Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Voice of Reason in the 300 Win Discussion

This post, which you’ve no doubt read dozens of times by now, was basically about Mark Kriedlers’ insane assertion that we would see less players achieving 3,000 hits in the future because they were getting too rich or something. Numbers, logic, and history make that assessment sound sort of unrealstic. If anything, we seem to be trending towards more 3,000 hit club members. But the other point that Mark Kriedler was making was that there would be less 300 game winners. That’s a reasonable assumption, although it’s worth noting we have two active 300 game winners (way over 300) and two pitchers who are very close to 300. But 3 of those pitchers are on the short list of the best pitchers of the last 50 years, and the other is a first ballot hall of famer.

The 300 game winner thinking was explored more on this past week, first in this chat, with Buster Olney.

Jonathan (Tampa, FL): Will there ever be another 300 game winner after Glavine and possibly Randy Johnson?

Buster Olney: Jonathan: C.C. Sabathia might give himself a chance -- he'll get to 100 later this summer, after he turns 27. But beyond that... I doubt it, with the way pitchers are protected at an early age and with the way teams will quickly place high-priced guys on the DL for even a minor injury.

So Buster seems to be saying that C.C. Sabathia may be the last guy with a chance to get to 300 wins. That’s pretty bold. C.C. Sabathia is a fine pitcher, but to insinuate that we’ve seen the last of the Sabathia’s of the world is nonsense. It’s not like Sabathia came up at 16 years old, or has done anything that dozens of other pitchers won’t do in the near future.

Jason (Brooklyn): Buster, I completely disagree with you that there will probably not be a 300 game winner beyond C.C. Just because the game is currently trending in a particular direction (protecting pitchers) doesn't mean that it will continue to do so in the future. Also, it always seems that every generation of baseball players have a few all time greats that are able to buck the trend. Who will it be? who knows, but someone probably will. I'll bet you any amount of money some guy you've probably never heard of will break 300 wins within the next 30-50 years.

Buster Olney: Jason: OK... disagree, but see your point.

Jason’s overall point is a decent one, but I disagree with his thoughts that “protecting pitchers” may go out of vogue. Not when good ones are more than $10 million a year and they are so scarce. If we had 50 Johan Santana type quality pitchers, then yes they would be pampered less, because the supply is greater. But I doubt that the quantity of great pitchers will ever become so skewed that pitcher protection becomes less important.

Let’s summarize Buster’s points:
1. Pitchers are protected at an early age
2. Teams quickly place high priced guys on the DL to avoid injury

Isn’t this likely to lead to more pitchers being healthy for longer and pitching into their 40’s? There’s always going to be injury prone pitchers, but there’s also always going to be those pitchers that escape injury and pitch long enough, under the right circumstances, to win 300 games. Tommy John won 288 games and had a certain well known arm ailment that required a surgery. With modern medical advances he was just able to pitch a very long time and was “pretty good”. He’s not in the Hall of Fame.

As usual, Rob Neyer came along as the voice of reason, with this blog post (on 7/3):

Somebody will win 300 again

(parts deleted)

In other news, Roger Clemens pitched well, which I find inherently more interesting than his reaching a round number. Nevertheless, the question does come to mind: Who among our current young moundsmen might even approach the lofty marks set by Mr. Rocket?

I've got a Baseball Digest article, somewhere in the pile of materials on my desk, that laments the imminent demise of the 200-game winner. This was published in the 1950s, and you probably know that a great number of pitchers have won 200 games since then. So yes, it's difficult to imagine any currently active young pitcher winning 300 games. My prediction, though: Somebody will do it. I don't want to run through a big list, but just looking at this page, I see a few intriguing combinations of youth, health, and success: Roy Oswalt, C.C. Sabathia, Johan Santana.

Will one of them win 300? Probably not. But somebody.

So what about 350? Clemens is there, and a year from now Greg Maddux probably will have joined him. But if it's hard to imagine any young pitcher someday winning 300, it's almost impossible to imagine one of them winning 350.

Is it really, though? Do we really have any idea what doctors and druggists will be doing for pitchers in 20 years, when Yovani Gallardo and Felix Hernandez are "only" 41? If I'm lucky here and there, I've got another 50-some years of being a baseball fan. And I believe someday I'll see a pitcher win more games than Roger Clemens won.

I took a rudimentary look at a handful of active pitchers focusing on their career wins and their ages. I then did a rather simple calculation. I calculated the years they had until turning 40 (using baseballreference’s age), and then plugged in an average win total of 15 per year, and lastly I added in their current win total. Full of flaws I know, but I wanted to just gauge where this situation was. I'm sure that people smarter than me have these things down to specific probabilities.

If the following pitchers can average 15 wins a year until they are 40, this will be their approximate win total at that time (this is really skewed because we are in the middle of a season, as well):

Sabathia – 303
Jeremy Bonderman – 294
Dontrelle Willis – 290
Carlos Zambrano – 284
Jon Garland – 283
Mark Buehrle – 282
Jake Peavy – 276
Barry Zito - 273
Roy Oswalt – 270
Johan Santana – 267
Josh Beckett – 263
Roy Halladay - 254
John Lackey/Ben Sheets – 251

Now, many of those guys won’t even win 200, so I’m not at all saying that they will win that many games. There’s a chance that none will. But if Johan Santana can stay healthy, I’d put some money on him getting to 250. Believe me, I get the flaws in this calculation, but I did it for a sanity check. I'm also not considering mechanics and current volume of innings.

I also get that hardly any of those guys projected to win 300 games. However running the same calculation on a 27 year old Clemens, Maddux, Glavine and Johnson would have projected them at 311, 310, 290 and 239, respectively. More than one of those guys above will likely pitch past 40 as well. Who knows, one or two could pitch to 44 or 45. If they are good enough to be in a major league rotation at that point, there's a decent chance they're winning 300.

Stating the obvious, to win 300, any player will need to play on good offensive teams for a while, be healthy, and a good bullpen will definitely help. A lot of things out of their control, which is why I don’t give a crap if a guy makes it to 300 wins anyway. You want to make a bet that as long as Santana is healthy he’s averaging at least 15 wins? I would take that bet. He’ll have a few years around 18-20 to help the cause too. Plus there’s guys like Verlander and Hamels, who are off to a great start to make a run at 300. The point is, one of those guys could hit their stride, stay healthy, and pitch into their 40's to get to 300. If they all fail, there will be the future generations.

So many variables are involved that’s its crazy to try to get too scientific. But please, tell me why we won’t see another Tom Glavine? That makes no sense.

So once again, Rob Neyer brings some reason to a discussion. Well, him and Jason from Brooklyn.


Diesel said...

What I sense you come close to concluding, but never quite do, in this post is something that bugs me about all conversations like the 300-win one:

It's supposed to be totally fucking rare.

There aren't, really, that many 300-game winners in the history of the sport. That's what makes it an achievement, as opposed to some kind of mediocrity benchmark (though wins and losses are dumb ... whatever). It seems that we're not satisfied unless a large number of current players will be in line to pass some benchmark, even though we know that if such were the case it would render the accomplishment relatively insignificant anyway.

Look at how people feel about 500 HR now, since a bunch of people are expected to break it.

Love the blog.

Jeff said...

I agree, and that also highlights the lunacy of Mark Kriedler pontificating whether we should lower the (arbitrary, meaningless) bar of 300 wins to 200 so guys like Mark Buehrle (Mark Buehrle?) can be included....into whatever club that would be.

I realize I left that aspect hanging (that you point out) but I was trying to focus on just how nonsensical it is to take the position that CC Sabathia has a shot at 300 wins, but no one else does.

Thanks for reading.