Riding the Pine…History

It was a historic weekend for baseball; it was also an unfortunate sign for the game. We saw the youngest player to hit 500 homers, the all-time record for homers tied, and a future Hall of Famer get his 300th win. I know everyone knows about A-Rod and Bonds, but I’ll tell you why Glavine’s 300th is important.

We may have seen the last 300 game winner when Tom Glavine accomplished the feat Sunday night. Here’s the Top 15 Active Win Leaders and their ages:

1. Roger Clemens, 44 – 351
2. Greg Maddux, 41 – 340
3. Tom Glavine, 41 – 300
4. Randy Johnson, 43 – 284
5. Mike Mussina, 38 – 246
6. David Wells, 44 – 235
7. Jamie Moyer, 44 – 225
8. Curt Schilling, 40 – 213
9. Kenny Rogers, 42 – 210
10. Pedro Martinez, 35 – 206
11. John Smoltz, 40 – 203
12. Andy Pettitte, 35 – 194
13. Tim Wakefield, 40 – 164
14. Aaron Sele, 37 – 148
15. Bartolo Colon, 34 – 146

Of the players on the list, only 1 has a reasonable chance – Randy Johnson – but he’s out for the season and doesn’t know if he’ll be able to pitch next year. Almost everyone else is getting to the end of their careers. If Pedro can stay healthy for the rest of his career, he could have a chance if he wins 16 games for the next 6 years (the 16 wins a season is possible, but the staying healthy is not). Colon is looking like a bust after pitching a lot early on in his career; he’ll be lucky if he’s not with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League in a couple of years.

The first player outside of his 30s on the list is Barry Zito (29), and he is tied for 28th with 110 wins – he’d need 17+ wins for the next 11 years to do it. As we’ve seen this year, that may not be happening. One Chicago newspaper thought Mark Buehrle has a good shot based off Glavine. Soft tossing left-hander? Check. 100 wins around the 28th birthday? Check. A team that could win the division for most of his career? I don’t think so. Buehrle needs over 190 wins in the next 10 years to be able to make the feat, which I don’t see happening.

What’s happened to the 300 game winners?

With the dawn of big-money contracts, more teams and players are worried about the length of playing careers. Gone are the pitchers who’ll pitch complete games; now pitchers throw 100 pitches and are pulled from the game. Here’s the stats for 1968 Cy Young winners Bob Gibson and Denny McLain and the 2006 Cy Young winners, Brandon Webb and Johan Santana:

As you can see, both pitchers in ’68 pitched complete games in more than half of their starts – something that is not seen today (Roy Halladay had 4 complete games, leading baseball in ’06). They also started more games than the ’06 winner from their division (In 2006, only 5 pitchers started 35 games; McLain lead the league in ‘68). Pitch counts weren’t kept in the old days, but if they were, I’m sure they would have average 150 pitches per game – something only Dusty Baker’s Cubs would attempt. (There is nothing wrong with pitch counts – I’m an advocate of pitch counts for young pitchers to preserve their arms. It’s needed in the game today when you give a high school kid a $4 million signing bonus or a college kid a guaranteed MLB contract as soon as they are drafted.)

The major factor in this is the fact that pitchers were completely under the clubs control back in the day. They pitch for $60-80 thousand per season; now, a pitcher can get $7-10 million if they have a .500 career record coming into their free agent year. Bob Gibson got a minimal pay raise for ’68; Burnett got $12 million a season for a sub-.500 career.

Players are more concerned with the payday than stats, especially since stats don’t affect the market like they used to.

Also, young pitchers aren’t always thrown in the rotation. Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Adam Wainwright, and Chad Billingsley were all put in the bullpen to get used to pitching at the Major League level. They all lost starting chances to get experience, and thus lowering their career win totals.

I’m not saying that this is how it is; this is how I see things. Let me know what you think.