Complete Games by Pitchers

This article was written by Stanley Fleming

This article was published in the 1976 Baseball Research Journal


Since the designated hitter rule went into effect in 1973, American League starting hurlers have been completing a greater percentage of their games. In 1975, for example, Catfish Hunter completed 30 of his 39 starts, Jim Palmer 25 of 38, Gaylord Perry 25 of 37, and Ferguson Jenkins 22 of 37. In the NL, Andy Messersmith finished 19 of 40, and Randy Jones 18 of 36.

The AL percentages still are not as high as they used to be in the deadball era. Since 1900 there has been a gradual decrease in the percentage of complete games, a decline interrupted in the AL by the DH. This decrease is probably best illustrated by career records since the days of Jack Taylor, who completed 97% of his career starts. Here are the hurlers who had the best completion rates for their particular eras.

 

Years Pitcher Team Starts CG Pct.
1898-1907 Jack Taylor 2 clubs 286 278 97%
1898-1915 Bill Donovan 4 clubs 327 287 88%
1907-1927 Walter Johnson Nats 666 532 80%
1923-1946 Ted Lyons White Sox 484 356 74%
1927-1941 Wes Ferrell 6 clubs 323 227 70%
1934-1950 Bucky Walters 4 clubs 398 242 61%
1942-1965 Warren Spahn 3 clubs 665 383 57%
1960-1975 Juan Marichal 3 clubs 457 244 53%
1959-1975 Bob Gibson Cardinals 482 245 51%

 

 

Completing 50% of a pitcher’s starts these days is considered quite a feat. Hall of Fame hurlers like Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford were well under 50%. With the retirements of Marichal and Gibson, the only veteran hurlers with creditable percentages are Ferguson Jenkins (200 out of 362 for 55%) and Gaylord Perry (236 out of 438 for 54%). Both are in the American League.

On a season basis, the only hurlers in the past 70 years to complete all their starts in one year were Walter Johnson in 1918 (a World War I season) and Ted Lyons in 1942 (a World War II season). Lyons was 41 years old and had become a Sunday hurler by that time. He not only completed all of his 20 starts, but led the AL in the ERA as well.

The lowest percentage by a leader was the 43% completion rate by the Angels’ Dean Chance in 1964.

The emergence of top notch relief hurlers is one of the factors in the decline in the number of complete games. Also, pitchers today do not pace themselves as they did in earlier years. Now they can throw as hard as they like because they know there is some one in the bullpen ready to relieve them. So it is not really fair to say that pitchers of long ago were better because they completed most of their games. The strategy has changed.

One part of that strategy is the hitting of pitchers. If the hurler is good with the bat, the manager is not so prone to remove him for a pinch hitter. This is reflected in the good complete game records of hurlers like Red Lucas, Wes Ferrell, Jim Tobin, Bucky Walters, and Red Ruffing. This rationale could even be extended to pitcher Babe Ruth, who led one year in complete game percentage.

There are other interesting names in the list of pitchers with the best completion rate each year. The survey is based on a minimum of 20 starts for the 154-game schedule, and 21 starts for 162 games.

 

Pitchers With Highest Complete Game Percentage

Year

NL Leader

GS

CG

Pct.

 

AL Leader

GS

CG

Pct.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1901

Red Donahue

34

34

100%

 

Roscoe Miller

36

35

100%

1902

Jack Taylor

33

33

100

 

Al Orth

37

36

97

1903

Noodles Hahn

34

34

100

 

Bill Donovan

34

34

100

 

Jack Taylor

33

33

100

 

Addie Joss

32

32

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Kitson

28

28

100

1904

Jack Taylor

39

39

100

 

Bill Dinneen

37

37

100

 

Kid Nichols

35

35

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pat Flaherty

28

28

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Lynch

24

24

100

 

 

 

 

 

1905

Jack Taylor

34

34

100

 

Addie Joss

32

31

97

 

Mordecai Brown

24

24

100

 

 

 

 

 

1906

Jack Taylor

33

32

97

 

Jack Powell

26

25

96

1907

Elmer Stricklett

26

25

96

 

Bill Donovan

28

27

96

1908

Kaiser Wilhelm

36

33

92

 

Cy Young

33

30

91

1909

George Bell

30

29

97

 

Jack Warhop

23

21

91

1910

Mordecai Brown

31

27

87

 

Jack Coombs

38

35

92

1911

Gr. Alexander

37

31

84

 

Walter Johnson

37

36

97

1912

Ch. Mathewson

34

27

79

 

Joe Wood

38

35

92

1913

George Tyler

34

28

82

 

Walter Johnson

36

30

83

1914

Dick Rudolph

36

31

86

 

Ray Caldwell

23

22

96

1915

Gr. Alexander

42

36

86

 

Walter Johnson

39

35

90

1916

Gr.Alexander

45

38

84

 

Walter Johnson

38

36

95

1917

Jesse Barnes

33

27

82

 

