A few things about complete games

UPDATE 4/1/16: I have updated this post here.

For those of you under the age of 30, a pitcher is given credit for a “complete game” if he is his team’s only pitcher in a game.  Okay, I don’t say this to be snotty; I don’t think there’s anything inherently better or more manly about the idea of a pitcher going all nine (or more) innings rather than having help from the bullpen.  But the game has really changed from a generation ago, and I’m going to include some numbers here that will boggle the mind if the only baseball you know is that of the 21st century.

I don’t mind telling you, my motivation to do this post is the free trial (through November 20) of Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index (yes, Sean Forman, I need to renew my paid subscription).  That makes it possible to generate the charts I’m going to use here, and if you’ve never played with PI, you really should give it a whirl.

Play Index makes it possible to analyze games using play-by-play data going back to 1954.  (Retrosheet also has play-by-play date for a number of seasons prior to that, but B-R has not yet incorporated it.)  Here now is a chart with data from all seasons 1954-2009…CG (complete games) and BF (batters faced) are both on a per-teamgame basis.  You’ll notice that complete games were more than ten times as common 45 years ago; in 1954, more than one-third of starting pitchers went the distance, while in 2009 it was fewer than one in 30.

Year R/G CG BF WHIP HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2009 4.61 0.03 38.49 1.390 1.0 3.5 7.0
2008 4.65 0.03 38.64 1.391 1.0 3.4 6.8
2007 4.80 0.02 38.80 1.406 1.0 3.3 6.7
2006 4.86 0.03 38.71 1.408 1.1 3.3 6.6
2005 4.59 0.04 38.32 1.369 1.0 3.2 6.4
2004 4.81 0.03 38.83 1.400 1.1 3.4 6.6
2003 4.73 0.04 38.57 1.383 1.1 3.3 6.4
2002 4.62 0.04 38.46 1.376 1.1 3.4 6.5
2001 4.78 0.04 38.49 1.379 1.1 3.3 6.7
2000 5.14 0.05 39.16 1.468 1.2 3.8 6.5
1999 5.08 0.05 39.06 1.463 1.2 3.7 6.5
1998 4.78 0.06 38.71 1.403 1.0 3.4 6.6
1997 4.77 0.06 38.73 1.412 1.0 3.5 6.7
1996 5.04 0.06 39.10 1.440 1.1 3.6 6.5
1995 4.85 0.07 38.85 1.421 1.0 3.6 6.4
1994 4.92 0.08 38.90 1.430 1.0 3.5 6.2
1993 4.60 0.08 38.47 1.387 0.9 3.4 5.8
1992 4.12 0.10 38.12 1.328 0.7 3.3 5.6
1991 4.31 0.09 38.20 1.338 0.8 3.3 5.8
1990 4.26 0.10 38.08 1.349 0.8 3.3 5.7
1989 4.13 0.11 37.99 1.321 0.7 3.2 5.6
1988 4.14 0.15 37.95 1.307 0.8 3.1 5.6
1987 4.72 0.13 38.46 1.391 1.1 3.4 6.0
1986 4.41 0.14 38.24 1.357 0.9 3.4 5.9
1985 4.33 0.15 38.12 1.344 0.9 3.3 5.4
1984 4.26 0.15 38.14 1.345 0.8 3.2 5.4
1983 4.31 0.18 38.08 1.350 0.8 3.2 5.2
1982 4.30 0.17 38.23 1.345 0.8 3.2 5.0
1981 4.00 0.18 37.98 1.316 0.6 3.2 4.7
1980 4.29 0.20 38.29 1.356 0.7 3.1 4.8
1979 4.46 0.22 38.20 1.374 0.8 3.3 4.8
1978 4.10 0.25 37.87 1.335 0.7 3.3 4.8
1977 4.47 0.22 38.41 1.372 0.9 3.3 5.2
1976 3.99 0.27 38.06 1.317 0.6 3.2 4.8
1975 4.21 0.27 38.42 1.361 0.7 3.5 5.0
1974 4.12 0.28 38.27 1.343 0.7 3.3 5.0
1973 4.21 0.27 38.29 1.351 0.8 3.4 5.3
1972 3.69 0.27 37.64 1.260 0.7 3.2 5.6
1971 3.89 0.28 37.85 1.297 0.7 3.2 5.4
1970 4.34 0.22 38.41 1.356 0.9 3.5 5.8
1969 4.07 0.25 38.08 1.319 0.8 3.5 5.8
1968 3.42 0.28 37.18 1.193 0.6 2.8 5.9
1967 3.77 0.24 37.61 1.238 0.7 3.0 6.0
1966 3.99 0.23 37.67 1.258 0.8 2.9 5.8
1965 3.99 0.23 37.82 1.267 0.8 3.1 5.9
1964 4.04 0.25 37.82 1.280 0.9 3.0 5.9
1963 3.95 0.27 37.79 1.259 0.8 3.0 5.8
1962 4.46 0.26 38.42 1.360 0.9 3.4 5.5
1961 4.53 0.26 38.31 1.374 1.0 3.5 5.3
1960 4.31 0.27 38.34 1.343 0.9 3.4 5.2
1959 4.38 0.30 38.26 1.349 0.9 3.3 5.1
1958 4.28 0.30 38.12 1.349 0.9 3.3 5.0
1957 4.31 0.29 38.62 1.344 0.9 3.3 4.8
1956 4.45 0.31 38.43 1.387 0.9 3.7 4.7
1955 4.49 0.30 38.50 1.393 0.9 3.7 4.4
1954 4.38 0.34 38.62 1.398 0.8 3.7 4.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2009.

