There will never be another 300-game winner? The math says “not so fast”

About a year ago, I was watching PTI and  Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were talking about when the next 300-game winner in baseball would be… and the conclusion they reached is that there would be no more 300-game winners. There are no current pitchers anywhere near 300 wins and we had seen the last of the 300-game winners because teams use their bullpens more and pitchers don’t pitch as many games as they did in the old days, and thus don’t get as many decisions.

That talk always gets the gears in my brain cranking, so I looked into it, and discovered that they were right, there were no current pitchers (other than Jamie Moyer, who quickly retired this year) remotely near 300 wins.

But, there would NEVER be a 300-game winner again. NEVER? Because it’s impossible now, with pitchers starting fewer games, getting fewer decisions and bullpens being used more heavily.

Now, I look at some numbers, and I strongly disagree with the PTI guys. I simply don’t think you can say it will NEVER happen, in fact, there are three, maybe four active pitchers who have a shot at 300 wins … and in fact, one of them has a very, very solid shot at 300 wins. If anyone gets to 300 wins, it won’t happen for at least another 7 years.

Here are the four pitchers

.                                          Age                       wins

CC Sabathia                       31                          191

Roy Halladay                     35                          199

Justin Verlander               29                          124

Mark Buehrle                     33                          174

Now, compare that to these 300-game winners

.                                          Age                       wins

Phil Niekro                         29                          31

(in fact, Niekro at age 34 still only had 110 wins)

Gaylord Perry                    29                          76

Early Wynn                         29                          83

Randy Johnson                  32                          104

Roger Clemens                  33                          192

Let’s look at each individual pitcher, first with the 300-game winners:

Phil Niekro

Niekro was a knuckleball pitcher who pitched into his late 40s, so this one is a bit of a cheat because knuckleballers don’t tend to decline in their 40s like regular pitchers. Still, he didn’t become a starter until the age of 25 and won over 200 games after the age of 35.

Gaylord Perry

Perry won 191 games over a 10-year stretch after the age of 30. He pitched in an era (the 1960s and early 70s) in which starters got 35 to 40 starts and 35 decisions or more every year.

Early Wynn

Like Perry, Wynn won a ton of games in his mid- to late-30s. He won 188 games over 10 years after the age of 30, and was making 35 to 40 starts a year (in the 1950s), with 30 or more decisions almost every season.

Roger Clemens

I included Clemens only because he pitched in an era in which pitchers started 30-35 games a year and almost always get fewer than 30 decisions a year, but still went well over 300 wins.

His career had begun to wind down at 33. Over the past four years, he had only won 40 games and had a middling 40-39 record. After the age of 34, he won 149 games over the next eight years. In not one of those 8 years, did he have more than 28 decisions. That’s important to remember.

Now, it’s fairly clear now Clemens had help from PED to regain his fastball late in his career and to stay healthy. I don’t care if he was acquitted of lying about it, the guy was a juicer, so he might not be the best example … a better example is …

Randy Johnson

Johnson’s career to me is the best barometer that you can NEVER say no one will EVER get to 300 wins again, PTI guys! Johnson only had 104 wins at the age of 32 and was coming off major, potentially career-ending back surgery. He went on to win 176 games over the next 10 years, in an era in which he was only starting 30-35 games a year. He never once had a year in which he had more than 30 decisions.

To be fair, Johnson, who was never implicated in juicing, did pitch in an ERA in which PED use was rampant, so you have to honest that PEDs may have played a role in his longevity. Today, players cannot get away with the same PED use due to testing.

Today’s candidates for 300 wins

CC Sabathia

Sabathia definitely has the best chance to get to 300 wins. In fact, PTI guys, I personally give him a 50-50 shot. He is only 31 and 109 wins short of 300. He plays for a big-money team (the Yankees) that scores a lot of runs, so he can tally double-digit win totals even when he has down years. This year, he won 15 games even though he spent some time on the DL.

If Sabathia stays healthy, and he does not have a history of injuries, all he has to do is average 13.6 wins a year for the next 8 years (pitching until he’s 39) to get to 300. That’s very, very doable. Sabathia has averaged nearly 16 wins a year over his 12-year career. Sabathia’s win pace is well ahead of Randy Johnson, Clemens, Wynn, Niekro and Perry. Seriously, I really think he has a very solid shot at 300 wins. You definitely cannot say he will NEVER get there.

Roy Halladay

Halladay’s chances took  a hit this season because he was hurt and did not pitch particularly well. He only won 11 games and his ERA was around 4.50, but he still sits at 199 wins at the age of 35, which makes him a legitimate candidate for 300. He would have to win 101 games over the next 7 years (pitching until the age of 42), averaging 14.4 wins a year. Basically, he’d have to start 200 games over the next 7 years and win approximately 50 percent of his games. That’s doable; it’s certainly not impossible (look at Randy Johnson). But, I suspect it’s unlikely Halladay gets to 300. He has had a history of injuries and has lost two or three seasons as a result. He has to stay healthy to have a shot.

Justin Verlander

It’s still somewhat early in Verlander’s career, but at age 29, his win total (124) is well ahead of Wynn, Perry and Niekro and WAY ahead of Johnson. Verlander would have to stay healthy for a while. He would have to win 176 games over the next 12 years (pitching until age 41), for an average of 14.7 wins a year. Very doable considering he has averaged 15.5 wins a year in his career so far, but let’s check back in 5 years.

Mark Buehrle

I was actually surprised he has 174 wins. I’ve barely heard anything about this guy other than he has pitched a perfect game. But since he’s still just 33, I felt I needed to mention him. I think it’s very, very unlikely Buehrle gets to 300 unless he revitalises his career. Buehrle won a lot of games early in his career — he had 85 wins by the age of 26, but he has only won 89 games over the last 7 years (12.7 wins a year), and has won 13 games every year for the past four years and has won more than 16 games only once in his career.  He would have to pick it up to get to 300. He needs to win 126 games over the next 8 years — 15.8 wins a year — to get to 300.

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5 Responses to There will never be another 300-game winner? The math says “not so fast”

  1. kevrob says:

    When sports pundits say that “no one will reach 300 wins” they’re basing it purely on the fact that 5 man rotations are the new norm. They don’t put a lot of thought into it.

    They omit the argument that starting less games each season could possibly extend the pitchers’ careers, and extend their effectiveness as they age (extending their “prime”).

  2. Howie says:

    You should have thrown in Tim Hudson as a candidate. Has as many wins as Halladay and is one year older. Otherwise, a very good article.

  3. Kurt says:

    Mark Buehrle is very durable and hasn’t been injured since he entered the big leagues in 2001. If he had been on an offensive powerhouse such as the Yankees, instead of the White Sox, from 2001-2011, he would probably have 20 or more additional wins. He is more of a location pitcher than a power pitcher, unlike some others you mentioned, so he actually does have a chance to reach 300 wins if he chooses to pitch into his early 40s.

    • Haruko Haruhara says:

      These guys are all proving me wrong.

      Sabathia is 10-10 with a terrible ERA this year, but he still has lots of time to reach 300.
      Verlander has lost his velocity and is only 12-9 this year.
      Buehrle is only 9-7 pitching for a poor team.
      Hudson was 8-7 when he broke his ankle.
      Halladay has been hurt all year and might be done.
      And Felix Hernandez is just 12-6 with 9 non-decisions … with a 2.47 ERA … proving my point. I don’t think he can ever get to 300 wins pitching for a poor franchise like Seattle.

      None of these guys are going to get close to 20 wins this year and Hernandez might be the only one to get to 15 wins this year.

      Garrr, they’re making the PTI guys look good!

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