Wilbur Wood’s 1971 season and 300+ Innings pitched

Following on from Monday’s column, here is the full list of the best individual player seasons since 1946 inclusive, as valued by Baseball-Reference.com’s Wins Above Replacement.

 

Rank Player (age   that year) Wins Above   Replacement Year
1 Dwight Gooden (20) 13 1985
2 Steve Carlton+ (27) 12.1 1972
3 Carl Yastrzemski+ (27) 12 1967
4 Roger Clemens (34) 11.8 1997
5 Bob Gibson+ (32) 11.7 1968
6 Barry Bonds (36) 11.6 2001
Barry Bonds (37) 11.6 2002
8 Pedro Martinez (28) 11.4 2000
9 Fergie Jenkins+ (28) 11.3 1971
Cal Ripken+ (30) 11.3 1991
11 Bob Gibson+ (33) 11.2 1969
12 Mickey Mantle+ (25) 11.1 1957
13 Mickey Mantle+ (24) 11 1956
14 Willie Mays+ (34) 10.9 1965
15 Stan Musial+ (27) 10.8 1948
Joe Morgan+ (31) 10.8 1975
17 Ted Williams+ (27) 10.7 1946
Willie Mays+ (33) 10.7 1964
Wilbur Wood (29) 10.7 1971
Tom Seaver+ (28) 10.7 1973
Mike Trout (20) 10.7 2012

That’s an impressive group of players for Trout to be associated with.

There was one name on the list that I didn’t recognise. I started following baseball in 1998 and have devoured plenty of books about the history of the game since then, but Wilbur Wood’s name has passed me by until now.

He made his debut as a 19 year old with Boston in 1961 and up to the end of the 1970 season only 21 of his 365 Major League appearances had been as a starting pitcher. 1971 was his first campaign as a regular starter and his success showed that taking him out of the bullpen was the correct decision. He wasn’t a one-year-wonder either as his 1972 season was almost as impressive.

What really stands out though is the amount of innings he pitched as a starter. In five seasons, from 1971 to 1975, Wood amassed 1681.2 innings on his arm, at an average of 336 innings per season.

Such hefty workloads were simply par for the course at the time. Wood’s 1971 season rates very highly when using WAR but the AL Cy Young voters at the time rated two other players more highly that year. Oakland’s Vida Blue took the prize (8.7 WAR) and he made 39 starts and pitched 312 innings, whilst Detroit’s Mickey Lolich (8.2 WAR) came in second after starting 45 times and pitching 376 innings.

Justin Verlander has led the Majors in innings pitched in three of the past four seasons, including a career high of 251 innings in 2011. As they prepare for the 2013 season, the Tigers will be expecting their ace to pitch plenty of innings again this year, but it’s safe to say they will not be expecting him to go past 300 innings or even come too close to it.

Nor indeed would Verlander himself. His current contract expires in two years’ time and, considering the potential riches that lay in store, even a player as competitive as Verlander isn’t about to risk blowing his arm out with such a vast amount of innings in one season.

In today’s baseball, a star pitcher’s arm is worth too much – both to the player and the team paying him – to justify the potential injury risk. We may well have seen the end of 300+ IP pitchers.

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