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300 Game Winners Are Not Extinct

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
August 13, 2007

I've really grown tired of all the recent speculation that Tom Glavine might be the last 300-game winner.  There will be more such pitchers even from the current stock of active players.  It is quite evident through looking at the 23 previous 300-game winners and the current roster of elite active pitchers that there are more on the way, and that the 300-game winner is not an endangered species.  

Here are the 23 300-game winners sorted by their last year played:

Pre-1900: Galvin, Keefe, Clarkson, Radbourn, Welch (5)

1900-1925: Nichols, Young, Mathewson, Plank (4)

1926-1950: Johnson, Alexander, Grove (3)

1951-1975: Carlton, Sutton, Spahn, Wynn (4)

1976-2000: Ryan, Niekro, Perry, Seaver (4)

2001- Glavine, Clemens, Maddux (3)

The regularity of our seeing a pitcher notch 300 wins has actually held quite steady since the dead ball era and subsequent World War II gap (Bob Feller and Red Ruffing would have likely been 300-game winners if not for their service time).  It's almost hard to see why so many fans and analysts seriously expect that the 300-win pitcher is dead.

Almost. The lack of large-win seasons is clouding the minds of many.  The fact that neither league produced even a 20-game winner last year certainly shocked the baseball world.  But really, for hitting 300 wins, it's not about the Joe McGinnity-type seasons; it's about the longevity.

Looking at the most recent pitchers to reach this plateau, Roger Clemens leads the way in 20-win seasons with six.  Tom Glavine, Gaylord Perry, and Tom Seaver each had five such seasons, Phil Niekro had three, and Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux each had two 20-win seasons.  Even if 20-win seasons are more difficult to come by these days, that does not necessarily mean that 300 career wins would be.

Managers today have every incentive to baby their starting pitchers in order to keep them healthy, considering the monetary investment a pitcher is today.  Due to that same factor, pitchers today have more incentive to continue playing into their forties.  We probably won't ever see another 30-game winner, but for a pitcher to average 15 wins a season for 20 seasons certainly isn't out of the question.

Let's examine a dozen possible active candidates for 300 wins (and one bonus hypothetical).

Randy Johnson: Age 43, 284 Wins

The Big Unit has been shut down for the remainder of 2007.  He is signed for another year, but it seems awfully improbable at this point for him to be both healthy and effective enough for 16 wins in 2008.

Odds: Longshot   

Mike Mussina: Age 38, 247 Wins

Tom Glavine ended his age 38 season with 262 career wins.  He was also coming off his worst season in a dozen years.  Seeing as how Mike Mussina has won four of his last six starts with the resurgent Yankees, it's pretty realistic to think that he would end this season with 252 wins.   It's a pretty good omen to be ten wins behind Glavine's pace, as Glavine is still pitching adequately and holds a player option for 2008.

Mussina and Glavine are very different pitchers.  Glavine relies on his changeup as much as any other pitcher in baseball, while Mussina is one of a select few to employ the knuckle-curve.  But they are both control artists who don't rely on velocity to get batters out, and both tend to be solid to good pitchers every year, though not dominant.  I think using the southpaw as a model for Mussina makes sense.

Moose will still be under contract with the Yankees for 2008, barring a trade.  That bodes well for his short-term win totals, even if his current 4.50 ERA isn't an aberration.

Odds: Decent

Pedro Martinez: Age 35, 205 Wins

The above stats are misleading.  Pedro turns 36 in October, and is unlikely to have any more than 210 wins by that time.  I can't really use anyone as a comparison model for the diminutive Dominican, as he is unique in baseball history.  But in nine seasons since being traded from the Expos (not counting this year), Pedro has averaged just over 15 wins per season, and he did that with some pretty solid offenses working for him.  Pedro would need to continue to average 15 wins per season for six years to approach that 300-win plateau.

Odds: Ain't Gonna Happen

Andy Pettitte: Age 35, 194 Wins

Pettitte only just turned 35 in June, but his retirement talk this offseason doesn't inspire much hope for 300 wins, even though he has picked up right where he left off with the 2003 Yankees.

Odds: Ain't Gonna Happen

Tim Hudson: Age 31, 132 Wins

How about Tim Hudson this season!  A pitcher whose peripheral numbers looked pedestrian the past three years currently ranks fourth in the NL in fielding independent pitching.  He just turned 31 in July, so if he averages 14 wins over the next dozen years, he will hit 300 wins in August of 2019, one month after turning 43.

Odds: Longshot

Roy Oswalt: Age 29, 110 Wins

I had Oswalt on my fantasy team in 2003, the year in which he spent 4 separate stints on the DL with the same groin injury, totaling 73 days.  Needless to say, I did not expect him to rattle off two consecutive 20-win seasons, nor exceed the 220-IP mark in each of the next three years.  Oswalt has proven himself to be quite durable, and when you combine that durability with a .675 career winning percentage that ranks 10th all time among pitchers with both 1,000 innings and 100 decisions, you have in your hands a 300-game winner.

