Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Can this possibly be a baseball topic? "Early showers" might conjure images of the hectic bathing schedule at that quaint institution of the past, the boarding house; or it could refer to the shorthand evoked in predictions of tomorrow's weather. Either way, we're off-topic.

No, what we have here is failure--not to communicate, as the protagonist in Cool Hand Luke is able to transform into a virtually perfect storm of indiscriminate mayhem--but failure to make it out of the first inning.

As with just about everything that is shocking and extreme about the game, however, the incidence of starting pitchers being removed from the game prior to finishing the first frame has taken a nose-dive.

We have two charts to measure this. The first (above right) simply shows the number of times a starter goes less than an inning. The one (lower left) recasts the data into a rate (in this instance the number of "early showers" per 1000 games.

If this sounds vaguely epidemiological, that's because it is. Clearly the practices of managers have produced a decline in starters leaving in the first after a frightful shellacking. The peak of this "disease" occurs in 1965, and while there's the usual "up and down" motion to be found in the stats, it's pretty clear that it is all downhill from here.

Ironically, teams with nine-man pitching staffs  pulled their starters in the first inning at a seriously elevated rate. Today, we are facing the extinction of the "early shower." The rate per 1000 batters was always near or above 30 until '65, and we've been in virtually uninterrupted decline ever since.

It's what you might call "an epidemic in reverse."