Friday, June 5, 2009

Yes Virgina, There Will be Another 300 Game Winner

OK. Normally, I give the so-called experts the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that they know what they’re talking about. However, over the last few weeks a certain proclamation has been spouting up on the internets and on TV. It is one sentence and it has been repeated ad nauseum – “We Will Never See Another 300 Game Winner”.

Really? Never, as in ever? That just smacks of hyperbole and sortsightedness. Is Randy Johnson the last 300 game winner that we will see for awhile? Yes, but to say that no one will ever do it in a major league uniform ever again is ridicules.

I find it humorous that the first person that the talking heads point to is Jamie Moyer as their proof that Johnson is the last pitcher that will make into the exclusive club. On the surface it may seem reasonable. After all, he is the next active leader in wins. The thing with Moyer is, well, he kind of sucked for a lot of years (15-35 from 1988-1991 and he didn’t pitch in 1992). It was so bad he even contemplated retirement. It’s a minor miracle that he got to 250 starts, let alone 250 wins.

What the naysayers are failing to take into consideration are the next generation of pitching stars that are beginning their careers or just entering their prime. Forcasting wins for young pitchers is a difficult thing because you never know what might trigger a decline in talant (see Willis, Dontrelle). Think back to 2001 when the Big Three in Oakland were setting the world on fire. Barry Zito is the only one pitching right now and despite some good outings he can't buy a win right now. Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson have battled injuries that have detailed potential hall of fame careers.

While major league history is rife with the failings and flameouts of can't miss winners there are two pitchers currently in the majors that have a more than average chance of reaching the hallowed ground of 300 wins - Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay.

Lincecum, the right-hander from San Francisco has already amassed 29 wins and he is a week shy of his 25th birthday. His teammate Johnson, who made his major league debut at the age of 24, had a total of 24 wins in his first three seasons. With about 2/3 of his 3rd season to go Lincecum has the edge in age and wins.

The young starter is most known for his rapid rise to the majors (less than a year from when he was drafted) and his twisting, whirlwind of a windup taught to him by his father. A former semi-pro player, Chris Lincecum studied the mechanics of pitching and taught his son the unique windup that helps the whip thin right hander generate a 98mph fastball.

His critics off that windup as a reason why he might not be able to continue his early excellence on the mound. It is a valid argument due to the degree of flexibility required in his unique wind up. As his body stiffens with age he might not be able to generate the amount of velocity as his body ages. At that point he would have to make the transition from power pitcher to one who relies on guile and experience.

Johnson’s period of domination ran from 1993 to 2002, in other words, from ages 29 to 39. He racked up an impressive 175 wins during that decade. That is even more impressive when you see that, due to injury, he only won 5 games in 1998.

That time frame coincides with most major league pitchers “figuring it out”. They no longer rely just on pure talent or ability, rather they learn how to work hitter, how to reduce pitch counts, and how to sustain a long career both physically and mentally.

A pitcher who is smack in the middle of that 29-39 age bracket is Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay. At 32 years old he is almost at the halfway mark with 140 wins as of the time this is being posted. Since the season he turned 29 (2006) he has 61 wins. He is on track for back to back 20 win season and seems to have put a lot of the arm troubles that plagues him early in his career behind him. He does have a lot of wear on his arm as he has logged more than 220 innings in a season 5 times. If he can stay healthy I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a run at the supposedly untouchable number.

Something else that may factor into both of their chases is the fact that right now both pitchers play for some pretty bad teams. How many games have they left that their bullpens have blown? In today’s era of free agency it isn’t hard to imagine either one of them moving to a new team, a team with a better offense or bullpen that makes their lives easier. After all, Johnson played for some bad Seattle teams and Tom Glavine played for some bad Braves teams at the beginning of his career.

There are some unobtainable records out there (Cy Young’s 511 wins and 749 complete games come to mind), but another member of the 300 club will happen, just not for awhile.

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