Minor League Workhorses:  1971-1975

It’s time again to check in on the status of the hardest-working pitchers in the minor leagues. Previously, we’ve examined the five-year periods of 1946-1950, 1951-1955, 1956-1960, 1961-1965, and 1966-1970. Now we’ll plunge fully into the decade of disco, disaster flicks, and Donny & Marie.

As a reminder, in order to reveal the top end of pitcher usage levels in the minor leagues, we:

- Record the top 10 pitchers in innings pitched in each minor league classification each season
- Compute the average stat lines of these top workhorses
- Compare the year-to-year changes

Remember that EP = Estimated number of pitches, using Tangotiger’s pitch estimation formula.

First we’ll look at the Triple-A leagues, including the Pacific Coast League, which operated under a unique “Open Classification” status from 1952 through 1957.

Class AAA/Open Top 10 Average Innings Leaders

   Year  Age    G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
   1946   31   39   ?    24  280   18   15  262   78  157 2.69 4303
   1947   32   39   ?    21  277   17   15  286   77  117 3.39 4290
   1948   30   38   ?    18  251   16   13  268   93  122 3.93 4062
   1949   30   41   ?    23  282   21   13  271   98  147 3.35 4448
   1950   29   41   ?    21  283   19   14  270  102  133 3.46 4447
   1951   28   36   32   18  249   16   12  220   98  123 3.22 3912
   1952   31   40   34   20  270   18   14  238   79  135 2.76 4094
   1953   29   42   34   18  266   19   13  253   84  115 3.30 4094
   1954   29   39   34   17  258   17   13  229  101  162 3.15 4111
   1955   29   39   34   19  259   19   13  237   76  129 2.88 3956
   1956   28   38   32   17  245   16   13  244   85  133 3.43 3905
   1957   25   35   31   14  233   16   11  215   92  139 3.29 3730
   1958   28   35   30   14  226   15   11  209   76  127 3.31 3536
   1959   29   36   31   13  233   15   11  226   73  122 3.31 3639
   1960   27   38   30   13  225   14   12  226   66  121 3.37 3512
   1961   28   36   30   11  218   14    9  214   65  123 3.47 3401
   1962   28   35   30   13  225   14   10  219   67  139 3.28 3527
   1963   26   38   30   14  224   15   13  220   61  143 3.50 3491
   1964   24   36   30   12  217   13   12  198   65  166 3.08 3406
   1965   24   33   30   11  215   14   11  209   65  140 3.61 3381
   1966   23   33   31   13  224   14   11  218   67  151 3.36 3528
   1967   26   35   31   14  231   15   12  226   65  131 3.05 3585
   1968   25   35   32   17  241   16   11  220   60  151 2.77 3664
   1969   ?    41   31   18  239   18   12  224   72  146 2.65 3719
   1970   28   40   32   14  226   16   12  223   75  133 3.49 3587
   1971   32   36   29   16  223   16   12  216   58  140 3.03 3456
   1972   23   40   29   15  216   15   11  205   68  147 3.16 3407
   1973   26   33   29   14  213   16   11  202   78  136 3.17 3401
   1974   31   35   28   17  227   16   12  213   70  135 2.87 3535
   1975   33   35   30   18  240   16   13  226   70  142 2.50 3717

1946-50   30   40   ?    21  275   18   14  271   90  135 3.37 4310
1951-55   29   39   34   18  260   18   13  235   88  133 3.06 4033
1956-60   27   37   31   14  232   15   12  224   78  128 3.34 3664
1961-65   26   35   30   12  220   14   11  212   64  142 3.39 3441
1966-70   26   37   31   15  232   16   12  222   68  142 3.05 3617
1971-75   29   36   29   16  224   16   12  212   69  140 2.94 3503

Here the influence of the Mexican League, which had begun to be felt in the late 1960s, remained strong. Unlike the north-of-the-border AAA leagues (the PCL, the American Association, and the International League), the Mexican League’s franchises weren’t major league farm clubs, and thus employed many minor-league-star veterans, in the manner of US minor league teams of years past. Such pitchers dominated the AAA innings-pitched leaderboard in this era, generally being significantly more heavily-worked than stateside prospects. Nevertheless, the Mexican League aces of the early 1970s weren’t allowed to rack up innings totals as high as those of AAA aces as recently as the early-to-mid 1950s — which is interesting given that major league aces in the early 1970s were being deployed in their heaviest workloads in decades.

