May 26, 2003

Reexamining 300

In honor of Roger Clemens' first attempt at 300 wins, ran the following poll yesterday:

Which young pitcher has the best chance of winning 300 games?

Barry Zito - 44.8%

Mark Prior - 30.2%

Mark Mulder - 9.6%

Kerry Wood - 8.5%

Tim Hudson - 6.9%

I don't know why, but stuff like this always interests me. It apparently interests a lot of other people too, because over 125,000 votes were cast. The reality is that, most likely, none of those 5 pitchers will win 300 games. Heck, the reality is probably that none of them will even win 250 games.

Why? Well, for one thing, the "300-Win Club" has become the toughest of the 3 major "clubs" to get into.


3,000 hits - 25 members

500 homers - 19 members

300 wins - 20 members

Within the next year or so, the 300-Win Club will swell to 22 members (Clemens, Greg Maddux) and the 500-Homer Club will grow to 21 members (Fred McGriff, Ken Griffey Jr.). The next closest active player for 3,000 hits is Rafael Palmeiro, with 2,680.

So, it would appear, from the all-time membership totals, that the "500-Homer Club" is the toughest to get into. While that is true historically, it is no longer the case in recent years.

Here is how the 3 clubs have grown "recently"...

Members        1960     1970     1980     1990     2000     2003

3000 Hits 7 9 14 15 23 25
500 Homers 4 9 12 14 16 19
300 Wins 12 14 14 20 20 20

Since 1960, 8 pitchers have reached 300 wins, 15 hitters have reached 500 homers and 18 hitters have reached 3,000 hits.

And, since 1990, zero pitchers have reached 300 wins, while 10 hitters have reached 3,000 hits and 5 have reached 500 homers.

Of course, that is about to change. Roger Clemens will pass the 300-mark very soon and Greg Maddux will join him a little later. After those two, there are really only two possibilities for the near future: Tom Glavine (247) and Randy Johnson (225). Before this year, I said that I thought Johnson would reach 300 career wins, but his injury this season is really going to hurt that chance and probably makes it close to impossible. Glavine is "only" 53 wins away, but that is at least 3 full, good seasons and, if Glavine gets to 300, he's going to do it limping across the finish-line.

After Glavine and Johnson, all the active leaders in wins are nearing 40 and still need 100+ wins to get to 300. Mike Mussina has 189 career wins and is only 34, so I guess he has a chance. Other than him, the next guy on the list under 35 is Pedro Martinez, with 156 wins. I love Pedro and he might just be the greatest pitcher in baseball history when all is said and done, but he has almost no shot at getting 144 more wins.

So, let's add Clemens and Maddux to the 300-Win Club and also add McGriff (486) and Griffey (472) to the 500-Homer Club. Here are the "new" totals...

Joined after 1990:

3,000 hits - 10 members

500 homers - 7 members

300 wins - 2 members

Like I said, the 300-Win Club is now the toughest of the three to join. And I think it will remain that way for a while. Eventually, like in 20 years or so, I think that the new standard for pitching excellence will be 250 wins. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Curt Schilling - these are the great pitchers of this era and it is very likely none of them will reach 300 wins. At the same time, guys like Bert Blyleven, Fergie Jenkins, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Jim Palmer, Bob Gibson - all great, durable pitchers with less than 300 wins.

Somewhere along the line, while starters were pitching 40 or 50 (or more) games a season and many of the good pitchers were clearing 200+ career wins with relative ease, "300" became the "magic number" for a pitcher. I think it is a little silly to continue to think of the magic number for pitchers as 300 wins when only 8 pitchers have reached that number in the last 43 years, while 33 different players have reached the two "magic numbers" for hitters - 3,000 hits and 500 homers. If you want a benchmark for pitchers that is equal to 500 homers and 3,000 hits for hitters, the adjustment from 300 wins to 250 wins should probably be made.

Of course, no such adjustment will be made - at least not anytime soon. And, every once in a while, one of the 5 or 10 greatest pitchers in baseball history will finish his career with 300 wins, like Clemens and Maddux. At the same time, guys Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield - great players, but certainly not among the greatest handful of hitters in baseball history - will be joining the other two clubs at a much more frequent pace.

During ESPN's broadcast of Clemens' try for 300 against Boston yesterday, Rick Sutcliffe (who has 171 career wins and is one of the worst announcers ever) said, "After Clemens and Maddux and maybe Tom Glavine, I honestly do not think there will ever be another 300 game winner."