Babe Ruth

38

35

92

1918

Arthur Nehf

31

28

90

 

Walter Johnson

29

29

100

1919

Jeff Pfeffer

30

26

87

 

Walter Johnson

29

27

93

1920

Gr. Alexander

40

33

83

 

Eddie Cicotte

35

28

80

1921

Burleigh Grimes

35

30

86

 

Red Faber

39

32

82

1922

Dutch Ruether

35

26

74

 

Red Faber

38

31

82

1923

Burleigh Grimes

38

33

87

 

Herb Pennock

27

21

78

1924

Dazzy Vance

34

30

88

 

Louis Thurston

36

28

78

1925

Dazzy Vance

31

26

84

 

Sherry Smith

30

22

73

1926

Carl Mays

33

24

73

 

George Uhie

36

32

89

1927

Red Lucas

23

19

83

 

Ted Lyons

34

30

88

1928

Larry Benton

35

28

80

 

Lefty Grove

31

24

77

1929

Red Lucas

32

28

88

 

Tommy Thomas

31

24

77

1930

Ervin Brame

29

22

76

 

Ted Lyons

36

29

81

1931

Red Lucas

29

24

83

 

Lefty Grove

30

27

90

1932

Red Lucas

31

28

90

 

Lefty Grove

30

27

90

1933

Dizzy Dean

34

26

76

 

Lefty Grove

28

21

75

 

Lon Warneke

34

26

76

 

 

 

 

 

1934

Carl Hubbell

34

25

74

 

Ted Lyons

24

21

88

1935

Dizzy Dean

36

29

81

 

Ted Lyons

22

19

86

1936

Dizzy Dean

34

28

82

 

Red Ruffing

33

25

76

1937

Jim Turner

30

24

80

 

Wes Ferrell

35

26

74

1938

Paul Derringer

37

26

70

 

Bobo Newsorn

40

31

78

1939

Bucky Walters

36

31

86

 

Red Ruffing

28

22

79

1940

Bucky Walters

36

29

81

 

Thornton Lee

27

24

89

1941

Bucky Walters

35

27

77

 

Thornton Lee

34

30

88

1942

James Tobin

33

28

85

 

Ted Lyons

20

20

100

1943

Rip Sewell

31

25

81

 

Orval Grove

25

18

72

1944

Bucky Walters

32

27

84

 

Tex Hughson

23

19

83

1945

Red Barrett

34

24

71

 

Boo Ferriss

31

26

84

1946

Johnny Sam

34

24

71

 

Bob Feller

42

36

86

1947

Ewell Blackwell

33

23

70

 

Fred Hutchinson

25

18

72

1948

Johnny Sam

39

28

72

 

Carl Scheib

24

15

63

1949

Warren Spahn

38

25

66

 

Mel Parnell

33

27

82

1950

Vern Bickford

39

27

69

 

Ned Garver

31

22

71

1951

Warren Spahn

36

26

72

 

Ned Garver

30

24

80

1952

Robin Roberts

37

30

81

 

Allie Reynolds

29

24

83

1953

Robin Roberts

41

33

80

 

Bob Porterfield

32

24

75

1954

Robin Roberts

38

29

76

 

Bob Porterfield

31

21

68

1955

Robin Roberts

38

26

68

 

Billy Pierce

26

16

62

1956

Robin Roberts

37

22

59

 

Billy Pierce

33

21

64

1957

Warren Spahn

35

18

51

 

Dick Donovan

28

16

57

1958

Warren Spahn

36

23

64

 

Bob Turley

31

19

61

1959

Vernon Law

33

20

61

 

Camilo Pascual

30

17

57

1960

Lew Burdette

32

18

56

 

Chuck Estrada

25

12

48

1961

Warren Spahn

34

21

62

 

Frank Lary

36

22

61

1962

Warren Spahn

34

22

65

 

Camilo Pascual

33

18

55

1963

Warren Spahn

33

22

67

 

Camilo Pascual

31

18

58

1964

Juan Marichal

33

22

67

 

Dean Chance

35

15

43

1965

Sandy Koufax

41

27

66

 

Mel Stottlemyre

37

18

49

1966

Juan Marichal

36

25

69

 

Jim Kaat

41

19

46

1967

Juan Marichal

26

18

69

 

Steve Hargan

29

15

52

1968

Bob Gibson

34

28

82

 

Denny McLain

41

28

68

1969

Bob Gibson

35

28

80

 

Mel Stottlemyre

39

24

62

1970

Bob Gibson

34

23

68

 

Mike Cuellar

40

21

53

1971

Ferg. Jenkins

39

30

77

 

Mickey Lolich

45

29

64

1972

Steve Canton

41

30

73

 

Gaylord Perry

40

29

73

1973

Bob Gibson

25

13

52

 

Gaylord Perry

41

29

71

1974

Phil Niekro

39

18

46

 

Gaylord Perry

37

28

76

1975

Randy Jones

36

18

50

 

Jim Hunter

39

30

77

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