300 Wins: Randy Johnson Will Not Be The Last

With the Cubs' rainout in Atlanta last night (which will be made up on June 22, forcing the Cubs to play on 23 consecutive days), it gives me a chance to write about Randy Johnson's 300th career win and the future of such major milestones.

Of the milestones that supposedly bestow "automatic" entry into the Hall of Fame -- 300 wins, 3000 strikeouts, 3000 hits and 500 home runs -- the wins are the only one that are team-dependent. We all know that there are fewer 20-game winners than there were decades, or even a few years ago. The reasons are well-known. Starting pitchers make fewer starts than they did in the 1960's or 1970's. Forty years ago, in 1969, 36 pitchers started 35 or more games, a number that only one pitcher -- CC Sabathia -- reached in 2008. It's hard to pile up 20 wins when pitchers, in general, are getting fewer chances to do so. Also, starters aren't completing games now, a trend that's been in place since at least the 1980's; this means that, even if a starter leaves the game in the 7th inning with the lead, often the bullpen coughs it up (Paging Aaron Heilman and Neal Cotts!) and even if his team comes back to win, someone else gets the win.

So is Randy Johnson going to be the last 300-game winner, as mlb.com's Tom Singer claims? I say no, and there are, in fact, several strong candidates for this milestone. The problem in Singer's article and position is that he's looking at the top of the active leaderboard -- guys like Andy Pettitte and Pedro Martinez -- rather than scrolling down and seeing what might happen ten or fifteen years from now. (Pettitte, though, might have a shot -- he could finish 2009 with 230 or so wins, leaving him 70 short at age 37. At the end of his age-37 season, Randy Johnson had "only" 200 wins.)

On that active wins leaderboard are five pitchers 31 years old and under with 100 or more wins, and one more whose next win will be his 100th. Could some or all of those pitchers, ten years or more from now, become the next 300-game winner? Let's look at each of them and their chances.
  • Roy Oswalt will be 32 in August and has 131 career victories. A two-time 20-game winner, Oswalt doesn't seem to be quite the pitcher this year that he was in the past. He's won only twice in 12 starts this year; part of the reason for that, of course, is the bad team he's pitching on. He would need to average 17 wins for the next 10 seasons to do it; he'd probably have to wind up on a better team to have a shot.
  • Mark Buehrle just turned 30 in March and has 128 career wins. He has won 15 or more games five times and would need the same average as Oswalt -- 17 wins over the next ten seasons. That'd give him, it would seem, a fair chance at 300, though Buehrle has made noises about retiring far before he reaches age 40.
  • CC Sabathia has won 15 or more games four times and, after a slow start this season, is on pace to do that again. He has 122 career wins and will turn 29 next month. With 178 to go, he'd need to average 18 wins over the next 10 years -- or, if he pitched into his early 40's, only 15 wins over the next 12. Sabathia, despite his weight, appears pretty durable. I'd give him a real good shot at 300 wins, especially if he continues to play on good teams.
  • Johan Santana has won 15 or more games each of the last five years and is on pace to do it again this year. He currently has 116 wins and turned 30 in March; 184 wins short, he'd likely have to pitch into his early 40's to do it.
  • Jon Garland is on this list primarily because he was in the major leagues at 20 and a rotation starter at 21. He's durable -- has never missed a start -- but his 110 wins come mainly from being on good teams, not from his own abilities. He will be 30 just before this season ends. 190 wins short of 300, he'd also need to pitch well into his 40's -- and stay on good teams and be healthy -- to have a chance.
  • And now we run into the real wild card on this list -- the Cubs' own Carlos Zambrano. The youngest of this group of six, he turned 28 four days ago and his next win will be the 100th of his career. Z has as much talent as any of the pitchers above, and perhaps more than some. Needing 201 more victories to get to the milestone 300, he could do it by averaging just over 15 wins a year until he turns 41. But that depends on him remaining healthy and focused. All of us who are Cubs fans would like to hope that he could do that, and bring many wins to the North Side, over the remaining years of his career. He has won 14 or more games each of the last five years. If he can bump that up by just one, he'll have a chance.

Randy Johnson will not be the "last" 300-game winner. It just might take ten or more years until we celebrate the next one.

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