Baseball Remembers: Paul Splittorff
Twelve years ago today, the winningest pitcher in the history of thee Kansas City Royals, Paul Splittorff, passed away from melanoma at his home in suburban Kansas City. He was just 64.
Known primarily as a starting pitcher, Splittorff had transitioned to broadcasting both baseball and basketball, and was quite good at both. On the day of his death, the Royals were playing in Baltimore, and the Orioles made the kind gesture of announcing his death and requesting a moment of silence.
During his playing days, Splittorff pitched almost exclusively from the rotation. Over 91% of his career appearances and 97% of his innings were thrown as a starting pitcher, and he somehow managed to win 166 games in that role for a very good big league team without having any real ability to strike hitters out.
Splittorff’s career strikeout rate of 3.7 hitters per 9 innings is one of the lowest since World War II among pitchers who threw at least 2,000 innings. Of the 249 pitchers who qualify, only 10 had a lower K rate than Split.
That’s a pretty neat trick, but it makes a great deal of sense when you realize that Splittorff was a very smart guy, and the Royals were one of the best defensive teams in the American League. For 8 straight seasons, from 1975 to 1982, the Royals finished in the top-5 in the league in Defensive Efficiency or Fielding Runs Above Average, usually both.
Splittorff quite clearly made the decision to pitch to contact and trust that defense the more he realized how good it was. In his first three big leagues seasons, he averaged 5.6 strikeouts per 9 innings. In the next three, as the Royals starting giving playing time to better young defensive players like Frank White and George Brett and Al Cowens, his rate dropped to 3.8. Once the Royals began to routinely win their division starting in 1976, through end of his career, Splittorff’s K rate dropped even further, to 3.2.
Its testament to the thought and attention to detail that Splittorff brought to both his playing career and the announcing booth.
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