By Scott Myers, Contributor
For the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, there were just 13 pitchers who logged 200 innings or more – less than 1/2 a pitcher per team. Up until 1998, except for strike interrupted seasons, the average per team hung at two or higher.
So back in the day, when you went to game, you could expect four or more pitchers on the two teams’ staffs to be hitting this milestone. Now you can expect to see about one on the combined two team’s staffs.
The 300-innings pitcher disappeared after 1980 – Steve Carlton pitched 304 innings that year. The last pitcher to throw 250 innings or more was Justin Verlander in 2011 (251 innings pitched [ip]). Most recently, Max Scherzer led MLB in ip for the 2018 season with 220 2/3 innings.
As the two graphs below show, the trend toward lower innings pitched has existed for many years, from about 1975 onwards. And now a new factor is coming into play that will probably accelerate this decline of starting pitchers’ workloads – the ‘opener’, introduced during the 2018 season by the Tampa Bay Rays, and also used late in that season by the Oakland A’s, with apparent success.
The opener is a relief pitcher who starts a game and pitches one to two innings before giving way to a ‘starting pitcher’ or another relief pitcher. It is interesting that the two teams that have embraced this concept (Rays and A’s) are the two teams in alleged financial distress and in ‘dire’ need of new stadiums.
Starting pitchers earn much more than relief pitchers, so if a team can have fewer starting pitchers on its roster, its payroll will naturally decline. Couple this with the fact that ‘starting pitchers’ that can log a respectable amount of innings over the course of the 162–game season are becoming a rarer and rarer breed.
So, with the dual motivation to win more games and lower payroll, the ‘opener’ may sweep MLB by storm very quickly. Who will be the last 200-inning pitcher and how soon will it be?
Are ‘innings pitched’ an important statistic for MLB starting pitchers? You bet they are! The correlation between innings pitched, Baseball Hall of Fame membership (BHOF), and wins is quite overwhelming. Lets’ look at three metrics:
Except for the 2000’s decade, the wins leader ranked no lower than 3rd for innings pitched for the decade. The apparent anomaly of Andy Pettitte being the wins leader while ranking 11th in innings pitched can be at least partially explained by the fact that for seven of Andy’s 10 years during that decade were with the NY Yankees who just happened to have the best closing relief pitcher in MLB history – Mariano Rivera.
25 of the all-time top 30 ip pitchers are in the BHOF.
The above table shows that 28 of the all-time top 30 ip pitchers are also members in the all-time top 30 wins category.
How have ‘innings pitched’ leaders been paid over the years? They are paid dramatically better now than ‘back in the day’. The table and chart below shows that Clayton Kershaw, the highest paid MLB pitcher (and player) for the 2018 season, earned about 117 times more money per ip, adjusted for inflation, than Warren Spahn did back in 1959.
The trend continues in MLB to be paid more for less with each passing year. Enjoy your $10 beers and $25 parking fees. Maybe you will be lucky enough to attend the last game ever pitched by a ‘200 inning’ pitcher.
Source for all data presented here is https://www.baseball-reference.com