A little while ago I looked at the Juan Marichal-Warren Spahn duel, and Steve Lombardi at WasWatching followed up on that post by posting a table of pitchers from 1962 onward who have gone at least 11 innings. I’m following up on Steve’s post with a look at the 300 times from July 1961 through 1990 in which a team’s starter pitched at least 11 innings. Here’s a graphic summarizing the number who did so each year from 1961 through 1990:

No one has gone 11 since 1990, after at least two pitchers had done it every year through 1990. My sense had been that the number of starters going an extreme number of innings in a game fairly steadily declined from the ’60s onward, but the chart shows that’s wrong: most years of the ’60s had under 10 11+ inning performances.

The peak quite clearly came in the mid ’70s, with 103 starters going at least 11 innings from 1973 through 1976, and another 29 in ’77 and ’78. Things to notice about those years: Nolan Ryan went 11 innings five different times, Gaylord Perry did it seven times (he did it 11 times in his career), Jim Palmer went 11+ innings eight times from ’73 through ’77, Mark Fidrych did it four times in 1976. And, Charlie Hough (five times) and Mike Norris (five times) were the two great workhorses of the ’80s. Bob Gibson went 11+ five times from 1965 through 1970, Catfish Hunter did it three times in 1976. Fidrych and Norris had their careers shortened by injuries (Fidrych threw 22 innings in two straight starts on May 31 and June 5 of ’76), but the six others had long careers.

From ’81 through ’90 the total was just 38, and at that point apparently teams collectively decided to stop pushing their pitchers so far, because we have seen no such performances since 1990. I don’t know what the rationale is (possibly it’s an effect of higher salaries, or having more relievers on hand), but it is very hard to believe that pitchers were no longer capable of going 11 or more innings in a game once the 1991 season started.

About 41 of these games had both starters go at least 11 innings. Andy Hawkins is the last pitcher to go more than 11 innings (11 2/3rd, on July 6, 1990, the next start after he took a no-hit loss for the Yankees. He lost both games.). The last pitchers’ duel on the list is Jeff Sellers vs. Teddy Higuera, in a 3-2 Red Sox win at Fenway on Oct. 2, 1987.

There are many star and Hall of Fame pitchers on the list, including four perfect game pitchers and quite a few with no-hitters, but also guys like Bill Singer (five 11+ inning games in the mid-’70s), Dave Freisleben, Dave Lemanczyk, and Dave Goltz (all of whom had two 11+ inning games in the mid-’70s). Aside from Marichal in ’63, the two other pitchers to go 16 innings in the last 50 years are Tom Cheney in ’62, and Gaylord Perry in ’67.

Phil Niekro in 1977 (11 innings, eight runs allowed for the loss) is the one pitcher who gave up more than six runs, although 14 allowed five or six runs and pitched at least 11 innings. Jose DeLeon (in 1989) and Bill Singer threw one-hitters for 11 innings to lead the pack for fewest hits allowed, with DeLeon facing the minimum of 33 batters in his 11 innings, for a 103 game score, the formula Bill James came up with for judging how well a starter pitches (compare to Tom Cheney’s 115 game score, the 112 for Marichal and Gaylord Perry in 1967, and a 116 for Dean Chance in his 14-inning game in 1964). DeLeon probably threw the best unsung game by any pitcher in the last several decades: a single away from perfection for 11 innings.

The game over the last 50 years with the least offense seems to be Chris Short and Rob Gardner each pitching 15 scoreless innings on October 2, 1965, to start off an 18-inning 0-0 tie between the Phillies and Mets. A game with 15 hits total by the Phillies and Mets, including four doubles, and 129 plate appearances, 21 more than the minimum for 18 innings. A game that took 4 hours 29 minutes, the second half of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium with attendance of 10,371, between a 50-110 team (N.Y.) and an 83-76 team (Philly). You wonder how many fans were around at the end of it, and whether they were happy leaving the ballpark. They’d seen the equivalent of three games for the price of one, but the last two didn’t have much action.

134 of these 300 pitchers went 11+ innings for a loss, assigned either to them or a reliever, three did so for ties, and that leaves 163 who came away with wins for their efforts, either their own or a reliever’s. Two interesting recorded pitch counts from the list are DeLeon with 109 and Sandy Koufax with 205 in a 13-inning 1961 game. 15 of the 300 starts were in October, presumably cases of managers figuring they may as well use every last drop from their starters at season’s end. Finally, both Dennis Eckersley and Goose Gossage went at least 11 innings as a starter.

That’s an amazing bar graph. Like you, I would have expected a slow, long-term drop in the numbers, not a dramatic spike in the ’70’s. But in a way, it makes sense. With run scoring so low throughout much of that decade, pitchers weren’t often getting knocked around as early and as often as they would have been in both earlier and later decades.

Also, I have to wonder what effect better nutrition among the pitchers who came of age in the 1950’s had on health, size and stamina of these pitchers in the ’70’s. Many of them, as I recall, were fairly big guys. They would have been both active and well-fed as youngsters much better fed than, for example, the kids who grew up in the Great Depression. I have no evidence to support this theory, but how else to account for that spike in that one generation?

Great data,

Bill

I think the announcers’ and commentators’ obsession now days with number of pitches thrown and the speed are completely anal. A pitcher for the Pirates just got put on the DL for “DISCOMFORT” in his shoulder…….overpaid bunch of crybabies !