The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

Who is the active pitcher most likely to win 300 games?

Since Randy Johnson became the last 300 game winner, there’s been a lot of talk that we may have seen the last 300 game winner for at least the next couple of decades.  I don’t agree.  I think at least one active pitcher will win 300 for reasons I’ll elaborate on below.

At any rate, here is the list of the thirteen most likely candidates, based on their current win totals (and ages this past season).

Jamie Moyer 269 (49); Andy Pettitte 245 (40); Roy Halladay 199 (35); Tim Hudson 197 (36); CC Sabathia 191 (31); Mark Buerhle 174 (33); Justin Verlander 124 (29); Jered Weaver 102 (29); Felix Hernandez 98 (26); Cole Hamels/Zack Greinke 91 (28); Matt Cain 85 (27); Clayton Kershaw 61 (24).

For comparison purposes, here are the win totals for each of the last four 300-winners as of the end of each season from age 30 through 40:

Greg Maddux: 165; 184; 202; 221; 240; 257; 273; 289; 305; 318; 333. (Won 300th game year he was 38).

Roger Clemens: 163; 172; 182; 192; 213; 233; 247; 260; 280; 293; 310.  (Won 300th game year he was 40).

Tom Glavine: 139; 153; 173; 187; 208; 224; 242; 251; 262; 275; 290.  (Won 300th game year he was 41).

Randy Johnson: 81; 99; 104; 124; 143; 160; 179; 200; 224; 230; 246.  (Won 300th game year he was 45.)

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

Some notes here: I left out the previous generation’s 300-game winners (Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro; Gaylord Perry and Tom Seaver) because starting pitchers’ work loads are so much smaller than they were in the 1970’s.  Pitchers of that era made more starts each year (four-man instead of five-man rotations) and threw a lot more complete games, both of which gave starters more opportunities for decisions.

For example, the six 1970’s aces made 38 or more starts in a season 22 times (with Phil Niekro’s 44 starts in 1979 the high of this six man group), while the Maddux-Clemens-Glavine-Johnson quartet (the “Quartet”) made 37 starts in a season exactly once in their combined careers and 36 starts only six times.  By comparison, Roy Halladay in 2003 is the only time any of the active thirteen has made as many as 36 starts in a season.

However, 34 or 35 starts in a season is still fairly common. The NL in 2012 was the first time that a few as 33 starts led the league since the strike years of 1995 and 1994.

It goes without saying, that more starts and more complete games pitched mean more opportunities to rack up wins early in a pitcher’s career, which the 1970’s aces certainly did.  The Quartet on the other hand averaged an astounding 15.8 wins per year for the decade from age 31 through 40.  Today’s aces aren’t likely to make any fewer than 33 starts a season, since there has been no indication that any team will ever try a six-man rotation.  However, it seems clear that for any current pitcher to win 300, he will have to continue to be an ace throughout his 30’s.

Of the Quartet, Maddux and Clemens obviously won a lot more than 300 games, and Randy Johnson had to win 57 games after the season in which he was 40 (Phil Niekro (100) and Nolan Ryan (63) are the only 300-game winners with more wins after the season in which they were 40).  Thus, Tom Glavine’s numbers or the Quartet’s average, which is very similar, would seem to be the most relevant for comparison purposes.

As for the current crop of thirteen, we can readily eliminate the least likely candidates.  Jamie Moyer’s major league career is on extreme life support (while he hasn’t officially retired, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since last May 27th and hasn’t pitched in AAA since July 3rd).  Even if he can find another team that will give him a go in early 2013, it’s hard to believe he can last long enough to win another 31 games.

Andy Pettitte’s prospects of reaching 300 don’t look a whole lot better.  Even assuming that Pettitte returns to the Yankees in 2013, which at present seems more likely than not, he will have average 14 wins a season for the next four years (his average for the five seasons from 2006 through 2010 immediately preceding his first retirement) from age 41 to 44.  The only way I can see Pettitte sticking around that long is if he miraculously wins 20 in 2013 and gets it into his mind that he reasonably could win 300 if he hangs around.  Seems like slim odds.

We can fairly eliminate Tim Hudson, simply because he’s a year older than and a couple of wins behind Roy Halladay, who at 199 wins through age 35 is already 25 wins behind Glavine at the same age and 20 behind the Quartet average.  While Hudson has racked up 51 wins in the three-plus seasons since his major arm surgery in 2008 (Tommy John elbow ligament transplant), his innings pitched and strikeout rate were way down in 2012, which makes me think he’ll be hard pressed to make it to 40.

We can eliminate Jered Weaver, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain and Clayton Kershaw for essentially the same reason.  Weaver is 22 wins behind Justin Verlander at the same age; and Hamels, Greinke and Cain are significantly behind Felix Hernandez at older ages.

Clayton Kershaw needs to win 37 games the next two seasons to be where Hernandez is now.  Let’s leave Kershaw out of the conversation until he does so.

