Friday, September 30, 2016

The fading of the 200-inning pitcher

Ervin Santana's 2016 season is done. He put up a 3.38 ERA, tied for second lowest of his 12-year career, in 181.1 innings and 30 starts. He was on the disabled list for two weeks early in the year, and if I remember correctly had a couple of starts truncated or even washed out by rain, But all told, he averaged just over six innings per start, and started less than one-fifth of the team's games.

One-hundred eighty-one innings leads this team by a pretty substantial margin. It doesn't rank all that highly among American League starters -- Santana entered Thursday 20th in the league in innings, and I expect he'll be passed by some in the final days of the season.

I am, yet again, struck by the way the game has changed over my decades as a fan. As of Thursday, just seven American League starters had worked 200 innings -- seven pitchers on 15 clubs. Again, that number is likely to rise a bit in the final days of the campaign, but still ... My current Strat-O-Matic project involves the eight worst teams of 1969, and there are 11 200-plus inning pitchers on those teams. Pitchers in that era frequently started more often in a season, and they emphatically expected to average more than six innings a start.

The Twins have had just three 200-inning seasons since they moved to Target Field: Carl Pavano in 2010 and 2011 and Phil Hughes in 2013.

We sometimes scoff at the "innings-eater" label attached to less-than-stellar hurlers, but the ability to last a full season in a major league rotation and get consistently into the seventh inning is valuable. Santana has had a pretty good season, and he couldn't do either.

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