Odds: Likely 

Javier Vazquez: Age 30, 110 Wins

Here's a name I wasn't thinking about when I first envisioned this article.  That's probably because he's only won as many as 15 games once in his career.  He's the spokesman for pitchers with excellent peripheral numbers but so-so winning percentage and ERA (succeeding Bert Blyleven).  It is possible that he will find himself with a good offense and defense behind him and start to evolve into the 15-20 win per season pitcher we've been expecting since 2001.  But he needs to do not ony that, but to prove that 2007 is more indicative of his abilities than the three previous years were.

Odds: Longshot

Roy Halladay: Age 30, 108 Wins

Hmm.  Maybe Buck Martinez and Carlos Tosca shouldn't have pitched Halladay for over 500 innings between 2002 and 2003.  Halladay has only managed to avoid the disabled list in one out of his four subsequent seasons.  It's really too bad, because he combines a better knuckle-curve than Mussina's with the control of Pedro Martinez, groundball affinity of Greg Maddux, and winning percentage of Roy Oswalt.  But his durability now calls 300 wins into considerable doubt.

Odds: Longshot

Derek Lowe: Age 34, 108 Wins (Bonus Hypothetical)

No, Lowe doesn't have a shot at 300 victories, but I thought I'd point out that if he hadn't come up as a reliever, he might be one of the better candidates on this list.  Lowe averaged exactly 16 wins per season his first five years as a starter, and did not become a starter until age 29.  He hasn't gotten much run support so far this season, but a quick glance at his career numbers from August on shows that he could still pop off a string of victories, assuming that he is healthy:

Aug-Oct: 40-23, 3.12 ERA, 347K/132 BB, 1 HR allowed every 17.5 innings.

Odds: They Could Have Been Good

Mark Buehrle: Age 28, 106 Wins

I used to tell anyone who would listen - and some who wouldn't - that Mark Buehrle was a left-handed Greg Maddux and a lock for 300 wins.  I've softened on that stance somewhat.  He's much more like fellow southpaw Tom Glavine, which means that he will need to stave off a decline phase for his career despite pedestrian strikeout totals.  To be honest, his newly-signed 4-year contract with the Sox could hurt his chances, since he has already been victimized by the home run haven known as The Cell, and could be hit even harder as he ages.

Odds: Decent

C.C. Sabathia: Age 26, 95 Wins

Scott and I both gaped in a phone conversation this summer in which I asked him what pitcher 27 or younger he would most like to have on a ballclub, "Sabathia's only 26!!!"  He is in his seventh season, and has never pitched fewer than 180 innings, failed to record double-digits in wins, or posted an ERA below the league average.  He has noticeably improved the past two seasons, and if he continues to follow a fairly normal pattern of peak and decline, he's going to have an outstanding career.  He may never be a super-dominant pitcher, and he is more of a workelephant than a workhorse, but he's one of the better 300-win candidates around.

Odds: Likely  

Carlos Zambrano: Age 26, 78 Wins

Speaking of workelephants, let's look at Big Z.  He turned 26 in June, and somehow doesn't generally get hurt by huge pitch counts engendered by his often baffling lack of command.  Working against him is that he sounds like he wants to sign long-term with the Cubs, a franchise not exactly known for going on long stretches of winning.  In his favor are his 12 career home runs; he can help himself win games when his teammates aren't up to the task.

Odds: Decent    

Johan Santana: Age 28, 90 Wins     

Santana was a late bloomer.  The Twins used him as a reliever/swingman for four years before making him a full time starter at the age of 25.  He publicly chastised Ron Gardenhire and Twins management for not starting him in 2002 and 2003, proclaiming himself to be the best starter on the team.  Well, the Francisco Liriano fiasco illustrates why their patience was prudent.  Teams everywhere, heed Earl Weaver's Eighth Law: The best place for a rookie pitcher is in long relief

Johan Santana is now easily the greatest pitcher in the game.  Both dominant and durable, it's unthinkable for him to win fewer than 15 games in any of the next ten seasons.  Even though his age/win total alone would not portend a 300-game winner, I like his chances.

Odds: Likely  

Santana brings up a good point; one that brings us full circle back to Randy Johnson.  The Big Unit had a total of 48 career wins on his 28th birthday, and now stands just 16 wins from the 300-win plateau.  That means that in addition to the 2-4 pitchers from these dozen that are going to win 300 games, one or two late-bloomers that no one is looking at as a serious 300-win candidate could easily step up and surprise us all.

All told, I would predict that about five currently active players short of 300 wins will eventually hit that mark in their career, and at least one of those five will be a player I haven't mentioned in this article. 

This is a far cry from believing that Tom Glavine was the last of a dying breed.  


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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