October 20, 2014

On Randy Johnson: Will he be the last to win 300 in the Majors?

June 7, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

On June 4th Randy Johnson became the 24th pitcher to win 300 games in major league baseball. Quite a select group, and one that is sure to see very few additional members in the years to come. The question I’ll ask in this posting is: will Randy Johnson be the last to join this elite set of hurlers?

But before I give my views on that question, I’d like to focus on Randy Johnson and his recent accomplishment. On June 4th Randy Johnson pitched six innings against the lowly Washington Nationals. (See also fellow Seamheads writer Bryan Holt’s posting on this from a few days ago.) He allowed two hits, one unearned run, while walking two. So far this sounds typical, except he only struck out two batters. At age 45, the days of Randy striking out 10 or 14 batters each time out seem to be long gone. For one thing his innings are down a lot: he’s only gone seven innings twice this year for instance. His high for strikeouts in a game this year is 9 so far, something he’s done twice (and once was in only 5 innings). Indeed, he’s actually striking out batters at a pretty good clip: so far he has 56 in 58 innings. So that 2 K’s was quite low for him, even at age 45. But what mattered on June 4th was the “W” — the 300th of his career.

And what a career it has been! Now that he’s reached this major milestone, I figure he will retire soon — perhaps after this season? So let’s review his career numbers to-date:

  • He has a 300-164 W-L record, which translates to a .647 winning percentage. That is 30th all-time, but is 5th amongst pitchers with 300 or more wins. Only Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, and old-timer John Clarkson rank higher in that regard.
  • He has a lifetime 3.28 ERA, which is quite good relative to the era in which he has played. For instance, he won four ERA crowns, and came in second three other times. His ERA+, which relativizes ERA in that regard, is 136 and that ranks 21st all-time: ahead of old-timers with microscopic raw ERAs such as Alexander (2.56)and Mathewson (2.13), and also the likes of Ford (2.75) and Gibson (2.91).
  • He has 4,845 strikeouts, which puts him only behind the strikeout-king Nolan Ryan (5,714). However, he’s gotten those strikeouts in only 4,097.3 innings pitched, which gives him a K/9 IP ratio of an amazing 10.64 — the best of all-time. That’s right, his ratio is better than even modern one-inning closers like Hoffman, Rivera, and others. And in case you are wondering, Nolan Ryan’s ratio was 9.55 (5th all-time), and Sandy Koufax’s was 9.28 (7th).
  • More on his strikeouts: he had 300+ six times, including five consecutive seasons and a career best 372 in 2001.
  • Johnson did have some control problems early in his career, leading the AL in walks each year from 1990-92. But he learned control, and as of today has a lifetime WHIP of only 1.17. In fact, he managed to lead his league in WHIP three times (1995, 2001, and 2004).
  • 10-time all-star.
  • 5-time Cy Young Award winner, including four consecutive from 1999-2002 with the Diamondbacks.
  • Took home the pitching triple crown in the ML in 2002 when he went 24-5 with a 2.32 ERA and 334 strikeouts.

Johnson will surely be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, assuming we never hear a whiff of steroid use or something like that which is derailing many other obvious HOF candidates.

But will he be the last 300-game winner in the big leagues? I raised this question at my personal blog Philosopher Stone in 2006, when Tom Glavine notched his 300th victory. At that time I felt that Randy Johnson had a chance, and obviously with his great conditioning he has kept playing long enough to make it happen. I also thought then that Pedro Martinez had a chance, though given how injury prone he has been it seems he is either done already or nearly so. From 2006-2008 he has only managed a combined record of 17-15, so it seems highly unlikely he’ll come roaring back and get the 86 more wins he needs to reach 300.

Another name that is worth mentioning in this discussion at this point is Mike Mussina. After going his entire career without a 20-win season, Mussina finally pulled it off last year, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. But then he retired after the season, turning 40 in December. I was surprised by this, since he clearly can still pitch and he has a lifetime 270-153 record. Only two more full seasons and he might have reached the 300-win milestone. And given that the rest of his Hall-of-Fame resume is a bit lacking, it will be interesting to see how the voters treat his 270 career wins when it comes time to cast their ballots.

