Sunday, August 2, 2009
The 300-Game Winner Is Extinct! Truth or Myth?
When San Francisco Giants pitcher, Randy Johnson, beat the Washington Nationals on June 4 for his 300th career victory, a familiar chant began in the baseball world. The same chant uttered when Tom Glavine posted his 300th career victory. "Is Glavine Last of the 300-Game Winners?", was the headline in The San Francisco Chronicles on July 30, 2007. Similar headlines were echoed in newspapers and websites throughout the country.
When Johnson won his 300th game, the headline in Yahoo! Sports was, "Unit could be last of the 300-game winners." In USA Today, "The Big Unit could be the last 300-game winner." Broadcasters, television commentators, radio disc jockeys all chanted the same thing. On and on it went and whenever Johnson's name comes up, we hear the same broken record.
My take on the issue is-- all that talk is pure baloney!
First of all, lets take the case of Mike Mussina. Whose to say, had Mussina not retired, he wouldn't have been the next 300 game winner? Mussina retired at age 39 with 270 career wins. In his final year he was 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. These numbers for certain would have garnered him a 1 year, quite possibly a 2 year deal, with the New York Yankees. With the way the Yankees are playing this year (63-42 as of today), Mussina could quite conceivably win 15 games this year, had he not retired. Once a pitcher gets to the high 280's and sees 300 around the corner, chances are he'll stick around and at least try and achieve this elusive milestone.
The last 10 pitchers to win 300, reached the magic number at an average age of 41.5, with Greg Maddux (38) and Steve Carlton(38) being the youngest and Phil Niekro (46) being the oldest. Johnson reached the milestone at age 45. Mussina was on track to reach 300 or at least hover around it by age 42. Feeling he had nothing more to prove, Mussina decided to retire and exited gracefully. But he could very easily have hung around and gotten the 30 wins he needed to reach 300.
But Mussina's retirement was good for these "no more 300-game winner" theorist. Had he stayed, he would have been a threat to their theory.
Maybe they're not keeping an eye on C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. Whose to say, barring injuries, these guys won't pitch until they're 43 or 44 years old? Maybe they have a different mindset than Mussina. Maybe 300 is vitally important to them and they'll hang around if they see themselves in the same position as Mussina.
Sabathia,29, needs 172 more wins and if he pitches until, lets say 43, would need to just average around 12 wins per season. A few 15 to 20 win seasons in the nose-end would dramatically lower that average for the tail-end of the remaining 14 seasons.
Halladay, 32, needs 158 more wins and if he pitches until age 43, would need to average around 14 wins per season the remainder of the way. But what if he's the next Jamie Moyer and pitches until he's 46? Then he'll need to average just 11 wins per season.
Same thing with Oswalt, who needs 165 more wins, and if, he too plays until 43, would need to average 15 wins per season. But for all we know, he could be the next Phil Niekro and pitch until he's 46. In Houston, he definitely has the best mentor, Nolan Ryan (above), who also retired at 46.
The point is, saying there will never be another 300-game winner is ridiculous, since so many different scenarios can happen. If these 3 pitchers stay healthy and continue pitching with the success they've had, by the time all 3 are 40, they'll be hovering around the 280 mark. Then the only questions would be, how long can they, like Jamie Moyer, remain productive, and if so, how long would they be willing to stick around?
Judging by their work ethics, I can see at least one or two of the three, pitching well into their 40's and being successful. Then our old familiar chant would make headlines again: "Is Sabathia Last of the 300-game Winners?" or "Halladay Could Be The Last 300-Game Winner" or "Oswalt Is The Last Of His Kind."
Photo courtesy of A. KAYE