Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

PITCHING THEN & NOW

They don't make 'em like they used to.....

Cleveland Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia won the 2007 A.L. Cy Young Award last week. His biggest edge over his next closest competitor, Josh Beckett, was innings pitched. Sabathia led the Majors with 241 innings.

Gaylord Perry was the last Cleveland Indian to win the Cy Young Award, in 1972. Perry started 40 games (these days most pitchers aspire to 30), had 29 complete games (these days most are lucky to have one or two), went 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA (that's almost unheard of today), and pitched 342 innings (these days most shoot for 200). Perry’s offseason conditioning program consisted of riding a tractor.

What's become of the modern day pitcher? They use sophisticated offseason conditioning programs and yet still need huge, expensive bullpen relief cores behind them. That’s because the majority of them can only pitch six or seven innings on most starts – if they’re lucky. These guys don't even come close to the workloads of their predecessors, such as Gaylord Perry.

Roy Halladay led the Majors with seven complete games this season, while Sabathia and Brandon Webb were tied for second at four apiece.

In fact, no pitcher has reached double digits in complete-games since Scott Erickson had 11 for Baltimore in 1998.

From the 1920's through the mid-‘80's, 20-30 complete games a season were commonplace in baseball. No longer.

Most recently - in 1985 - Bert Blyleven had 24 complete games for Cleveland and Minnesota. And in 1986 Fernando Valenzuela had 20 for the Dodgers. But no pitcher has reached 20 complete games since then, and it's likely that no one ever will again.

But it’s not just complete games that are lacking in today’s game; it’s the number of starts as well.

In the old days teams went with a four-man rotation. The new, five-man rotations lessen the opportunities for each pitcher. But many wonder why modern pitchers can only last five or six innings before giving way to a reliever. The answer, in part, may be that teams see their young pitchers as fragile investments and treat them as such.

Dontrelle Willis was the only pitcher who made 35 starts in 2007, the first time in a non-strike season that multiple pitchers did not make at least 35 starts. And Sabathia’s 241 innings were an enormous workload by today’s standards.

But a generation ago, such workloads were routine. Bert Blyleven, who pitched from 1970-1992, exceeded 35 starts in a season nine times and threw 241 innings or more 12 times — yet led the league in innings just twice and in starts only once. In 1973, Blyleven threw an astounding 325 innings.

Take a look at some Red Sox history. The Sox greats of past generations customarily finished most of the games they started. That is now the rare exception, rather than the rule. The complete game is almost a relic of the past.

They don't make 'em like they used to.....

PITCHER -- STARTS -- COMPLETE GAMES

Cy Young: 297 / 275
Bill Dinneen: 174 / 156
George Winter: 176 / 141
Smokey Joe Wood: 157 / 121
Lefty Grove: 190 / 119
Mel Parnell: 232 / 113
Luis Tiant: 238 / 113
Babe Ruth: 144 / 105

Now compare these “modern” Sox pitchers to those old timers:

Roger Clemens: 382 / 100
Bruce Hurst: 217 / 54
Oil Can Boyd: 145 / 39
Pedro Martinez: 201 / 22
Tim Wakefield: 328 / 22

Part of the blame has to lie with the emphasis on throwing heat. Fastball pitchers who can reach the high 90’s are coveted, and many -- like the Tiger’s Joel Zumaya -- end up throwing their arms out. Shoulder and elbow injuries -- and the subsequent surgeries -- have become commonplace.

The art of pitching seems to have been lost, as young pitchers have been encouraged to try to blow hitters away with the heater.

On the other hand, Greg Maddux has always believed in the value of movement and location above velocity. Maddux has often taken the unorthodox approach of throwing softer when in a jam instead of harder. And it has served him quite well in terms of longevity and effectiveness.

Maddux has thrown at least 200 innings in every season from 1988 through 2006, with the exception of 2002 when he threw 199 1/3. This year he threw 198. Who would argue with the future Hall of Famer?

Throwing softer and truly pitching - instead of hurling - can extend the life of a pitcher. Maddux and fellow forty-something Tom Glavine are prime examples. They're older, but still getting it done.

Both Glavine and Maddux will be back in 2008, fooling batters once again.

Glavine got an $8 million, one-year deal from Atlanta, where he spent the first 16 years of his illustrious career. He declined a one-year, $13 million contract option with the Mets to return to the Braves. Apparently, for Glavine, it's not all about the money. Meanwhile, Maddux signed a $10 million, one-year deal with San Diego.

The interesting note; both will be 42 on, or near, Opening Day and both are 300-game winners.

Glavine, who turns 42 on March 25, went 13-8 with a 4.45 ERA in 200 1/3 innings for the Mets last season. Maddux, who turns 42 on April 14, went 14-11 with a 4.14 ERA last season, his first with San Diego.

Glavine is a five-time 20-game winner, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, and one of just five lefthanders in Major League history to earn 300 career wins.

His counterpart, Maddux, is also among the 23 pitchers to have won at least 300 games. Maddux is currently ninth on the all-time wins list with 347 victories. His list of accomplishments is even more amazing: the first pitcher in Major League history to win the Cy Young Award for four consecutive years (1992-1995); the only pitcher in the Major Leagues to have 20 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins; the only pitcher in MLB history to win 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons; the winningest pitcher in both the 1990's and 2000's; just the thirteenth member of the 3000 strikeout club and only the ninth pitcher with both 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.

Pitching coaches at the Little League, high school and college levels, as well as management at the big league level should take notice. They should use Glavine and Maddux examples of longevity and success. This season, Glavine threw 200 1/3 innings at the age of 41, while Maddux threw 198 innings at the same age.

Due to expansion, there are 30 teams today – more than ever before. That means there are also more pitchers than ever before, many of whom wouldn’t have been able to make it to the Big Leagues in decades past. This has weakened the talent pool substantially. With 30 teams having five-man rotations, that means there were at least 150 starting pitchers in the Majors this year – and obviously there were more due to injuries and call ups. Despite this, only 38 pitchers managed to throw at least 200 innings in 2007. This is shameful.

Young pitchers need to forget the heat. They need to work on the craft of pitching. They should learn to use multiple pitches and learn to locate the ball to all four corners of the plate. This will extend careers, extend innings pitched, and diminish the workload on, and necessity of, expensive -- and often useless -- bullpens around the Big Leagues.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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