This past spring, birtelcom wrote a piece about Greg Maddux, looking at his pitching efficiency in terms of pitches thrown per inning. As pitch count data are consistently available only since the late 1980s, his analysis was limited to the period of the past 25 seasons or so. That being said, Maddux was clearly in a class of his own in terms of minimizing pitches thrown per inning pitched.

In this post, I will approach the same topic a bit differently to extend the analysis through the entire history of professional baseball. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the name Greg Maddux again figures very prominently.

When Greg Maddux retired four years ago, possibly his milestones that were least remarked upon were these:

  • 5,000 innings pitched
  • 20,000 batters faced

Maddux reached both plateaus in his final season, becoming just the 13th pitcher all time to do so. This dual accomplishment speaks to longevity, high workload and, most importantly, consistent and unrelenting efficiency in retiring batters, so much so that it will likely be a long time (if ever) before another pitcher reaches either plateau, never mind both of them.

For the record, Greg Maddux faced batter number 20,000 on June 20, 2008 as San Diego hosted Detroit. The trivia answer is Placido Polanco, batting in the first inning and hitting a weak grounder to short. Maddux reached 5,000 innings in his second-to-last game, pitching for the Dodgers against the Giants on September 19, 2008. Out number 15,000 was World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, popping up to short in the 3rd inning.

Here are the 5 and 20 club members.

Rk Player WHIP IP From To Age G CG SHO W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Walter Johnson 1.061 5914.1 1907 1927 19-39 802 531 110 417 279 1363 3509 2.17 147 97 23405 WSH
2 Pete Alexander 1.121 5190.0 1911 1930 24-43 696 437 90 373 208 951 2198 2.56 135 165 20893 PHI-CHC-TOT-STL
3 Tim Keefe 1.123 5049.2 1880 1893 23-36 600 554 39 342 225 1233 2564 2.63 126 75 20941 TRO-NYP-NYG-NYI-TOT-PHI
4 Cy Young 1.130 7356.0 1890 1911 23-44 906 749 76 511 316 1217 2803 2.63 138 138 29565 CLV-STL-BOS-CLE-TOT
5 Don Sutton 1.142 5282.1 1966 1988 21-43 774 178 58 324 256 1343 3574 3.26 108 472 21631 LAD-HOU-TOT-MIL-CAL
6 Greg Maddux 1.143 5008.1 1986 2008 20-42 744 109 35 355 227 999 3371 3.16 132 353 20421 CHC-ATL-TOT-SDP
7 Gaylord Perry 1.181 5350.0 1962 1983 23-44 777 303 53 314 265 1379 3534 3.11 117 399 21953 SFG-CLE-TOT-TEX-SDP-ATL-SEA
8 Pud Galvin 1.191 6003.1 1875 1892 18-35 705 646 57 365 310 745 1807 2.85 107 121 25415 STL-BUF-PBB-PIT-TOT
9 Warren Spahn 1.195 5243.2 1942 1965 21-44 750 382 63 363 245 1434 2583 3.09 119 434 21547 BSN-MLN-TOT
10 Kid Nichols 1.224 5067.1 1890 1906 20-36 621 532 48 361 208 1272 1881 2.96 140 156 21082 BSN-STL-TOT-PHI
11 Nolan Ryan 1.247 5386.0 1966 1993 19-46 807 222 61 324 292 2795 5714 3.19 112 321 22575 NYM-CAL-HOU-TEX
12 Steve Carlton 1.247 5217.2 1965 1988 20-43 741 254 55 329 244 1833 4136 3.22 115 414 21683 STL-PHI-TOT-MIN
13 Phil Niekro 1.268 5404.0 1964 1987 25-48 864 245 45 318 274 1809 3342 3.35 115 482 22677 MLN-ATL-NYY-CLE-TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Nice assortment of pitchers spread across the past 15 decades, missing only the 1931-41 period. I sorted the list by WHIP, as a proxy for BF per IP. Only the pitchers with the bolded names (each of whom pitched a significant portion of his career in the dead-ball era) have a lower BF/IP than Maddux’s number of 4.0774.

Less efficient pitchers who reached 20,000 batters in fewer than 5,000 innings are these gentlemen.

Rk Player WHIP IP From To Age G CG SHO W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Roger Clemens 1.173 4916.2 1984 2007 21-44 709 118 46 354 184 1580 4672 3.12 143 363 20240 BOS-TOR-NYY-HOU
2 Bert Blyleven 1.198 4970.0 1970 1992 19-41 692 242 60 287 250 1322 3701 3.31 118 430 20491 MIN-TOT-TEX-PIT-CLE-CAL
3 Mickey Welch 1.226 4802.0 1880 1892 20-32 565 525 41 307 210 1297 1850 2.71 113 106 20308 TRO-NYG
4 Bobby Mathews 1.237 4956.0 1871 1887 19-35 578 525 20 297 248 532 1528 2.86 104 70 21997 KEK-BAL-NYU-CIN-PRO-TOT-BSN-PHA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Calling Mathews and Welch less efficient is probably a bit unfair as, separated by a century from Blyleven and Clemens, they would have had more batters to face owing to many more errors made behind them.

