Blog Entry

The Complete Game - A Dying Art

Posted on: August 13, 2008 7:34 pm

I think one of the biggest changes in the sport of major league baseball over the past century has become the role of the starting pitcher.  I'm sure managers, like they have for the past 100 years have wanted their starters to go out and pitch the whole game and bring the team to victory, but a starting pitcher in 1907 was at least 12 or times more likely to go the distance in a game than a starter in 2007.  What I decided to do to illustrate how complete games have declined over the past century, I took a look at the league leaders by team in complete games for every tenth year from 1907 to 2007.  The results are interesting

1907 - (152 games played) St. Louis AL 129 CG,    (153 games played) St. Louis NL 127 CG

1917  - (152 games played) Boston AL 115 CG,*  (153 games played) Boston Braves NL  105 CG   *=Babe Ruth led the AL with 35 CG.

1927  - (153 games) Chicago White Sox, AL 85 CG, (154 games) Pittsburgh NL 90 CG

1937  - (154 games) NY Yankees, AL 82 CG,  (152 games) Boston Braves NL 85 CG

1947  - (154 games) Detroit Tigers, AL  77 CG, (154 games) Boston Braves NL 74 CG

1957  -  (154 games) Chicago White Sox, AL 59 CG,  (154 games) Milwaukee Braves NL 60 CG

1967  - (162 games) Minnesota Twins, AL 58 CG,  (162 games) S. F. Giants NL 64 CG

1977 - (162 games) Baltimore Orioles, AL 65 CG (J. Palmer, 22), (162 games) Houston Astros, NL 37 CG

1987  - (162 games) Boston Red Sox, AL 47 CG, (162 games) LA Dodgers 29 CG

1997  - (162 games) Toronto Blue Jays, AL 19 CG (162 games) Montreal Expos 27 CG

2007  - (162 games) Toronto Blue Jays, AL 11 CG (162 games) Arizona Diamondbacks, NL 7

I'll comment about how I feel and my beliefs on this later.  I just want to let you know that of all these league leaders in complete games listed that those teams finished the season everywhere from last in the league to World Series champions, so as far as attaching importance on who throws the most complete games is sort of moot. 

Anyway, happy reading, and please discuss what you think.     


Since: Jun 26, 2008
Posted on: August 14, 2008 8:55 am

The Complete Game - A Dying Art

I checked out some of those 1907 teams and was amazed that some of those teams only  used 8 or 9 pitchers ALL SEASON.  By comparison, we're about 3/4 of the way through this season and the Royals have already used 20 different pitchers, and I'm sure if I checked I'd find that some teams have used even more.  Pitchers of the early 20th century in some ways actually had it harder than todays pitchers too.  For one, they only pitched in day games.  That means they pitched in more heat and I'm pretty sure you'll find that games generally  favor the hitters in day games.   Secondly, teams traveled by train back in those days.  Of course the effects would be the same on the hitters as it would on the pitchers there.

Here's just a few things that I think have affected the drop off of complete games:

  1. Through the years, the baseball has been wound tighter to travel faster and further.  This favors the batters big time.
  2. I haven't done the research, but I'm sure that 100 years ago that teams didn't have nearly the resources in the minor leagues as today.  Most major leagues today have a rookie league, several A teams, a AA team and a AAA team.   Thats 5 teams backing up the major league roster. 
  3. Integration.  I noticed there was quite a dip in complete games after the 1947 season, which is the year that baseball became integrated.  I'm sure this forced many teams to created more minor league teams and many great black hitters were added to major league rosters. 
  4. Lowering the mound.  This took a huge advantage away from the pitchers.  This I believe happened after the 67 or 68 season.
  5. The designated hitter rule.  This added another good bat to the line-up.  Just another little thing that probably means alot.  Only affected the AL though.
  6. Expansion.  There were only 16 teams in 1907, now there are 30.  This thins down the talent pool.  There may be as many good pitchers now as then but nearly twice as many teams. 

I'm sure there are plenty other reasons, but I'll leave those for others.

Great blog entry and research, Kid.  Keep it up. 

Since: Apr 4, 2008
Posted on: August 13, 2008 8:32 pm

The Complete Game - A Dying Art

There are so many angles you can take on this subject that are both pro and con.

My favorite Pro-Complete game argument (s) are:  Most of the pitchers in the HOF were powerful and durable pitchers who finished many or most of the games they started.  Another good argument is that relievers are starters that aren't good enough to start in the majors.  Not always, but often enough to draw my attention, I've seen an effective starter come out after six or seven innings to see the relief pitcher get lit up immediately.

On the other side of the argument is that many starters lose effectiveness as they go longer into games.  Stats are kept on batting average against for each inning they pitch and many pitchers have a much lower batting average against in innings 1-5 as they do in innings 6+.


Since: Apr 11, 2008
Posted on: August 13, 2008 7:42 pm

The Complete Game - A Dying Art

I wish that more complete games were thrown.  They were more fun to watch, and made the game go faster.  Its annyoning to see a lefty come out of the bullpen, just to pitch to one guy, and then be replaced.  And I dont think throwing more CGs, or innings hurts a pitchers arm.  Look at Blyleven, Palmer, and Carlton from the 70s.  All of them turned out fine.  Having a starter pitch 6 inning just seems wrong to me.

Since: Aug 2, 2008
Posted on: August 13, 2008 7:42 pm

The Complete Game - A Dying Art

Great post. Good research.

I think ti's just that the philosophy of the game has changed with closers, and speacialty relievers. But I don't see why Today's starters can't pitch more complete games since we have made more medical advances since 1907. And the pitchers are bigger and stronger now.

I just think that it's amazing that those pitcher back then could throw that many innings in a year and that many complete games.

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