First of all, that statement reeks of ridiculousness. How can you say that it will never happen again, right after two guys (and possible a third) reach the mark. That's like saying, "after McGwire, Sosa and Bonds hit over 61 homers, no one will ever reach that mark again." It is just remarkably short-sighted and not very logical.

That said, I do think that, in the current era of baseball, 300 wins is a lot more difficult than it once was and is a lot more difficult to achieve than 500 homers or 3,000 hits. I don't have any problem with that on the surface, but when having 280-some wins starts keeping players out of the Hall of Fame (Bert Blyleven for one), then it is time to reexamine our standards and our "magic numbers."

All of this brings me back to the original poll question:

Which young pitcher has the best chance of winning 300 games?

Barry Zito - 44.7%

Mark Prior - 30.2%

Mark Mulder - 9.6%

Kerry Wood - 8.4%

Tim Hudson - 6.8%

Here is how the 5 pitchers stand right now, if we project them through the 2003 season, using their current numbers for this year:

Pitcher      W    AGE

Zito 67 25
Prior 23 22
Mulder 72 25
Wood 58 26
Hudson 77 27

That projection credits Zito with 20 wins this year, Prior with 17, Mulder with 23, Wood with 13 and Hudson with 13.

Here's where Clemens and Maddux stood through each age:

Pitcher     22    23    24    25    26     27     28     29     30

Clemens 16 40 60 78 95 116 134 152 163
Maddux 26 45 60 75 95 115 131 150 165

First of all, their year-by-year win totals are remarkably similar. What you don't see is that Greg Maddux kept moving along at about the same rate after he turned 30, while Roger Clemens won only 9, 10 and 10 games during his age 31, 32 and 33 seasons. Of course, Roger turned it back on and won back-to-back Cy Youngs as a 34 and 35 year old, but that "lull" right after he turned 30 is why Maddux is nearing 300 wins at age 37 and Clemens is nearing 300 at age 40.

Secondly, Prior and Mulder are right on pace with where Clemens and Maddux were and Zito isn't far off. Hudson and Wood are way off.

Of course, this doesn't mean being on pace with Clemens and Maddux is the only way a young pitcher can reach 300 wins. You can always take the Randy Johnson route, which is to win 49 games through age 28 and then 177 (and counting) from 29 and beyond. Of course, that's a whole lot tougher to do and...well, Randy hasn't even been able to do it.

If I had to rank their chances, I think I would do it like this:

1) Mark Prior

2) Barry Zito

3) Mark Mulder

4) Tim Hudson

5) Kerry Wood

I give Hudson and Wood almost zero chance. Hudson is already 27 years old and, while his 77 (projected) wins are be good, they are also about 40 wins off the pace. Wood is also way off the pace and he has had injury problems in the past and just doesn't strike me as someone that is going to stay completely healthy for the next 12-15 years.

I give Prior the best chance, which might surprise some people. I think he is going to be the greatest pitcher of his generation and, as I have said, I think 300 wins requires a pitcher that is beyond just "great." Plus, he got started young and is off to a quick start. I give Zito and Mulder essentially equal chances and would rank them just slightly behind Prior.

That said, I would be willing to bet that none of those 5 great, young pitchers will ever reach 300 wins.

Think about it. Roger Clemens is now pitching in his 20th season in the major leagues. He started when he was 21 and has been racking up wins (and Cy Young awards) ever since. He will likely retire at the end of this season, at the age of 40. And, he will likely leave with about 305-310 wins. If Roger Clemens, one of the greatest handful of pitchers in the history of the sport, pitches 20 years and is essentially injury free the entire time and he can just barely squeak over the 300-mark, what chance do mearly "great" pitchers have?

There will be more members of the 300-Win Club in the future, but the number is no longer effective in identifying great pitchers - it is good at identifying extraordinary pitchers.

That's all fine and good, but it's keeping Bert Blyleven and his 287 career wins out of the Hall of Fame and, in 20 years or so, if nothing changes, it's probably going to do the same with Barry Zito and his 256 career wins or Mark Prior and his 281 career wins.

If we are going to use "magic numbers" to judge the value of a player's career, we should at least recognize when the numbers start getting easier or harder to reach.

Today's picks:

Montreal (Hernandez) -130 over Florida (Tejera)

Los Angeles (Ishii) -130 over Colorado (Cook)

Boston (Chen) +170 over New York (Pettitte)

Toronto (Halladay) -130 over Chicago (Colon)

Oakland (Zito) -140 over Minnesota (Rogers)

Kansas City (George) +130 over Seattle (Garcia)

Total to date: + $1,440

W/L record: 100-96 (1-1 yesterday for +$50, including correctly predicting Roger losing his bid for 300!)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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