Carleton: The complete value of a complete game

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on April 1, 2014:

The complete game has become an increasingly rare beast. In 2013, there were 124 complete games registered by the 4,862 pitchers who started out on the hill, and Adam Wainwright led all of baseball with five. If a pitcher makes it through nine innings, he’s likely having a very good day, and nine innings of well-pitched baseball is nothing to sneeze at. But a complete game is more than that. It’s a sign of manliness. It’s like shouting, “I don’t need no stinkin’ bullpen!” It’s a cultural touchstone. It’s the guy yelling at his TV, “Finish what you started, you silly overpaid, coddled millionaire. I finish my day of work without calling in a reliever.” A pitcher who completes a game is just getting in touch with the common man.

There’s a certain fascination surrounding the pitcher who goes deep into games, even if he doesn’t complete them. It’s been argued that such a player provides value well beyond the confines of the game in which he pitches. Logically, the argument makes sense. Coin Wyers pointed out that the deeper into a game a pitcher goes, the better the bullpen performs. Mostly, that has to do with the fact that if a manager can get through the seventh with his starter, he can tell his third- and fourth-best relievers to take the night off. In some bullpens, the last thing you want is that fourth-best reliever throwing any pitches. Others have suggested that if a manager has a starter on whom he can count to go deep into a game, it affects his choices on how to work the bullpen the day before (he doesn’t have to “save” as many arms for the next day) and after (all of the relievers are rested). In that way, the complete game affects three different games!

And then someone says it. “How do you really figure out the full value of the complete game? I mean, there’s the game itself, but there’s all that value that he’s adding in the game on either side, and that’s not being captured in the stats. There’s just no way to fully value that.”

I do believe that was the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down.

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Originally published: April 1, 2014. Last Updated: April 1, 2014.