Where Have All The Pitchers Gone?

added 5/20/2008 by Bob Hulsey

Back in the '60s, a popular anti-war anthem was "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?". But while flowers may have made a comeback, great baseball pitchers have waned.

In the days when I fell in love with baseball, it seemed the good teams had not one but two great starting pitchers who were sent to the hill every fourth day. These were guys you could pencil in 18-20 wins year after year and turn them loose:

Koufax and Drysdale.
Marichal and Perry.
Bunning and Short.
Seaver and Koosman.
The last great duo was actually a trio. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

Six of the names I mentioned above are in the Hall of Fame. The three Braves I think will all make it there too. That's greatness.

In today's game of five-man rotations, 100-pitch limits, radar guns and $100 million dollar free agents, great pitching duos are seemingly nowhere to be found. Despite the babying that starting pitchers receive in comparison to the hurlers of my age, great pitchers seem to flame out like mayflies.

The "great" pitchers of today seem to have a year or two of dominance and then land on the DL or fall back to mediocrity. Take Chris Carpenter, for example. He won a Cy Young Award, got a big contract and has spent the last two years stuck on the shelf. Who were some of the other top names a few years ago? Barry Zito. Jason Schmidt. Pedro Martinez. Jon Garland. See a trend?

It makes one appreciate a pitcher like Roy Oswalt even more. Personally, I'd rate Roy a notch below the Hall-of-Fame level even though he may become the best pitcher in franchise history. It's a shame that his best years coincided with the time Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were there stealing the spotlight. He deserved a Cy Young Award somewhere back there.

We may be seeing the start of his decline. He's been solid since he first arrived in 2001 and, though it seems like a long time, it's only been seven years to age him from peach-faced rookie to stubbly-faced veteran, one flaming out in twice the time of Jeff Bagwell and three times the rate of Craig Biggio.

I'm sure some are asking now "why not Oswalt and Clemens in your famous duos?" Well, that's just it. That combination lasted less than three seasons. The true greats were there for five years and sometimes longer. What duos emerge today are more like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling with the Diamondbacks - there but briefly until one or the other moves on or hits the skids.

A handful of great starters still exist like Brandon Webb, Carlos Zambrano and Johan Santana. But will they be Seavers or will they be Zitos? More time is needed to tell.

There's not just one culprit here why great starting pitching has seemingly disappeared. Performance enhancing drugs probably had a role. Smaller, hitter-friendly ballparks dominate the landscape. The explosion of pitch-counts and deep bullpens mean starters rarely see the eighth inning anymore. Complete games are as rare as "full service" gas stations.

To be honest, I miss the days of watching J.R. Richard or Nolan Ryan mow down batters from the first to the ninth and who cared not a whit if their pitch counts went above 150. The modern-day strategy to wait those guys out until the bullpen arrives just didn't exist back then because those guys would still be out there in the ninth chunking 98-mph gas. Sadly, those days are gone.

Chicks may dig the long ball but I admire the guys who can bring it for a full nine. I feel like today's baseball fans are being cheated from that experience.

It makes me wonder if the wise guys of baseball haven't made a mistake in the way they've changed pitching dogma. As you watch the Astros cobble together a rotation of Moehlers and Chacons, realize that it is more the norm than the exception in baseball - starters you cross your fingers for and hope they can give you six innings and less than three runs. Excellence has been replaced with 13-man staffs and seventh-inning specialists.

When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?