The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games — 2013/2014 Update
Last November I wrote a post in which I opined that it was more likely than not that at least one current pitcher would win 300 games in his career. Another full season is now in the books, and I’m less sanguine today than I was a year ago that a pitcher now pitching will win 300 games. 2013 was not a good year for any of the four pitchers (Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez) I thought most likely to win 300 a year ago, at least not in terms of their own high standards.
Justin Verlander remains the current pitcher I think is most likely to win 300. However, 2013 was Verlander’s worst season since 2008 in terms of both wins (13) and overall performance.
The good news, however, is that through age 30 (Verlander’s age in 2013), his 137 wins are exactly equal to the average number of career wins through age 30 by Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson (the “Quartet”), the last four pitchers to win 300 games. Verlander is also only two career wins behind Glavine and well ahead of Johnson, who had only 81 career wins through age 30, but pitched into his middle 40’s.
Verlander also doesn’t look to have lost anything in terms of his ability. His strikeout rate of 8.95 per nine innings in 2013 was a tick or two better than his average over the previous three seasons (8.93). Verlander’s walks rate was up in 2013 and even more so his hits rate, but not enough to make me think that 2013 was anything more than just a less-than-stellar year in the career of a pitcher of Verlander’s capabilities.
Roy Halladay won his 200th career game in mid-April but blew out his shoulder shortly thereafter and required surgery, which cost him most of the season. In the immediate aftermath of Halladay going on the DL, a particularly trenchant article from fangraphs noted that pitchers over age 35 who go on the disabled list for a shoulder injury, let alone surgery, average only 59 innings pitched for the rest of their careers.
While I fully expect Halladay to pitch more than 59 major league innings in the future, I highly doubt he’s going to win another 97 major league games. Nothing Halladay did after returning to the Phillies in late August suggests that he’s the same pitcher he was before his ill-fated trip to the DL. In six starts and 27.2 IP, he walked 19 batters, three more than he struck out. He also left his last start with “arm fatigue” after throwing only 16 pitches.
Doc now has the next six months to rest and continue his rehabilitation, but I doubt he’ll ever pitch 200 innings in a season again. If I’m right, that will make it nearly impossible for him to win 300 games.
CC Sabathia at age 32 (he turned 33 in July) had the kind of 2013 season I’d been predicting for some time given his body type, but I was still sad to see it happen. While he still managed to win 14 games, his 4.78 ERA was the highest of his career. He set a personal record for home runs allowed with 28, allowed more hits than innings pitched for the first time in his career, his strikeout rate was down and his walks rate was up.
Of particular concern was the way CC’s normally outstanding control seemed to desert him in the second half. While his strike out rate during the season’s first three months was almost exactly the same as the last three months, his walks rate more than doubled from 1.77 per nine innings (23 walks in 117 IP) to 4.02 (42 walks in 94 IP).
Something definitely wasn’t right with CC in the second half. It may have been only the grade 2 hamstring strain that cost him his last two starts, but I don’t think a player Sabathia’s size and age is going to have fewer leg and back problems going forward.
The only positive thing that can said about CC’s chances of winning 300 is that with 205 wins through age 32, he’s ahead of every pitcher in the Quartet. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see a pitcher his size sticking around long enough to rack up the next 95 wins.
Felix Hernandez had a fine 2013 campaign, but it didn’t show up in the win column. He was credited with only 12 wins in 2013, which is a pretty poor showing for a star pitcher at age 27. He needs to accumulate the wins now while he is still reasonably young and healthy.
There were concerns about King Felix’s elbow tendon going into the 2013 season, and it’s worth noting that his 204.1 innings pitched was his lowest total since 2008, mainly because back issues cost him at least two September starts. However, his strikeout and walks rates were the best of his career, and with 110 wins he is still well ahead of Justin Verlander through age 27.
The main problem with projecting Hernandez as a future 300 game winner is that he’s still so far from 300. He’s thrown an awful lot of innings at a tender age, which makes it at least somewhat more likely he’ll suffer a major elbow or shoulder injury while still in what should be his prime years.
Among the other pitchers I identified in last year’s article, few have done much to throw themselves up into the top group. Clayton Kershaw was again the best pitcher in the National League, but was credited with only 16 wins. With 77 career wins, he’s still eight wins behind Felix Hernandez through age 25 and a long, long way from 300. Again, we’ll see how Kershaw’s arm holds up over time given his heavy workloads before age 25.
Few other candidates did much to improve their chances of reaching 300 wins in 2013. Andy Pettitte finished the season with 256 career wins, but it looks like his current retirement will be the last. Mark Buehrle won another 12 games this year, but there’s still no reason to think he can continue to win his 12 or 13 games a season (he’s averaged 12.6 wins a year over the last eight, never winning more than 15 or fewer than 10) for the nine more years it would take him to reach 300.
Tim Hudson won eight games, giving him 205 for his career, before he blew out his ankle and missed most of the second half. Whether or not his ankle is fully healed next spring, he’s already 38 years old. Matt Cain and Cole Hamels each won only eight games in 2013, while Jered Weaver didn’t do a whole lot better with 11.
Zack Greinke was the only pitcher mentioned in last year’s article who did much to improve his chances of winning 300 games. Even so, he added only 15 wins after missing a month of the season with a broken collarbone, the result of trading shoulder checks with Carlos Quentin after a plunking. With 106 wins through age 29, he’s still 18 wins behind Verlander through the same age.
Of the ten pitchers who managed to record at least 16 wins in 2013, Kershaw is the only one who at this moment looks like a reasonable possibility for 300 career wins.
The upshot of all of the foregoing is that of the four pitchers I identified as most likely to win 300 games in their careers, none did much to improve their chances in 2013, and two of them (Halladay and Sabathia) look considerably less likely to make it to 300 wins than they did a year ago. Further, no one else did enough in 2013 to become prime candidates. While Verlander and Hernandez are still more or less on track for the magic number, the odds that any current pitcher will win 300 games are down considerably from a year ago.