From 1900-1009, the top 10 leaders in innings pitched totaled 28,217, or an average of 282 innings pitched per year. Two pitchers, Cy Young and Vic Willis, averaged over 300 innings per year.
Skip a century, to the 2000-2009 decade. The top 10 leaders in innings pitched totaled 19,917.2 innings, for an average of 199 innings pitched per season. Only three pitchers, Livan Hernandez (2,201.1), Javier Vazquez (2,163), and Mark Buehrle (2,061), topped the 2,000 innings pitched mark for the decade.
The statistics in this article are from Baseball Digest (May/June 2010, Vol. 69, No.3).
So, 100 years ago, starters pitched 42 percent more innings then the innings-pitched leaders of the past decade.
Relief pitchers and “closers.”
According to Wilkipedia, “The importance of relief pitchers has increased significantly since the 1960s. This change in mindsets can be seen by watching any major game, as well as by monitoring the salaries of such pitchers. In decades past, the relief pitcher was merely an ex-starter who came into a game upon the injury, ineffectiveness, or fatigue of the starting pitcher. The bullpen was for old starters who had lost the ability to throw effectively.”
Today, relief pitchers are much more than “old starters.” They have their own hierarchy. Again quoting from Wilkipedia, “Relief pitchers are further divided informally into closers, set-up relief pitchers, middle relief pitchers, left-handed specialists, long relievers, and mop-up relief pitchers.”
The most important relief pitcher on the team is the “closer.” Again, according to Wikipedia, “A closing pitcher, more frequently referred to as a closer (abbreviated CL), is a relief pitcher who specializes in closing out games, i.e., getting the final outs in a close game. Closers often appear when the score is close, and the role often goes to a team’s best reliever.”
The impact of the relief pitcher and closer can be seen in the phenominal upswing in the number of “saves” by closers in the last 100 years (For the definition of saves and the save rule, please see the link at the end of this article.).
During the 1900-1909 period, there were 142 saves recorded. On average, hat is not even two saves a year. Jump 100 years, and the number of saves recorded for the decade was 2,711, or an average of 27 per year. That is a whopping 1,901 percent increase from 100 years ago.
While the starting pitchers of the 1900-1909 period pitched much more innings then their modern day counterparts, they were less stingy with runs. During the 10 year stretch, the top 10 leading pitchers in earned run average (ERA) averaged 1.96, or a shade less than two runs per game. Five of the 10 leaders had ERAs under 2.00.
For the 2000-2009 decade, the top 10 starting pitchers had an ERA average of 3.28. Not one pitcher had an ERA less than 3.00 for the decade. So, the modern pitcher gives up, 1.32 runs per game, or 67 percent more runs per game then his 1900-1909 counterpart.
And, the starting pitcher of the last decade pitched much less innings than his 100 year old counterpart.
Because the starters of 1900-1909 pitched many more innings, they won many more games than the hurlers of 2000-2009. The top 10 win leaders for the 1900-1909 stretch won an average of 19 games a year. Two pitchers, Christy Matheson (236) and Cy Young (230), averaged over 20 wins a year.
Not one pitcher in the top 10 wins category for the 2000-2009 period averaged over 15 wins per season. Andy Pettitte came closest with 148. The wins average for the leading 10 pitchers can be rounded off to 14.
The leading pitchers of the 1900-1909 decade won 36 percent more games than those of the 2000-2009 decade.
The impact of relief pitching, in addition to the fall in innnings pitched and and wins in 100 years, can be seen in a comparison of the number of shutouts in 1900-1909 and 2000-2009. In the first decade of the 20th Century, Christy Matheson led all pitchers with 61 shutouts, or an average of six per year. Granted, Matheson had 12 more shutouts than the second place leader of the period, Rube Waddell, who had 49.
From 2000-2009, the shutout leader was Roy Halliday, with 14, or an average of not even two per year. There were 135 shutouts pitched from 2000-2009, compared with 430 hurled between 1900-1909. That represents a decrease of approximately 69 percent over the last 100 years.
As for strikeouts, batters during the first decade of the last century struck out much less often than their modern counterparts. The top 10 strikeout leaders of the 1900-1909 decade averaged 142 strikeouts per year. Only one pitcher, Rube Waddell, averaged more than 200 per year for 10 years.
The leading strikeout pitchers of 2000-2009 averaged 166 strikeouts per year, or 17 percent more than the leaders of 1900-1909. However, as previously noted, the pitchers of the modern era pitch much less innings. The average 2000-2009 pitcher struck out 166 batters in 199 innings. The average 1900-1909 pitcher fanned 142 in an average of 282 innings of work.
So, is “less more” when comparing the starting pitcher of the last decade with the starting pitcher of 100 years ago? Ultimately, that is for the reader to decide. Certainly, today’s pitching is more of a “team game,” with pitchers compartmentalized in a number of roles. The conclusion reached could be that, as far as major league pitching, the game today is much, much different than it was 100 years ago.
Baseball Digest (May/June 2010, Vol. 69, No.3
Definition of relief pitchers:
Definition of the save and save rules: