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The Longest Streaks without a Strikeout to Start a Career, 1950-2011 Players Who Debuted In MLB On Their Birthdays
No matter how well-known a player is for a certain role, it is rare for anyone to spend his entire career in that role. Most position players play more than one position at some point, and most pitchers serve as both starters and relievers. It is especially rare for a pitcher to never pitch out of the bullpen.
The list below contains all 19 pitchers to have made at least 100 (regular-season, MLB) starts without pitching in relief. Most of them are still active, which means that many of the players on this list could (and probably will) fall off of it before their careers end. But all of them–even the star pitcher who comes in 2nd–have a loooong way to go to catch the all-time leader:
Tom Glavine’s lead over everyone else in MLB history is nearly 2-to-1. His lead over 2nd-place CC Sabathia is a whopping 327 starts, which means it’d take Sabathia about 10 more full seasons at his current pace to catch Glavine. While that’s certainly possible if Sabathia can stay healthy (he’s only 31), I’d rate it as extremely unlikely. All it takes is one emergency relief appearance in a pennant race to take his name off the list*. Injuries and early retirement are also very large obstacles, too, of course.
* And actually, if we count the postseason, Sabathia is already disqualified. He pitched in relief in Game 5
Among retired players, Glavine’s lead is even greater, as he’s made 440+ more starts than Ben Sheets (he’s retired, right?) and Juan Guzman. That’s about 14 years’ worth of starts!
Glavine actually did make a relief appearance in professional baseball… but it was as an 18-year-old in rookie ball for the 1984 GCL Braves. And it was just one appearance. He made at least 83 starts in the minors after that, which would push his consecutive starts streak to 765 between the majors and minors. Throw in Glavine’s 35 postseason starts (with no relief appearances, natch) and you’re up to exactly 800 straight starts. Wow.
After Sabathia, the next-best bet to reach Glavine’s record is probably Felix Hernandez, at 205 starts and counting. Justin Verlander isn’t far behind at 199, but he’s 3 years older, which complicates his pursuit. Hernandez is still just 25 (he turns 26 in April), but he’ll have to pitch about 15 more full seasons without a relief appearance in order to catch Glavine. That’s a really tall order.
If you’re wondering who else came close to making this list but just missed, here are the 10 pitchers with the most starts but just 1 career relief appearance:
None of these players were much of a threat to Glavine’s record. The closest to being a serious contender was Mike Mussina, who made his first and only career relief appearance in 2007, after 498 straight starts. Even that was almost 6 full seasons of starts away from matching Glavine.
Livan Hernandez is an interesting case; his only relief appearance came in his very first MLB game, his only game of the 1996 season. So he’s on a 474-game start streak, which is fairly impressive, if nowhere near what Glavine accomplished.
Another near-miss is Roger Clemens, who appeared in 709 MLB games, 707 of them as a starter. What’s more, Clemens made his two relief appearances in his first year (1984) and his last year (2007), so they were nearly 23 years apart! In between, he made 681 starts. That’s exactly one start shy of Glavine’s regular-season consecutive-start record.
I hope this post has increased your appreciation for Tom Glavine, who was an all-time great but who rarely did anything flashy to make himself stand out from the fantastic crop of contemporary pitchers (aside from that World-Series-clinching performance). He just kept chugging along, pitching well while making start after start for more than 20 years. Here’s hoping he gets to keep this record for a long time.
Tagged with: Ben Sheets Brad Radke CC Sabathia Felix Hernandez Frank Viola Jair Jurrjens Jered Weaver Joe Saunders John Lannan Juan Guzman Justin Verlander Livan Hernandez Mark Prior Paul Maholm relief appearances relief pitching Roger Clemens starting pitching starts streaks Terry Larkin Tim Hudson Tom Glavine
This blog is devoted to the invention and use of unusual baseball statistics. These Junk Stats are designed to reveal the not-so-meaningful quirks that make baseball so fascinating.
JunkStats is written by Jacob Peterson, who also writes for the Braves blog Talking ChopBeyond the Boxscore
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