Carleton: Whatever happened to the complete game?

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on December 9, 2013:

In 2013, Adam Wainwright led Major League Baseball by pitching five complete games. In 2012, Justin Verlander was much more of an ironman and pitched six. A mere 30 years ago, in 1983, six complete games would have landed Verlander in a tie for 42nd place with such notables as Storm Davis, Bob Forsch, Jim Gott, Ken Schrom, and Bruce Hurst. Even 20 years ago, six complete games would have been good for a tie with David Cone for 15th place in MLB. What happened to finishing what you started?

Last week, we saw that starting pitchers really have seen a reduction in their workload over time. Since 1950, there has been a steady downward trend in the number of batters that pitchers have faced, the number of outs they’ve recorded, and the number of pitches that they’ve thrown. Indeed, the percentage of games in which the starter records at least 27 outs has fallen from 30 percent in 1950 to two percent in 2012.


What happened to the complete game? Well, for one, it’s hard to get through nine innings in 100 pitches, or even 110, and as we saw last week, managers have reined in their starters over time. But perhaps there’s another reason why managers have felt more and more comfortable turning to the bullpen in the seventh inning. Let’s see if we can figure it out.

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Originally published: December 9, 2013. Last Updated: December 9, 2013.