Now for one of my favorite stats…Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter each won 224 games in their Hall of Fame careers.  Gaylord Perry won 225 COMPLETE GAMES of at least nine innings in his career.  That’s more wins than Bunning, Hunter, and 13 other Hall of Fame 20th Century starters won in their entire careers.  This link will take you to a list of the top 300 pitchers ranked by complete game wins (and all my complete game lists to follow will include only games in which the pitcher threw at least nine innings unless I tell you otherwise).  This table includes the 39 pitchers who have at least 100 complete game wins since 1954:

Rk Player #Matching ERA SHO IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 Gaylord Perry 225 Ind. Games 1.22 53 2040.0 1320 276 73 412 1382 0.85
2 Steve Carlton 215 Ind. Games 1.38 55 1940.0 1265 298 72 519 1580 0.92
3 Fergie Jenkins 208 Ind. Games 1.42 49 1877.0 1259 296 112 286 1385 0.82
4 Juan Marichal 206 Ind. Games 1.45 52 1873.0 1281 302 110 304 1305 0.85
5 Bob Gibson 197 Ind. Games 1.25 55 1795.0 1151 249 52 471 1534 0.90
6 Tom Seaver 185 Ind. Games 1.11 61 1668.0 972 205 63 346 1350 0.79
7 Warren Spahn 184 Ind. Games 1.61 31 1667.0 1265 298 93 330 786 0.96
8 Phil Niekro 179 Ind. Games 1.38 45 1620.0 1080 249 81 360 1027 0.89
9 Bert Blyleven 167 Ind. Games 1.07 60 1511.0 914 179 49 313 1196 0.81
10 Nolan Ryan 163 Ind. Games 1.06 61 1476.0 704 174 34 631 1661 0.90
11 Jim Palmer 163 Ind. Games 1.02 52 1473.0 885 167 59 345 860 0.84
12 Don Sutton 150 Ind. Games 0.99 58 1353.0 800 149 47 237 972 0.77
13 Mickey Lolich 147 Ind. Games 1.26 40 1331.0 910 186 60 303 1058 0.91
14 Jim Kaat 146 Ind. Games 1.33 31 1322.0 981 196 71 183 787 0.88
15 Luis Tiant 145 Ind. Games 1.30 49 1313.0 843 189 70 301 987 0.87
16 Don Drysdale 145 Ind. Games 1.03 49 1315.0 819 150 49 237 1024 0.80
17 Mike Cuellar 144 Ind. Games 1.29 35 1311.0 878 188 56 277 805 0.88
18 Catfish Hunter 139 Ind. Games 1.27 42 1259.0 789 177 63 247 730 0.82
19 Jim Bunning 133 Ind. Games 1.23 39 1202.0 769 164 66 227 918 0.83
20 Robin Roberts 132 Ind. Games 1.83 23 1202.0 886 244 98 153 658 0.86
21 Tommy John 129 Ind. Games 1.01 46 1162.0 764 131 27 196 558 0.83
22 Sandy Koufax 127 Ind. Games 1.12 40 1154.0 652 144 54 261 1226 0.79
23 Mel Stottlemyre 124 Ind. Games 1.05 40 1119.0 762 130 28 256 514 0.91
24 Larry Jackson 123 Ind. Games 1.37 36 1110.0 771 169 44 183 578 0.86
25 Lew Burdette 123 Ind. Games 1.56 31 1115.0 831 193 66 154 405 0.88
26 Claude Osteen 122 Ind. Games 1.28 40 1100.0 770 156 39 219 535 0.90
27 Jerry Koosman 120 Ind. Games 1.16 33 1082.0 702 139 37 265 761 0.89
28 Whitey Ford 119 Ind. Games 1.06 40 1078.0 685 127 40 282 674 0.90
29 Jerry Reuss 116 Ind. Games 0.92 39 1044.0 690 107 23 225 554 0.88
30 Bob Friend 115 Ind. Games 1.22 32 1040.0 777 141 41 193 556 0.93
31 Milt Pappas 114 Ind. Games 1.15 43 1026.0 652 131 39 218 559 0.85
32 Vida Blue 114 Ind. Games 1.24 36 1028.0 648 142 36 253 714 0.88
33 Jack Morris 111 Ind. Games 1.31 28 1000.0 591 146 49 250 670 0.84
34 Rick Wise 108 Ind. Games 1.41 29 980.0 659 153 42 180 580 0.86
35 Early Wynn 104 Ind. Games 1.17 30 938.0 582 122 36 281 588 0.92
36 Camilo Pascual 104 Ind. Games 1.28 35 943.0 621 134 37 220 738 0.89
37 Dave McNally 102 Ind. Games 1.03 33 921.0 545 105 43 187 512 0.79
38 Steve Rogers 101 Ind. Games 1.02 37 910.0 594 103 22 216 528 0.89
39 Frank Lary 100 Ind. Games 1.51 21 906.0 672 152 49 217 483 0.98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2009.

