Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The last to win 300?

A couple of pieces of media commentary:

More than likely, [X] will be the last 300-game winner
When [X] wins his next game -- which might be in his next start... -- that's probably going to be it. When [X] wins his next game, whenever that is, in all likelihood you're looking at the last 300-game winner.

[Y] Could Be Last Man To Reach 300-Win Mark
One of the more intriguing questions about [Y]'s 300th victory is whether the milestone ever will be reached again...It never has been tougher to win 300. Pitchers seldom get more than 35 starts because of the five-man rotation (consider that Old Hoss Radbourn was 60-12 in 73 starts for Providence in 1884); 20-game winners are decreasing (15 in 1969, three in 1989); increasingly, rules favor the hitters; and the amount of money commanded these days by a pitcher talented enough to win 300 is a disincentive to stay in the game long enough to accomplish it.

Current comments inspired by Tom Glavine's milestone victory the other night? Well, they could be. There has certainly been a lot of commentary to that effect. But no, neither quote is about Glavine.

X is Greg Maddux. John Donovan of SI wrote that just three years ago. No, Greg Maddux wasn't the last to win 300.

Y is Nolan Ryan. That piece ran in the Omaha World-Herald in August of 1990. At the time, Roger Clemens had 109 wins. Maddux had 52. Glavine had 29.

Meanwhile, Randy Johnson is just 16 away, one good season's worth of wins. Does anyone really think he's walking away this winter? No chance. If Barry Zito averages 15 for the next 5 years, he becomes a 35-year old with 200 wins. He won't have a chance?

In my opinion, it's a silly argument to make. There have NEVER been a lot of 300 game winners. And, while it's true that current pitching usage - 5 man rotations, pitch counts and bullpen specialists - make it harder to accumulate large win totals in a single season, those same factors, along with medical advances, also make it more likely that good pitchers will be capable of having longer careers.

And the money argument, in my opinion, is totally backwards. Many of us love the idea of being set for life and retiring from jobs that we don't love. Professional athletes are where they are because they're ultra-competitive. Many, if not most, do not walk away just because they've got enough - they need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, away from the game. With the money as a scorecard metric, that's just more incentive to keep going.

But when Johnson wins his 300th, in August of '08 or June of '09, bet big bucks that we'll see the same stories again. And when it happens again, in 12 years or 30, we'll see them again...

UPDATE: I meant to link to this post from the Baseball Crank the other day. He's looked at the average victory pace for 300-game winners, and identified the current pitchers who are at least close to it. Lots of good information, and emphasizes the silliness of supposing Glavine (and Maddux and Ryan) to be the last...

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