The complete game has been declining for 100 years. Jack Chesbro finished what he started 45 times in 1906 (1) and it’s been downhill ever since. Last season, Jordan Zimmerman’s tossed a minuscule 3 complete games to lead the league. The one man workhorse recording all 27 outs of a game has given way to pitch counts and bullpens.
Have arms weakened? The cow manure theory thinks so. Players, it argues, don’t need to work second jobs any more. They make more than enough money as baseball players. And even if they do work, the tough grinding, physical jobs like shoveling cow manure have been replaced by machines. The peripheral muscles supporting a pitcher’s arm are no longer strengthened and as a result, injuries happen.
Then there’s the dead ball era explanation. Beginning in 1920, the dirty, scuffed balls that had always remained in play were replaced by clean, fresh white balls. Batters once were blind, but now could see. Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920. That was 25 more than the previous high.(2) Pitchers had to be on their toes and put maximum effort into every pitch. They could no longer pace themselves over the course of a game and season. You snooze during one pitch, you lose.They got tired.
But what about the 1960’s when starting pitchers were so dominant that the mound was lowered. Or how about Fernando Valenzuela’s 20 complete games in 1986? Or Nolan Ryan and his 5386 career innings.(3) That averages out to 232 per season over 25 years. Of course there will always be freaks of nature, but since the year 2000, there has been only one pitcher who reached double figures in complete games. And so what? Is the workhorse becoming extinct such a bad thing?
Maybe this is quality over quantity, of maximizing effort in smaller sample sizes. Maybe it’s not weaker arms at all.
Julien Tucker-Concordia Stingers
The division of labor seeps into all life forms; from ant hills to a Dunkin’ Donuts kitchen. It’s efficient and effective. Baseball’s lone work horse has thankfully become an octopus. The starting pitcher now gives way to the 6th or 7th inning man who gives way to a LOOGY (Left Hand-One Out Guy) who gives way to the set up man who gives way to the closer or some such variation.
The sequence reminds me of animals who sense an earthquake before it happens. They flee up the mountainside at precisely the right moment and survive. A pitcher who is left in a game too long is far less effective than a fresh bullpen featuring highly specialized arms.
(1) Baseball Almanac, Year by Year Leaders for Complete Games, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/pitching/picomg4.shtml
(2) Baseball Almanac, Home Runs Year-by-Year Leaders, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/hitting/hihr5.shtml
(3) Baseball Reference, Nolan Ryan Player Page, http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/ryanno01.shtml