The stats included are for their 9+inning complete game wins only.  Yes, Gaylord Perry had a 1.22 ERA in those 225 games covering more than 2000 innings!  Take a gander at Jerry Reuss…his lifetime ERA was 3.64, but in his 116 complete game wins his ERA was 0.92!  Here’s a guy who, when he was good, he was very good, and when he wasn’t, he really wasn’t.  As shown by this split:  in his 220 lifetime wins his ERA was 1.58, but in his 191 losses his ERA was 6.24 in more than 1000 innings.  A huge split between ERA in wins and losses is typical, but Jerry’s is unusually big.

Notice this chart includes such good, but not great, pitchers as Reuss, Larry Jackson, Bob Friend, Rick Wise and Frank Lary.  Notice the chart does not include anyone who has pitched in the 21st century.  Among pitchers who are active or recently retired, the leader in complete game wins is Roger Clemens with 92 (fewer than Denny McLain), followed by Greg Maddux with 91 (the same as Larry Dierker), Randy Johnson with 75 (the same as Johnny Antonelli) and Curt Schilling with 66 (the same as Bob Turley).  Now let’s compare total career wins:

Clemens 354…McLain 131

Maddux 355…Dierker 139

Johnson 303…Antonelli 126

Schilling 216…Turley 101

Since we looked at complete game wins, let’s also look at career complete game losses.  In this case, we’ll look at complete games of at least eight innings, to take into account losses on the road.  Here are the pitchers with at least 30 since 1954:

