A Pitching Stat Making a Comeback in 2009

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A Pitching Stat Making a Comeback in 2009
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

This past weekend of interleague series around baseball certainly yielded its share of interesting matchups, wild finishes, and crooked numbers on the scoreboard. 

However, it was something that happened twice in the three days of gameson Friday and then again on Sundaythat was perhaps most worth noting.  Something that was much more prevalent in the days long before interleague play. 

That something: a complete game thrown by the starting pitcher.

On both Friday and Sunday, there were four complete games thrown by different pitchers.   

Friday, those who went the distance were: the Diamondbacks' Dan Haren, the Giants' Tim Lincecum, the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Royals' Luke Hochevar.

Sunday's complete game hurlers:  the Orioles' Brad Bergesen, the Marlins' Josh Johnson, the Giants' Matt Cain, and finally, the Indians' Cliff Lee in a masterful three-hit shutout in the ESPN Sunday Night game. 

Notice who is not mentioned abovethe Blue Jays' Roy Halladay, who has led the majors in complete games the past two seasons, and the Royals' Zack Greinke, who currently leads the majors with five.  Halladay did pitch on Friday night, but left the game early and will miss his normal turn in the Jays' rotation this week.  

In addition to this past weekend's surge in pitchers going the distance, we have seen a noticeable rise in complete games (CGs) thrown throughout the league so far in 2009. 

There have been 67 CGs in 70 days since this season began.  If that pace continues the rest of the season, the total number of CGs will be right around 170.  Last year's total was 136.  In 2007, the number was even lower at 112.  That would mean a 25 percent increase from '08 to '09, and a 52 percent increase from '07 to '09.

Currently, there are 48 different pitchers who have thrown CGs so far in '09.  This number is also on pace to be significantly higher than last year's total of 83 different pitchers throwing CGs, and the 71 who did so in 2007. 

Of the aforementioned 48, 13 of them have thrown two or more CGs this season.  After Grienke's league-leading five CGs, Halladay, Cain, and the Angels' Jared Weaver have each thrown three.  Nine other pitchers have thrown two.

Looking at the numbers from a team perspective, there are currently 13 teams who have gotten at least three CGs from their starters this season.  There were 14 such teams who had at least three all of last season.  Two teams who currently are in playoff contention in their respective divisions, the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants, each have five CG efforts.  The Royals, behind Greinke, lead all teams with seven. 

Even the Washington Nationals, with the majors' worst record at 16-45, have had three CG outings.  Two of these have come from rookie pitchersRoss Detwiler and Shairon Martis.  Manager Manny Acta should get a little bit of credit for fighting conventional wisdom, and having the confidence in those youngsters to get the job done.

A possible indication that Acta and other managers throughout baseball are putting more confidence in their starters to finish what they start is in the number of shutouts relative to CGs.  This season, there have been 20 shutouts, accounting for 30 percent of all CGs.  Last season, there were 54 shutouts, which was 40 percent of all CGs. 

This difference seems to lend support to the fact that more of the CGs this season are not simply dominant starts where a pitcher has incredible stuff working that particular day.  A greater number seem to be a product of manager confidence in the starter, or perhaps, a lack thereof with the relief options available.  

Another possibility is that managers are trying to get as many good innings as they can out of their starters now, in an effort to help preserve the bullpen in the second half of the season.  If that is the case for some managers and teams, then the CG total for the season will end up being much closer to the '08 total than current projections would suggest.

For teams who hope to contend throughout the entire 162-game season, like the Rangers and Giants, this management of innings could prove crucial, for better or worse, to their team's postseason chances.

 

All 2009, 2008, and 2007 statistics used in this article are from mlb.com and mlb.com/historicalstats.

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