Should Pitchers be Pushed like Perry

Saturday, December 03 2022 @ 02:03 PM EST

Contributed by: John Northey

We just saw Gaylord Perry pass away, one of many guys who thrived in the era of no pitch limits. When guys could throw 300 IP in 5 of 6 years (Perry did it ages 30-36 with 'just' 280 one year) and had 6 more 200 IP seasons left in his arm after that (!!). I could go antidotal on it but I prefer raw data.

Guys in the 70's and 80's whose arms could endure 300 IP made the HOF, those who didn't fell apart. A quick check of the Lahman Database (all stats from 1871 to now in an Access database) shows me for guys who played in the 70's...

For the guys who played in the 80's we see... 5000 IP (6 - Greg Maddux only one not in the 60's & 70's groups), 300 wins: 10 (Maddux, Clemens, Johnson plus the 70's gang), 200 wins: 34 players

Using the 90's... 5000 IP: 2 (Nolan Ryan & Maddux), 300 wins: 5 (all active in the 80's), 200 wins: 28

The 00's... 5000 IP (Maddux), 300 wins: 4 (all from the 80's), 200 wins: 24 (3 dead on - Chuck Finley, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester).

The 10's... 4000 IP (1 - Jamie Moyer, 4074, none higher - Justin Verlander cracked 3000 last year), 300 wins: none (Moyer highest at 269), 200 wins: 12 so far (more likely - Clayton Kershaw is just 3 shy, Adam Wainwright 5 short, )

Clearly a big drop after the 80's. Lets go back a bit...

60's: 5000 IP: 6 (only Warren Spahn wasn't part of the 70's), 300 wins: 8 (Spahn and Early Wynn the only non-70's guys). 200 wins: 29 pitchers.

50's: 5000 IP: 1 (Warren Spahn), 300 wins: 2, 200 wins: 16 pitchers

40's: 5000 IP: just Warren Spahn, 300 wins: 3. 200 wins: 16 pitchers

30's: 5000 IP: 1 (Pete Alexander), 300 wins: 3, 200 wins: 23 pitchers

20's: 5000 IP: 2 (above plus Walter Johnson), 300 wins: 3 (1 with 400+), 200 wins: 27 pitchers

Before that we get into a version of baseball that would be almost unrecognizable - dead ball era where 50% stolen base success was acceptable, home runs were rare, and Babe Ruth was a pitcher.

10's: 5000 IP: 3 (Cy Young included with over 7000 IP), 300 wins: 5 (1 with 500+, 2 400+), 200 wins: 26 pitchers.

1900's: 5000 IP: 3, 300 wins: 5, 200 wins: 21

Active at all in the 1800's: 5000 IP: 4 guys, 300 wins: 7, 200 wins: 26 pitchers.

Interesting to look at it by decade IMO.
5000 IP4343222656210
300 wins75644338610540
200 wins26213031281918303036282312
# of pitchers9125918367536577497168239471,0531,4511,7602,146
# of 300 IP seasons486142864417131025401------
# of 200 IP seasons772522517450393321316447592474410413271

What does this tell us? IMO that the methods used in the 70's and 80's, while sometimes destroying arms (like Mark Fidrych) also allowed guys to have very long successful careers. I'm wondering if it might be time for ML front offices to dig into this stuff a bit more and say 'screw it' to pitch and inning limits and be ready for more Tommy John surgery for the youngest pitchers who can't handle it (move to the pen) while the guys who can get to throw 250-300 innings again. Maybe with more deep analysis one could figure out which arms are likely to blow out and how to prevent it - stuff like different variety of pitches (Perry used a LOT of different pitches, not just the spitball), stronger defenses so pitchers feel 'safer' letting the ball get into play, stuff like that. Pitchers who are horses draw fans - we all know Catfish, Gaylord, Ryan, Maddux, Johnson, Clemens for example but today's stars rarely get to push it so Verlander, Scherzer, Greinke, Kershaw are rarely known by fans outside of the core, heck I forgot how good Greinke was for a minute and had to go back and add him in. Instead of just cracking 200 wins those guys should be near 300 by now and seen as 'days off' for the pen like Stieb and Halladay were. In the 1960-1989 era a pitcher who went 7 innings per start was seen as a non-ace, a secondary starter. Pedro Martinez was downgraded by many due to his barely breaking 200 IP often (although he did lead in CG his last year in Montreal while winning the Cy, then came in 2nd the next year then 2 more Cy's so clearly it didn't hurt him). Can't help but wonder if teams overthink these things now with the 2 times through the order thing and the like. I suspect some club will see that and push guys in the minors up to 200 IP then have a stack of killer long arms allowing their pen to be more focused and more effective - but will need to risk blowing out a few arms. But given how many are blown out as is maybe it isn't a bad idea.