Rk Player #Matching ERA IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 Gaylord Perry 76 Ind. Games 3.05 661.1 567 224 58 163 447 1.10
2 Bert Blyleven 74 Ind. Games 3.16 629.0 568 221 49 152 473 1.14
3 Jack Morris 64 Ind. Games 3.38 535.0 458 201 55 192 374 1.21
4 Phil Niekro 63 Ind. Games 3.04 530.1 465 179 50 176 358 1.21
5 Nolan Ryan 59 Ind. Games 3.21 510.0 390 182 34 263 545 1.28
6 Fergie Jenkins 59 Ind. Games 3.27 501.2 425 182 67 109 346 1.06
7 Bob Gibson 55 Ind. Games 2.95 484.2 392 159 47 165 377 1.15
8 Robin Roberts 45 Ind. Games 3.24 394.1 367 142 45 95 201 1.17
9 Jim Palmer 45 Ind. Games 3.16 389.2 349 137 36 126 202 1.22
10 Frank Tanana 44 Ind. Games 2.52 367.1 278 103 31 117 242 1.08
11 Mickey Lolich 44 Ind. Games 3.27 380.0 344 138 41 101 271 1.17
12 Tom Seaver 43 Ind. Games 2.69 368.0 294 110 28 109 264 1.10
13 Luis Tiant 40 Ind. Games 2.83 343.2 276 108 30 84 205 1.05
14 Catfish Hunter 39 Ind. Games 3.36 334.2 271 125 26 87 154 1.07
15 Juan Marichal 38 Ind. Games 2.95 329.2 302 108 34 69 208 1.13
16 Steve Carlton 38 Ind. Games 3.01 325.2 262 109 30 116 294 1.16
17 Wilbur Wood 37 Ind. Games 2.80 322.0 284 100 23 86 169 1.15
18 Rick Langford 37 Ind. Games 3.33 318.2 316 118 31 82 131 1.25
19 Charlie Hough 35 Ind. Games 3.02 295.0 229 99 23 103 167 1.13
20 Jim Kaat 33 Ind. Games 2.38 287.0 253 76 16 65 142 1.11
21 Tommy John 33 Ind. Games 2.82 284.0 278 89 12 69 103 1.22
22 Ken Holtzman 32 Ind. Games 3.09 276.1 228 95 24 75 138 1.10
23 Warren Spahn 30 Ind. Games 2.94 269.1 238 88 27 62 116 1.11
24 Jim Slaton 30 Ind. Games 2.60 263.0 212 76 27 82 126 1.12
25 Mark Langston 30 Ind. Games 3.28 255.1 209 93 28 84 190 1.15
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2009.

Gaylord Perry also tops this list.  Among other things…notice Frank Tanana was 0-44 in these games with a 2.52 ERA.  Some pretty tough luck.  Tanana lost 23 games in which he pitched at least eight innings and allowed no more than two runs.  And Bob Gibson lost 11 games in which he pitched at least eight innings and allowed just ONE run.  (Here’s another good one:  Don Sutton and Greg Maddux each had seven games in which they pitched at least eight innings, didn’t allow a run–and didn’t get a win.  And another:  Wilbur Wood, Don Drysdale and Don Cardwell (!) each had four losses in which they went at least eight innings and didn’t allow an earned run.)

All right, new category…winning 20 games in a season is unusual enough these days.  How about winning 20 COMPLETE games in a season?  Here’s the list of pitchers who have done it since 1954:

Rk Player Year #Matching ERA SHO IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 Denny McLain 1968 28 Ind. Games 1.46 6 253.0 170 41 19 40 223 0.83
2 Sandy Koufax 1965 25 Ind. Games 1.15 8 226.0 124 29 14 38 271 0.72
3 Juan Marichal 1968 24 Ind. Games 1.40 5 219.0 163 34 10 27 152 0.87
4 Sandy Koufax 1966 24 Ind. Games 1.00 5 216.0 151 24 6 46 215 0.91
5 Fergie Jenkins 1971 24 Ind. Games 1.87 3 217.0 174 45 16 15 184 0.87
6 Steve Carlton 1972 24 Ind. Games 0.99 8 218.0 141 24 5 44 186 0.85
7 Juan Marichal 1966 23 Ind. Games 1.53 4 212.0 141 36 17 24 153 0.78
8 Mickey Lolich 1971 22 Ind. Games 1.43 4 201.0 160 32 12 41 176 1.00
9 Fergie Jenkins 1974 22 Ind. Games 1.23 6 198.0 134 27 8 25 157 0.80
10 Bob Gibson 1968 22 Ind. Games 0.57 13 204.0 119 13 2 36 176 0.76
11 Warren Spahn 1963 21 Ind. Games 1.62 7 189.0 152 34 13 25 76 0.94
12 Gaylord Perry 1970 21 Ind. Games 1.33 5 189.0 120 28 7 32 124 0.80
13 Juan Marichal 1965 21 Ind. Games 0.85 10 190.0 121 18 10 25 147 0.77
14 Robin Roberts 1954 20 Ind. Games 1.96 4 188.0 131 41 17 27 114 0.84
15 Gaylord Perry 1974 20 Ind. Games 1.15 4 180.0 102 23 7 48 122 0.83
16 Gaylord Perry 1972 20 Ind. Games 0.92 5 185.0 117 19 3 40 120 0.85
17 Denny McLain 1969 20 Ind. Games 1.25 9 180.0 126 25 9 36 102 0.90
18 Juan Marichal 1964 20 Ind. Games 1.79 4 181.0 139 36 11 27 148 0.92
19 Juan Marichal 1969 20 Ind. Games 1.15 8 180.0 110 23 2 36 113 0.81
20 Mickey Lolich 1972 20 Ind. Games 1.25 4 180.0 138 25 7 38 153 0.98
21 Frank Lary 1961 20 Ind. Games 1.85 4 180.0 133 37 11 39 100 0.96
22 Sandy Koufax 1963 20 Ind. Games 0.69 11 183.0 90 14 3 27 166 0.64
23 Bob Gibson 1969 20 Ind. Games 1.34 4 188.0 132 28 4 52 157 0.98
24 Bob Gibson 1970 20 Ind. Games 1.65 3 185.0 123 34 6 42 176 0.89
25 Vida Blue 1971 20 Ind. Games 1.20 7 180.0 103 24 4 52 170 0.86
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2009.

