Are 300-Game Winners Becoming Extinct? (Part Two)
There were no hard predictions in Part One of this two-part look at the future of the 300-game winner. Last week, I looked at the active 200-game winners. There are no guarantees in the game (not that there ever really were) at the moment. Only three of the active 200-game winners have a shot and the safe money would be on all three pitchers falling short. Personally, I think that one of the three (Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina & Andy Pettitte) gets there. The baseball world would be stunned if all three hit the magic number, myself included. That means we may get one more shot in 2009 with Johnson, 2011 with Mussina or 2015 with Pettitte. After those three end their run, it may be a while before another sighting.
The 300-Game Winner Gap Is Not Unprecedented
Looking back on past 300-game winners, there has been a natural cycle to the occurrence of 300-game winners in the game. This might be the second large drought we see in 300-game winners. After an explosion of 300-game winners at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, there was a 17 year gap between Pete Alexander and Lefty Grove. It was another 20 years before Warren Spahn won his 300th and then Early Wynn crawled to the end of his 300-win journey two years later. Then, it looked like the 300-game winner was dead. Gaylord Perry then started another run when he hit the 300 mark in 1982. If you are scoring at home, that means from 1962-1981, professional baseball added exactly one pitcher to the illustrious group.
The table pictured above shows the number of 20 game winners, the average number of wins earned by the top 10 pitchers of each season and the high water mark from each season. From the table, you can see that there is nothing discernibly different about the period before or after the drought of 300-game winners. In 1951, there were thirteen 20-game winners. Only two of those players made it to the magic 300 number. In 1969, there were a major league record fifteen 20-game winners. Only two of those players made it to the magic 300 number. In 1970, there were eleven more 20-game winners. Not one of the 20-game winners made it to the magic 300 mark. This was a season where six future 300-game winners were active pitchers in the majors.
After five more players in addition to Perry reached 300 wins between â€™82-90, there was yet another gap of 13 years before Roger Clemens hit the number in 2003. This was a shorter gap than the last two large gaps despite a steep decline in 20-game winners and a gradual decline in the average of the Top 10 Wins amongst starting pitchers. Once Clemens hit the number, the prognosticators were loud and clear, pitchers winning 300 games would end once Greg Maddux accomplished the feat. That was not the case.
The Obstacles â€“ Real And Imagined
The loss of roughly five starts a year due to the 5-man rotation is the one obstacle that will be difficult to overcome for todayâ€™s pitchers. This may wash out if pitchers are more effective for a longer time and prolongs their career a year or two longer than it originally would have been.
Earlier usage of the bullpen could be a deterrent but itâ€™s tough to say. Take Bert Blyleven, for example. Blyleven fell thirteen wins short of 300 wins. A random search through his box scores uncovered a game in â€™75 where Blyleven took the mound in the 8th inning with a 5-4 lead. Itâ€™s not often you see a pitcher today take the mound in the 8th after giving up four runs and nine hits through 7. In addition to this, Blyleven had 242 complete games. He missed most of â€™82 with an elbow injury and was a shell of himself in four of his last five seasons including missing the entire â€™91 season with a rotator cuff injury. Could Blyleven have been preserved by pitching less earlier in his career and been able to accomplish 300 wins?
Finally, with the younger players especially, money is always thrown out there as the great evil that will derail many a great career. Apparently, a multi-million dollar contract is supposed to be a recipe for players to stop caring (I guess Clemens, Maddux and Glavine forgot to read the memo). Money has long been bantered about as a reason why players fail to perform. Case in point, a Sporting News story from October 12, 1949 written by John Drohan talked about the inability of the Red Sox to make the playoffs. When he wrote about team owner Tom Yawkey being puzzled, he commented, â€œHowever, if Tom will look at the payroll of his athletes, he will find the reason. The boys are overpaid.â€ The boys in question â€“ Vern Stephens and Ted Williams. Ted Williams!?!?!?! Tedâ€™s $100,000 contract was ridiculous in the eyes of Drohan. Throughout the history of the game, the salary of players has always brought into question the heart of the players themselves. Yet, the game still managed to produce eleven 300-game winners after WWII.
The Active 100-Game Winners: Whoâ€™s Next To 300?
Using the criteria put forth in the first part of this series, I have trimmed the list down to 10 players. Hereâ€™s the list of 100-game winners who failed to make the cut:
Ã˜ Tim Wakefield (168-146, .535, Age 41)
Ã˜ Aaron Sele (148-112, .569, Age 37)
Ã˜ Steve Trachsel (141-154, .478, Age 37)
Ã˜ Livan Hernandez (134-128, .511, Age 33)
Ã˜ Tom Gordon (133-121, .524, Age 40)
Ã˜ Woody Williams (132-116, .532, Age 41)
Ã˜ Jon Lieber (129-121, .516, Age 37)
Ã˜ Jason Schmidt (128-94, .577, Age 35)
Ã˜ Matt Morris (121-88, .579, Age 33)
Ã˜ Jeff Suppan (118-113, .511, Age 33)
Ã˜ Javier Vazquez (115-113, .504, Age 31)
Ã˜ Chan Ho Park (113-88, .562, Age 34)
Ã˜ Derek Lowe (112-96, .538, Age 34)
Ã˜ Russ Ortiz (110-82, .573, Age 33)
Ã˜ Kelvim Escobar (101-90, .529, Age 31)
Ã˜ Chris Carpenter (100-69, .592, Age 32)
The Ten Contenders
10. Roy Halladay (111-55, .669, Age 30)
His wins per season are not within the range of where it needs to be like Matt Morris but heâ€™s three years younger than Morris and just 10 wins behind him. What Halladay does is win. His .669 won-loss % is the 4th highest amongst active players. Heâ€™s been injured before, but a broken leg due to being hit by a line drive does not point toward a breakdown later into his career. Due to his limited activity in his first four seasons, Halladayâ€™s average wins per season are probably closer to 14-15. If Halladay were to get on a 300-win pace, he would approach the milestone around his 44th birthday in 2021.
