Monday, September 16, 2013


Changing times, changing patterns: the history of baseball is a nothing more or less than a litany of such alterations.

Here's another one: as relief pitching became more of a factor, there has been a rise and a fall in the number of games (and the number of innings) in which a reliever will make an appearance with zero days of rest.

The shape of that rise and fall is part of a larger story of how the pitching staff has changed over time, and how managers continue to be more and more derivative rather than innovative.

Relievers rarely had to make appearances with zero days rest in the early days. The record for the most such innings (as shown in the table at right) remained under forty until the astonishing season turned in by Andy Karl in 1945.

Pitching for YAWPT (that's Yet Another Woeful Phillies Team...they were 46-108 this season), Karl appeared in 67 games, of which only two were starts, had 180 IP, led the league in saves with 15, and threw an astonishing total of 64.2 innings on zero days rest.

Needless to say, his ERA the next season went up by nearly 60% (from 2.99 to 4.96) and he was out of MLB after the 1947 season.

Another Phillies pitcher, Jim Konstanty, approached Karl's zero-rest IP total in 1950 (for a team that made it into the World Series). Konstanty set a record for relief wins with no days rest that year, with six (later broken by our old pal Roy Face in 1959 en route to his 18-1 record in relief). The next year, Konstanty's ERA in zero-rest games ballooned to 6.87.

Innings and games with zero rest increased during the 1960s: there were five seasons in which the leader in this recondite category had 50+ IP.

That all led up to Mike Marshall's singular 1974 season. The outspoken Marshall, who still insists at age 70 that he can pitch every day without injury or loss of effectiveness, threw 92.2 innings in games where he'd also pitched the day before. That has remained the record for nearly 40 years, and it's likely that it will never be broken.

Marshall and other pitchers still got heavy zero-rest usage into the 1980s, but the usage pattern shifted dramatically in 1990. There has not been a pitcher with more than 40 zero-rest IP since Rob Murphy in 1989.

As the five-year IP and G averages show (see chart at right), there's been a remarkable drop in the innings leader since then, while the leader in games with zero-rest has plateaued.

What we have now is a "system" where many relievers make shorter appearances on zero days rest.

More saves are compiled on zero days rest in such a structure, of course; the specialized roles that are now in place (some substitute "arbitrary" and "artificial" for that adjective, however) make this possible. (The current record for zero-rest saves is 27, set by Francisco Rodriguez in 2008, who unsuprisingly set the major league record for saves in the same season.)

Mariano Rivera has 216 zero-rest saves in his career, which is the lifetime record. Trevor Hoffman is second, with 190. In the era of the one-inning save, this connection between overall records and those compiled with no days rest is, as noted, not surprising.

What will almost certainly create eyebrow lift, though, is the identity of the man who threw the most innings with no days rest. You might think it's Marshall: after all, he had the 92 zero-rest IP in '74. It's a good guess, but it's wrong: Marshall is second. And no, it's not Rivera (he's tied for tenth on the list with 311.1 IP).

Other big names (Rollie Fingers, Gene Garber, Ron Perranoski, Sparky Lyle, even the ageless Jesse Orosco) are not the answer. If you are really clever (like Brock Hanke), you'd guess ageless knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm--hell, all of these guys are ageless), but you'd be wrong. He's third, with 361.1 zero-rest IP.

It's actually amazing to discover that this man has a 140 IP lead over his closest rival. He also appeared in the most games on zero days rest, a total of 384.

That man is submariner Kent Tekulve, one of the mainstays of the Pirate bullpen in the 70s and 80s.

Teke, as we used to call him, had that deceptive, sweeping underhand motion, a knuckle-dragging motion that looked more like lawn bowling. (As the picture shows, he also came in sidearm a good bit...this shot makes it look as though he was double-jointed--at the elbow!!)

Over his career, his total of zero-rest innings pitched is 533.1.  (You can see the full list of pitchers with over 250 zero-rest IP over on the right: there are currently a total of 30 such pitchers lifetime.

Tekulve came along just as the crest of the zero-rest strategies was occurring; he was the perfect specimen for such a usage pattern, and he thrived on it (2.38 ERA).

Today, he would probably lead the league with 35 zero-rest IP per year, but he'd never built up his lifetime to anything close to what he was able to achieve in those wild-ass days of all-out, pitch-till-you-drop relief pitching.

(Note that Rollie Fingers is sixth on this list, while bigger, taller, faster Rich Gossage is not in the top 30.)

But Tekulve is your man, even if he looks like a toothpick.

Can a slot in the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals be very far away? We think not.