MLB.com: Is 300-wins club done adding members?

We — most of us, anyway — spend much of our lives chasing round numbers. We look forward to them: 20th wedding anniversary; 40th high school reunion, age 50. We look back at them: Look at what happened 10 years ago, 40 years ago, 100 years ago.

Athletes chase round numbers most of all — .300 average, 30 points in a game, 100 rushing yards, 40 home runs, 5,000 passing yards in a season.

And so, even though I do not particularly care about pitcher wins, I’m fascinated by the idea of 300-game winners. There are only 13 of them since Deadball. Some are all-time great pitchers like Mad Dog, Spahn, Unit and Lefty Grove. Some are fine pitchers who are most famous BECAUSE they won 300 games — Early Wynn and Don Sutton are good examples.

And every few years, people will predict: There will never be another 300-game winner.

We are in another one of those times where many predict that the 300-game winner is extinct. It is true that no one is even close to 300-wins now. The closest, technically, is Bartolo Colon with 233 victories, but he’s not really close. I would say the closest is probably Justin Verlander, but he’s still 127 victories away, which is exactly how many games he has won over the last eight seasons.

If he could repeat those eight seasons, he would win 300 at age 41. But, of course, he can’t repeat those eight seasons — they include his Cy Young/MVP year, and the three or four dominant seasons surrounding it. He would almost certainly have to pitch until age 43 or 44 to get to 300, if he even could do that.

And this leads to my thought on 300-game winners: Will anyone want it badly enough to actually do it?

I certainly think so. Not everybody is like Mike Mussina and will retire 30 wins away. I think if Verlander, Felix, Kershaw, and MadBum get to 250 wins, then surely they will put their noses to the grinder and get those last 50 wins, even if it takes them until 45, like what Randy Johnson and Phil Niekro had to do.

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On that note, I will say that being present in Nationals Park for Randy Johnson’s 300th win is the highlight of my baseball watching career.

I wonder if we’ll start to see a reduction in 300 win pitchers from the other direction. As teams become smarter and less sentimental about allocating resources, you won’t have anyone hiring pitchers like Maddux or Unit for more money than they’re worth just so they can go after a number. If the number stops mattering to fans, and there’s no ticket sales advantage in seeing a diminished 45-year-old pitcher struggle and play at replacement level (and you can’t even move them to the bullpen because they’re chasing a number), these pitchers won’t be hired for short contracts at the end of their careers.

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I also winder what happens if this number stops mattering to the Hall. As your counting stats go up your rate ones go down.

I’m not sure why you included Maddux in your comment. He finished well above 300 wins (355) and produced positive WAR through his final season (and ERA+ above 100 until his last 2 seasons). Randy johnson, for that matter, had an era+ above 100 (with 1 exception) until his last season.

I am not so sure that teams keep pitchers who they don’t believe will win for them, either. I remember Steve Carlton getting dumped back in the day (5 teams over 2 seasons)- not much sentimentality there at all.

“I think if Verlander, Felix, Kershaw, and MadBum get to 250 wins, then surely they will put their noses to the grinder and get those last 50 wins, even if it takes them until 45, like what Randy Johnson and Phil Niekro had to do.”

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But it’s not just their decision. They have to be effective enough to warrant a team deciding they’re worth the money, and the roster spot. For every Johnson, you have a Tommy John, who was beyond done when he retired with 288, or Jim Kaat, who labored along in a bullpen. Getting a pitcher a win isn’t like getting someone their 3,000 hit. Even an inept hitter who gets put into the lineup every day for a month is probably going to find their way to 15-20 hits. A pitcher at the tail end of his career can’t just get a bunch of seeing eye singles, bloopers, etc. He’s got to find a way to get through five innings. (Unless, I guess, a manager wanted to game the system and pull a starter after 4 innings with a big lead and let a reliever vulture those wins. But even that isn’t foolproof)

Honestly, if I was a betting man I’d pick Max Scherzer as the most likely to get to 300 wins. He has the power pitching repertoire that most need. He had a relatively light workload in his twenties, and has stayed healthy in his early thirties. Felix Hernandez is one of the least likely, given his workload through his twenties.

Looking at the trends for the 12 post-war 300-game winners (since Wynn) — i.e. at what ages they hit 100, 150, 200, and 250 wins — it doesn’t look good. Sabathia with 223 wins through age 35 is in the best position, but he may be running on fumes. King Felix, Verlander, Greinke, MadBum, Kershaw, and Porcello are the next best guesses.

That’s a good list, but I think Kershaw will come up short. In many ways his potential reminds me of Pedro in 2000 when he actually had a higher probability of getting to the milestone than a number of pitchers (I believe this included Randy Johnson), but most people thought his arm wouldn’t last. At his current pace, he would need to pitch until he’s 40.

I think the idea of Porcello is interesting. He’s already at 107 through his age 27-season (7 less than Kershaw at the same point). But groundball pitchers haven’t held up well.

