Friday, July 9, 2010

Matt Garza vs. Lefty Grove

Below is a post from last year called Starting Pitchers As Relievers Over Time. Alot of people have been talking about starter Matt Garza coming in as a reliever the other day. But it was once fairly common for starters to pitch in relief. I don't claim to know all the reasons why the usage of pitchers has changed over time. But here is that post.


Many fans know that starters were often also used as relievers in the past. Lefty Grove, for example, only started 30 games the year he won 31 games (in 1931). He came in 11 times as a reliever. In 1930, he won 28 games while starting 32 and coming in to relieve 18 times.

On May 23, 1911, Christy Mathewson pitched a complete game victory giving up only 1 earned run. Then on May 26, he pitched the last 1 and 2/3 innings to get a win. When he came in in the 8th, the Phillies had two men on and had just scored 2 runs to tie the game. Then he got a double play. The Giants scored 2 in the bottom of the 8th and Mathewson pitched the 9th for the win, giving up no hits. The next day he pitched a complete game shutout.

But how often did starters pitch in relief in the past and how has this changed over time? I looked at the percentage of games pitched in relief by starters each decade starting with 1900-09. In each decade I found this % for the season leaders in games started. The number of pitchers in the leaders were 3 for each team in each year. I figured that each team would have at least 3 guys who started fairly often. But I also looked at the % for all pitchers who started at least 31 games (and at least 33 beginning in 1960). So the table below shows these percentages:

The first column shows the % of games pitched in relief by the leaders in starts. That would be the top 480 in games started in a season for the 1920s, for example. So in that group, 19.5% of their games were in relief. The next column shows the % of games pitched in relief by pitchers who started at least 31 games (up to the 1950s) or 33 games since the 1960s. The trends are pretty clear.

The graph below shows the percentages over time.

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