9. Freddy Garcia (117-76, .606, Age 32)
Until last season, Garcia was a 14-15 win, 30-32 start guy. Now, after going 1-5 in an injury shortened â€™07, Garcia has to get back to form this year to stay on this list. His back is against the wall as he wonâ€™t be available until June or July and looking at just half a season to tally somewhere around 8-9 wins to stay in realistic shape to hit 300 wins. If Garcia recovers from injury and gets back on track heâ€™d be in contention to hit 300 wins in 2021 but that would put Garcia at age 46.
8. Kevin Millwood (133-101, .568, Age 33)
The good news for Millwood is heâ€™s still considered an ace. The bad news is heâ€™s playing for the hapless Texas Rangers. The one reason I put Millwood on the list ahead of a younger pitcher like Javier Vazquez is that Millwood has shown that he will consistently get 30 starts per season. If he gets back closer to his form when pitching for the Braves, Millwood could make serious contention for 300 wins, but thatâ€™s a big if. Heâ€™d have to pitch until he was 45 somewhere around 2020.
7. Mark Mulder (103-60, .632, Age 30)
Two years ago, Mulder was three wins short of 100 going into his 7th season. Heâ€™s missed the majority of the last two seasons due to injury but is still averaging enough wins per season to stay ahead of the other 100 game winners on the list. This is the make-or-break year for Mulder who has only given the Cardinals one good year so far since coming to the National League. Mulder is similar to Halladay as he has a .632 won-loss %. Mulderâ€™s durability puts him at a big question mark to pitch until his 44th birthday in 2021.
6. Bartolo Colon (146-95, .606, Age 34)
Itâ€™s pretty bleak when the sixth guy on your list hasnâ€™t won 10 games in the past two seasons, is recovering from injury and will be 35 this year. When Colon was on track he had two 20-win seasons and eight consecutive seasons of 14 wins or more. Colon has a golden ticket playing for one of the leagueâ€™s best teams in the Boston Red Sox so if he bounces back from injury that should boost his wins by about 10%. Colon would have to pitch until 2019 when he would be 45.
5. Barry Zito (113-76, .598, Age 29)
Zito will turn 30 this year and his biggest obstacle may be the move to the National League. Zito struggled in his â€™07 National League debut with the Giants after going 102-63 with the Athletics. A former Cy Young winner who has started at least 33 games for seven consecutive seasons, Zito has led the league in two of the five key statistical areas before. Zito would have to win an average of 14 games until he turned 44 in 2022 to hit the magic number.
4. Mark Buehrle (107-75, .588, Age 28)
On March 23rd, Buehrle turns 29. Heâ€™s right on track to make a serious run at 300 wins. He passed 100 wins in his 8th year last season, he averages 13+ wins per season and has started 30+ games for the last seven years. Two numbers working against Buehrle are his .500 winning % over the past two seasons and that he has not gotten a 20-win season under his belt. Just 21 when he debuted, Buehrleâ€™s playing career may last a little longer than his counterparts. An average of 13-14 wins would get Buehrle to 300 wins in 2023 at the age of 44.
3. Tim Hudson (135-70, .659, Age 31)
The elder statesman of the Top 5, Hudson has averaged 31 starts per season and coupled that with 15 wins per season. Hudson has led the league in Wins, Games Started and Shutouts, three of the five key statistical areas. His stats at 31 resemble the stats of Tom Glavine and two other 300-win contenders â€“ Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. Thatâ€™s not bad company. Hudsonâ€™s current pace puts him at 300 wins at age 43 in 2020.
2. Roy Oswalt (112-54, .675, Age 30)
A good pitcher on a young, improving team. Oswalt got a late start but has made up for lost time. He broke 100 wins last year in just his 7th season in the majors. Heâ€™s won 20 games twice and has never had a losing season. A .675 winning percentage is very impressive and heâ€™s led the league in three of the five key statistical indicators. His career WHIP of 1.201 is 10th amongst actives which is vital to his longevity. His one obstacle is heâ€™s already 30 and even with his 16 wins per season, Oswalt would have to pitch at this level until he is 42 in 2020.
1. C.C. Sabathia (100-63, .613, Age 27)
The youngest guy on the list, Sabathia is the front-runner to join the 300-win club. Sabathia had averaged 14+ wins per season and roughly 31 starts. Sabathia is a Cy Young winner who led the league in three of the five key statistical areas and is aided with a .613 won-loss %. Still showing improvement, Sabathia is coming off of his Cy Young season and his highest win total (19). The most recent member of the 100-win club, Sabathia is on track to achieve 300 wins in 2022, just 41 years old (young in terms of 300-game winners).
Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte all have an opportunity to achieve 300 wins. If all three miss the mark, we may be 12 years away from our next 300-game winner. While many want to jump to the conclusion that Tom Glavine was the last of a dying breed, history tells us that this 10-15 year drought is nothing more than the natural drought experienced as baseball reloads to deliver its next batch of two to four 300-game winners. I can see the headlines now, â€œIs Sabathia last of the 300-game winners?â€
Next Saturday: Why steroids were good for baseball.