The Disappearing Cardinals Complete Game

Looking at data on complete games by St. Louis Cardinals pitchers confirms a negative trend.

When he tossed a complete game shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night, Milwaukee's C.C. Sabathia seemed to achieve an increasingly-rare occurrence.

 

Where did all the complete games go?

 

The increase in the use of specialized relievers, championed by St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and the greater emphasis on pitch counts in recent years are two factors often cited as explanations as to why pitchers author fewer complete games today than in the past.

 

Thanks to research from reader Tom Orf, we have some data to bear this out in the context of the Cardinals.

 

First, it should be noted that the authors of nine of the last ten Cardinals complete games are currently not on the active roster. Sabathia's Wednesday opponent, Braden Looper, stands alone, having done the act last month against the Reds.

 

Cardinals last 10 complete games


 1 Braden Looper     2008-06-11    STL @CIN W 10-0  SHO9     
 2 Adam Wainwright   2008-04-26    STL  HOU W  4-3  CG    
 3 Adam Wainwright   2007-08-10    STL  LAD L  1-2  CG
 4 Anthony Reyes     2007-06-27    STL @NYM L  0-2  CG 5     
 5 Chris Carpenter   2006-09-21    STL @HOU L  5-6  CG 8 
 6 Chris Carpenter   2006-09-11    STL  HOU W  7-0  SHO9 
 7 Chris Carpenter   2006-09-01    STL  PIT W  3-1  CG 9 
 8 Chris Carpenter   2006-08-15    STL  CIN W  5-0  SHO9  
 9 Chris Carpenter   2006-07-14    STL  LAD W  5-0  SHO9  
10 Anthony Reyes     2006-06-22    STL @CHW L  0-1  CG 8  

Considering the Tony La Russa years, somewhat surprisingly, his teams have tossed more complete games than were thrown at them. Yet looking deeper, one can see the data is skewed by a wide gap during his first season, 1996. Since then the tables have turned, some years quite dramatically.


Complete games under Tony La Russa (by season)

Year StL Opposition
2008 2 5
2007 2 9
2006 6 5
2005 15 1
2004 4 7
2003 9 3
2002 4 10
2001 8 2
2000 10 3
1999 5 13
1998 6 12
1997 5 11
1996 13 2
Total 89 83

Now, moving to individuals, we see that no Cardinals pitcher in the La Russa years has ever thrown three consecutive complete games. Even tossing two in a row has only occurred once in the last five years, and it wasn't by Chris Carpenter.


Cardinals pitchers under La Russa with back-to-back complete games
 

 Jason Marquis      2005-08-27  2005-09-04     2   
 Matt Morris        2003-05-19  2003-05-24     2      
 Woody Williams     2001-08-31  2001-09-05     2      
 Darryl Kile        2000-08-27  2000-09-02     2   
 Garrett Stephenson  2000-05-24  2000-05-29     2   
 Todd Stottlemyre   1998-05-16  1998-05-21     2     
 Matt Morris        1997-09-22  1997-09-27     2   
 Todd Stottlemyre   1996-06-02  1996-06-08     2   

 

Another way to look at back-to-back complete games is when two pitchers do it on consecutive days. That happens most rarely, especially a pair of shutouts like in 1996.

Most recent Cardinals back-to-back complete games

9/3/2005 Carpenter wins 20th game (Hou 4-2) against Clemens
9/4/2005 Marquis beats Hou 4-1 (Cards trailed until 6th but 2-RBI single by Edmonds and RBI single by Molina made it 3-1)

6/2/1996 Stottlemyre outduels future Cardinal Kile in 2-0 win over Houston
6/3/1996 Andy Benes beats Padres 3-0, ex-Card Tewksbury also throws complete game

In this decade, Chris Carpenter is the leader in terms of most complete games in any one season. Not a surprise, but seeing Garrett Stephenson and Brett Tomko on this list might be.


Most complete games in a season (since 2000)

 

Chris Carpenter 7 2005
Chris Carpenter 5 2006
Darryl Kile 5 2000
Matt Morris 5 2003
Garrett Stephenson 3 2000
Woody Williams 3 2001
Matt Morris 3 2004
Jason Marquis 3 2005
Mark Mulder 3 2005
Darryl Kile 2 2001
Matt Morris 2 2001
Brett Tomko 2 2003
Matt Morris 2 2005

Going back in time to the last 30 years paints a much different picture. Now, the best Carpenter can do is a tie for 12th place. Note how the 1985 Cardinals had three starters with at least ten complete games each.


Most complete games in a season (1978-2008)

John Tudor 14 1985
Joaquin Andujar 12 1984
John Denny 11 1978
John Fulgham 10 1979
Joaquin Andujar 10 1985
Danny Cox 10 1985
Pete Vuckovich 9 1979
Joaquin Andujar 9 1982
Joe Magrane 9 1989
Bob Forsch 8 1980
Danny Cox 8 1986
Bob Forsch 7 1978
Silvio Martinez 7 1979
Bob Forsch 7 1979
Pete Vuckovich 7 1980
Steve Mura 7 1982
Chris Carpenter 7 2005
Pete Vuckovich 6 1978
Jim Kaat 6 1980
Bob Forsch 6 1982
Bob Forsch 6 1983
John Stuper 6 1983
Silvio Martinez 5 1978
John Denny 5 1979
Joaquin Andujar 5 1983
Jose DeLeon 5 1989
Bob Tewksbury 5 1992
Todd Stottlemyre 5 1996
Darryl Kile 5 2000
Matt Morris 5 2003

Bob Gibson, the greatest Cardinals pitcher of all time, is the master in this category. He had a team-record 255 complete games in the regular season, plus eight complete games in nine post-season starts. From 1965 to 1972, his yearly complete games were 20-20-10-28-28-23-20-23.


Gibson's complete game streaks

5/28/1968 7/30/1968 13
4/30/1969 6/29/1969 12
6/26/1972 8/2/1972 8
5/7/1965 6/8/1965 8
8/24/1964 9/24/1964 8
8/22/1970 9/23/1970 7
6/12/1970 7/10/1970 7
9/6/1969 10/2/1969 7
5/26/1973 6/21/1973 6
8/9/1968 9/2/1968 6
9/14/1972 10/4/1972 5
7/23/1970 8/12/1970 5
8/23/1963 9/10/1963 5
7/16/1973 7/30/1973 4
5/25/1972 6/9/1972 4
7/22/1971 8/4/1971 4
4/6/1971 4/21/1971 4
9/11/1968 9/27/1968 4
4/20/1968 5/6/1968 4
6/11/1966 6/23/1966 4
10/3/1965 4/26/1966 4
8/8/1962 8/29/1962 4

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net

 

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