This was brushed against in the Rest-day Thread yesterday afternoon, but perhaps bears more analysis. The question is, do you think Randy Johnson will be the last man to reach 300 wins? Obviously, it's a lot harder to do so now than it used to be - first, with the advent of the five-man rotation, and also with the rise of the bullpen. On the other hand, there are factors which seem to help the chances of modern pitchers.
After the jump, we take a look at both sides of the equation, pick out some potential candidates for the 25th man to reach three hundred win, and analyze their chances. You might be surprised by some of the names we find, including one current Diamondback...
The obvious factor working against starters in the modern game is the rise of the bullpen, who have gradually taken an increasing share of the workload for the past forty years. For the record here are the number of innings per game pitched by an average National League starter, ever decade since 1968
While the number of games - and thus wins - has remained semi-constant, the average starter now works about an inning per game less than they did forty years ago, making it that more likely a reliever will get a decision. Incidentally, no 'pure' reliever [one who never started] has even won one hundred games - the all-time leader is Sparky Lyle who had 99 victories, and no-one will get there soon, since the active leader is Trevor Hoffman with only 56 wins. This is seen in the decline of the 20-game winner. In 1971, there were fourteen such pitchers; but there have only been a dozen all told, over the past five years combined.
Against that, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, nutrition and possibly other "aids", pitchers appear to be pitching well, much later into their lives than ever before. This extension of the careers for additional seasons will certainly enhance the chance of someone getting to the 300 mark, and it's a relatively recent development. As recently as 2001, only three pitchers in their forties saw even a single game during the season. But last year there were thirteen such, and in 2007, no less than 18. There are already nine this season: Johnson, Russ Springer, Brian Shouse, Trevor Hoffman, Ken Takahashi, Tim Wakefield, Jamie Moyer, Doug Brocail and, at the risk of awakening painful memories for Arizona fans, Tom Gordon.
Not only are pitchers going longer, they are also more successful. Only 35 pitchers have ever won fifteen games in a season aged 40 or older - however, thirteen of those have come in just the past six years. Compare that to the mere eleven who reached the mark during the game's entire first century, from 1871-1970. Somewhat negating this, is that players are older when they reach the majors. The era of the teenage pitcher is now almost extinct: of the 451 on record, only four have been since 1991 (Matt Riley, Rick Ankiel, Edwin Jackson and Felix Hernandez), and we'll certainly not see the likes of Joe Nuxhall again. But, all told, careers definitely have the potential to be longer.
Jamie Moyer is the poster-child for successful longevity. On his 34th birthday, he had only won 72 games, and with a season-high of thirteen, managed just once, it seemed doubtful he'd even reach one hundred victories. However, since then, he has a staggering 178 W's - more than Randy, who got four Cy Young Awards after his 34th birthday - with ten years of thirteen or more. He is, obviously, an outlier, but if he'd been only somewhat more successful earlier, he'd be close to three hundred wins. As is, he's fifty short, so it's unlikely: but it gives us a bench-mark. Say, to have any shot, a pitcher needs 150 wins by his 34th birthday. Who in the current crop are candidates?
While a couple of active pitchers have reached that mark, I suspect the next 300-game winner, is not imminent. After Moyer, the next two on the list are Andy Pettitte (220) and Pedro Martinez (214) - while both are 37, Pettitte seems to have a better chance. He pitches in the AL, so will go deeper into games, and playing for the Yankees would help anyone get wins - he's had fourteen wins or more each of the past four years. Bill James invented a tool called Career Assessments, into which you can plug the past three season's numbers for a player, his age, a current total, and a goal - it'll work out a player's chance of reaching the mark. For Pettitte, however, it projects he'll end at 258 wins, with only a 0.6% chance of 300. For Martinez, who has only 17 wins since the end of 2005, it just laughs.
I do suspect that the formula used by James may need updating, since it projects that a player has (42 - age)/2 seasons left: Johnson and Moyer would want to argue that, and I suspect the numbers it produces are pessimistic as a result. However, let's run it for some of the other, potentially credible, contenders and see what it gives for them, both as a career win total, and for their chances of reaching 300.
|Name||Age||Cur. Wins||Proj. Wins||Prob. 300|
By this method, CC Sabathia has the best chance, and that would make sense - he's now in the AL again, and is famous for going deep, with ten complete games last year. He also got an early start, winning 17 games in his rookie season, at age 20. But look who's second on the list, with what seems like a surprisingly-high 10% chance of reaching 300 - Brandon Webb.
The tool says he can be expected to play for 6.5 more years [I would presume this year is the half!], at an average of 19.7 wins per year, hence 215 for his career is the expected number, with a chance of more. Obviously, this is a function of no-one having more victories than Webb's 56 over the past three seasons - only Halladay (52) has more than fifty - and it would be impressive if he could keep that rate up for the next decade. But maybe, just maybe, in 2020 or so, we'll be following Brandon as he picks his way through the 290's, closing in on history.