Thursday, June 4, 2009

Randy Johnson: The Last 300-Game Winner? Probably Not

Last month, Boss touched on some single-season baseball records that may never be broken. Tonight, just minutes after Randy Johnson's 300th win, I wonder if we'll ever see another pitcher win 300 games in his career. First, let's take a look at the highest win totals among active players (age in parentheses):

1.Tom Glavine (43)305L
2.Randy Johnson (45)300L
3.Jamie Moyer (46)250L
4.Andy Pettitte (37)220L
5.Pedro Martinez (37)214R
6.John Smoltz (42)210R

Keep in mind that this list doesn't include the recently retired Greg Maddux (355 wins) and the scandal-ridden Roger Clemens (354 wins). And if you exclude Glavine and Johnson, who already have 300 wins, you're looking at an average age of 40.5 among the four pitchers with more than 200 wins and an average of 76.5 wins to get to 300. I'm going to take a look at the other guys on the list and give my estimate of their odds of winning 300 wins, which is based on nothing more than a gut feeling. Feel free to provide your own estimates in the comments section.

The closest guy on the list, Jamie Moyer, signed a two-year deal prior to this year, but took five starts to win #250. Excluding this year, Moyer has average 13.67 wins over the last three years. At that pace, Moyer would need 3 2/3rds more seasons to reach 300 and pitch until he's nearly 50. Perhaps if Moyer gets close to 300, some team would take a flyer on him as a 50-year-old in hopes of selling tickets, but I don't see him as the type of guy who would allow himself to become a circus show. Chance of reaching 300 wins: 15%

A little-known fact is that Andy Pettitte is tied with Randy Johnson for the most wins since 2000 (139) . Excluding this year, Pettitte has averaged 14.3 wins over the last three years. At that pace, he would need about 5 2/3rds years to make it to 300. That would put him around 42 years old, roughly the same age Glavine was when he hit 300. Pettitte also has durability working for him, having made at least 30 starts every year since 2005. Chance of reaching 300 wins: 50%

Prior to 2006, Pedro Martinez probably had the best chance of anyone on this list to reach 300 wins. At that point, Martinez had 197 wins at age 33. From 2003-2005, Martinez averaged 15 wins. Had he been able to keep up that pace, Martinez would have reached 300 wins in a little less than seven season. Unfortunately, Martinez only won 17 games from 2006-2008 and is currently looking for a team to take a chance on him. Even at his old average of 15 wins, Martinez would need to pitch until age 42 to reach 300 wins. Not likely given his trouble staying healthy, but still, Pedro is Pedro. If he can come back healthy, maybe he makes a run at it. Chance of 300 wins: 15%

Had John Smoltz not spent four years as a closer--three of which he was one of the best in the majors--we would be talking about him as the next 300-game winner. In the three years prior to becoming a closer, Smoltz averaged 14.3 wins. In the three years after being a closer, Smoltz averaged 15 wins. If we assume that Smoltz would have racked up 15 wins in each of the four years he was a closer, he'd currently be sitting at 270 wins. Of course, that's a huge assumption, especially given the arm troubles that he had after the 2007 season. Would he have broken down sooner? We'll never know. As it is, he's 90 wins away and is already in his 40's. Chance of 300 wins: 5%

Looking further done the active wins list, there's an intriguing candidate in Roy Halladay, who turned 32 on May 14 yet has 140 wins to his credit. Over the last FIVE years, Halladay has averaged 14.4 wins a season, but over the last three seasons, he's averaged 17.3 wins. This year, he already has 9 wins. Were he to pitch until he's 40, Halladay would need to average 18.78 wins over the next eight years. Were he to pitch until he's 42, 15.36 wins per year. The 15.36 wins per year doesn't sound too difficult, but managing to avoid injury for eight years certainly does. Chance of 300 wins: 35%

Another interesting contender is Roy Oswalt, who has averaged 14.88 wins over his entire eight-year career for a total of 131 at age 31. At that pace, Oswalt would need to pitch 12 more years (until age 43) to get to 300. Oswalt has also been very durable, making at least 30 starts in each of the last five years. Chance of 300 wins: 40%

At age 30, Mark Buehrle has 128 wins and has averaged 13.8 wins over the last five years. At that pace, Buehrle would need to pitch until he's 42 to reach 300 wins. And unlike Oswalt and Halladay, Buehrle tends to be in the 10-15 win range rather than the 15-18 range. Chance of 300 wins: 20%

Before we consider any more candidates, let's pause for a trivia question. Who are the only two pitchers in their 20's with at least 100 wins? One answer is pretty easy. The other might surprise you.

