Wheeler and Kaat

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I was thinking about Jim Kaat—Hall of Famer Jim Kaat, as soon as they induct him. The thing about Jim Kaat is that he pitched a lot of innings, and he pitched for a lot of years. Which is very impressive! I respect that. But it’s an interesting thing about the game, that they are putting him in the Hall of Fame this year.

Zack Wheeler threw 213 and a third innings in 2021, facing 849 batters, and it was the most that anyone in the majors threw. There were four pitchers who threw more than 200 innings. It’s the first year (not counting shortened seasons) that fewer than 10 pitchers reached that 200-inning mark. Now, it’s a strange year, obviously, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 pitchers throw at least 200 innings in 2022, but the trend is for there to be fewer workhorses, and for workhorses to work a lot less.

Jim Kaat threw 200 and two-thirds innings as a 22-year old in Minnesota, in 1961, facing 865 batters. There were 37 pitchers who threw more innings that year. In 1962 he faced over a thousand batters and threw 269 innings, and there were still 7 pitchers who threw more. In 1966, he led the American League with 304 and a third innings pitched and 1,227 batters faced, and he wasn’t particularly close to Jim Bunning in the NL with 314 and 1,254. And Jim Bunning didn’t lead the NL—that was Sandy Koufax, who faced 1,274 batters in 323 innings. There were 17 pitchers that year who threw 250 innings or more, and 42 who threw 200. In 1971—fifty years ago—Mickey Lolitch faced 1,538 batters in 376 innings. Jim Kaat, in 1971, was 32nd in the majors, with 260 and a third innings pitched.

In that season, fifty years ago, there were 58 pitchers who pitched at least as many innings as Zack Wheeler did last year, and 63 who faced as many batters. 64 pitchers threw 200 innings or more.

My point is… it was a different time. Baseball is different. Jim Kaat’s particular kind of greatness would not be useful (or used, or even discovered) in today’s game—Zach Wheeler’s would not have been particularly useful in 1971. That’s all.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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