. . .How I Stopped Caring About Pitch Counts and Learned to Love Talking to My Dad About the Pitcher.
I recently was talking to my dad about baseball. Dad is the quiet type. That means he never shows too much emotion. You can tell when he's happy and you can tell when he's mad but it's more a look or a specific body language that gives it away. No speeches of joy or long lectures of anger.
Words aren't his thing. . .unless you are talking about baseball. Then Dad comes alive. Those words he barely uses come out in waves and sometimes with colorful language attached to them. He often goes into deep philosophical talk and, if not, just aggressive and affirmative rants of truth (or, 'his' truth, anyways).
So when we spoke about Dusty Baker and pitch counts, Dad only needed a few sentences to make his point and make it he did:
Me: I wonder what Baker is gonna do with Aroldis Chapman?
Dad: What do you mean?
Me: Well, he's kinda known for destroyin' arms ya know? Kerry Wood for example. . .
Dad: What did he do to Wood?
Me: Well. . .blew out his arm pitching him too much. . .
Dad: What does that mean?
Me: Pitch count. He pushed him. . .
Dad: (incredulous) Pitch count? (Mora-like): Pitch count? Old timers used to pitch full games every %^$#&*^ week and never f*%^ing complained. Set up man? Closer? None of that bull^&%$. Enough of this pu&*^ sh&* pitch count. Bunch of babies. Chapman will be fine.
And the conversation ended. Did I need to go any further? We just sat and watched some baseball, speechless, for another hour.
I love these kind of conversations mainly because I get to watch the game from Dad's perspective and see his point of view, even if it is in 20 words or less. It puts some things into perspective. I started thinking. . .why aren't there a lot of complete games anymore and why, though impressive for THIS era, are we making such a big deal about James Shields pitching two complete games and 26 of a possible 27 innings in three games?
My dad sort of has a point. I looked at all the complete game records in MLB history, without any cut off points (so no 'modern' era stuff). All the complete game records such as CG in a season and most consecutive CGs are held between the periods of 1876 and 1906.
And add Cy Young (the career leader in most CG) and you've got another entry in the 1890-1911 period.
Now, yes, a lot of things have changed since the turn of the 20th century. Technology has improved, body types have changed, drugs have played a part as has manager strategy that, in part, led to the creation of the set-up man, middle reliever, and closer. The game has certainly changed and so do the tactics and conditioning of physical bodies behind it.
So I am immensely impressed with Shields recent showing but I know, for purists, whose passions seem to burn brightest when discussing the old school, like Dad, it doesn't matter. In fact, it doesn't even register.
For the record, Shields has seven complete games in his career, with two early in this 2011 season. By the current, 'modern' day standards, this is impressive. The active leader in CGs is Roy Halladay with 58. As Dad would argue, pitchers would pitch 58 CGs for a SEASON, on average.
So, I guess the question is, is it fair to even hold current players to the history of the complete game? And if we don't, why do we still hold the stat up on a pedestal, especially if it's value has somewhat plummeted? We are impressed with James Shields but, from the purist's perspective, should we be? He's just doing his job right?
I'm sure Dad and I will talk about it again someday.