Pop Quiz for September 25, 2006: When was the last time that no major league pitcher managed to win 20 games in a non-strike season?
Answer: Never! Since the National League was founded in 1876, there has never been a non-strike season in which a major league pitcher failed to win 20 games.
That all stands to change this week, as we enter the final week of the season with Johan Santana and Chien Mien Wang tied for the major league lead with 18 wins each. Santana is scheduled to pitch his last start on Tuesday, and Wang is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday. Barring some unforeseen heroics, it appears as though major league pitchers will have ventured into historic territory this season.
The National League's pitchers faced even grander embarassment: The record for fewest wins by a pitcher leading either league in wins in a non-strike season is 18, done several times. Brandon Webb, Carlos Zambrano, and Brad Penny each current sit tied with 16 wins, which makes avoiding that record very unlikely. Webb stands the best chance of getting to 18, as he pitches this Tuesday and then again on Sunday, the last day of the regular season.
The first time that even one major league failed have a pitcher win 20 games was 1931, when Jumbo Elliot, Bill Hallahan, and Heinie Meine each finished tied for the National League lead with 19 wins.
Tom Seaver, Dennis Martinez, Steve McCarthy, Jack Morris, and Pete Vukovich finished in a five way tie for the major league lead with 14 wins in the strike shortened 1981 season.
In 1994, Ken Hill and Greg Maddux finished tied for the NL lead with 16 wins each, while Jimmy Key led the AL with 17 wins when that season was cancelled after the strike in August.
In 1995, in which teams started late and played roughly 144 games each, Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina led the NL and AL, respectively, with 19 wins each.
As an aside, in 1871, the first year of the National Association, Al Spalding (yes, THE "Spalding") led that league with only 19 wins. However, Spalding's team, the Boston Red Stockings, played only 30 games that year, and Spalding, a 20 year old, started every single one, pitching 22 complete games and going 19-10.