Pitching has changed. I recently saw a sarcastic post somewhere on social media with an image of Cy Young and a comment about pitch counts. The man who won 511 games and whose name is eternally linked with great pitching given the award that bears his name played in a different time that, in may ways, saw a different game. Consider the fact he averaged eight innings in his 906 games, an astonishing 7,356 total frames. Pud Galvin, who is second in career innings has 6,003, way behind Young. Interesting nickname as well.
Heck, even a Hall of Fame reliever, Bruce Sutter, who we lost far too soon this week, averaged 1.6 innings per appearance in his career. And we’re talking about a guy who amassed 300 saves in his career, at that.
In the next generation of pitching, there were starters, relievers and a hybrid role of spot starting/long relief. For years, starters went to the mound every four days, and often completed the games. Relivers then regularly went more than just one inning. The spot starter may be used in double headers, which were more common years ago and they didn’t clear out the park to double dip on attendance – you literally got to watch two games for the price of one. That was also the arm skippers turned to if the starter got shelled on rough outings.
Cubs: Back in the day, Fergie Jenkins was an absolute horse on the mound
Ferguson Jenkins, the man with the new and overdue statue at Gallagher Way outside Wrigley Field, was the workhorse of the Cubs rotation in the late sixties and early seventies. In his nineteen-year career, he threw in 664 games, starting 594. He threw over 270 innings nine years in a row. Jenkins had 276 complete games in his illustrious career. I will be a grandfather (again) in May and I don’t think there will be 276 complete games in the entire league by the time the little tike graduates from high school (we don’t yet know if we have a baseball or softball player on the way).
It was a brilliant move to trade Jenkins after the 1973, as he went on to win 115 more games before coming back for his final two seasons (note the sarcasm there, folks). They did get Bill Madlock, who won two batting titles, but after that notable accomplishment they traded him too. Another really smart move.
Today, we have openers, and sixth, seventh and eighth inning specialists – as well as closers. The game has evolved with pitchers throwing less. In 2022, only eight pitchers went more than 200 innings, and only Sandy Alcantara was above 205 innings with a now remarkable 228 2/3. I was surprised there were actually 36 complete games, with Alcantara having six of them.
While watching a game the last week of the season, Boog and JD had me thinking. Although Deshaies pitched a dozen years in MLB, primarily for the Houston Astros as a starter, Sciambi actually broached the idea of a pitcher having a role of securing ten outs every four days. In today’s pitching world, this comment, one of hundreds he makes throughout every game, made a lot of sense to me, particularly with two Cubs pitchers: Adbert Alzolay and Keegan Thompson.
Alzolay was the first quality homegrown pitcher in a drought during the Cubs recent ‘Glory Days’ (I am admittedly a Springsteen fan and the song has pitching in it). Thompson came on the scene last season and had a very strong 2022, leading the staff with ten wins. Both were groomed as starters, yet both are tremendously better out of the bullpen.
Of course, Alzolay missed most of the 2022 season due to injury, and when he did come back it was exclusively out of the pen. Why? Simple. As a starter, he has a career ERA of 5.19. As a reliever, it’s 2.32. This is the definition of a no-brainer. Thompson both started and ended the season out of the bullpen, where his ERA was a nasty 1.47. As a starter, 4.83. Start preparing to warm up around the fourth inning, kid.
Could a new pitching term have been inadvertently invented that I happened to pick up? Now do we have the term “10-4” pitcher? “10-4” is a police communication term actually invented by Illinois State Police Director Charles Hopper more than 80 years ago. It means “OK.” 4-10 is a very small-bore shotgun, which I coincidentally own an old single shot variety my dear departed father left me. The game has changed countless times over the years – is this the next shape it takes?