If you are at any degree a baseball fan—whether it be die-hard or fair-weather or something less extreme in between— there’s no greater way to savor America’s Pasttime than visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Almost a month ago I had the privilege of visiting the great shrine to baseball history, and I was particularly drawn to the history displayed in the Hall of Records.
Records like Rickie Henderson’s 1,406 stolen bases, Ichiro’s 262 hits in one season, Nolan Ryan’s 7 career no-hitters.
Some records are destined to be broken, it’s the nature of a game that has stood and withstood controversies for more than 120 years. But even still, there are some records that will never be broken. Sure, some of those ‘never be broken records’ can be debated, but there’s one that will never, and I mean never, be broken: the most career wins of Cy Young at 511.
In fact, I would go so far as to argue that the 300-win pitcher is going out of vogue as well, with the advent of situational bullpens, pitch-count and innings-pitched controls, and the depreciation of the win as a pitcher statistic.
The last pitcher to reach the 300-win threshold is recent first ballot Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who finished his career with 303 wins in 2009. With his addition to the elite list, there are 24 MLB pitchers with 300 or more wins— one more than the number of pitchers who have thrown perfect games (23).
So will baseball ever see a 300-win pitcher again? I would, frankly, say no. Randy Johnson may be the last 300-win pitcher Major League Baseball fans will ever witness. Why does that matter? Because the nature of baseball, and the understanding and valuation of various individual statistics, is disappearing.
What do all these pitchers have in common? They’re all getting old. C.C. Sabathia is the youngest among win-leaders at 35. But with injuries and inconsistency mounting, 88 more wins seem like a far-off long shot. Tim Hudson is 40 years-old and won’t make up 81 wins before his arm gives out.
At one point in their careers, both Buehrle and Sabathia were considered ‘best bets’ to hit 300-wins for their careers. But now they’d need to average 20 wins a season through their age 40 seasons to get there. Not only are four consecutive 20-win seasons a rarity, but since 2000, the average win-total for the league leaders in the AL and NL has been 21-wins. At such a rate, a pitcher would need to pitch 14 consecutive 21-win seasons to hit the 300-win threshold.
Of all the active pitchers in baseball, Clayton Kershaw seems far and above the most likely to hit 300-wins. Felix Hernandez could well have been a candidate, but more than a decade on an offensively challenged ball club has stymied his chances.
Kershaw, 27, is in his 8th MLB season and had 106-wins tallied. That stands for a 16-win average per 162-games, a number that would get him to 300 wins by his 19th season at age 38. That’s assuming no injuries, no depreciation in his ‘stuff’, and continued offensive and defensive support. Is it possible? Yes, it’s possible. But averaging 16-wins for the next 11 seasons would be a profound accomplishment.
Baseball is changing faces. The New York Mets had a 6-man rotation for part of the 2015 season. Pitchers are being held to stricter pitch and inning counts. Sabermetrics are—rightfully—affecting the perceived value of traditional statistics. One more than any other that has lost its luster is the win. And with that, pitchers and managers aren’t pressing to get a starter a victory, they’re playing the odds and the match-ups to get the team a win.
Baseball is a team sport. Granted, so often a play, a game, an at-bat is a one-on-one battle, but teams win and lose, not individual players. As teams and players and organizations have gotten behind this sort of thinking, glorification of individual players through beefed up statistics is fading.
Chiefly among these fading statistics is the Win-Loss tally for pitchers. And with it will go the days of 300-win careers, and 20+ win seasons. Some players will come close, very close, but win accumulation by one player has slowed since the early 20th century.
Organizations are more concerned with the team accumulating wins. Though that means fewer gaudy numbers to add to the Hall of Records in Cooperstown, it makes for a better, more competitive atmosphere in Major League Baseball.