(The answer is just below, so you stop and hazard a couple of guesses before you start scrolling again).

First, the easy person. At age 28, CC Sabathia has 122 wins and has averaged 16 wins over the last three years. At that pace, Carsten Charles Sabathia would need to pitch nearly 11 more years, or until he's 39. Note that he's the only guy on this list who projects to reach 300 wins before he turns 40. That said, he's lead the major leagues in innings pitched the last two years and he weighs 250 pounds, so breakdown is a concern. Still, given his pedigree (he's averaged 14.62 wins over the course of his career), he probably has one of the better chances to make it to 300. Chance of 300 wins: 50%

The second 20-something with more than 100 wins? Jon Garland, who at age 29 has 110 wins. Garland's win total is more due to beginning his career at a young age (20) than years of accumulating high win totals (he only has two seasons with more than 15 wins). Over the last three years, Garland has averaged 14 wins. At that pace, he would need to pitch nearly 14 more years to make it to 300. Chance of 300 wins: 3%

Given most teams' reluctance to pitch their starters much more than 200 innings, plus the fact that rotations are now five people instead of four, reaching 300 wins is harder now than probably at any other time in history. Don't believe me? Consider this:

If a pitcher were to enter the major leagues at age 23, he would need to AVERAGE 20 wins for the next 15 years to reach 300 and pitch until age 38.

That doesn't convince you? What if I told you that there have been a total of only twelve 20-win seasons over the last five years? And of those twelve 20-win seasons, only one pitcher had more than one (Oswalt in '04 and '05).

Does that mean that we might not ever see another 300-game winner? I don't think so. I think that, sooner or later, there will be another one of those pitchers who can win 14-15 games over a 20+ year career. Will that person come from the current crop of MLB players? Only time will tell. Do I think that we'll see another 300-game winner within the next 15 years? Yes. The people with the best shot to make it? Probably Pettitte, with Sabathia, Halladay, and Oswalt close behind.

Will we ever see anyone else approach Greg Maddux's 355 wins? Or Roger Clemens's 354 wins? I seriously doubt it.

Dave Sheinin also examined this topic in a recent blog post for the Washington Post. The top five contenders that he lists? 5) Stephen Strasburg ("a bit tongue in cheek," he admits 40-1 odds) 4) Mark Buehrle (18-1 odds) 3) CC Sabathia (12-1 odds) 2) Roy Halladay (9-1 odds) 1) Johan Santana (7-1 odds).

If you ask me, the odds for Buehrle, Sabathia, Halladay, and Santana are way to low. For comparison's sake, the odds for the loaded New York Yankees to win the World Series at the beginning of the year was 9-1. That seems like a much sure bet than Halladay or Santana reaching 300 wins.

Note that I didn't consider Santana in my analysis because he doesn't either have 200 wins or was still in his 20's with 100 wins.

Hmmm. I guess in his defense, he did have 109 wins when he was 29, so let's take a look at his odds. Over the last three years, he's averaged 16.67 wins, which would mean that he would about 11 1/2 years to reach 300, putting him into his early 40's. Also in his favor is that he plays for a team in the New York Mets that typically spends more than most teams and usually has a better chance than most to post a decent record. Still, he didn't get his 12th win until he was 24, which put him behind a lot of others on this list. But, at the same time, he doesn't have the number of innings pitched on his arm as others on this list do. I still don't think that he has a better chance than the people I listed earlier (Pettitte, Halladay, Oswalt, and Sabathia), but he's got a decent chance. Chance of 300 wins: 35%

And here's just a little bit more on the subject from Ted Keith at Sports Illustrated. He points out that "for the first time since Nolan Ryan won his 300th in July of 1990, baseball is preparing to witness the initiation of another member in this exclusive fraternity without any reasonable guess as to who the next initiate will be." Keith notes that there were only four active pitchers with at least 200 wins when Ryan won #300 and none of them got to 300. And of the four pitchers who would eventually get to #300, only Clemens with 109 was even a third of the way home. Maddux had 52 wins in his fifth season, Tom Glavine had 29 in his fourth year and Johnson had 19 in his third.

