August 21, 2014

Are 1800s Innings Pitched Totals Valid?

April 9, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Should the enormous innings pitched totals of hurlers in the nineteenth century be adjusted based on the distance thrown?

In order to compare eras, let’s take a closer look at the progression of distances from the pitching “box” to home plate since 1876.

  • 1876-1880: 45 feet
  • 1881-1892: 50 feet
  • 1893-2013: 60 feet 6 in

Jim Devlin

In 1876, Jim Devlin of the Louisville Grays led the National League with an astonishing 622 innings pitched.  However, the distance between the box and home plate was 29.4 percent closer than the current distance.

A modern day pitcher delivering a 90 mph fastball takes roughly .458 seconds to reach home plate.  The equivalent reaction time for a batter in 1876 of a ball hurled from 45 feet is .3407 seconds.  However, pitchers were strictly prohibited from throwing overhand until 1884 limiting the speed of the pitch.  The seismic change in distances is equivalent of a Little League pitcher (46 feet) moving to a MLB field (60 ft 6 in) from ages 12 to 13.

It was common for pitchers in the nineteenth century to complete 60-75 games per season and compile multiple campaigns of 500+ innings.  According to baseballreference.com, the top 85 innings pitched seasons of all-time occurred between 1876-1892.

The most famous of these hurlers is Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn.  In 1884, the Providence Grays right-hander tossed 678.67 IP working from a distance of 50 feet to home plate.  In essence, Radbourn and his contemporaries released the ball 19 percent closer than present day pitchers.

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander

The modern day workhorse, Justin Verlander, has led MLB three times in innings pitched since 2009.  However, the Detroit  Tigers ace routinely compiles only 220-250 innings pitched per season.  The advent of pitch counts, five-man rotations, and monitoring starting pitchers workload has led to the dramatic reduction of innings pitched numbers.

Thus, the shortened pitching distances greatly altered the seasonal innings pitched totals from 1876-1892.  PEACE adjusts for innings pitched totals prior to 1893 to neutralize the eras based on throwing from 60 feet 6 inches from home plate.  Consequently, it is imperative to remember the context and conditions in which a starting pitcher competed.

Comments

One Response to “Are 1800s Innings Pitched Totals Valid?”
  1. Cliff Blau says:

    This vastly oversimplifies reality. While the front of the pitcher’s box was 50 feet from the middle of the plate in 1884, that represented the line which the pitcher had to remain behind while delivering the ball. Depending on their stride, today’s pitchers release the ball from as close as 55.5 feet from the rear of home plate (David Robertson). Obviously, in the days of the pitcher’s box, they always started their delivery from well behind the front of the box, so it is wrong to compare the end point then with the starting point today. Also, starting in 1887, the pitcher had to keep his back foot on the rear line of the box, 55.5 feet from the center of the plate. In 1893, when the pitcher’s rear foot was moved back to the current distance, it was measured from the back of the plate, which is 8.5 inches further, so the actual pitching distance was only changed by 4 feet, 3.5 inches. Additionally, only the National League, and maybe one minor league, allowed overhand pitching in 1884; most leagues kept the ban that year.

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