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April 24, 2008
Can Of Corn
Pitching Milestones in Reach
As you recall, the last time out I gave the once-over to a few individual offensive milestones that might be reached in 2008. This time around, as promised, it's the pitchers' turn. And massive props to John Smoltz for hurrying along and giving me one fewer milestone to write about. With that, onward...
Baseball's greatest dork (and I don't say that pejoratively) is close to becoming just the ninth pitcher ever to reach 350 wins; only something truly disastrous--like untimely death or being traded to the Giants--can keep Maddux from getting there. Of course, his Hall of Fame invitation was assured long ago, so consider this a mere flourish.
Johnson wasn't a rotation mainstay in the majors until the age of 25, so it's fairly impressive that he's got a shot at 300 at all. With that said, he's probably not going to get there this season; we're almost into May, and he's yet to record a win. He's playing for a very good team, so that's in his favor. However, Johnson's 44 year old and coming off major back surgery, so it's doubtful that he's going to pitch well enough and pitch deeply enough into games to pick up 16 wins in five months. Johnson's velocity has been down in his first two starts, and his mechanics have also looked a bit on the funky side. So don't bet on it happening this year.
PECOTA's low projection is mostly a function of the fact that it's tabbed Johnson to pitch just 77 innings this season, and considering his age and injury history, that's certainly possible. Of course, he needs only 44 whiffs to pass Roger Clemens and move into second place on the all-time strikeout list. For Johnson to come up short, he'd have to come perilously close to his 10th-percentile PECOTA forecast, and that's unlikely. He'll never catch Nolan Ryan atop the list, but second place is damned impressive.
Wagner is presently seventh on the career saves ledger, and needs just 38 more to become fifth pitcher in history to reach 400. PECOTA doesn't think he'll pull it off, and to its credit, he's on pace for PECOTA's exact projected total of 31. Still, Wagner's pitching for a team that will provide him with plenty of save opportunities, and he's still performing at a high level. So he's certainly got a shot. Also worth noting ... Although it won't happen this season, Wagner is just 62 saves from tying John Franco for the all-time lead in saves by a lefty.
How about the Hall of Fame? Wagner's name isn't one that comes to mind when thinking of enshrinement, and we've yet to establish clear standards for relievers (assist: Sutter, Bruce). Still, here's how Wagner stacks up with the crop of current, soon-to-be and maybe-soon-to-be Hall-of-Fame relievers in terms of PRAR adjusted for all-time (we're leaving out Dennis Eckersley, since he's more of a hybrid induction):
Rich Gossage* 847 Mariano Rivera 825 Lee Smith 784 Trevor Hoffman 751 Rollie Fingers 726 Billy Wagner 628 Bruce Sutter 555 * Also made 37 starts in his career
As you can see, Wagner lags all save for the party-crashing Sutter. He's got a puncher's chance at overtaking Fingers and perhaps Hoffman before he's done, but Smith, Rivera, and Gossage will almost certainly elude him. Wagner's case probably won't be especially strong. As an aside, given the guys who are already in, it's hard to figure why Smith hasn't gotten more traction with voters.
Schilling has never lacked for command, as his career K/BB lags only that of Tommy Bond, who pitched way back yonder in the "primordial soup" days of organized baseball. Bond's mark of 4.44, however, is vaguely attainable. Working against Schilling, however, is the fact that he won't pitch until midseason at the earliest. Given a realistic number of innings this season, Schilling would have to, for instance, fan 60 while walking only four in order to set the mark. Needless to say, such a run isn't likely.
If Maddux can exceed 160 frames this season, then he'll become just the 13th pitcher ever to reach 5,000 innings and the first since Nolan Ryan in 1991. The last time he failed to log that many innings in a season? He was a 21-year-old rookie, and WrestleMania was still a fledgling enterprise. In other words, Maddux will probably notch this one in 2008.
Presently, Frank Tanana holds this dishonor, but Moyer will get there in a hurry. He'll get the innings, and he's pitching roughly half his games in a ridiculously good park for homers. In fact, it could very easily happen his next time out. Certainly, this won't be Moyer's proudest moment, but considering the top four guys on the homers-allowed list--Robin Roberts, Ferguson Jenkins, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton--are all in Cooperstown, there are worse fates than sticking around long enough to give up a sherpa's load of bombs.
This record is currently held by Eckersley and his raven tresses, but Timlin is closing fast. PECOTA thinks he won't get there, tabbing him for just 36 appearances, but Timlin is on pace for 56 games this season, which would be enough to break the record. On the other hand, unless Timlin, age 42, pitches much better than he has thus far, he's not going to called on nearly so often. So pick 'em.
Dayn Perry is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus.