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Blue Jays: Is the complete game a thing of the past?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 22, 2019 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays 8-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 22, 2019 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays 8-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays didn’t have a pitcher throw a nine inning game in 2019. Is the complete game a thing of the past from starting pitchers?

I got looking at the Blue Jays stats from last season, specifically how the starting pitchers performed over the course of the year.

You may remember that the Blue Jays utilized a largely unproven group of hurlers, and at times used as many “openers” as traditional starters, especially after the trade deadline. They had both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in the rotation to begin the year, but both were traded in July. Matt Shoemaker was there for five appearances, but unfortunately went down with a knee injury that finished his season almost before it really got started. Other veterans like Clay Buchholz and Clayton Richard also struggled to stay healthy.

Add it all up and the Blue Jays really had to rely on a stable of inexperienced starting pitchers, and as a result Charlie Montoyo had to patch together nine innings on a regular basis. In fact, as I reviewed the stats from last year, one thing in particular stood out among starting pitchers. The Blue Jays only had one complete game last year, and it barely counts. That’s because it was a four-inning outing from Ryan Feierbrand on May 18th that ended in a Chicago White Sox home victory, stopping the game after the top half of fifth because of rain.

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I realize that baseball is evolving, and often managers don’t even like seeing their starting pitcher face a batting order a third time. With that type of philosophy, it’s obviously impossible to throw nine innings these days, and it’s becoming more infrequent all the time. In fact, the MLB leader last season was a tie between Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and the Lucas Giolito of the White Sox, each with just three complete games.

As I was looking at these stats, I came across a tweet from @Murphybruno, talking about the glory days of the complete game in Toronto. He pointed out that Dave Stieb holds the franchise record with what nows seem ridiculous at 19 complete games. He also mentioned that no one has come close to that number, with the nearest total coming three times from Roy Halladay, and once from David Wells with nine.

Is the complete game a thing of the past? I can’t imagine we’ll ever see a pitcher challenge the totals that Stieb was putting up in his hay day, or even the nine complete games thrown by Halladay and Wells. However, I do think the Blue Jays will have a couple of workhorses in Nate Pearson and Alek Manoah someday, and perhaps they’ll be the type that can throw 3-4 in a season and lead the whole league.

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Don’t expect those numbers to jump in 2020, even if we do have a season. Hyun-Jin Ryu threw just one complete game in 2019, and has only three for his career. Tanner Roark has done it just once in seven big leagues seasons, and that came back in 2014. Chase Anderson had one last season and two total for his career, and Shoemaker has just one, back in 2016. The guy with the longest arm on the staff might be Shun Yamaguchi, but chances are he’s headed for the bullpen anyway.

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