Anyway, with Mussina no longer active, after Johnson the next in line is currently Jamie Moyer with 250 wins. A nice total, but at age 46, I doubt anyone expects him to reach 300, especially as so far in 2009 he is 4-5 with a 6.27 ERA.

Andy Pettitte is next with 220. He is “only” 37 and can still pitch. But I don’t consider it likely he’ll manage another 80 wins. Next is Martinez, and after him is John Smoltz with 210. If he hadn’t spent those years as a great closer, he might have racked up enough wins to be coming within spitting distance of 300, close enough that even at age 42 he’d have incentive to go for it. But he did spend 3+ years as a reliever, so case closed.

Tim Wakefield with 185 wins at age 42? Don’t make me laugh. After him there are a bunch fo guys in their mid-30s, none of whom I see doubling their career wins at this point: Bartolo Colon (153), Livan Hernandez (151), Kevin Millwood (147), Tim Hudson (146), Mike Hampton (145).

The first interesting case is in my view is Roy Halladay. Obviously still in his prime at age 32, he has a 140-67 record so far, good for a .676 winning percentage. He has won 20 games in a season twice, pitches long into games often (making a decision more likely), and is having a great 2009 so far: 9-1, 2.77 ERA. But he isn’t even half-way to 300, so if he *averaged* 18 wins a year for another 9 years, then he’d have made it to 300 at age 41. If I were to bet I’d have to bet against him. Too many things can go wrong in a pitcher’s career to derail him from pitching that long, that well.

Roy Oswalt is 31 and has a 131-67 record for a .662 percentage. He also has won 20 games in a season twice. But again, will he average 17 wins a year for 10 more seasons? I highly doubt it.

And what about Johan Santana? He is only 30, and clearly still at his best with a 7-3 record and 2.00 ERA so far this year. He has a 116-54 lifetime mark, good for a .682 percentage. But what he’ll need to do over the next 10-15 years is similar to Halladay or Oswalt.

There are plenty of good young pitchers, but with none of them even half-way to 300 wins yet I think it is a legitimate question whether anyone will ever reach that mark again. There are some sensible reasons to back such skepticism too. While I don’t have hard numbers here, it seems that pitchers are generally being treated ever more carefully with each passing season. We’ve had five-man rotations in place for over twenty years I think, but it is more than that. It seems like pitchers get held back just a bit more often, get given days off, and so on. For at least some numbers in support, see the seasonal leaders in Games Started, which continues to slowly creep downward as the years go by (not a dramatic decline year to year, but just a slow decrease over time).

Further, we’ve definitely seen the rise of several classes of specialty relievers, first the one-inning closer and now too the dominant setup-man. Why keep a starter in the game if he is tiring, when you have two quality setup-men ready to go? Not every team has these yet, but more and more do it seems. The more reasons you have to take out your starters early, the less likely they’ll get a lot of decisions, and hence the less likely they’ll rack up the big career win totals.

While I wouldn’t want to bet too much money on the proposition that Randy Johnson will be the last to win 300, I think it is a fair question to ponder at this point.

Comments

3 Responses to “On Randy Johnson: Will he be the last to win 300 in the Majors?”
  1. Mike Hoban says:

    I believe that Randy will be the last pitcher to win 300 games. Given the way starting pitchers are used these days and the number of years it takes to reach 300 wins, I do not see it ever happening again.

    I also believe that given the amount of money that the players make these days most lack the incentive to pitch until they are 45 – no matter how good they are.

    Mike

  2. Bryan Holt says:

    Nice piece Tom and thanks for the reference to my article.

    I find myself very interested in the 300 win question and honestly have a hard time believing that it will never be accomplished again. Do I think that it will happen for a current major leaguer? Probably not, although Halladay by far would have the best chance.

    While specialty relievers and obsessive pitch counts have made the feat much harder to attain, I still think that some pitcher will come across dominant enough to reach it. I mean true dominance. Starters will continue to be given fewer chances to garner victories and it will truly take a “once in a generation” type pitcher to come along and have what it takes. That player might be no where near the big leagues right now but I simply do not think that Johnson will be the last.

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