Here are the names that Keith adds to the list that are not mentioned here, along with a short sentence from him about their chances:
  • Carlos Zambrano: "Zambrano's temper, and his sometimes-balky shoulder, are the biggest factors standing in the way of a serious run at 300. He's on pace so far."
  • Josh Beckett: "Didn't win 10 games in a season until his fifth year. Unless he can shake the injury woes that have plagued him (only one season with more than 30 starts), he is a long shot."
  • Jake Pea-vy: "Peavy's on pace for now, but if he's traded, how will that factor in? Though his ERA has benefited from spacious PETCO Park (and before that, Qualcomm) -- it's more than 1.00 better than on the road -- Peavy has actually won more games away from San Diego than he has in his home ballpark."
  • Justin Verlander: "Won 35 games in his first two full seasons before taking a step backward last year. Seems to have fixed the problems that plagued him a year ago. Recent history has suggested that power pitchers (Seaver, Ryan, Clemens, Johnson) can get to 300 if they stay in shape, and Verlander falls into that category."
  • Felix Hernandez: "King Felix debuted at 19, giving him a major headstart on the race to 300, but despite all his wondrous gifts he has had only one winning season in his career. Is he a colossal bust or a clone of Johnson, who was 29 before he had a breakout year? King Felix better not wait that long if he wants to get to 300."
  • Zack Greinke: "Greinke is the story of the year so far, having a breakout season at age 26. Shades of Glavine, who had only 33 wins entering the season he turned 25?"
  • Cole Hamels: "Joining Steve Carlton as lefties who won 300 with the Phillies isn't necessary to endear last year's NLCS and World Series MVP to Philadelphia fans. Hamels has never won more than 15 games in a season, which will need to change if he's to mount any kind of serious charge to make up for inevitable late-career falloff."
  • Tim Lincecum: "So young, so good, so far away. Lincecum's crazy windup and superb stuff have baffled hitters, but it's way too soon to know whether he has the staying power to make a serious run at 300."
One other point from Keith, which says that, Pettitte, my favorite to be the next 300-game winner, doesn't seem as likely as first believed. "Yet when the duo [he's also talking about Moyer], two of the game's winningest active pitchers, were asked if they had any thoughts about trying to pitch long enough to win 300 games, the mere suggestion was so unfathomable that both men started laughing. 'I don't believe so,' said Pettitte, who with 220 wins is fourth among active pitchers. 'I don't have the desire to do that in my career.'"

Granted 220 at age 37 is a long ways away. But say Pettitte can win 25-30 games over this season and the next. Then he's sitting around 250 at age 39. Does that get him to start thinking about baseball immortality? Time will tell.


  1. Funny you mention that Sheinin post, becuase one of the responses was mine. Here's my comment there cut-n-pasted:

    Sheinin, you don't even have the three best candidates for 300 wins listed. You can't just look at the leaders of active pitchers in wins; you have to factor in wins at a very young age.

    Consider these candidates:
    - Felix Hernandez: 44 wins, in his 5th professional season, and he's 23. He'll be 1/6th of the way to 300 games before he turns 24. by way of comparison, Johan Santana had 11 wins by the time he turned 24.
    - Scott Kazmir: 51 wins, he's 25. And he plays for a team that can win.
    - Chad Billingsly: 41 wins, he turns 25 this week and plays for the presumptive NL favorites right now.

    a couple lesser possibilities:
    - Zack Greinke: 42 wins, 25 yrs old and finally playing for a winner.
    - Ervin Santana; 51 wins through 4 seasons and he's 26. Plays for a perennial 100-win team. Struggling this season but was 16-7 last season.

    I say we definitely see a 300 game winner in our lifetimes, just not from the list of Sabathia, Johan Santana, or Halladay.

