300 Game Winner: Will Randy Johnson Be the Last?

Last night, Randy Johnson was supposed to start against the Washington Nationals in pursuit of his 300th victory. He will have to wait until this afternoon. If victorious, Johnson would join a select group of pitchers (23) in major league history to have 300 wins. In most cases, history looks back at what has been accomplished. In this case, history will look forward at what might be a “dying” club.

Randy Johnson will most likely be the last member of the club for a long time. In today’s era of a baseball a starting pitcher takes the ball every fifth game. Up through the 60s and 70s, players took the ball every fourth game to pitch. The five man rotation has changed everything. 40 starts in the old days versus 32 starts is an immense change over a career. Think about it this way. You either have to average 15 wins a year for 20 years or 20 wins a year for 15 years. In 1969, 20 wins, the barometer of a good season, saw 15 men get 20 wins. In 2008, that number dwindles to 4.(Note 1) Given the fact that the 60s were the heyday of pitching, the numbers are still striking. If you go all the way back to 1929, you once again only find four 20 game winners. (Note 2).

To be able to pitch until your arm practically falls off is almost what is required for entry into this exclusive club.  When I think of Randy Johnson, it scares me. He is ten days younger than I am. He didn’t make his ML debut until 1988 at the age of 24, 2 years after I had graduated from college. He has won more games in his 40s than in his 20s. (Note 3) He has only won 20 games 3 times in his career and only once back to back. But for the entire decade of the 90s, he was the most feared pitcher in the game. Not Greg Maddux, not Roger Clemens, but Randy Johnson. No left hander liked to get in the box. Lou Pinella said of him:

He is the number-one dominating pitcher in baseball. I don’t even know who number two is.(4)

So, today, Randy Johnson gets his due for 21 years of hard work. But who else might get to the hallowed hall of 300 wins? The names are few and the odds are even slimmer. (5)
1. At 250 Wins – Jamie Moyer is 46 years old. The odds him pitching past this year, or next, are not good.
2. At 220 current wins, Andy Petitte is still going strong, but does he have the desire to pitch another 6 or 7 years? He is 37.
3. Pedro Martinez is at 214 and he can’t even get a team to sign because of concern of injury.
4. John Smoltz is 42 and has 210. He is coming off surgery and is not even in the majors. He is currently on a rehab assignment for the Red Sox.
5.  Tim Wakefield is 42 years, throws a knuckleball yet only has 184 career wins.

Most likely, Smoltz and Pedro will still end up in the Hall of Fame, but these are the closest to 300 wins and the odds are stacked against them of reaching 300 wins.

If you look at today’s top young pitchers (age 30 or under), the stats tell what a long struggle it will be.
1. Mark Beurhle is not a dominating pitcher. He has good control, works fast, and leads the 30 and under list with 128 wins. He has said he will most likely retire when his contract has runs out. He has won a World Series, thrown a no-hitter, and really, what else has he to pitch for?
2. CC Sabathia – age 28 – 122 career wins. He could do it. He started young enough. But once again, when you make 20 million a year for the next 8 years, there are not a lot of incentives to keep you pitching. He may be the most likely of the under thirty bunch, but you never know.
3.  Johann Santana – age 30 – 116 wins – He is in the same category as CC.
4. Jon Garland – 110 ins – age 29. This name shocks me the most. When you think of Hall of Fame type pitchers, Jon Garland does not come to mind. He does not strike out many. He has a high ERA. But what Garland does do is take the ball every fifth day. With his current ERA well over 5.00, the odds of him making it are slim, let alone 200.
5. Carlos Zambrano – age 28 – 99 Wins. The biggest problem for the Big Z right now is his big temper and his minor aches and pains. He has had trouble staying healthy the last two years. His stuff is good enough, but does he have the mental wherewithal pitching in a hitter’s park.

If you were to go to picthers under 25, not one has over 60 wins. The odds of making 300 wins are astronomical. To think, in all the history of baseball, only 23 men have done it. Randy Johnson could be the 24th today. Or he may have to wait another day. He only needs one. It will be the hardest one of his career. It will be so worth it.

Notes
1 – MLB Wins. Accessed at Baseball Reference.com
http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2008-pitching-leaders.shtml
http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/1969-pitching-leaders.shtml

2 – MLB Wins. Accessed at Baseball Reference.com
http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/1929-pitching-leaders.shtml

3 – Accessed Online at: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/johnsra05.shtml

4 – Pinella, Lou. Accessed Online at: http://www.jockbio.com/Bios/RJohnson/Rjohnson_theysay.html

5- Career Leaders and Record for Wins. Accessed Online at:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/W_career.shtml

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