What is a Complete Game in Baseball & MLB Leaders

We use affiliate links in this article. And, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for your support.

In the world of baseball, a complete game is a significant accomplishment for any pitcher, symbolizing endurance, skill, and dominance on the mound. This esteemed statistic not only showcases an athlete’s ability to maintain performance over the course of an entire game but also reflects the strategic approaches taken by teams regarding their pitching staff. Understanding what is the meaning of complete game in baseball, its importance in the sport, and the challenges pitchers face in achieving this feat are critical for appreciating this aspect of baseball’s rich tactical and historical landscape.

What is Considered a Complete Game in MLB?

A Complete Game in baseball refers to a pitching performance where a starting pitcher finishes an entire game without the assistance of relief pitchers. In other words, the pitcher remains on the mound for the entirety of the game, usually lasting nine innings in a standard baseball game. This used to be a more common occurrence in baseball history, but in modern times, it’s become relatively rare due to changes in pitching strategies, increased specialization in bullpens, and pitch count management.

How Many Innings in a Complete Game?

A complete game in baseball doesn’t have a specific number of innings tied to it. The key aspect of a complete game is that a single pitcher throws for their entire team, regardless of how many innings the game lasts.

In a standard baseball game, there are nine innings, with each team getting a chance to bat and field in each inning. So, for a pitcher to throw a complete game, they need to pitch all nine innings without being relieved by another pitcher. However, in certain circumstances, such as extra-inning games, a complete game may consist of more than nine innings if the game extends beyond the regulation length.

Is 5 Innings a Complete Game?

In most official baseball games, a Complete Game is defined as a pitcher pitching the entire duration of a game, which consists of at least nine innings in a standard game. However, there are exceptions in some leagues or specific circumstances where a shorter game can be considered complete.

For example, in Major League Baseball (MLB), a game called due to weather or other reasons after at least five innings have been completed can be considered a complete game if the home team is leading, or if the game is tied. This is known as a “rain-shortened” or “called” game. In this context, if a starting pitcher has pitched the entirety of those five innings before the game is called, it can be counted as a complete game for statistical purposes.

So, while traditionally a complete game is nine innings, in certain situations, five innings may be considered complete under specific conditions.

How Rare is a Complete Game in Baseball?

Complete games have become increasingly rare in baseball over the years, signifying a significant shift in how the game is played and managed.

In 1904, the occurrence of complete games was remarkably common, with a staggering 2,186 complete games recorded. This high number was typical for the era, reflecting the game’s strategy and the stamina and roles of pitchers at that time.

A noticeable decrease is observed in 1974 when the number dropped to 1,089 complete games. This decline continued, becoming more pronounced into the 21st century, with only 118 complete games recorded in 2014.

By 2023, the trend reached its most dramatic point, with a mere 34 complete games across the season.

This decline can be attributed to several factors, including changes in pitching strategy, increased emphasis on preserving pitchers’ arms, and the use of specialized relief pitchers. The evolution of the game has thus made the complete game a rarity, emphasizing a major shift in the baseball landscape from endurance-based performances to strategic plays and bullpen depth.

MLB Complete Games

YearGames startedComplete gamesComplete game %

The landscape of complete games in Major League Baseball (MLB) has evolved significantly over time, with notable fluctuations in their frequency. In 2023, only 34 complete games were recorded, continuing the trend of a decline in complete game occurrences. This figure is slightly lower than the previous year, 2022, which saw 36 complete games. Such a contrast underscores the rarity of this achievement in modern baseball.

Comparing these numbers to previous years highlights the stark decline in complete games. For instance, in 2014, there were 118 complete games recorded, indicating a significant drop compared to recent years. Looking further back, in 1914, a staggering 2,186 complete games were tallied, reflecting a time when starting pitchers routinely went the distance.

Despite their decreasing occurrence, complete games remain a notable achievement in the MLB. In 2023, Sandy Alcantara and Jordan Lyles stood out by each pitching three complete games, showcasing exceptional durability and skill on the mound. While the era of complete games may be waning, these performances serve as reminders of the enduring allure and significance of this traditional aspect of pitching in baseball.

All-Time MLB Complete Game Leaders

Cy Young stands as the undisputed titan of complete games in Major League Baseball history, setting a seemingly unattainable record with 749 complete games. Young’s remarkable feat not only makes him the all-time leader but also distinguishes him as the sole player to complete more than 700 games in their career. Following closely behind is Pud Galvin, whose impressive tally of 646 complete games secures his position as the second all-time leader. Galvin’s achievement also places him in an elite category, as he joins Young as the only other player to surpass the 600 complete game milestone. Together, these two legends of the game exemplify an era when starting pitchers routinely dominated the mound and finished what they started, leaving an indelible mark on the annals of baseball history.

Pitchers With Most Complete Games in 2023

In 2023, Major League Baseball saw a total of 34 complete games, continuing the trend of these rare yet remarkable pitching performances. Sandy Alcantara and Jordan Lyles emerged as the forefront of this achievement, both tied for the most complete games in the year, with each pitcher successfully completing 3 games. This figure not only speaks to their exceptional ability and endurance on the mound but also highlights their significant contribution to their respective teams’ strategies and successes throughout the season.

Photo of author


James Arnold
I'm James, and I live in Stanislaus County, California. I'm playing Baseball for many years, and I love this sport so much that I also encourage my kids (Danny and Sara) to play Baseball & Softball.