Class AA Top 10 Average Innings Leaders

   Year  Age    G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
   1946   29   38   ?    ?   252   19    9  227   80  132 2.42 3874
   1947   28   36   ?    20  253   18   11  238   77  132 2.83 3909
   1948   25   40   ?    17  244   16   14  239  102  115 3.53 3938
   1949   29   38   ?    17  239   16   11  242   85   99 3.57 3785
   1950   27   40   ?    18  244   19   11  220   98  148 3.15 3908
   1951   26   37   32   20  258   16   14  227  113  130 2.92 4123
   1952   30   38   31   19  256   18   12  234   80  109 2.82 3913
   1953   28   39   31   17  251   16   12  246   99  129 3.21 4036
   1954   27   40   31   15  246   17   12  237   99  149 3.89 3982
   1955   29   39   32   18  254   19   11  226   92  146 3.03 3985
   1956   28   37   32   15  240   17   10  229   80  135 3.27 3775
   1957   29   39   31   15  243   17   12  224   88  132 3.25 3826
   1958   27   36   32   16  247   17   11  235   86  154 3.30 3920
   1959   28   39   31   17  243   16   12  241   75  137 3.48 3820
   1960   24   38   29   13  227   15   10  221   94  151 3.53 3716
   1961   24   34   27   12  217   14   12  205   80  130 3.51 3462
   1962   22   36   28   12  213   14   11  226   77  141 4.01 3485
   1963   28   33   30   16  227   16   10  218   63  156 3.09 3551
   1964   28   34   31   14  226   15   11  221   69  166 3.56 3592
   1965   26   35   30   13  233   17   10  214   69  168 3.02 3645
   1966   28   38   30   14  226   17   11  211   80  176 2.84 3642
   1967   22   29   28   13  198   12   11  170   77  139 2.68 3153
   1968   24   30   24    9  185   12    8  152   51  120 2.37 2791
   1969   23   29   26   10  188   13    8  173   68  125 3.22 2992
   1970   21   29   28   11  197   12   11  172   67  134 3.01 3086
   1971   24   27   27   13  197   13   10  166   66  132 2.76 3059
   1972   22   30   26   12  191   13    8  165   64  149 2.74 3006
   1973   21   28   28   11  192   11   11  179   76  146 3.36 3127
   1974   22   27   26   12  186   13   10  172   80  124 3.25 3031
   1975   21   27   27   12  193   13    9  179   74  114 2.89 3077

1946-50   28   38   ?    18  246   18   11  233   88  125 3.10 3883
1951-55   28   38   32   18  253   17   12  234   97  133 3.17 4008
1956-60   27   38   31   15  240   16   11  230   85  142 3.37 3811
1961-65   26   34   29   14  223   15   11  217   72  152 3.44 3547
1966-70   24   31   27   11  199   13   10  176   69  139 2.83 3133
1971-75   22   28   27   12  192   12   10  172   72  133 3.00 3060

This level was now pure farm-club territory, and its ace pitchers were young and handled with care, in a manner similar to that which had been established in the late 1960s. While their overall workloads were about the same as in the preceding period, one slight difference is that the practice of strict role specialization was becoming more pronounced: these pitchers were deployed almost exclusively as starters, no longer handling the occasional relief stint as had long been common practice.