You’ll notice no one has done this since 1974.  Denny McLain got 28 of his 31 wins in 1968 in complete games; Sandy Koufax had CGs in 25 of his 26 wins in 1965, 24 of his 27 in 1966.  All 24 of Ferguson Jenkins’ wins in 1971 were complete games!  Juan Marichal had five seasons with at least 20 complete game wins.  How about Steve Carlton in 1972:  24 complete game wins in which he had an 0.99 ERA in 218 innings!  But I am most fond of Sandy Koufax;s 1963 season.  Of his 20 complete game wins, 11 were shutouts.  In the other nine he allowed a total of 14 earned runs.  He allowed as many as three runs in a game just once.  And he gave up only one UNearned run in those 20 complete games.

A more obscure stat:  most complete game losses in a season (8+innings):

Rk Player Year #Matching ERA IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 Mickey Lolich 1974 11 Ind. Games 4.14 95.2 92 44 14 30 73 1.28
2 Rick Langford 1980 11 Ind. Games 3.67 95.2 101 39 13 22 34 1.29
3 Catfish Hunter 1975 11 Ind. Games 3.23 92.0 74 33 3 32 43 1.15
4 Clyde Wright 1974 10 Ind. Games 3.11 84.0 88 29 6 17 24 1.25
5 Wilbur Wood 1974 10 Ind. Games 2.63 89.0 76 26 3 24 46 1.12
6 Nolan Ryan 1977 10 Ind. Games 3.71 87.1 65 36 5 59 94 1.42
7 Nolan Ryan 1974 10 Ind. Games 2.40 90.0 60 24 4 46 97 1.18
8 Gaylord Perry 1973 10 Ind. Games 4.98 85.0 92 47 10 26 62 1.39
9 Phil Niekro 1979 10 Ind. Games 3.27 85.1 78 31 12 33 60 1.30
10 Mickey Lolich 1975 10 Ind. Games 3.64 84.0 87 34 7 17 51 1.24
11 Roger Craig 1963 10 Ind. Games 1.94 83.1 61 18 4 19 28 0.96
12 Ken Brett 1976 10 Ind. Games 3.30 84.2 76 31 0 33 38 1.29
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2009.

Of the 12 pitchers with at least 10 complete game losses in a season, 10 of them have been in the American League during the DH era, none since 1980; four of them were in 1974.  Look at poor Roger Craig with the 1963 Mets:  a 1.94 ERA in 10 complete game losses!  Roger had a 5-22 record; his ERA in his five wins was 2.81.

A reminder:  these stats only go back to 1954, so these surely aren’t the “all-time” leaders in these categories.  And since that catches Robin Roberts in mid-career, his all-time numbers are likely considerably higher.

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One thought on “A few things about complete games

  1. Pingback: UPDATE: A few things about complete games | The J.G. Preston Experience

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