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Baseball Told the Right WayIn-depth Baseball analysis on various topics regarding the sport we all love!
Complete Game Decay
John brings up a good point about Pedro's lack of complete games and shutouts. However, I think the raw numbers don't really tell the whole story.
Consider that the frequency of complete games overall has plummeted: from 632 in Roger's first season, to 209 last year. Roger had his prime in a time period where it was much more frequent for a manager to leave pitchers in to finish off games. You get a better picture if you look at where they ranked in complete games over the seven seasons before age 32. Advantage to Clemens, but it’s a lot closer than one would think.
Clemens 8th 1st 1st 4th 3rd 2nd 2ndPedro pitching in his new style isn't going to be racking up more than a couple of complete games each year, so he's not likely to keep pace with Roger, but its also worth noting that Clemens only pitched 22 complete games beyond his 32nd birthday.
I also think that it deserves looking into a little more in general, because I have heard other people use the complete game argument for other ol' timers. For example, Walter Johnson's 531 complete games makes him a better pitcher than Clemens and his 117, right? This ignores the changing dynamics of the game and really isn't too relevant.
People inherently seem to understand that Pedro's career ERA of 2.62 is a lot better than Cy Young's career 2.63 ERA, because Pedro did it in a higher scoring environment. A stat like ERA+ has the ability to quickly tell how good a pitcher actually was when you compare him to the league average pitcher (3.62 for the days of Denton True, and 4.50 today). Even Roger's 3.18 career ERA (140 ERA+) is slightly better than Cy Young's (138 ERA+), and Pedro's ERA+ of 174 shows just how much more dominant he was when compared to the league average.
The same idea has to hold for other pitching accomplishments as well. We have to understand the environment each pitcher pitched in. Heres a plot of the number of games pitched for every complete game in both leagues since 1901,
Pretty astonishing. Basically, if the current trend continues, and complete games go to zero, then that graph heads to infinity and we have true exponential growth, or more accurately, exponential complete game decay.
We have to compare everyone's totals to the league average if we want to judge two pitchers with respect to each other. So I took the total number of complete games divided by the total games started in each league (twice the total games played) to be the league average complete game rate. Multiplying that rate by a certain pitchers GS gives the number of league average CG. The difference between this and the pitchers total is what I call CG+, which is basically the number of complete games a pitcher had above the league average pitcher.
I know its not perfect, it will favor the workhorse pitchers from the 60s and 70s, but it sure helps to put things in a little bit of perspective. Here are some notable career CG+ totals,
Pitcher CGs CG+A little bit suprising that while Cy Young had 749 complete games, a league average pitcher would have had 663 over the same time span. This also helps when you compare two pitchers, Warren Spahn's total looks a little more impressive now doesn't it? Especially when compared to Walter Johnson. Also, Juan Marichal is always one of the most over-looked pitchers, he had a six year stretch where his CG+ totals were: 13, 15, 16, 11, 19, 17. That 19 is the highest total out of all the pitchers on the list, tied with Steve Carlton. Clemens' highest season total was 12 in 1987, Pedro had 11 in 1997. Maddux was consistent, but he never had a total higher than 8. That's okay though, neither did Cy Young, and he got an award named after him.