The tug of war goes on…

  4. Daryl:
    Excellent points, especially about modern-day pitchers’ windup, which I had never even considered. Why did major league pitchers move away from the full windup?

  5. Why did managers decide to pull their starters sooner and bring in specialists? Because they felt it gave them an edge on the hitters in the later innings. Forcing a batter to see a new pitcher for each at bat was deemed to give the pitcher an edge.
    When managers saw the effectiveness of the Gossage, etc in the ninth, they have extended this tactic to earlier in the game. Creating the one batter lefty specialist, setup man, etc. The late inning specialists also allowed the manager to use his closer more often but for less innings. Closers used to work 2 innings all the time.
    One other reason was because a shortage of quality relievers. It is tough to find a Gossage, etc who always can shut down the batters. By using many pitchers the thought is that by using them less they can be more effective.
    Has this proven out? Has the steady stream of pitchers after the 6th inning given the team in the lead a higher % of wins OR helped a team stop the bleeding and come from behind? I wonder if we compare teams win/loss records when they led after 6 innings would it show a steady increase since the late 90’s?

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