With the exception of Roger Clemens, who is still on the ballot, the Baseball Hall of Fame gallery includes all 24 pitchers who won 300 games.
Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards but raised suspicions about performance-enhancing substances, seems poised to join them soon – maybe even this year.
The Baseball Writers Association of America will announce its Class of 2019 choices on Jan. 22, with Clemens likely to approach the required 75 per cent.
He’s on the ballot for the seventh time, with three tries left after this year, but is drawing strong consideration from young writers willing to overlook alleged substance abuse charges that were never proven. The biggest factor in his favor, after the raft of Cy Youngs, is his 354 wins, just one behind Greg Maddux, who leads all living pitchers.
Pitchers are expected to do especially well in this year’s voting, which should also include long-time Seattle DH Edgar Martinez.
Mariano Rivera, the lifetime leader in saves, is a first-ballot lock. The soft-spoken Panamanian, a closer whose devastating cutter gave him a one-pitch arsenal, spent his entire 19-year with the Yankees, saving 652 games.
He could be joined by Roy Halladay, like Clemens a Cy Young recipient in both leagues, and former Yankees starters Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, as well as durable righthander Curt Schilling, a postseason standout for three different teams.
None of them won 300 games or even came close. That may mean voters are lowering their previous standards to accommodate the changing world of pitching.
Do the math: winning 300 means winning 15 games for 20 years or winning 20 games for 15 years. In these days of quick hooks, pitch counts, and five-man rotations, that’s not easy. Even the 20-game winner seems to have followed the buffalo nickel into the dustbin of history.
“More and more pitchers are coming out prior to the decision of a ballgame,” says Braves broadcaster Don Sutton, who won 324 games but had just a single 20-win campaign. “People in baseball seem content to use more pitchers, pay more money, and get less out of their investment.
“I don’t think anyone else will win 300. Pitchers don’t go nine innings because the environment does not encourage it. We glorify 200 innings pitched and a 4.50 earned run average. That level of performance is not conducive to winning 300 games.”
No less an authority than Bill James, father of a baseball science called sabermetrics, agrees. In a hefty paperback called The Bill James Handbook 2019, he suggests that no active pitcher has a chance to win 300 games. In fact, he says Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are the only active pitchers with even a 25 per cent shot.
In other words, the odds are stacked against anyone joining The 300 Club, a club that probably closed its doors for the last time when Randy Johnson sneaked in with 305.
With Bartolo Colon not likely to return at age 46, the active leader in wins is CC Sabathia of the Yankees. The big lefthander has 246 but is also 37 years old, coming off a recent heart issue, and planning to hang up his spikes after this season. Even if he changes his mind, favorable odds for 300 wins stand at only 8 per cent, according to writer Alex Vigderman in the James book.
Scherzer, 34, has the best odds at 38 per cent but brings a total of 159 victories to the table. His resume features more Cy Youngs (3) than 20-win seasons (2) but he has led his league in wins four times, most recently in 2018. With Washington expected to be a powerhouse in the amped-up National League East, he could make another bid for 20 wins, boosting his percentages in next year’s James book.
One of the best free-agent signings in baseball history, he’s entering the fifth season of a seven-year, $210 million contract that included a $50 million signing bonus. Even with all that money, however, cracking the elite 300 Club could prove an elusive target.
Verlander, 36, has more wins (204) but is also two years older. His team, the Houston Astros, needs rotation help after a double winter whammy of injuries and free agent losses. Having the DH helps Verlander too as he won’t need to leave close games for pinch-hitters. He should justify his 2019 salary of $28 million.
Zack Greinke’s shot at 300 is definitely dwindling too. He’s got 187 but he’s 35, giving him a 13 per cent chance, according to the book. He also needs to leave the rebuilding Diamondbacks for a real shot at a 20-win season – if some contender is willing to take on a contract that calls for $34 million a start.
Fourth on the James list is two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. But the 33-year-old righthander doesn’t even have 100 wins yet (he’s 96-55), leaving him with just a 9 per cent shot at 300 wins. He might be moved to a more powerful team, assuming winter rumors come to fruition.
By now, some astute reader must wonder why Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been mentioned. The star southpaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers has three Cy Youngs but is only halfway to 300 wins (156-114) at age 31. And he’s had bouts with back problems in recent seasons.
And what about Boston Red Sox southpaw Chris Sale, who’s started three consecutive All-Star games for the American League? At age 30, he has 103 wins in nine seasons – a track record that doesn’t even crack the top dozen on the James list.
Fellow Red Sox starters Rick Porcello and David Price are on the list, with odds of 5 per cent each, along with former Boston starter Jon Lester, with 4 per cent and current Cubs teammate Cole Hamels, at 2 per cent.
Long-time Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, plagued by injuries the last two years, has 110 wins at age 29 but only 10 since 2016. As a result, he lost his former spot on the annual James list.