Fact: Statistics are the foundation of baseball analysis.
In the game's infancy, however, statistics were little more than a numerical representation of the obvious. Hits, walks, wins, losses - the usual. But
as baseball has evolved, so have the metrics used to analyze it. From per-inning ratios for pitchers to adjusted averages for batters, every year it
seems there's a new statistic shaping our opinions of the modern ballplayer.
Some of these statistics have maintained their relevance. Others have not.
After relief pitching was introduced in the early 1900s, gauging a pitcher's performance became increasingly difficult using only wins and losses. The
complete game was no longer a given, and a solution was born in a theoretical projection.
ERA was a mathematical miracle, the father of the modern-day "stat," a formula simple enough for child to grasp and complex enough to wow a veteran
Since its inception, ERA has been based upon the premise that starting pitchers throw complete games with certain regularity. But that premise has
been false for years, perhaps even decades.
Consider the facts.
Major League Baseball's starting pitchers are being pampered like never before. Besides averaging just six innings per outing, they notched complete
games in only three percent of their starts in 2004.
The complete game isn't just on a steady decline - it's on life support. Way back in 1917, Boston's Babe Ruth led MLB with 34 complete games. A decade
later, 30 did the trick. In 1937, 27 was enough. In 1947, 24 was enough. In 1957, Warren Spahn needed just 18.
On the surface, not much changed over the next 40 years. Like Spahn before him, Roger Clemens topped the Bigs with 18 complete games in 1987. A decade
later, it only took 13 for Pedro Martinez to lead the Majors.
But then the slope got really slippery. Since 1999, no pitcher has even notched as many as 10 complete games in a year. So what happened?
Well, it's actually still happening. Ironically, ERA is dying for the same reason it was created: The rise of the reliever. Today's specialized
bullpen has become so vital to success that it practically forbids the complete game.
The starters of Major League Baseball should be irate. The glorified mop-up men of the 'pen stole their stat and slowly cheapened it to death. Now
even the LaTroy Hawkins of the world perennially have ERAs under three. And don't even get me started on those overhyped lefty specialists.
The stat that once brought truth to the game is nothing more than a hoax. After all, what good is a nine-inning projection if a pitcher can't last
more than two innings, never mind six?
And let's not forget about Eric Gagne. Prior to becoming the most dominant reliever in the history of the game, Gagne was a mediocre starter at best.
Indeed, evolution has run its course. The game has changed, likely forever, and ERA has been naturally selected for extinction. The stat that once
revealed more than meets the eye now imagines the irrelevant. In essence, ERA has become the phantom statistic.
Such is the fate of false assumptions, baseless theories and uneducated guesswork in an age of precision. And this is the end of an ERA.