For the second time in a week, the White Sox gave an opposing starter a chance to throw what some people call a "Maddux" -- a complete game on fewer than 100 pitches.
Jim Leyland opted against it on Friday night, lifting Doug Fister after eight innings and 87 pitches. Just two days before, Terry Francona bailed right before the finish line, removing Corey Kluber at 95 pitches with one out remaining.
The Sox have the lowest OBP in the American League, and draw fewer walks per game than any team in the game, so this isn't a surprise. Yet I was curious about just how many pitchers breezed through the first eight innings with a shot at a Maddux, and wondered just how uncommonly common it's become for the White Sox.
Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index got me most of the way there. I looked up pitchers who threw at least eight innings while finishing with fewer than 100 pitches. Two teams stand apart:
|Team||# of starts|
That's bad enough -- you may notice that no other AL Central team is represented on this list. But it's also incomplete, because it doesn't account for games where the pitcher only crosses the 100-pitch threshold in the ninth inning. I was able to find five more starters who enjoyed such a game against the Sox this season:
- Jeremy Guthrie, who threw 98 pitches over eight innings, then eight more in the ninth for his first career shutout on May 4.
- Matt Harvey, who threw 87 pitches over eight innings, then 18 in the ninth inning on May 7.
- Jeff Samardzija, who threw 92 pitches over eight innings before sealing his shutout with a 16-pitch ninth on May 27.
Bartolo Colon, who threw 96 pitches over eight innings before going the distance with a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth on May 31.
- Justin Masterson, who threw 91 pitches over eight innings before throwing 21 to sweat out a shutout on June 30.
That's 12 starts where the Sox allowed the starting pitcher to complete eight innings having thrown fewer than 100 pitches. I don't think there's much to gain from digging into every team's records like this, but I did check the Marlins, and I found four stragglers there, bringing their total up to a dozen.
So, good news: At least the Sox have some company.
But, bad news: That company plays in the league where the pitcher hits, and with a payroll that's one-third of what the Sox are paying.
I went back several years to get an idea of how many times the Sox usually see so few pitches, and they're usually good for seven or eight such games a year. They're on pace for 18 in 2013, and it's hard to see it slowing down.
In fact, the new guys may only make the problem worse. Josh Phegley has seen a stunning 3.17 pitches per plate appearances over his first 69 tries -- only Cesar Izturis (115 plate appearances, 3.15 PA) and Steve Lombardozzi (218, 3.12) have been less patient with at least as many chances. But they're both bench players, while Phegley is receiving most of the starts these days. And should Avisail Garcia get the call, watching pitches isn't his strong suit, either, although he may strike out enough to raise his average by accident.
This may not be the worst development, for all practical purposes. It'll benefit those who want the White Sox to lose with a purpose, since fewer pitches seen generally means fewer runs, and fewer runs means fewer wins, and fewer wins means a higher draft pick. And it'll benefit those who are just trying to run out the clock, because, hey, faster games. Friday night's game needed just two hours and seven minutes of your time.
The difficulty will be containing the impatience to this season. The Sox lack a strong OBP base either in the majors or the minors (although Marcus Semien provides a glimmer of hope), so I'm not optimistic that the organization can develop the talent itself. Nor is it a cheap skill to acquire from the outside, so it's going to take some imagination (and perhaps different instruction) to form a more formidable lineup before the pitching staff revolts in a bloody coup.