# Pitch Counts and Normalized Innings

More on pitching. A couple years ago, Joe Sheehan wrote an article about decreasing workloads for pitchers. He concluded that
“Whereas the task of pitching the entire game may have been a reasonable expectation for the first 30, 40, maybe 80 years of organized baseball, now it requires too many pitches thrown with too much effort.”
A problem that analysts have faced in comparing pitchers of yesteryear to today’s pitchers has been the problem of decreasing workloads. Cy Young pitched well over 7,000 innings; even today’s greatest horse, Roger Clemens, has thrown 3,000 innings less. But if we were to look at their pitch counts, we would probably see that the gap was much smaller than their innings pitched would suggest. The problem is that pitch count data is not available for the time we need it most: 100 years ago, when it took many fewer pitches to finish a game than it does now.
Thankfully, Tangotiger, one of the leaders in sabermetric analysis, has proposed a simple formula for estimating pitch counts:
3.3*PA + 1.5*SO + 2.2*BB
I’ve found that it correlates almost perfectly with actual pitch counts (r = .97), so this tool is very useful when trying to figure innings pitched based on pitch counts. What I did was, using the Lahman Database, estimate the number of pitches thrown by every pitcher in baseball history. Then, to translate that into modern innings, I divided by 170 and multiplied by 9 as I’ve found that the average game takes about 170 pitches nowadays.
Here is the modified career leader board:

 nameLast nameFirst IP Pitches Tr.Inn Young Cy 7354.7 106073 5616 Ryan Nolan 5386 89217.5 4723 Galvin Pud 6003.3 87620.2 4639 Johnson Walter 5914.7 86633.8 4586 Niekro Phil 5404.3 83826.9 4438 Carlton Steve 5217.3 81790.5 4330 Perry Gaylord 5350.3 80779.7 4277 Sutton Don 5282.3 79697.9 4219 Spahn Warren 5243.7 78134.4 4137 Blyleven Bert 4970 76080.2 4028 Keefe Tim 5047.7 75744.5 4010 Nichols Kid 5056.3 75693.5 4007 Alexander Pete 5190 74451.6 3942 Seaver Tom 4782.7 72435.7 3835 Wynn Early 4564 71452.4 3783 John Tommy 4710.3 71120.9 3765 Clemens Roger 4493 70835.4 3750 Kaat Jim 4530.3 68843.4 3645 Roberts Robin 4688.7 68794.1 3642 Mathewson Christy 4780.7 68758.6 3640 Jenkins Fergie 4500.7 67701.4 3584 Ruffing Red 4344 67681.4 3583 Radbourn Charley 4535.3 67073 3551 Rixey Eppa 4494.7 66293.6 3510 Plank Eddie 4495.7 65869.9 3487 Welch Mickey 4802 65642.2 3475 Tanana Frank 4188.3 65135.8 3448 Grimes Burleigh 4179.7 64381.7 3408 Lyons Ted 4161 62967.5 3334 Maddux Greg 4181.3 62353.9 3301 Faber Red 4086.7 62163.1 3291 Newsom Bobo 3759.3 61274.5 3244 Feller Bob 3827 61146.3 3237 Martinez Dennis 3999.7 61074.7 3233 Grove Lefty 3940.7 60899.3 3224 Gibson Bob 3884.3 60639.1 3210 Hough Charlie 3801.3 60567 3206 Jones Sam 3883 60012.4 3177 Morris Jack 3824 59971 3175 McCormick Jim 4275.7 59921 3172 Palmer Jim 3948 59371.8 3143 Koosman Jerry 3839.3 59256.4 3137 Quinn Jack 3920.3 58312.4 3087 Glavine Tom 3740.3 58067.2 3074 Bunning Jim 3760.3 58021.9 3072 Whitehill Earl 3564.7 57296.7 3033 Hoyt Waite 3762.3 57221.5 3029 Reuss Jerry 3669.7 56760.5 3005 Lolich Mickey 3638.3 56627.8 2998 Niekro Joe 3584 55444.7 2935

While the overall order remains fairly similar, the innings become much more compressed (the standard deviation among the top-50 drops from 754 to 559). The difference between Cy Young and Roger Clemens becomes 1,000 innings smaller. It’s still huge, however, and that’s because while I have adjusted for pitch counts, I have not adjusted for the second part of the equation: that Young was able to throw pitches with lesser effort due to the substandard batters he generally faced. I have an idea of how to adjust for this, and when I look into it, I’ll present my findings, but for now, I just want to show just how pitch counts can impact innings pitched.

### 6 Responses to Pitch Counts and Normalized Innings

1. Evan says:

I’m interested to hear why the batters were substandard. Is it truly fair to hold against Cy Young the fact he did not play in a HR-happy era?

2. David says:

I think it’s a general axiom that the quality of competition in baseball has improved as scouting networks have broadened. Think about it this way: plenty of old-time pitchers have said that they would generally only throw 90% of what they could against most batters, trying their hardest against only the best. Nowadays, you never see pitchers holding back; they have to give it their all in each at-bat–batters are too good not to.

3. tangotiger says:

The better number should be around 150, not 170. There are about 3.75 pitches per batter, and about 40 batters per game.
Another way to think about it is that the average starter has almost 100 per start, with 6 innings per start. 100 per 6 is 150 per 9.

4. David says:

You are correct Tango. I noticed that my estimates were consistently low with 170. However, since this is actually a leaderboard in terms of pitches thrown, with innings only calculated to show a more familiar number, the leaderboard itself would not change.

5. ultdsi says: