Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pampered Pitchers

There is a growing population of fans who believe that modern day pitchers are spoiled. It's difficult not to agree with this opinion when you consider that most of today's starters work every fifth day while being held to pitch counts that vary from 90 to 110 (depending on the assignment and the player). In 2011, Roy Halladay of the Phillies topped the NL with 8 complete games. That same year, Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals paced the senior circuit with 237.1 innings pitched. Though both men are clearly exceptional players, their totals would have not have landed them atop leaderboards in the early days.

In 1893 for instance, (the year the mound was moved from a fifty foot distance to its current location) Amos Rusie of the Giants tossed 482 innings. In 1904, Jack Chesbro of the New York Highlanders worked 454.1. The twentieth century single-season record for innings pitched belongs to Ed Walsh of the White Sox, who twirled 464 innings of ball in 1908. These totals are unimaginable by today's standards. In regard to complete games, Cy Young, who played for six teams between 1890 and 1911, turned in 749 complete games during his career. Walter Johnson, who spent his entire career in Washington from 1907 through 1927, went the distance 531 times in that span. Simply stated, moundsmen were expected to pitch until their arms fell off in the days of old.

Another skill lost among pitchers of today is the art of hitting. Before the DH rule came into effect, pitchers were expected to take their turn at the plate. As a result, many were highly adept with a bat. In a career that stretched from 1919 to 1936, George Uhle hit .289 with 8 homers and 98 RBI's. Wes Ferrell (brother of Hall of Famer Rick) accrued a .280 average with 38 long balls and 88 runs batted in. Carl Mays of the Yankees/Red Sox was no slouch either with a .268 average and 110 ribbies between 1915 and 1929. All three were used as pinch-hitters on a fairly regular basis.

By way of comparison, I examined this year's hitting stats for each of the five National League East staff aces. Through August 21st, they were collectively hitting .138 with 2 homers and 20 RBI's. Cole Hamels of the Phillies seemed to be the most prolific hitter in the bunch with a .222 mark. The worst of the group was Mark Buehrle of the Marlins, who had accrued a miniscule .054 batting average in 56 at-bats.

True, the game has changed considerably over the years and the demands placed upon old-timers were somewhat unreasonable. But a careful look at statistics leads one to the conclusion that pitchers were far more durable and multi-faceted in days gone by.

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