Of the remaining five, Mark Buehrle seems the least likely to win 300.  In Buehrle’s defense, he has been remarkably consistent throughout his career, pitching at least 200 innings in all twelve of his seasons as a starting pitcher.  Even at his consistent pace of 13 wins a year, he could win 300 if he can become the next Tommy John/Jamie Moyer.

However, if Buehrle’s measurements (6’2″ and 245 lbs) are accurate, I just don’t see him making 30 starts a year every year for the next decade.  If any pitcher is likely to pitch well into his 40’s, it’s Roy Halladay, not Buehrle, simply because of their relative body types and the fact that Halladay is a much better pitcher.

Halladay missed about eight starts in 2012 due to what was initially called a shoulder strain but was later diagnosed as a latissimus dorsi strain.  Assuming that there isn’t anything wrong with his pitching shoulder or his spinal cord, there’s no reason why Halladay can’t return to top form in 2013 and beyond.  Even with his problems in 2012, he still struck out 7.6 hitters per nine innings and had 3.7 Ks for each walk.

In fact, I like Halladay’s chances of reaching 300 wins more than I like C.C. Sabathia’s, even though Sabathia is only eight wins behind Halladay, four years younger and ahead of every player in the Quartet at the same age.  I just can’t see a pitcher of C.C.’s size (6’7″ and 290 lbs) making 30 starts a season past the age of about 36.  In other words, I think the odds are better than even that Halladay will be a better pitcher at age 41 and 42, than Sabathia will be at age 37 and 38.

At age 31 in 2012, C.C. was already starting to show the strain.  He missed five starts this year due to a mid-season groin strain.   He’ll be 32 in 2013, the age at which players his size really begin to find it hard to stay in the line-up or rotation day after day or turn after turn.  If not in 2013, then certainly starting in 2014 or 2015, we will hear about C.C. missing time due to a groin strain, a knee or ankle injury or back problems each and every season.

That leaves Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez.  I like Verlander’s chances of winning 300 more than either Halladay or Hernandez.

Verlander is approaching age 30 at the top of his game, he’s got a huge fast ball that has been clocked as high as 100 mph, and he strikes hitters out.  The latter two characteristics are particularly important when trying to project how long a pitcher’s career will last.   That’s no knock on Halladay or Hernandez, but the fact remains that Verlander’s strikeout rates are better.  If Verlander wins 16 games in 2013, which is fewer than he’s won in any of the last four seasons, he’ll be slightly ahead of Tom Glavine’s pace or the Quartet’s average through age 30.

Even if Felix Hernandez averages only 13 wins a season for the next three seasons (his average over the last three seasons playing for some meek Mariner teams), he will be significantly ahead of Verlander through age 29.  My concerns about Hernandez are two fold.

First, he’s thrown a lot of innings before the season in which he was 25.  History suggests that pitchers who do so are no longer around by their late 30’s.  In fact, Hernandez’s ERAs in 2011 and 2012 were up by almost a run compared to 2009 and 2010, although his strikeout rates have at least remained consistent.  He also looks like he’s more prone to putting on weight as he ages than Verlander.

At this moment, all of Verlander, Hernandez, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia have a reasonable chance of winning 300 games.  It seems to me more likely than not that at least one of them will do so.

Find my post-2013 season update on this post here.

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4 Comments on “The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games”

  1. sidfernando Says:

    Reblogged this on Sid Fernando + Observations and commented:
    Winning 300 games is no joke; once the mark of a Hall of famer, it’s an extreme goal now. Likewise, pitchers who get 200-inning seasons are considered workhorses these days—a huge change in perception from the 1970s.

  2. Burly Says:

    5/9/13: Six months later and Roy Halladay’s career looks in jeopardy. He’s having shoulder surgery today, and according to this article from fangraphs , since 2002 pitchers over age 35 who go on the disabled list for a shoulder injury average only 59 innings pitched for the rest of their careers. Out of well over 50 pitchers identified, the best outcome has Orlando Hernandez, who pitched 438 innings after going on the DL with shoulder problems. Even if Halladay matches Hernandez, he’s not going to reach 250 wins, let alone 300.

  3. Kurt Says:

    I know this article was written in 2012, but it is amazing how Mark Buehrle has upped his game. He’s off to the best start of his career in 2014 with a record of 6-1 and an ERA of 1.91 through his first seven starts. He is now up to 192 career wins.

    Halladay is obviously retired now and CC Sabathia is in disarray and seems to have lost his effectiveness. Buehrle is durable and effective enough that it is conceivable that he could make a bid for 300 wins. I would love to see him get his first 20-win season this year.

    • Burly Says:

      Mark Buehrle is off to a fantastic start this year, but I definitely think it’s an aberration/statistical fluke. Even if he does win 20 this season, he’s averaged just over 12.5 wins per year over the previous eight seasons (in fact, Buehrle’s remarkable consistency at winning exactly 12 or 13 games a year is an aberration/statistical fluke). In short, there is nothing about Buehrle’s 2014 performance so far to suggest he won’t revert to his 12 or 13 wins a season after 2014, unless he really has found a way to stop giving up home run balls almost entirely. I certainly wouldn’t count on it…

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