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Chasing the Elusive 300

Baseball analytics have evolved to where almost every statistic imaginable is calculated and valued. However, the one statistic that has actually decreased in importance has been a pitcher’s record, specifically wins. A team’s performance determines whether they win or lose the game; however, it is the pitcher who is credited with the outcome. Starting pitchers need to pitch a minimum of five innings to earn a win, while relievers obtain wins based upon the official scorer’s discretion. Losses are distributed to whichever pitcher allowed the go-ahead run to score.

There is still value in a pitcher’s win/loss record, though it is more dependent on the pace of the game, rather than exact numbers. Back when pitcher’s innings were not capped and pitch counts were more lenient, winning 15-20 games a season would not be far-fetched. Reaching the 300-win plateau was rare, but possible. Over the past decade, even obtaining 200 wins is a difficult feat. Though there have been pitchers to be in contention of reaching the 300 landmark.

There have only been 24 pitchers, 13 since the Deadball era, to win over 300 games. Once in a generation pitchers have been the only players able to accomplish this goal, with Randy Johnson being the last pitcher to hit the elusive number in 2009. Since Johnson, there was one pitcher in particular that looked to possibly have a chance. That being long-time Seattle Mariner Félix Hernández.

The veteran pitcher started his Major League career at the extremely young age of 19 in 2005, when most players debuted at the age of 24-25, putting him roughly five years ahead of the curb. With time being on Hernández’s side, along with the amount of potential he possessed, 300 wins seemed feasible. During his rookie season, Hernandez had a stellar season with a 2.67 ERA in only 12 games started. Because of the brief rookie stint, he only added four wins to his ledger that year, but over the following ten seasons, Hernández would average 13.9 wins a season, capping out at 19 wins in 2009. 

King Felix set for what is likely final start with Mariners | KNKX
TED S. WARREN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The amount of wins he obtained were respectable, however, for the quality of pitcher he was, it was incredibly low. The main reason for this is because Hernández was a member of the Mariners during this span. Seattle is still yet to make the postseason since 2001 and have always struggled to put runs on the board, never being in the upper echelon of the league in runs during his tenure on the team. His sensational Cy Young season in 2010, where he held a 2.27 ERA, while only having a 13-12 record is the best evidence that supports the futility of the Mariners offense.

An earned run average as low as Hernández’s that season is phenomenal, especially considering he was in the American League with the designated hitter in play. It shows how thirteen wins is even more absurdly low, as he started 34 games that season, having a quality start (minimum of six innings and fewer than three earned runs allowed) in 30 of them.

Hernández has an astounding 3.42 career ERA, with it even being inflated during the latter part due to injuries, decline in productivity, and the fact that he remained on a terrible team. Prior to his Cy Young season, he had 19 wins, which is around the number of wins he should have earned each season. Had he averaged anywhere near that number of wins per season, then he would have surely had the opportunity to reach 300.

Hernández showed flashes of brilliance throughout his career aside from his fantastic 2010 season, including throwing the most recent of only 23 perfect games in league history in 2012, as well as holding a 2.14 ERA in 2014 (lower than Cy Young season). If the spectacular pitching of Hernández had been blessed to another team, he could have become the first millennial of the generation to reach the 300-win plateau.

“King Félix” probably had the best chance of any pitcher to ascend to that many wins; however, there have been other pitchers in recent years to come mildly close to the number. All-Star pitchers during the 2000’s like CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, and Justin Verlander were all players who came close, or were even on pace to reach 300 wins.

Sabathia finished his career with 251 wins, though he encountered trouble earning wins later in his career, only reaching a double-digit win total in one out of his final six seasons. After his 2013 season, Sabathia was 33 years old with 205 wins to his name. A late career resurgence could have given him a shot, but injuries and age would get the best of him.

On the other hand, Justin Verlander who has had relatively high win totals throughout his career, has only been stifled by a few injury plagued years, including his most recent injury that has required him to have Tommy John surgery. Verlander has had eleven seasons where he had 15+ wins, including two Cy Young seasons with 20+ wins. It is really unfortunate for Verlander that he will miss the next couple of seasons after just winning the Cy Young in 2019 with a 21-6 record. He currently has 226 career wins with no sign of slowing down with age before the injury hit, though now, with all the time Verlander is expected to miss, 300 seems like a much less achievable goal.

Astros' Justin Verlander joins 3,000-strikeout club
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Bartolo Colon has been able to obtain his 247 wins by the sheer fact that he refuses to quit. Still not technically retired, despite being 47 years old, Colon has been able to stand his ground, even though his elder years of baseball. His rough stretch for wins was from 2006-2011, when he had a mere 22 wins over that five-year span. Though his career saw a revival with the Oakland Athletics and New York Mets, earning two All-Star appearances and adding 72 wins in the ensuing five seasons. Those wins helped contribute to the grand total that he mostly amounted during his prime with Cleveland, Montreal, and Anaheim.

Had his career not seen that elongated rough patch, then Colon could have probably reached the 300-win mark eventually. The drive and ability to stay at the Major League level helped him tremendously and could have helped him make history had he been more consistent throughout his career.

Analytics is the name of the game today, but wins are still impressive. For a starting pitcher, collecting as many as 300 wins is truly a sight to see. It used to be that 200 wins would almost guarantee the Hall of Fame, making 300 even more remarkable. Wins are simply not valued anymore. It is not that they should override other statistics, as Jacob deGrom has shown by winning back to back Cy Youngs despite only posting 10 and 11 wins in those seasons.

However, winning is the name of the game and starting pitcher wins should hold some merit. With the way baseball is managed today, mixed in with all the pitcher restrictions, the chase for 300 has become a thing of the past and the sport will most likely never see a pitcher win that many games again.

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