Class A Top 10 Average Innings Leaders

   Year  Age    G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
   1946   24   33   ?    19  235   17    9  213   93  177 2.76 3805
   1947   23   34   ?    14  220   15   10  205   78  142 3.05 3500
   1948   25   38   ?    19  245   17   13  235  106  152 3.48 4013
   1949   22   36   ?    18  245   16   13  223  100  140 3.11 3916
   1950   ?    34   ?    21  250   16   13  236  105  132 3.34 4025
   1951   23   36   31   21  254   18   12  223  103  156 2.95 4056
   1952   ?    40   31   22  268   18   14  263  109  160 3.46 4360
   1953   ?    41   31   21  264   18   15  279   98  115 3.77 4245
   1954   23   37   31   21  254   18   11  227  101  157 3.07 4056
   1955   23   33   29   19  229   16   10  216   91  141 3.15 3687
   1956   22   35   28   16  227   15   12  195  103  160 3.18 3690
   1957   23   36   30   19  240   16   11  227   93  154 3.42 3874
   1958   20   35   30   13  229   16   10  211   96  140 3.16 3705
   1959   23   36   29   15  226   16   11  216   69  147 3.29 3546
   1960   21   31   29   12  207   14   11  187   91  146 3.41 3383
   1961   23   31   28   15  213   14   11  190   74  137 3.02 3345
   1962   22   32   27   15  210   14   11  190   79  173 3.28 3398
   1963   19   33   29   16  225   16    9  198   85  194 3.03 3641
   1964   22   32   27   15  214   14   11  194   81  203 3.40 3504
   1965   20   33   28   15  222   15   11  195   91  194 2.98 3634
   1966   21   32   28   17  222   15   10  195   63  159 2.76 3420
   1967   20   32   27   14  208   14   10  184   79  173 2.68 3365
   1968   21   31   26   13  209   16    9  182   66  180 2.67 3305
   1969   21   32   27   14  209   15    9  182   65  154 2.39 3265
   1970   21   30   27   14  214   14   11  185   67  148 2.34 3322
   1971   19   29   27   13  202   14    9  182   75  141 3.07 3226
   1972   21   29   26   13  193   14    9  176   70  152 3.00 3104
   1973   20   29   27   12  202   13    9  168   74  168 2.75 3208
   1974   20   28   27   14  208   14    8  169   73  156 2.56 3252
   1975   20   26   26   13  191   14    9  171   71  130 2.95 3039

1946-50   24   35   ?    18  239   16   12  222   96  149 3.15 3852
1951-55   23   37   30   21  254   18   12  241  100  146 3.28 4081
1956-60   22   35   29   15  226   15   11  207   90  149 3.29 3639
1961-65   21   32   28   15  217   15   10  193   82  180 3.14 3504
1966-70   21   31   27   14  213   15   10  186   68  163 2.57 3335
1971-75   20   28   27   13  199   14    9  173   72  149 2.86 3166

The change wasn’t dramatic, but ever-so-gradually the top-end workload of pitchers at this level was being reduced. For the first time it was rare to see a Class A pitcher surpass the 200-inning mark. And increasingly, as in the other classifications, these young aces were typically used in starter-only roles.

Rookie Class Top 10 Average Innings Leaders

   Year  Age    G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
   1963   18   15   12    3   80    5    4   74   59   85 4.32 1486
   1964   19   16   12    5   94    7    5   83   53  100 3.72 1642
   1965   18   18   11    5   91    7    4   92   39   99 3.93 1562
   1966   21   15   12    5   91    7    4   73   41  106 2.97 1523
   1967   19   14   11    4   81    6    4   73   33   72 2.82 1328
   1968   20   15   12    5   87    6    4   74   35   83 2.94 1415
   1969   19   15   13    6   95    7    4   80   38  104 2.77 1569
   1970   18   15   13    6   98    7    5   85   35  100 3.06 1593
   1971   19   14   13    6   94    7    4   80   41  103 3.04 1575
   1972   19   13   13    6   94    6    5   82   42   88 3.14 1560
   1973   20   14   13    6  100    7    4   88   41   94 3.02 1653
   1974   19   15   14    7  102    8    5   88   44   82 2.97 1667
   1975   18   14   14    5   95    7    4   87   33   71 2.93 1514

1963-65   18   16   12    4   88    6    4   83   50   95 3.99 1563
1966-70   19   15   12    5   90    7    4   77   36   93 2.91 1486
1971-75   19   14   13    6   97    7    4   85   40   88 3.02 1594

There was no significant alteration from the prior period in the workload of these youngsters; if anything it was a tiny bit more extensive. As in the higher levels, they were now rarely called upon to handle any relief assignments, and also as in the higher levels, their complete game rates remained stable at slightly below 50%.

