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February 28, 2013

Painting the Black

Count to 300

by R.J. Anderson

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It's spring and that means feral optimism is available in bulk. Soon a barrage of articles proclaiming any and every team a potential surprise contender will surface, and so will pieces predicting big seasons out of players young and old alike. There will be articles like this one, too, which deals with the next 300-game winner. There's no real science to it. Pick a youngish pitcher with a track record of success and build him up. By the time that pitcher fails to win 300 nobody will remember anyhow. Still, pieces discussing the next 300-game winner can be fun. 

Take Mike Fast's debut article at Baseball Prospectus, from October 2010, in which he introduced the Glavine Line. Fast's creation was based on the idea that its namesake took the slacker's route to 300 wins by doing the minimum required and no more. The measure deals in simplicity instead of complexity and allows you to get a feel for a pitcher's pace relative to Glavine by comparing his actual wins with a crude projection (15.5 wins from his age-22 season onward). It's a clean, tidy, and ineffective way of identifying the next 300-game winner—as Fast admitted in the original piece.

With the understanding that we're aiming for preservation rather than projection, I took the time to update the results of the Glavine Line. A lot has changed in the past 28 months, of course: Fast is now in the Astros front office and some of the article's information looks dated. Justin Verlander, who, in the original piece was 10 wins below the Glavine Line, has since won 41 games and evened things up. Meanwhile Jon Garland and Carlos Zambrano, two pitchers with lower deltas than Verlander at the time, are now off the radar. Undoubtedly these results will age poorly, too, but here are the active pitchers with 50-plus career wins that are above or within 10 games of the Glavine Line:

Pitcher

Age

Wins

Glavine Line

Delta

CC Sabathia

31

191

155

36

Felix Hernandez

26

98

78

20

Clayton Kershaw

24

61

47

14

Trevor Cahill

24

53

47

6

Justin Verlander

29

124

124

0

Matt Cain

27

85

93

-8

Yovani Gallardo

26

69

78

-9

Forget what you've heard about the 300-game winner being exciting, things have improved at the top. Sabathia's delta has grown by three wins over the past two seasons, and there are three more pitchers either at the Line or above it*. It's not surprising to see Sabathia, Hernandez, Kershaw, and Verlander—arguably four of the top five pitchers in the game—on this list. But Cahill is the snake in the crib—you don't know how he got there but you know he doesn't belong. 

*This is without including up-and-comers like Madison Bumgarner (entering his age-23 season), Rick Porcello (24), and Mat Latos (25), all of whom could top 50 wins in the next season while pitching on contending teams.

After all, Cahill has never pitched for a winning team and he's posted ERA+ of 95 and 96 in two of his four seasons. But he, like Kershaw, is entering his fifth year of big-league service time despite being just 25 years old. And Cahill may not have great overall numbers, but he earns wins when he pitches well. Since 2010 pitchers have earned wins in 55 percent of the games in which they earned a quality start, as opposed to 14.5 percent of the games they failed to notch a quality start. Cahill has won 44 of his 75 career quality starts, giving him a 59 percent rate. This rate of winning is important for a pitcher who has managed to record 59 percent quality starts for his career (as opposed to the 52 percent league-average) and 63 percent over the past three seasons. It doesn't hurt that Cahill has won slightly more of his non-quality starts, either.

No one expects Cahill to win 300 games, but that's part of the fun here: A pitcher not mentioned in this piece will probably pull of the feat. As Fast wrote in the comments section of his piece, "[It's] tough to predict ahead of time (1) which good pitchers will stay with the good teams for most of their career and (2) which teams will be good over the next decade or more." Likewise predicting which older pitcher will surge in the second act of his career is about as productive as arguing over which 'N Sync member besides Timberlake had the most successful career. We all know trying to pick the next 300-game winner is silly. We just can't help ourselves around this time of the year.

Special thanks to Sam Miller for research assistance and Mike Fast for the original idea.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

boatman44

It must be fun for Trevor too see his name in such revered company,a real eye opener, going to take him in the 2nd round of aall my fantasy drafts now ! :)

Feb 28, 2013 02:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

I still can't believe he's up there.

Feb 28, 2013 06:10 AM
 
BillJohnson

I honestly had no idea that Sabathia was so far ahead of the pace toward 300. It's interesting how the oft-maligned (and I would say correctly so in many cases) East Coast media machine has overlooked this guy.

Feb 28, 2013 06:06 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Sabathia has two big things going for him: 1) he broke in young (as a 20-year-old) and 2) he's never won fewer than 11 games in a season, but has won more than 16 six times (in 12 seasons). Despite both of those things he still needs another seven ~15-win seasons.

Feb 28, 2013 06:16 AM
 
jdeich

3) He very likely pitches for the Yankees through 2017, who last had a losing season in 1995 and have failed to score 800 runs once (789) in that time span. Five more years where he's likely to have good run support and competent bullpen help (to avoid getting no-decisions when they surrender leads) has to be worth 10 or 15 wins of expected value.

Feb 28, 2013 06:30 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Good point. That certainly factors in to his past/future totals as well.

Feb 28, 2013 06:47 AM
 
jdeich

Conversely, the Mariners' run totals behind Felix: 699, 756, 794, 671, 640, 513, 556, 619. Some of that is Safeco Field-- the run suppression helps Felix, but it also keeps games close, increasing the chance of a bullpen decision. But a lot was offenses like 2010, where the second-most valuable offensive player (Gutierrez) hit .245/.303/.363, one of three regulars with OBPs over the SABR-Mendoza line of .300.

Felix is signed through 2019 (plus 2020 option), and I'm not sure moving the fences and signing 12 DHs will fix this obstacle to 300.

Feb 28, 2013 07:58 AM
rating: 1
 
rmunter

I've always been somewhat amazed that Mike Mussina decided to retire when he did. Seems very likely that he could have made it to 300 if he wanted to (a la Early Wynn). He also, as it turned out, missed the ring he'd been chasing so long by not coming back in 2009.

Feb 28, 2013 13:55 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Also, my favorite tidbit that I didn't include here is how Miguel Batista is more than 200 wins below the Glavine Line. Obviously it's a bit unfair given his role changes and whatnot, but it's still amusing to see someone that far below the line.

Feb 28, 2013 07:33 AM
 
Andy Cochrane

Given the likelihood of most of these pitchers not getting to 300 wins and the changing uses of starting pitchers now compared to 20-30 years ago, where do you now think the new 300 line will be? Will 250 or 275 wins now be seen as as much of an achievement as 300 used to be?

Feb 28, 2013 10:28 AM
rating: -1
 
rmunter

300 game winners have tended to come in bunches. Between 1915 and 1960 only three 300 game winners broke into the majors. Since 1960 there have been 10; six starting their careers between 1962-1967 and four started their careers between 1984-1988. There had also been a pair in 1900-01, and 1907-11. Other than the WWII years, I believe there has never been a season since 1888 in which no present or future 300 game winner was active.

Feb 28, 2013 13:32 PM
rating: 1
 
Travis Leleu

This is a very interesting comment. It suggests two possible explanations: either 300g winners are randomly distributed, or something about the game changes to support 300g winners.

I'm referring to the "bunching" aspect of 300g winners. I think the career length for these guys (>20 years) means it's very likely there will be one at any given time.

Be interesting to see in the future if any of the guys listed here reach 300 wins.

Mar 01, 2013 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
rmunter

I nominate Mark Buerhle. He seems like he could hang around to 45 and Don Sutton his way on up there.

Feb 28, 2013 12:30 PM
rating: 1
 
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