By Father Gabe Costa
» More Columns
Mr. Zach Price is a varsity squad baseball player and is also presently taking a course on sabermetrics. Given the way the game is played today, he asks a great question.
Zach Price: As an avid Braves fan growing up, I still remember sitting in my living room watching Greg Maddux carve up hitters night-in and night-out. On the very next night, I would watch Tom Glavine pretty much repeat the same thing. What do these two pitchers have in common? They are each part of the 300-Win Club, along with 22 other pitchers in the long history of baseball. Randy Johnson became the most recent member with his 300th victory in June 2009, but it could be a while before we see another pitcher win 300 games. Although there are many dominant pitchers in the game today, the evolution of the game makes it almost impossible for a pitcher to reach the 300-win club.
But Roy Halladay has been so dominant the last few years; he will certainly achieve the milestone, right?
Wrong. At age 34, Halladay has accumulated just 169 victories. C.C. Sabathia seems more likely to get to 300; at age 30, he has 157 wins under his belt. However, at his pace, he would have to pitch into his early 40s to achieve the feat. In fact, only one active player has over 200 wins, Jamie Moyer. (By the way, recently retired Andy Pettitte had 240 victories).
Moyer is the closest to 300 wins at 267, but he may retire in the not too distant future and will almost definitely fall short of the mark.
Sure, some young pitcher may come into the Big Leagues a few years from now and eventually become dominant enough to reach 300 wins over a 20-plus year career. However, with the structure of the game the way it is, the 300-Win Club doesn’t look to add any members in the near future.
You ask: ‘But how could these dominant pitchers not even be close to achieving 300 career wins, when four pitchers (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Randy Johnson) have reached the milestone just within the past few years?”
The answer lies in the transformation of the starting pitcher and the four-man rotation. With today’s five-man rotation, starting pitchers are simply not pitching as many games as pitchers did in a four-man rotation. If you start a game, you are certainly given a chance to earn a decision and win the game, but if you don’t even start, how can you win (as Yogi Berra might ask)? Nine of the top 10 pitchers in the category of career Starts are in the hallowed 300-Win Club. As my father once said when referring to his basketball skills, “If I keep shooting it, I know I’ll eventually make one!”
Additionally, many pitchers are starting their careers later than in the past, as more and more are going to college to develop and mature before reaching the professional level. This is often done to prevent injury and other problems that might limit a pitcher’s playing career in the long run.
The pitching game has transformed in other ways over the recent years, as well. With the development of various pitching roles on a team (i.e., long relief, short relief, set-up man, closer), starting pitchers stay in the game for a shorter time, especially if their pitch count is high. Today’s game is all about pitch counts, and pitchers are monitored like never before. More often than not, a pitch count will be the determining factor in a manager’s decision to take out/leave in his starter. Sometimes this could result in a coach taking a pitcher out in the 4th inning, not even allowing him the chance of earning a decision (minimum 5 innings pitched) at all. For many years, starting pitchers stayed in games longer and pitched more complete games, potentially allowing them a greater opportunity to earn a decision, especially in the later innings.
Because of these limitations, it is an extremely difficult task to reach the Magic Number of 300 victories, even if everything does go right for the hurler! So let’s take a step back for a moment and consider the magnitude of achieving such a feat as 300 wins.
In the very long history of baseball, only 24 pitchers have been able to win 300 major league games. For this reason, getting even close to the 300 mark should be considered a model of consistency and a feat in itself. The two dozen twirlers who have made the list are the exception, the few great pitchers who have transcended their position.
Bottom line: Today’s pitchers just aren’t given enough chances to win 300 games in a career. From the transformation of the pitcher to the five-man rotation, there are multiple reasons that prevent pitchers from being able to achieve the coveted milestone. However, with advances in technology, surgery and sports training, this exclusive club may someday accept new members into its elite group.
So, who has the best shot at winning 300 games in today’s era? What do you think?