Class AAA Top 10 Workloads

Pitcher          T   Age Year  League       G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
Jose Peña        R   32  1975  Mexican     42   30   25  287   21   12  216  102  199 1.85 4414
A. Pollorena     R    ?  1974  Mexican     38   32   25  260   25    7  225   67  183 2.18 3960
Jim Horsford     R    ?  1971  Mexican     29   29   22  243   18    9  235   86  131 2.44 3851
Rene Chavez      R    ?  1975  Mexican     34   31   17  234   18   10  204  104  187 2.35 3842
Norm McRae       R   27  1975  Mexican     33   30   17  231   10   18  218  104  149 2.53 3802
Carl Cavanaugh   R    ?  1975  Mexican     36   30   18  249   12   16  267   52  111 2.71 3799
A. Pollorena     R    ?  1975  Mexican     35   30   23  254   20   11  236   50  136 2.37 3772
Carlos Carrasco  R    ?  1974  Mexican     35   32   18  234   17   13  266   82   65 3.62 3743
Dick Woodson     R   26  1971 Pac. Coast   33   33    9  221   16   10  233   90  163 4.03 3696
Cesar Diaz       R    ?  1975  Mexican     37   30   14  230   11   18  232   62  170 2.78 3639

Mexican Leaguers nearly achieved a clean sweep here. Most of these aces were Latin stars who never appeared in the majors, but Peña posted this brilliant season a few years after a brief major league career — and we also saw him last time in a top-workhorse Mexican League campaign from 1966 when he was working his way up. The total of 4,414 estimated pitches he made in 1975 was the highest of any minor leaguer at any level since 1960.

Horsford we also saw last time; I don’t know if he was from the US or not, but in any case he enjoyed a long and hugely successful career in Mexico.

“Cool Mac” McRae hadn’t been an especially hot prospect, but had spent a fair portion of the 1970 season in the majors with the Tigers.

Woodson had been in the majors before the season we see above, and performed reasonably well. His work here was more effective than it might appear, as that 4.03 ERA was eighth-best in the high-scoring PCL of 1971. Thus in 1972 Woodson would be given another chance by the Twins, and would deliver an impressive workhorse season, with over 250 big league innings at an ERA+ of 119. After that, however, Woodson would quickly fade and disappear.

Class AA Top 10 Workloads

Pitcher          T   Age Year   League      G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
Doug Konieczny   R   21  1973  Southern    28   28   17  213   12   12  194   83  222 2.66 3538
Danny Fife       R   22  1972  Southern    29   29   12  221   14    7  177   88  156 3.10 3490
Bill Campbell    R   23  1972  Southern    29   29   14  219   13   10  181   69  204 2.42 3451
Joe Sambito      L   23  1975  Southern    30   28   10  209   12    9  200   85  140 3.01 3407
Lance Rautzhan   L   22  1975  Eastern     28   28   21  218   14   10  200   62  115 2.06 3332
Sammy Ellis      R   30  1971  Southern    28   28   11  208   11   15  192   82  125 3.72 3331
Willie Prall     L   23  1973   Texas      31   31   11  186   12   14  191  106  160 4.31 3295
Leslie Scott     R    ?  1971   Texas      28   28   15  213   15    8  134   94  147 2.24 3288
Chris Batton     R   20  1975  Southern    29   28   12  190   13   10  192  109   96 3.65 3258
Paul Siebert     L   21  1974  Southern    26   26   18  211   15    7  188   67  120 2.56 3258

All of these were major-league-bound prospects with the exception of Scott, who never made it, and Ellis, who was on the way down after having flamed out following a hugely impressive couple of seasons with the Reds in 1964-65.