Btw, the last 250 IP season was Justin Verlander in 2011, a year after Roy Halladay last did it. Just 7 of those seasons in the 00's. The last 300 IP season was 1980 by Steve Carlton, after 40 of them in the 70's. Last 350 IP season was Wilbur Wood in 1973 (also in '72) with Mickey Lolich in '71 the only other one post integration. Just twice in the 40's (Bob Feller and Dizzy Trout), none in the 30's, 3 in the 20's, 384 before that (dead ball era). So clearly 350+ IP is not practical but it is interesting that it happened more often in the 70's than in the 1930-1969 period. The 300 IP mark being very common in the 70's with 40 of them happening or 4 a year if you prefer. Can that be done again? Given better conditioning and training of today vs the 70's one would think so. I suspect a big part of the reduction is risk resistance by clubs and pitchers - no one wants to risk blowing out a kids arm, the second guessing is insane.

For the 70's: Was it one type of pitcher doing 300 IP then? Nope. Fergie Jenkins 3 times, Gaylord Perry 5 times, Jim Palmer 4 times, Mickey Lolich 4 times, Phil Niekro 4 times, Nolan Ryan 2 times, Wilbur Wood 4 times. Knuckleballers did it a lot, but so did flamethrowers (scary to imagine how many pitches Nolan Ryan must've thrown those 2 years). Now, if it was all one guy doing it I'd write it off or a few doing it once then blowing their arm out. But so many with different pitches doing it tells me there was something more there. If I ran a ML team I'd be determined to find out why those guys were able to do 300+ IP regularly with so many lasting into their late 30's/40's. In 73/74 Ryan faced 2747 batters, with over 1100 either walking or K'ing. That means a minimum of 5353 pitches over 2 years, or 2676 a year - but given his wildness odds are double that is possible. 886 is the most any pitcher faced in 2022 or far less than what Ryan faced on AVERAGE for 2 years. Bauer in 2019 was the last to face 900 batters in a season, David Price in 2014 was the last to face 1000 batters, last to face 1100 Scott Erickson in 1998, 1200 Charlie Hough in 1987, 1300 Phil Niekro in 1978, 1400 Phil Niekro in 1977, 1500 Wilbur Wood in 1973 (seeing a trend here), 1600-1700 Ed Walsh in 1908, 1800 Frank Killen in 1896, 1900 Theodore Breitenstein in 1895, 2000-2600 Bill Hutchison in 1892, 2700 Pud Galvin in 1883, and the most insane season is Will White in 1879 facing 2906 batters.

Sorry, once I started I had to see it through. FYI: White had a 120 ERA+ that year over 75 starts, 1 relief game, only 6 games not started by him for the Cincinnati Reds that year, 46 IP. He was the only pitcher for them to win a game - 3 times he won 40+ games, 3 times in his 10 season career he had 500+ IP, another 3 over 400 IP. He was a lousy hitter (41 OPS+) and twice led the league in K's as a batter while only pitching. His insane 2900 batter faced season was his 3rd (age 24) and he'd pitch in 7 more seasons. Love weird stuff like that from the underarm pitching era.