    I did similar analysis back in April in a long winded sunday morning post. See here for that post. I mentioned many of the names above but focused more on some of the younger candidates. I also really didn't consider pitchers playing well into their 40s and used 40 as a cutoff.

    Hernandez, Kazmir, Billingsly and Greinke. Those are my favorites. I think honestly Sabathia's weight issues will cause him to retire early.

  2. This could take all afternoon to respond to this and I can't now, but I would say Pettitte has been nearly forced back from retirement in the last two or three seasons. Each year he has entered the offseason mulling retirement. I think he pitches this year, MAYBE next year at the most, and he's done. He's a hugely religious family man and I don't think he has any motivation to go after 300.

    I personally do think we may never see a 300 game winner ever again. The "pitch-count" era has hampered any shot for these guys to win 20 games a year. They are now getting paid so much $$$ that managers are hesitant to keep anyone out there once they reach the magical 100 pitches (with some obvious exceptions.)

    I know Santana had a slow start, but when I look at pure "stuff", sustained over several years, to me he's the best pitcher in baseball, and plays for a winning team, like Boss said, willing to spend $$$ for offense.

    I would put Santana as my #1 favorite for 300 and then would have to do some analysis on future guys.

    -Kazmir throws WAY TOO MANY PITCHES each outing and will never have high win counts.
    -CC I agree now way he makes it into his late 30's in my opinion.

    Halladay is an interesting guy -- he was dominating early in his career (well I guess his mid-20's) and then had injuries in back to back seasons (one I thought which threatened his career.) Since then he has come back and dominated, and he usually pitches 8 or 9 IP each outing. Rarely do you see a closer come in for him if he's winning in the 9th. He led the AL in complete games in '07 and '08.

    He needs 160 from today on out, averaging 16 per year which is sustainable -- would have him at age 42. He'd be my second bet.

  3. I think it's way too premature to consider guys like Billingsley, Hernandez, Greinke, Santana, and Kazmir who don't even have 50 wins yet. As we've seen with Randy Johnson, Glavine, and others, it's rare that a pitcher starts out with a ton of wins and makes it to 300. More likely, it's a late bloomer who can pitch well into his late 30's/early 40's.

    Look at Dontrelle Willis. He had 68 wins by age 25, but has only one win since. Freddy Garcia had 72 wins at age 28, but only had 46 wins in the five years since. Doug Drabek had 84 wins at age 28, but only got 71 wins over the remainder of his career.

    Perhaps the greatest example is Bert Blyleven, who had 108 wins by age 25, but fell just short of 300 wins, finishing with 287.

  4. Another blog i've found has also tackled the subject. See this link, specifically the "Elias gets snippy" posting. (I can't get the full link to cutnpaste right now for some reason). The guy does a nice summary of wins by players under 40, 35, 30, 25.

    Its definitely premature to talk about guys pitching into their 40s when they're in their 20s absolutely. But this posting was about "who has the next best shot." In my opinion not one guy in their 30s has a legitimate shot.

    Jamos: your three top % guesses were Pettitte, Oswalt and Sabathia. See, i think Pettitte was lucky to get a contract this year and keeps talking about retirement; i don't think he's got the drive to pitch 5 more years or so, and I don't think he's got it in him to win 15 games each year. I guess he retires at 39 with about 250 wins. I'm of the opinion that Sabathia's weight, move to the AL and pressure of playing in NY will conspire against him too. Oswalt has the best shot seemingly; hasn't missed a start in 5 years, 20-20-15-14-17 wins. He'll need 10 more seasons averaging 17 wins to make 300 ... he'd be 41. Still long odds.

    Speaking of statistical oddities; consider Andy Pettitte's career. He's 37, in his 15th season. 2-time all star, five top 10 CYA votes but the closest he came was in his 2nd season, finishing runner up to Pat Hentgen. If he continues pitching for a couple more seasons he'll sit at about 250-260 wins with 2400 strikeouts and a career ERA of about 4.00. Is that a hall of famer?

  5. And today another viewpoint from Baseball prospectus. Click here. They list all kinda random candidates that I can't believe have a shot...