Porcello is in good position to get to 200 at a younger age than everyone else, maybe by just 32.

It’s obviously possible, born 1970 or later so reasonably modern starting pitching usage.

Through Age 25 season: Felix & MadBum 85 wins, CC 81, Kershaw 77, Porcello 76, 11 pitchers 60-69 wins, 15 pitchers 50-59 wins

Age 26-30 seasons: CC 95 wins, Verlander 91, Pedro 87, Oswalt 86, Scherzer 84, Colon 82, Russ Ortiz 81, Price 80, 15 pitchers 70-79 wins, 23 pitchers 60-69 wins

Age 31-35 seasons: Halladay 88 wins, Pettitte 73, Derek Lowe 68, Burnett 68, Arroyo 68, Lilly 66, Dempster 65, Buehrle 64, Iwakuma 63, Hudson 62

Age 36+ seasons: Colon 83 wins, Dickey 77, Pettitte 55, Kuroda 51, Derek Lowe 50

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You get a fairly small pool of pitchers Age 31-35 combined with born in 1970 or later, Age 36+ even fewer. 351 wins and counting for the most in each age range. If CC with 223 wins and entering his Age 36 season can match Colon win for win and pound for pound he gets 300. Kershaw has 126 wins through Age 28, Pedro had 125 at same point, Pedro “only” won 94 more games, it’s very easy to fall short of 300 wins.

But never is a long time, no active pitchers will reach 300 wins might be an even odds Vegas bet, but Felix’s son might age better than his Dad even if Felix doesn’t win another 146 games.

Felix’s son for those not familiar:

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/32789516/v186291883/housea-mariners-players-catch-first-pitch-from-kids

“no active pitchers will reach 300 wins might be an even odds Vegas bet” — Even odds sounds about right. I wanted to contribute something, but I don’t know if it’s worth anything… Sutton has the least number of 20-win seasons among 300-game winners, with one (and I would’ve guessed he had at least two). Here are the pitchers who have the most wins by their ages, and what Sutton had at the same age:

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(rank among all active pitchers). (name) (seasons, age) wins (left/right) [Sutton’s wins after this age]

1. Bartolo Colon (19, 43) 233 R [324]

2. CC Sabathia (16, 35) 223 L [230]

4. Justin Verlander (12, 33) 173 R [205]

6. Zack Greinke (13, 32) 155 R [190]

7. Felix Hernandez (12, 30) 154 R [155]

17. Clayton Kershaw (9, 28) 126 L [120]

27. Rick Porcello (8, 27) 107 R [102]

31. Madison Bumgarner (8, 26) 100 L [83]

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So Kershaw, Porcello and Bumgarner are ahead of Sutton. Even odds that (at least) one of the three gets to 300? Sounds about right.

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No pitcher aged 25 or younger has even 50 wins, so it may be many years before there’s another decent candidate, if I’m thinking about this correctly. I think this may actually be a fairly promising time to have an active, future 300-game winner, compared to recent seasons, and near-future seasons. (I haven’t read the MLB.com article yet.)

The problem with these guys is that they’re not earning wins at a great rate. At their current paces, here’s the number of starts those pitchers will need to get to 300.

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Porcello: 675

Bumgarner: 642

Kershaw: 626

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Just 16 players have started 626 games. And compounding the problem is these guys make fewer starts than guys in the past. I’m not just talking about the old guys who’d make 38-40. Kershaw and Procello have never started more than 33 games in a season. So for example, to get to 675 starts, Porcello needs to make 434 more. At 33 starts a year, he’d need 13.1 more years to get there. Kershaw needs 11 on the nose. And I don’t know if we can count on them doing that each year. Kershaw’s missed time two of the last three seasons, and last year was the only time Porcello hit that number.

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Increasingly, the problem is going to be making enough starts to have a shot. Guys who start between 30-33 games a season are going to need to pitch longer and longer.

Averaging 15 wins a year for 20 years, while hard, doesn’t seem impossible. It actually seems more doable now that pitchers don’t throw 300 innings anymore.

Obviously the 300 club values the pitcher with staying power, the guys who can throw forever. Of the three younger candidates Joe mentions—Hernandez, Kershaw and Bumgarner—Bumgarner seems like the right choice. In 2014, he threw a ton of innings when you factor in the post-season, and it didn’t affect him the year after that. He’s got a nice easy motion, he never lands on the DL, and he’s a lefty, which always buys you more time. Meanwhile King Felix has already lost his fastball and only pitched 153 innings last year, while Kershaw had back problems and only pitched 149 innings last year. Compare that to Bumgarner, who last year set a career high for innings pitched (regular season) with 226 and a career low for ERA with 2.74. He started young, so at the age of 26 he already has 100 wins, averaging 16 a year. He is a ferocious competitor who doesn’t seem like the type of guy to pull a Mussina and retire on the threshold of 300. I think there’s a good chance he does it.