The other day, I just happened to catch a replay of Game Seven of the 1971 World Series on ESPN Classic. As I wasn't born at the time, I really didn't know anything about this series, but as I enjoy watching old baseball games, back in the days when TV sports broadcasting was so primitive, I sat and watched the thing.
During the seventh or so inning of the game, the play-by-play guy mentioned that there were two Baltimore starters warming up in the bullpen for relief. He said that, at that time, Baltimore's three 20-game winners were all pitching at the same time (Mike Cueller was in the game, with Pat Dobson and Dave McNally in the pen).
What I didn't realize (and the announcer didn't mention) until I looked into it further is that Baltimore actually had four 20-game winners, the fourth being some young punk named Jim Palmer.
I know: Who is THAT?
Four 20-game winners.
Mind you, those Orioles teams of the late '60s/early '70s were some great teams. They went 318-164 from '69-'71, a win total some teams have trouble hitting in four season, much less a mere three. Those three teams never had any fewer than two 20-game winners on them (two in '69, three in '70). And, '71 was the whopper year with four. For comparison, in 2007, there was one 20-game winner in all of baseball. The '71 Orioles had four on just that one team. I'd say the pitching quality has maybe decreased over the years, wouldn't you?
Now, the instant rebuttal to the four 20-game winners is the fact that that staff rolled with a four-man rotation, which means the pitchers ended up getting more starts per year. If Jake Peavy (second with 19 wins in '07) had four or five more starts, maybe he would have broken 20 wins, as would a number of other pitchers. But teams nowadays run with five starter rotations: fewer starts means fewer win opportunities. Maybe if today's pitchers went with four man rotations, they could have four 20-game winners. So, maybe that's not all that impressive.
But I suspect that all those wins didn't come from just having a lot of starts.
Pitchers back then were a lot more durable than today's guys. Between them, the four Orioles starters had 70 complete games. For comparison, in '07, both leagues combined had 112. That's four guys with 70 versus at least 30 times as many guys with 112. The individual leader in '07 was Roy Halliday with seven. The least any starter on the '71 Orioles could manage was Dave McNally with 11. So, maybe the Orioles pitchers had so many wins because they were able to pitch it all the way through, something almost unheard of these days.
It's gotten so bad, that we have a stat, the "quality start," which has basically replaced the complete game.
But complete games don't mean anything if you go out there and pitch like shit. Oh sure, you pitched nine innings, but you gave up 15 runs. Kinda makes those complete games irrelevant. But that wasn't a problem with the '71 Orioles. The four Orioles starters had a combined ERA of 2.89, with Jim Palmer's 2.68 the best on the team.
The best in '07 was Jake Peavy's 2.54. If that's the best ERA in both leagues, I'd be hard pressed to believe that you could come up with any four starter combinations from any team that could top that 2.89 ERA. Hell, the '71 Orioles team ERA was 2.99.
The best '07 could muster was the Padres' 3.70.
It should be noted that 17 of the 24 teams that existed in '71 had team ERAs better than the '07 Padres.
What it comes down to is four guys on the same team who were better than anyone we got pitching today. And the fact that at least three of those guys put up the same stat line year after year only strengthens the case. Everyone seems to blame the past two decades' increase in power on all the hitters being juiced up. I think it's because the pitching stinks. And, the fact that we now have five man rotations means we have more shitty pitchers than they did back in the day.
I may be wrong, but I don't think so.