On Friday night the Tampa Bay Rays were cruising to a win over the befuddled Oakland A’s behind the brilliant pitching of David Price. Over the course of 8 innings Price had struck out 12, given up 3 hits, and walked only 1. He was in complete command, throwing a fairly economical 106 pitches.
In the 9th inning Price was scheduled to face Cliff Pennington (0 for 3, 1 strikeout, .224), Josh Reddick (0 for 3, 1 strikeout, .264), and Yoenis Cespedes, who spent the night waving rather than swinging his bat at Price’s offerings (0 for 3, 2 strikeouts, .250). I realize that was the heart of Oakland’s lineup – the 2–4 hitters – for the game, but let’s be honest, we’re not talking about Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Eddie Collins here. Even so, Price didn’t come out for the 9th.
He was pulled for reliever Brandon Gomes who couldn’t manage to get 3 outs. Joel Peralta had to come in to finish the A’s off.
David Price is 26 years old. He was as strong and as sharp last night as any pitcher can reasonably hope to be. He was facing the Oakland Athletics, a team with batting average of .212. He actually looked bored in the dugout between innings. And he got yanked.
Needless to say, this is now the norm rather than the exception. Oakland A’s announcer Ray Fosse, charitable as always, pointed out what the fan of 21st century baseball knows all too well. Price would have stayed in if he’d had a shot at a complete game shutout. Given that Oakland managed a lone run in the 2nd inning, there was no point in keeping Price in the game.
In 2011, by my count there were 170 complete games thrown by the 30 teams in the league – less than 6 per team, or put another pathetic way, about 1 per starter. Now that’s an average. The Padres, whose manager is a former pitching coach, had 0 complete games, and the Brew Crew managed to squeeze 1 complete game out of their entire staff. It was not so long ago, 1992 in fact, that the league’s 26 teams recorded more than 400 complete games, and that’s peanuts compared to 20 years before that. In 1972 there were over 1000 complete games for the 24 teams then in MLB – nearly 42 complete games per team!
Okay, so the rationale is that with today’s salaries and the scarcity of quality starting pitching you have to be careful not to blow out anyone’s arm, particularly a guy like Price who’s making more than $4 million a year. There’s just too much riding on his arm and it’s silly to risk it for a complete game. It’s a long season, and playoff-caliber teams want their starting pitchers to be healthy for the post-season. (Never mind that a strong bullpen may be more important than strong starting pitching, but that’s a different article.) After all, the idea is to win games, not pad someone’s personal stats. And, to be fair, the Padres managed to rank 3rd in MLB in pitching last year with a 3.42 ERA and a team WHIP of 1.27.
That being said, we are clearly heading towards the day when there will be no complete games in MLB for an entire season. We’ll have to get used to hearing, “You might as well pull him. Sure he’s got a shutout, but he lost a shot at a no-hitter in the 3rd.” Or perhaps, “You might as well pull him. Sure he’s got a no-hitter, but he lost his shot at a perfect game in the top of the 4th.” Which isn’t all that far from, “You might as well pull him. Sure he’s got a perfect game going, but he might blow it in the 9th.”
Since the complete game statistic is on its way to extinction, I’d like to propose the use of a new statistic – the Incomplete Game (IG). I’ve even worked up a handy definition for it that sounds nice and legal. Rule 10.18 currently defines the shutout. No need for that anymore, so let’s replace it with the IG. Here it is:
Rule 10.18 – The Incomplete Game
“An Incomplete Game, hereinafter referred to as IG, shall be awarded by the official scorer to any pitcher who, for reasons that baffle the reasonable sports fan, does not return for the 9th inning for any reason, whether said pitcher’s team is at that point in the lead, trailing, or tied with the other team, when all of the following conditions apply: 1) said pitcher has thrown less than 120 pitches; 2) said pitcher is, as of game time of the game in question, less than 35 years of age, and; 3) said pitcher’s salary exceeds $2,000,000 per year calculated in 2012 dollars. The pitcher in each league who accumulates the most IGs each year will be given the “Dude, Have Some Pride” award for that league, said award to be presented by Nolan ‘222 Complete Games’ Ryan to said pitcher and his agent.”
Now I’m not a big fan of award ceremonies, but that’s one I’d definitely tune in for.
Jonathan Dyer teaches History and Government at a small high school in Northern California. He practiced law for 10 years before switching to teaching, and spent 5 years in Army intelligence before going to law school. He worked for 3 of those 5 years as a Russian linguist at Field Station Berlin during the Cold War. Mr. Dyer and Kerry, his wife of 27 years, are certified baseball junkies. You may email Jonathan directly at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp.