Follow Up To My Post On Complete Games!

Follow Up To My Post On Complete Games!

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Cy Young Photo Gallery
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More On Complete Games!

Before I leave the topic of complete games, here’s some more information I thought might be interesting. I don’t think there’s any other part of baseball that demonstrates how dramatically the game has changed over the decades that the downward trend of complete games.  

In the early 20th century, it was common for most good pitchers to complete games they started barring injury or rejection.  As last as the late 1950’s, I remember the Cubs had a relief guy, Don Elston, who was called in whenever the starter was having a bad game and couldn’t finish. In the Sixties, Fergie Jenkins and other great pitchers would regularly tally 30 complete games.

The 1970’s saw the introduction of a specific “closer,” which, in the Cubs’ case, was Bruce Sutter, who often pitched three innings to “close out” the game. Later years saw the introduction of specialized long relievers, middle relievers, eighth-inning set-up guys, and, what we have now, specific one inning “closers.” The manager’s job became more difficult as he now had to be good at “managing” the bullpen.

The change has largely been brought about by adherence to pitch counts; as well as the general trend toward specialization. Current baseball wisdom now says the risk of arm injuries becomes far greater after a pitcher has thrown 100 to 120 pitches. Given all this, Sabermetricians generally regard Cy Young‘s total of 749 complete games as the career baseball record most unlikely to ever be broken.

If you missed it the other day, here’s a photo tribute to Cy Young and his 749 complete games, a record we can safely say will hever be broken:

James Shields threw a total of 11 complete games in the 2011, the first pitcher to reach double digits since CC Sabathia threw 10 complete games in 2008. The last pitcher to throw as many as 15 complete games was Curt Schilling in 1998. The last pitcher to throw 20 complete games in a single season was Fernando Valenzuela in 1986. The last pitcher to throw 25 complete games in a season was Rick Langford, who had 28 for the Oakland Athletics in 1980. The last pitcher to throw 30 complete games in a season was Catfish Hunter in 1975.

So let’s take a look at how the complete game has evolved through the decades: As you’ll see, the percentage of complete games has been on a steady trend down:

Year           Games Started          Complete Games      Complete Games %

1904…………….2,496…………………..2,186…………………87.6

1914…………….3758……………………2067………………….55

1924……………..2462……………………1198………………….48.7

1934……………..2446……………………1061………………….43.4

1944……………..2484……………………1123………………….45.2

1954……………..2472……………………840……………………34

1964……………..3252……………………797……………………24.5

1974……………..3890……………………1089…………………..28

1984……………..4210…………………….632……………………15

1994……………..3210…………………….255……………………8

2004……………..4854…………………….150……………………3.1

2014……………..4860…………………….118……………………2.4

Career Complete Game Leaders:

  1. Cy Young – 749
  2. Pud Galvin – 646
  3. Tim Keefe – 554
  4. Walter Johnson – 531
  5. Kid Nichols – 531
  6. Bobby Mathews – 525
  7. Mickey Welch – 525
  8. Charley Radbourn – 489
  9. John Clarkson – 485
  10. Tony Mullane – 468
  11. Jim McCormick – 466
  12. Gus Weyhing – 448
  13. Grover Cleveland Alexander – 437
  14. Christy Mathewson – 434
  15. Jack Powell – 422
  16. Eddie Plank – 410
  17. Will White – 394
  18. Amos Rusie – 392
  19. Vic Willis – 388
  20. Tommy Bond – 386

Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search

Information: Excerpts edited from Complete Game Wikipedia page.

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

1 Comment

  1. Doug Mayblum · June 23, 2017 Reply

    Great perspective, Gary, as usual.

    I would like to point out that-as a boy growing up in NY- the image of Luis Arroyo ” saving” games for the Yankees in the early 60’s looms large. In 1961 he had 29 saves and at a ceremony honoring Whitey Ford Arroyo was brought out to the field in a lifesavor candy wrap.

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