Are there more efficient pitchers who have career marks over 5,000 innings and under 20,000 batters? In a word – no. However, Walter Johnson, the only 5/20 pitcher with career BF/IP below 4, had 5039.1 IP and 19,729 BF at the end of the 1923 season.

Here are the pitchers with career BF/IP below 4 (min. 2000 IP), an achievement exclusive to pitchers playing primarily in the dead-ball era.

Rk Player WHIP IP From To Age G CG W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Addie Joss 0.968 2327.0 1902 1910 22-30 286 234 160 97 364 920 1.89 142 19 8891 CLE
2 Ed Walsh 1.000 2964.1 1904 1917 23-36 430 250 195 126 617 1736 1.82 145 23 11413 CHW-BSN
3 Christy Mathewson 1.058 4788.2 1900 1916 19-35 636 435 373 188 848 2507 2.13 135 89 18913 NYG-TOT
4 Walter Johnson 1.061 5914.1 1907 1927 19-39 802 531 417 279 1363 3509 2.17 147 97 23405 WSH
5 Mordecai Brown 1.066 3172.1 1903 1916 26-39 481 271 239 130 673 1375 2.06 139 43 12422 STL-CHC-CIN-TOT-CHI
6 Babe Adams 1.092 2995.1 1906 1926 24-44 482 206 194 140 430 1036 2.76 118 67 11947 STL-PIT
7 Rube Waddell 1.102 2961.1 1897 1910 20-33 407 261 193 143 803 2316 2.16 135 37 11717 LOU-PIT-TOT-PHA-SLB
8 Deacon Phillippe 1.105 2607.0 1899 1911 27-39 372 242 189 109 363 929 2.59 120 41 10380 LOU-PIT
9 Chief Bender 1.113 3017.0 1903 1925 19-41 459 255 212 127 712 1711 2.46 112 40 11895 PHA-BAL-PHI-CHW
10 Eddie Plank 1.119 4495.2 1901 1917 25-41 623 410 326 194 1072 2246 2.35 122 42 17803 PHA-SLM-SLB
11 Doc White 1.121 3041.0 1901 1913 22-34 427 262 189 156 670 1384 2.39 113 33 12093 PHI-CHW
12 Hooks Wiltse 1.131 2112.1 1904 1915 24-35 357 154 139 90 498 965 2.47 112 54 8413 NYG-BTT
13 Ed Reulbach 1.143 2632.1 1905 1917 22-34 399 201 182 106 892 1137 2.28 123 33 10521 CHC-TOT-BRO-NEW-BSN
14 Eddie Cicotte 1.154 3226.0 1905 1920 21-36 502 249 209 148 827 1374 2.38 123 32 12731 DET-BOS-TOT-CHW
15 Frank Smith 1.166 2273.0 1904 1915 24-35 354 184 139 111 676 1051 2.59 101 27 9062 CHW-TOT-CIN-BAL
16 Nap Rucker 1.175 2375.1 1907 1916 22-31 336 186 134 134 701 1217 2.42 118 41 9441 BRO
17 Bob Ewing 1.178 2301.0 1902 1912 29-39 291 205 124 118 614 998 2.49 116 31 9157 CIN-PHI-STL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Which pitchers avoided the magic 4 batters per inning level most consistently? Here are the pitchers with the most seasons (min. 162 IP) below this threshold.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Eddie Plank 12 1904 1916 28-40 Ind. Seasons
2 Cy Young 11 1899 1910 32-43 Ind. Seasons
3 Walter Johnson 10 1908 1919 20-31 Ind. Seasons
4 Chief Bender 9 1904 1915 20-31 Ind. Seasons
5 Greg Maddux 8 1992 2001 26-35 Ind. Seasons
6 Christy Mathewson 8 1904 1913 23-32 Ind. Seasons
7 Mordecai Brown 8 1904 1915 27-38 Ind. Seasons
8 Addie Joss 8 1902 1909 22-29 Ind. Seasons
9 Tom Seaver 7 1968 1977 23-32 Ind. Seasons
10 Babe Adams 7 1910 1920 28-38 Ind. Seasons
11 Eddie Cicotte 7 1909 1919 25-35 Ind. Seasons
12 Ed Walsh 7 1906 1912 25-31 Ind. Seasons
13 Doc White 7 1903 1911 24-32 Ind. Seasons
14 Rube Waddell 7 1902 1909 25-32 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Maddux and Seaver stand out here as the only live-ball era pitchers on the list, with Maddux’s accomplishment the more impressive given the offensive context he pitched in.

