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.

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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.

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