But though this crew put up stalwart performances in AA, none would succeed as a major league starter. Two, however, would achieve distinction in big league bullpens: Sambito had several excellent years as a relief ace in Houston, and Campbell presented a couple of the most extraordinary mega-workhorse reliever seasons of the 1970s as the highlight of his long career.

Class A Top 10 Workloads

Pitcher          T   Age Year   League      G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
Bob Knepper      L   20  1974 California   30   30   16  238   20    5  239   80  247 3.18 3955
John D'Acquisto  R   19  1971  Midwest     31   29   14  233   10   13  178  124  244 3.13 3942
Don Aase         R   19  1974  Carolina    32   30   18  230   17    8  185   84  176 2.43 3614
John D'Acquisto  R   20  1972 California   27   26   17  209   17    6  184  102  245 3.32 3605
Curt Isom        L    ?  1973 California   31   28    9  208   13   11  146  121  227 2.42 3547
Dennis Eckersley R   18  1973 California   31   31   11  202   12    8  182   91  218 3.65 3428
Rick Nitz        R    ?  1972 California   28   28   13  211   18    7  210   64  164 2.94 3380
Randy Hill       L    ?  1973  Carolina    28   28    8  203   14    4  175  100  135 2.93 3340
Domingo Figueroa L    ?  1971 Fla. State   30   24   15  197   14    8  159  108  170 2.60 3324
Gerry Spencer    R    ?  1974  Carolina    29   29   12  214   11    7  195   70  115 2.94 3320

Knepper was always a pitcher I found particularly intriguing. An easygoing guy whose best pitch was an old-fashioned overhand slow curve, Knepper was maddeningly inconsistent in terms of effectiveness (indeed he’ll be featured in an upcoming volume of Saberhagen Gaps). But in terms of durability, he was solid as granite: the Clydesdale-caliber workhorse season we see him contributing at the age of 20 above was just the first in a long line. In the minors and majors combined, Knepper would exceed 200 innings 10 times in the 13 seasons from 1974 through 1986. He almost certainly would have bagged an eleventh had 1981 not been shortened by the strike, and the two other times in that span in which he didn’t reach 200 frames Knepper worked 155 (in triple-A in 1975, after having been promoted two levels following his tremendous class-A performance) and 180 (in 1982, in one of his periodic bad years). He would pitch through the age of 36, logging over 3,500 professional innings, and would never spend a day on the Disabled List.

Equally indestructible was Eckersley. At seventeen he went straight from high school to a full-time starter role in Class A, and the next year he was breezily handling the 200-inning assignment we see here. Over his extraordinary 27-season career, Eck would encounter just two DL stints, one in 1985 and another in 1989, neither keeping him out of action for more than a few weeks.

And then there’s John D’Acquisto. Possessor of a fastball in the all-time elite class, D’Acquisto did not possess the capability of placing it in the strike zone with regularity. The Giants organization supervised by owner-GM Horace Stoneham and Director of Player Development Carl Hubbell — a team with a pretty fair track record of producing top-end pitchers, including Mike McCormick, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Bill Hands within the most recent decade and a half — clearly felt that D’Acquisto’s development would be best served by in-game experience, and plenty of it. Following a Rookie League debut in which he walked 74 and struck out 84 in 55 innings, over the next four seasons at ages 19 through 22 Johnny D. worked 897 innings (issuing 482 walks and racking up 870 whiffs) and threw an estimated 15,321 pitches. Perhaps the arm injury he then encountered, and the degrees of arm trouble he would never subsequently escape, and which rendered him washed up by age 30, would have visited D’Acquisto anyway, but it’s certainly fair to question the risk/reward wisdom of exposing a prize prospect to that kind of workload.

Against all this drama, Aase’s story seems rather pedestrian. The season we see above was by far his best (and most heavily worked) in the minors. He would reach the majors at 22, and put together a pretty nice career as a starter and then a reliever, dealing with little more than the injury problems pitchers often face, lasting until he was 36.