The live-ball era list for the above looks like this.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Greg Maddux 8 1992 2001 26-35 Ind. Seasons
2 Tom Seaver 7 1968 1977 23-32 Ind. Seasons
3 Pedro Martinez 5 1997 2005 25-33 Ind. Seasons
4 Randy Johnson 5 1997 2004 33-40 Ind. Seasons
5 Curt Schilling 5 1992 2002 25-35 Ind. Seasons
6 Jim Palmer 5 1969 1977 23-31 Ind. Seasons
7 Fergie Jenkins 5 1967 1978 24-35 Ind. Seasons
8 Mike Mussina 4 1992 2003 23-34 Ind. Seasons
9 Roger Clemens 4 1986 2005 23-42 Ind. Seasons
10 Don Sutton 4 1971 1980 26-35 Ind. Seasons
11 Juan Marichal 4 1963 1969 25-31 Ind. Seasons
12 Sandy Koufax 4 1963 1966 27-30 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Strictly a post-expansion phenomenon, likely due to the continuing (and not independent) trends of fewer errors and more strikeouts.

Finally, who will be the next 5/20 pitcher, or even the  next 5 or 20 pitcher? (or, maybe the question should be “Will there be such a pitcher?”). Here the IP leaders among active (or not yet officially retired) pitchers.

Rk Player IP From To Age G CG SHO W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Jamie Moyer 4074.0 1986 2012 23-49 696 33 10 269 209 1155 2441 4.25 104 522 17356 CHC-TEX-STL-BAL-TOT-SEA-PHI-COL
2 Livan Hernandez 3189.0 1996 2012 21-37 519 50 9 178 177 1066 1976 4.44 95 362 13816 FLA-TOT-SFG-MON-WSN-ARI
3 Andy Pettitte 3130.2 1995 2012 23-40 501 25 4 245 142 983 2320 3.86 117 271 13290 NYY-HOU
4 Kevin Millwood 2720.1 1997 2012 22-37 451 22 6 169 152 843 2083 4.11 106 296 11616 ATL-PHI-CLE-TEX-BAL-COL-SEA
5 Roy Halladay 2687.1 1998 2012 21-35 403 66 20 199 100 556 2066 3.31 134 224 11005 TOR-PHI
6 Tim Hudson 2682.1 1999 2012 23-36 406 25 13 197 104 810 1801 3.42 126 210 11157 OAK-ATL
7 Mark Buehrle 2679.0 2000 2012 21-33 421 28 8 174 132 604 1521 3.82 119 300 11145 CHW-MIA
8 Derek Lowe 2658.1 1997 2012 24-39 672 10 4 175 157 791 1714 4.00 110 214 11301 TOT-BOS-LAD-ATL
9 CC Sabathia 2564.1 2001 2012 20-31 383 35 12 191 102 769 2214 3.50 125 227 10622 CLE-TOT-NYY
10 Jeff Suppan 2542.2 1995 2012 20-37 448 16 5 140 146 871 1390 4.70 97 337 11139 BOS-TOT-KCR-STL-MIL-SDP
11 Barry Zito 2436.1 2000 2012 22-34 400 12 5 160 132 1004 1797 3.93 109 259 10356 OAK-SFG
12 Bartolo Colon 2393.1 1997 2012 24-39 381 32 9 171 122 773 1833 4.05 112 294 10158 CLE-TOT-CHW-ANA-LAA-BOS-NYY-OAK
13 Randy Wolf 2268.0 1999 2012 22-35 376 13 9 132 117 810 1767 4.20 100 287 9703 PHI-LAD-TOT-MIL
14 Chris Carpenter 2219.1 1997 2012 22-37 350 33 15 144 94 627 1697 3.76 116 220 9305 TOR-STL
15 Ryan Dempster 2215.2 1998 2012 21-35 547 11 3 124 124 992 1918 4.33 99 241 9658 FLA-TOT-CIN-CHC
16 Roy Oswalt 2213.0 2001 2012 23-34 356 20 8 163 96 511 1818 3.28 130 194 9150 HOU-TOT-PHI-TEX
17 Freddy Garcia 2183.2 1999 2012 22-35 359 12 4 152 101 691 1575 4.15 108 267 9264 SEA-TOT-CHW-PHI-DET-NYY
18 A.J. Burnett 2162.2 1999 2012 22-35 345 22 10 137 121 888 1971 4.05 104 221 9230 FLA-TOR-NYY-PIT
19 Bronson Arroyo 2076.2 2000 2012 23-35 359 13 5 124 115 589 1355 4.23 104 282 8836 PIT-BOS-CIN
20 Johan Santana 2025.2 2000 2012 21-33 360 15 10 139 78 567 1988 3.20 136 220 8262 MIN-NYM
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

I won’t bore you with the Batters Faced list – it’s all the same guys except that Miguel Batista replaces Johan Santana in 20th spot (it’s worth noting that Santana’s BF/IP of 4.08 is the best here, just ahead of Halladay, the only other pitcher below 4.1).

I sure don’t see anyone currently pitching who has even a remote chance of reaching either the 5 or the 20 milestone. The reason isn’t hard to spot. Just look at the CG column – Roy Halladay leads with 66 and only Livan Hernandez also has more than 35. Compare that to Maddux’s 109 CGs, easily the lowest total of any 5/20 pitcher. Barring an unexpected return to former practices of pitcher use, I believe Greg Maddux is indeed the last of the 5/20 breed.

 

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