August 10, 2007
In this week's frenzy of declaration that Tom Glavine is the last 300-game winner ever for all time (including the 10 years after the apocalypse when the major leagues will be populated by mutants that bear only a passing resemblance to humans as we now know them), a very important factor was left out of the equation: top tier pitchers get to pitch longer than everybody else.
Looking at the 300-win club, quite a few of its members added to their victory totals after the age of 40. None of the purely 19th Century entrants--Pud Galvin, Kid Nichols, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Charley Radbourn and Mickey Welch--had to. In fact, none of them pitched past the age of 36. (Cy Young notched his 300th win in 1900 at the age of 33.) Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson did not pitch past their 30s, but every other 20th and 21st Century pitcher in the 300-win club has.
What follows is a list of the number of victories gained by these men in their age 41 season and beyond. If they needed these wins to get over 300, it will say "yes" after their names. If it says "no," it means they won their 300th game in their age 40 season or earlier.
100: Phil Niekro - yes
How is this relevant to the Yankees series this weekend? Consider this, then: all three of their starters against the Indians could end up with 300 wins. Yes, Philip Hughes only has one major league win and there is a much greater chance that he will have a 10-year career rather than one that lasts until 2029. If it does work out for him, though, he is not doomed to fall short of 300 wins simply because of the five-man rotation and the advent of pitch counts. If anything, won't that serve to keep him around longer provided he doesn't have a catastrophic injury?
As for Mike Mussina (246 wins) and Andy Pettitte (194), I think there is a tendency for the people who are writing off their chances to mentally assign the end of the careers to no later than their age 40 seasons. Let's say Mussina wins another five games this year and then manages 15 each in the next two seasons. That brings him to the dawn of his age 41 season at 281 victories. Let's say Pettitte ends this year with 200 wins and gets 14 or 15 victories in each of the next five years. That would put him a bit further away at the dawn of his age 41 season: low 270s. True, only seven members of the 300 club won 29 or more games from that point forward, but a few other current pitchers have done so as well. Randy Johnson has had 38 wins from age 41 forward, David Wells 35 and Jamie Moyer 41.
I'm not saying that any of these three will get there, I'm just saying it's not a good idea to talk in absolutes. Pitchers are going to come along who will start their careers early, stay healthy, get nice support from their teammates and pitch well enough that, when they turn 41, will still be a desirable commodity. Besides, can we predict what the state of sports medicine will be in 2020 or 2025? Can't we assume that some advances will have been made by then that will allow pitchers to overcome things that shorten careers in this day and age? Writing off future 300-game winners might make good headlines, but it doesn't make good sense.
Looking at the 10 major league pitchers who toss the most pitches per inning, we find no less than six from these two teams combined. Fortunately for those in attendance at this weekend's series in Arlington, none of the three pitching matchups will feature a head-to-head meeting between these profligate offerers. They are (with a minimum of 80 innings pitched):
19.2: Edwin Jackson, Devil Rays - pitches Saturday night
Given a 100-pitch limit and this rate of activity, it is nearly impossible for the men in the top half of this list to register a quality start. Well, not impossible, but difficult. They've got 31 combined. That's in 86 tries, or 36 percent. The next five have 44 in 104 tries (42 percent).
How do the men at the other end of the spectrum fair? The five pitchers who have thrown the least number of pitches per inning are Greg Maddux (Padres) at 13.6--the rest are in the low 14s, Tim Hudson (Braves), Chris Sampson (Astros), Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees) and Aaron Cook (Rockies). They've had 71 quality starts in 114 tries (63 percent).
Teams with multiple players slugging near .500 or better:
Looking at just road games (with a 175 PA minimum), the Phillies drop to one (Howard) and the Tigers to two (Ordonez and Granderson). None of the teams with three stay on the list (Lee drops off for the Cubs). The Yankees still have four, although Robinson Cano is swapped out for Melky Cabrera. The Braves join the list with Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson and Edgar Renteria all tearing it up on the road.
Willie Harris' first acrobatic catch yesterday against the Mets definitely did not rob a home run from Moises Alou and I can't be certain his second highlight-reel-worthy grab against Carlos Delgado did either. Many of the circus catches we see in highlight packages don't pass the home run saver test when viewed with a camera that is parallel to the fence. It doesn't make them any less athletic, it just mitigates the full tilt of their alleged dramatics.
What do players have to gain from talking to the media, especially the New York tabloid media? Can you blame Chipper Jones for being in a funk over the headlines he grabbed merely by stating the obvious: no leading home run slugger is going to avoid allegations about artificial performance enhancement. It doesn't pay to be analytical when you're a player. Somebody is going to run roughshod over your objective comments--things that a writer or a fan could get away with saying.