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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are relief pitchers becoming too dominant? Mike Marshall 1974: 208 innings, 106 games, all in relief.

It seems like every pitcher who comes out of the bullpen averages more than one strike out per inning.  Actually it's only about half the relief pitchers.  Below are numbers for every ten years going back 50 years.  1994 was a short season, so 1993 was used.

With 2014 almost complete, it appears that 2014 will be the only season examined in which no pitcher will reach 100 innings with zero starts; Dellin Betances leads with 85.  Queries were run in baseball-reference.com for IP>=50 and GS=0), sorted by greatest Strikeouts per 9 IP (SO9).

Willie Hernandez in 1984 won both the Cy Young and MVP awards; 140 innings in 80 games; but he averaged only 7.18 SO9.  Dick Radatz in 1964: 157 innings, 79 games, 10.38 SO9; Radatz was known as the monster.

Mike Marshall in 1974 won the Cy Young award208 innings in 106 relief appearances, SO9 6.18.   Part of what probably helped Marshall was that his pitch count might have been low because he had low strike out (143), walk (56) and hit (191) totals, relative to his 206 innings.  Those three things tend to increase pitch counts.  But modern pitching in 106 games, even if it had been only one inning per game, is still amazing.  Marshall averaged almost two innings per game.  All in relief, Marshall exceeded 100 innings in 1971, 1972, 1973 (179), 1974 (206), 1975, 1979 (142); 99 innings in 1976 and 1978.  Marshall's best SO9: 7.4 in 1972; his next best: 6.9 in 1971.  Marshall did not dominate.

For some perspective: Mariano Rivera pitched 1995-2013.  Rivera threw 100 innings only once: 107 in 1996 when he was the setup man for John Wetteland.  That was also Rivera's best SO9: 10.6.  Rivera had SO9 better than 9 in only 6 of his 18 full seasons; low: 1998: SO9 5.3 in 61 innings.  Rivera's second most innings: 80 in 2001: SO9 9.3.  Rivera was under 70 innings in 8 of 18 seasons.  Rivera might be obsolete one year after retiring.

yeartotSO/9 > 9pcthighlowhighlowteams>=100 InnSO/9 > 9 / teams
20141115347.75%14.674.37Andrew MillerDan Otero3001.77
20041142219.30%14.933.3Brad LidgeDanny Kolb3010.73
1993891617.98%12.183.38Duane WardSteve Howe2840.57
19846211.61%10.212.85Mark ClearDan Quisenberry26140.04
19743800.00%8.353.34Al HraboskyTom Burgmeier24130.00
19643538.57%10.384.09Dick RadatzBob Duliba2070.15

The number of dedicated relief pitchers in 2014 and 2004 is about the same but the percentage with SO9 >= 9 jumped from 19.30% to 47.75%.  About half the relief pitchers in 2014 are doing what only about 20 percent did just ten years ago: blow the hitters away.  In 1984, 1974 and 1964 only a very few elite relievers did that.

Pitchers who did not start a game but threw at least 100 innings:

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