Rookie Class Top 10 Workloads

Pitcher          T   Age Year   League      G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
Steve Cline      R    ?  1974  Pioneer     16   16   10  116    8    7  115   64  108 3.96 2042
Larry Groover    L    ?  1974  Pioneer     18   17   10  118    9    6   92   59  117 2.29 1972
Bill Bird        R    ?  1974  Pioneer     15   15   11  121    8    6   94   42  108 2.08 1901
Bob Falcon       L    ?  1973  Pioneer     14   13    7   99    8    3   71   51  180 2.36 1765
Ed Plank         R   21  1973  Pioneer     14   12    8  106    7    4  108   43   78 3.06 1759
Barry Bagley     L    ?  1972  Pioneer     13   13    8  104    7    4   97   44  110 2.68 1757
Butch Metzger    R   19  1971  Pioneer     13   13    4  106    6    5   88   46  108 3.91 1755
Randy Smith      L    ?  1973  Pioneer     14   14    7  103    6    8  117   37   87 3.50 1740
Mark Klein       R    ?  1973   Appal.     14   13    9  111    7    4   89   34   93 3.16 1719
Mike Weiss       R    ?  1971  Pioneer     13   13    7   97    7    4   84   57  108 3.80 1713

More evidence, on top of that which we’ve observed already, that the connection between standout Rookie League workhorse performance and major league success is tenuous at best. Of this bunch, only Plank and Metzger (both, interestingly, Giants’ prospects) made the majors at all, and neither of them lasted very long.

I seem to recall reading, when Plank was a fringe player with the Giants, that he was a distant relative of his namesake Hall of Famer. But none of the sources I’ve searched now confirm it, so maybe it isn’t so.

One More Thing

Do you remember way back in the 1951-1955 chapter, when I noted the phenomenon of several “workhorse relievers”? They haven’t proven to be a common occurrence in the periods since, but they have been showing up from time to time, and were particularly notable in the early 1970s Mexican League.

It is an extremely intriguing manner of deploying a pitcher, that obviously never caught on at the major league level. Here is the complete list of the most extreme examples I’ve uncovered from 1946 through 1975. All of these guys were in the top ten of their league’s pitchers in innings pitched:

Pitcher       T   Age Year     League         G   GS   CG   IP    W    L    H   BB   SO  ERA   EP
Cecil Hutson  R    ?  1953  Georgia State    75    6    4  265   17   12  246   98  156 3.46 4208
Alfredo Ortiz L    ?  1972     Mexican       74   28   17  213   15   13  224   37  113 3.72 3221
Cecil Hutson  R    ?  1952  Florida State    67   11    8  270   21   10  251   71  126 2.57 4081
Juan Suby     R    ?  1969     Mexican       66   22   15  243   19   17  204   77  158 2.63 3739
Norm Hughes   R    ?  1955  Florida State    65   24   11  302   18   16  291  145  142 3.90 4961
Juan Suby     R    ?  1971     Mexican       64   21    9  216   22   12  208   46  111 2.63 3244
Juan Suby     R    ?  1970     Mexican       58   26    8  214   20   14  219   58  139 3.57 3369
Alonso        R    ?  1954      WTNM         58   27   17  261   22   16  307   75  177 5.28 4275
Frank Smith   R   21  1949      Texas        57   23   15  239   17   11  203  100  143 2.93 3801
A. Williams   R    ?  1956   California      55   22   12  242    9   16  277  125  135 5.28 4200
Joe Drach     R    ?  1955  Florida State    54   17   10  284   14   12  263  106  142 3.01 4476
Hogg          R    ?  1960   California      52   15    9  222   15   10  201   93  212 2.59 3691
Kendig        R    ?  1956 Georgia-Florida   51   18   14  242   20   10  196   74  227 2.45 3790
F. Maytorena  R    ?  1972     Mexican       50   27   14  222   16   12  172  108  131 2.39 3556
Malone        R    ?  1953    Longhorn       50   24   15  281   25    6  286  113  162 3.94 4590
Julio Navarro R   20  1956  Florida State    49   22   20  246   24    8  186  120  216 2.16 4033
Bob Dustal    R   20  1956 Georgia-Florida   47   18   12  248   18    7  199   89  150 2.21 3826
Next Chapter

Minor League Workhorses: 1976-1980

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