One of the subplots of Tom Glavine’s accomplishment of 300 career wins has been the mini-debate among members of the press regarding whether or not this will be the last time that this round number will be reached. Certainly, a major reason why this debate even exists is to make it a more compelling event for the viewers, as if we needed any extra help to fully appreciate the moment. But the talking heads and the pens must see some truth in this to spend so much time discussing a hypothetical, right? There must be some part of them that is honestly wondering if we’ll ever see anyone reach 300 ever again. Me, I have no such doubts. I know that I’ve had the opportunity to witness some of the greatest players to ever play this game. But I’m also not so egotistical (close, but not quite) that I fail to realize that some of the absolute best are yet to step foot onto a Major League field.
We all want our lives to be special. We often talk in hyperboles regarding our personal experiences although the overwhelming majority of the time they are far from warranted. For example, I have a tendency to describe things as being ”awesome” even though the situation is far from awe inspiring. If your friends are less than ecstatic after listening to your story about “the best time” you had over the weekend, you’re more apt to assume that the message didn’t come across properly than you are to realize that the experience you’ve described was simply underwhelming from the start. It doesn’t make us bad people or anything. It’s just something that we do.
And it’s this human flaw, I think, that helps perpetuate the singular experience of being a baseball fan. If you ask a 25-year old who’s the better hitter: David Ortiz or Hank Greenberg, I think a lot of them would say Ortiz. If you asked the same question to someone in their seventies, I’m fairly certain that the answers will be very different. Moreover, this is the same reason why we say things like “you can’t appreicate (player X) until you’ve seen him play every day”, which is one of my least favorite arguments ever because once that defense is utilized, the debate is over. It’s a total cop-out.
Which brings me back to the argument at hand. Is Tom Glavine the last 300-game winner ever? I’m pretty confident in stating that, no, he is not. Assuming that this planet of ours can withstand having us human beings living on it for a good while longer, there will be another 300 game winner. It’s money in the bank. There was a time not too long ago when people were wondering if the art of the stolen base was dead. That it perished along with the careers of Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, and Tim Raines. Then comes Jose Reyes who’s on pace to swipe 78 this year. If I told you that he would steal 85 or even 90 next year, is that so out of the realm of possibility? I don’t think it is.
What makes this mark seem unlikely in the future is that the group of pitchers that were supposed to follow the current collection of 40-year olds like Glavine, Maddux, Clemens, Smoltz and Randy Johnson never panned out. The best pitcher between the ages of 35-39 is Pedro Martinez, who is at the moment 94 wins shy of 300 due to injuries and subsequent decline in performance. Mike Mussina is 38-years old and has 246 career wins but he too has shown his age the past four seasons. Andy Pettitte has had a very good career but was never consistently a top-10 pitcher. And the list just detreriorates after that:
ACTIVE LEADERS IN CAREER WINS (Aged 35-39)
- Mike Mussina (246)
- Pedro Martinez (206)
- Andy Pettitte (193)
- Aaron Sele (148)
- Steve Trachsel (139)
- Tom Gordon (131)
- Jon Lieber (129)
- Esteban Loaiza (123)
- Paul Byrd (91)
- Darren Oliver (91)
Just a rule of thumb: any list that includes Aaron Sele and Steve Trachsel in the top-5 will probably fail to impress you. In my mind, the only pitcher on that list who ever had the talent to do it is Pedro. But his body simply couldn’t hold up. As I mentioned earlier, both Mussina and Pettitte were great guys to have on your staff, but they don’t belong in the conversation when talking about the greatest pitchers of their generation.
So where does this leave us? Well, pretty far from 300 to be blunt. But it’s nowhere near hopeless. Lucky for us, the best pitchers today are 30-years old or under. Starting with Johan Santana (28), there’s C.C. Sabathia (26), Roy Oswalt (29), Carlos Zambrano (26), John Lackey (28), Josh Beckett (27), Ben Sheets (27), Jake Peavy (26), Brandon Webb (28), Aaron Harang (29), Danny Haren (26), Chris Young (28) and Erik Bedard (28). That’s 12 players between 25-29 years of age who have a great shot at surpassing the career achievements of the majority of those on the 35-39 list. Would I bet on any particular guy in this group to reach 300? No, I wouldn’t. There simply are far too many variables to predict anything so specific that far into the future. But would I bet that any one of those guys eventually will? Now that’s a bet that I may take.
Look, I’m not saying that one of those 12 will DEFINITELY hit the 300 mark. But the more talent we have, the more likely it is. There is a bit of a renaissance of young pitchers doing incredible things in MLB. We have two 23 year-olds in the top-7 on the list of strikeout leaders (Cole Hamels & Scott Kazmir). We have 2 rookies in 23-year old Tim Lincecum and 21 year-old Yovani Gallardo that are making things look too damned easy. Justin Verlander can somehow throw 100 mph in the ninth inning, for god’s sake. And somewhere in Texas there’s probably a ten-year old kid who’s going to be a multi-millionare when he’s drafted as a pitcher in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft. It’s easy to look at the list of pitchers who are within 100 wins shy of 300 and be discouraged. But I’m saying that this is merely an anomaly. Things will correct itself.
I’m not sure why we’ve forgotten that before Clemens got to 300 in 2003, Nolan Ryan had been the last to accomplish the feat, and that was thirteen years prior in 1990. There was a nineteen year gap between Early Wynn and Gaylord Perry (1963-1982) and a twenty year difference between Lefty Grove and Warren Spahn (1941-1961), although I’m sure World War II had something to do with that. Point is, there have been gaps before. But they’ve been filled by more than capable arms. I don’t understand why we’ve convinced ourselves that it won’t this time around. While’s it’s true that Cy Young’s 511 career wins won’t be touched until we legalize bionic arms because of the five-man rotation, I just don’t buy the argument that bullpens take away that many wins. Sure, bad bullpens can cost a pitcher two or three wins per season, but in the long run, don’t the good ones help preserve some that the starter would have conceivably blown? Isn’t that why bullpens exist? I’m sure that Clemens benefited a good amount by having that Mariano Rivera guy behind him all those years in the Bronx. You can’t dismiss this.
So it’s with all of this in mind that I say that Tom Glavine is not the last 300 game winner. It’s not even close, actually. Because you know, … And it was a waste of time then, too.