Why don't pitchers complete the game like they used to?

I’m watching the Pirates v. Cubs. Pirates are up 3-0 and the starter dominates through 7 innings. But because his pitch count is too high, they take him out in favor of a reliever. Now the Cubs are about to tie the game.

Why do modern day managers do this? The starter is having a great day, so let him finish. Or at least let him stay in until he starts struggling. You know the starter is on his game, but maybe the reliever will be off this day, why take the chance?

Hell, Harvey Haddix pitched 12+ perfect innings and Lew Burdette pitched all 13. Why is the modern, well-conditioned athlete unable to pitch like those guys used to?

Well, pitch count controvery aside, why wait for the starter to begin struggling or exposing him through the lineup too many times when you have so many situational relievers at your disposal?

In this instance, I think it was just a convenient time to remove Maholm because he had almost gotten to 100 pitches and the pinch hitter, Reed Johnson, happens to be 7-11 lifetime against him.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on pitch counts today, true. It’s been fairly well-established that letting a pitcher pitch too long in a game (or for too many innings over the course of a season) – particularly for a young pitcher – substantially increases the chance that he’ll injure his arm. For example, the Verducci Effect.

Yes, baseball players are in much better condition, overall, today than they were decades ago…but that condition is largely reflected in muscle strength and endurance. I believe that there’s little, if anything, you can do to make your tendons and ligaments stronger.

Also, back in the day of Harvey Haddix and Lew Burdette, bullpens were seen (and viewed) differently by managers. Bullpen pitchers were, largely, pitchers who weren’t seen as good enough to be starters. The idea of a relief specialist, or a closer, wasn’t well-established. So, back then, if you pulled your starter, by default, you’d be going to a poorer pitcher. That’s not necessarily the case today.

Oh, and, today, of course, the Pirates’ bullpen imploded, and lost the lead to which their starter had staked themp. :stuck_out_tongue:

Hitters, on average, are far stronger and better conditioned than they were in 1960. And, the strike zone is approximately half as big.

To pitch to today’s hitters with today’s strike zone, you have to throw a lot more hard breaking pitches and moving fastballs, which put a lot more torque on the elbow. Hence, six innings every five games instead of nine every four.

Just an average player in the high minors today is a fairly dangerous hitter by historical standards, particularly with whippy fast bats. For most pitches and deliveries, the pressure for perfect execution, pitch after pitch after pitch, means considerable strain on the arm.

Arbitrary pitch counts are a crude and lazy means of addressing this, but they are an effort to meet a real threat to pitchers’ health. A better approach would be for managers and pitching coaches to really learn their pitchers, and understand their particular signs of tiring. A given pitch count may be just fine one day and too long another, because every game is different. But adhering to a simple number gives managers something of an ass-cover after both lost games and arm injuries.

Having so many relievers is itself an effect of the fetish for pitching changes. And it’s not as if there is no field-level cost to teams for devoting half their roster to the bullpen. I’ve seen plenty of games lost for want of a decent pinch-hitter or positional substitution.

There’s certainly a legitimate need for more relievers today than even thirty years ago. But there’s also a managerial over-reliance on pitching roles (closer, set-up) and tiny platoon advantages.

Most of the time, IMO, if one of your better starters is in control of the game and not showing physical signs of tiring, changing him out just because you can is the wrong move.

It’s been shown that the effectiveness of pitchers starts to decrease significantly after they’ve thrown about 100 pitches. Also, arm abuse is more closely correlated with throwing a lot of pitches in a game than with throwing a lot of innings. Innings can be very quick, with no stress and only 7 pitches, but a 25 pitch inning or 130 pitch game puts a ton of stress on the pitcher and his arm.

The real point is that they have to throw them most of the time, given the much more powerful lineups we’ve seen over the last 2 decades (tho runs/game has been falling of late). Even through the 70’s and into the 80’s there were enough weak bats (even with the DH), big ballparks, and fast outfielders that the pitcher could often coast a bit during certain stretches, saving his gnarly stuff for key moments. There are fewer weak spots now, and more people on base, meaning that a starting pitcher has to be “on” more often than he used to.

Denny Mclain finished 28 games in 1968.

Yes he did, when he was 24. How many did he finish after 1970?

Yes, the “Year of the Pitcher.” Since that season essentially every change in the game has been in favor of hitters, with the possible exception of the recent effective prohibition of steroids.

It started in 1951, with the abolition of much-argued “can throw underhanded” rule.

I also recall reading somewhere that batters take more pitches and work the count more than they used to. This would obviously increase the number of pitches thrown in an average inning, meaning the pitcher would tire in the 6th inning now when he would have tired in the 10th inning in the old days.


Just yesterday, the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia pitched a complete game shutout. Everyone was quick to note that Garcia had an extremely low pitch count (he finished the game with only 102 pitches) and that he had extraordinarily good control all the way through. A few cynics also noted that the Cardinals’ closer had already blown his first save opportunity of the season.