Monday, June 24, 2013


Part two of this look at what happened to "high workload" relievers in the year after they led the league in relief IP covers the years 1971-1984.

Legends: Orange background--greater than average loss in IP for next year;
Yellow background--less than average loss in IP; light blue background--
increase in IP; dark blue background--n/a due to strike year; black background--
n/a due to pitcher being converted to reliever. Orange text--greater than average
loss in ERA+ in next year; black text--less than average loss in ERA+; green
text--improvement in ERA+ in following year.
This period clearly displays a ramp-up of 100+ IP reliever performances, both in terms of maximum innings (Mike Marshall setting the all-time record in 1974) and in terms of the number of 100+ IP relievers. From 1957-70 there were 135 of these, or 4.8 per league per year); in 1971-84 that total was 208, or 7.4 per league per year. (The percentage of high workload relievers per team didn't go up quite so dramatically: it was 50% from 57-70, 59% from 71-84--though you need to adjust for the strike season in '81...when you bounce that one out of the sample, that percentage goes up to 63%.)

The chart shows that in the early 70s a few exceptional pitchers were able to build on high workload and sustain their success, at least for several years (Marshall, John Hiller, Rollie Fingers, Pedro Borbon, Goose Gossage), but that effect was short-lived. By the early 80s we see the high workload guys break down in terms of IP and ERA+ just as much as was the case in the 1957-70 data.

Thanks to the performances in the early 70s, this group loses less ground in terms of IP--falling off only about 21% (instead of the 27% for the 1957-70 group).

In terms of ERA+, however, the results are remarkably similar. The performance drop was 20.3% in the next year for the workload leaders in 1971-84, compared with 22.5% for the workload leaders in 1957-70.

Several of the workloads in the AL during the early 70s (Hiller and Lindy McDaniel) are notably different in that these pitchers would throw three or more innings at a rate much greater than anyone else in the time frame (and, quite possibly, in any time frame). Those seasons probably warrant closer examination just due to their anomalous nature; we'll delve into that after the conclusion of this series.

Working a reliever hard is clearly showing up as a poor long-term (or even "medium-term") strategy. We don't figure anyone will be surprised when individual reliever workload levels start to nosedive in our next fourteen-year period (1985-1998). Stay tuned.