Carleton: Was there ever a golden age of high pitch counts?

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on December 2, 2013:

How many pitches did pitchers really throw “back then?” You know, during the days when men were men, a mustache was a mustache, and pitchers weren’t coddled. No one did any drugs ever, especially in baseball, and pitchers finished what they started. Just ask any lawn care professional who specializes in youth removal and was a fan of the game back then. Yes, the 1960s and 1970s were the halcyon days of high pitch counts, when all that you needed was a 10-man pitching staff. It was glorious.

But of course, something changed. Now, a pitch count much further north of 100 is treated like a major catastrophe and teams often carry enough relievers to fully staff a couple of barbershop quartets. The complete game has gone the way of Britney Spears’s dignity. Everything is so different now, and those who, for whatever reason, are beholden to the idea that 40 or 50 years ago, everything was so much better want to know what happened. The answer is a little surprising: Things have changed, but not as much as one might think, nor as dramatically.

Perhaps the biggest shift over time has been from the four-man rotation to the five-man rotation (and we’ll take that up some other time), but we’ve also seen a shift within a single start. In 1950, the average starter faced 29.4 batters and recorded 20.0 outs during his time on the mound. By 2012, those numbers had fallen to 25.1 batters and 17.5 outs. Over more than 60 years, starters have lost a little less than an inning of durability. In a nine-inning game, that’s not inconsequential, but a graph of how it happened shows that there wasn’t any one point where suddenly, starters stopped being interested in going deep into games. In fact, what’s striking about this graph is how gentle a descent it really is.

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Originally published: December 2, 2013. Last Updated: December 2, 2013.