"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
April 23, 2002
BASEBALL: On Track For 300
Originally posted on Projo.com
I was having this discussion with a few different people in recent weeks, and so even though I'm sure I've seen it written up in one form or another in a few other places, I thought I'd pull together this chart and run it here - it's truly astounding, when you consider the growing consensus that the 300 game winner may be nearly extinct. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine both turned 35 last year. Do they have a shot at 300 wins? How do they stack up against past 300 game winners? Well, check out the standings against all the other pitchers to win 300 whose careers started since 1920, plus active candidate Roger Clemens, at the same age (wins after 35 are in parentheses):
Greg Maddux 257 (2) (thru Monday)
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That's right - Maddux is ahead of ALL the others at the same age. Every single 300 game winner of the past 80 years. This is an extraordinary group; you can say all you like about how exceptional they each were, but the fact that Maddux stands ahead of every one of them puts him in a fine position, and the fact that Glavine is right in the thick of things means you can't write him off either, although I'm deeply skeptical about whether Glavine can continue as an elite pitcher (his early 2002 returns say he can, but it's early). Sutton is probably the most positive model for Maddux, since he was a similar (albeit lesser) type of pitcher, and he finished his career not with a powerful late-30s surge but just with a long series of 15-11 seasons.
Now, that's no guarantee of anything: Bob Feller has 262 at the same age even despite having missed three and a half seasons to war; Jim Palmer had 248, Fergie Jenkins had 247, Robin Roberts had 244. None of them made it; they were all great pitchers, and none of them was quite done at 35, although all had shown many more signs of decline than Maddux. Jim Kaat, a pitcher of Glavine's type, had 238 wins through age 36 after consecutive 20-win seasons, and his 12-14 record the following year was the last time he cracked double figures in wins. Jenkins and Palmer were both coming off a similar hot-and-cold streak to where Glavine stands now. Maddux still has to win 41 more games after age 35, Glavine 73, and the sledding only gets rougher from here. At the end of the day, the real lesson here is that in modern baseball there's no easy way to 300 wins -- you can only get there by staying in shape and effective to 40 and most likely beyond.
(If you're wondering, Mike Mussina can catch Glavine's pace with 60 wins in the next 3 years, which is possible but a very tall order, while Pedro's 132 wins entering this season put him 8 ahead of Glavine at the same age but 18 behind Maddux and 20 behind the Rocket. Also, Niekro is the only 300-game winner with fewer than 231 wins through age 37 -- he had just 163 -- so Randy Johnson, with 200 wins through 37, will have to blaze some fairly untrodden ground to get to 300. Throwing 100+ mph at his age, of course, puts him in a class of two, but even if he matches Ryan's win total from here out he will come up 7 wins short).
If we go back to pitchers who started their careers between 1890 and 1920, we get a more mixed bag:
Christy Mathewson 373 (0)
Still, that puts Maddux almost even with Grover Alexander, as well as 54 wins ahead of Warren Spahn - and both of those guys finished closer to 400 wins than 300. We won't go back further, since most pitchers in the 1880s didn't win much of anything past 30 - while Phil Niekro was 48 when he won his last game in the majors, three of the first five 300-game winners were dead by that age (Old Hoss Radbourn died at 42, Pud Galvin at 45, John Clarkson at 47).
What started me looking at this issue, actually, was Jose Rijo. Rijo is one of the endless parade of pitchers we've seen in recent decades who had Hall of Fame talent -- or at least a shot at a Hall of Fame win total -- but couldn't stay healthy. And now, after he'd already been on the Hall of Fame ballot, he's back and getting another chance to start. Rijo had 97 career wins through age 28 (assuming all reported ages are correct), and a great ERA. Was that the start of a potential Hall of Fame career? Here's another (somewhat arbitrary) chart, comparing Rijo, some active pitchers and a few other recent flameouts to a battery of Hall of Famers through age 28; the non-Hall of Famers are marked with an asterisk:
Whitey Ford 91
Gee, you'd almost think winning a lot of games by age 28 is bad for your career - and maybe it is, given how much better the bottom group performed after 28. Of course, this isn't a scientific survey, just the flavor of how little a pitcher's early success can tell us for certain about his staying power. One encouraging sign: even with 6 years of arm injuries, Rijo still entered this season with the same career win total as Dazzy Vance at the same age. But Vance, who won his first game at 31, won 22 games at age 36. Better get busy, Jose.
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April 5, 2002
BASEBALL: Opening Week 2002 Observations
Originally posted on Projo.com
Can anyone pitch in Coors Field? Well, during the past 3 seasons Pedro hasn't ventured there - but Randy Johnson has, five times in a stretch when he was one of the best pitchers in the game's history and the most extreme strikeout pitcher. How did he fare?
That's about as well as you can do it, folks, and even keeping the ball in
How about a few of the NL's other elite starters? I took a quick look at
Hampton doesn't look so bad there next to Astacio and Kile. All three are good pitchers. Of course, Todd Helton is left-handed and Larry Walker is known for ducking the tough lefthanders, particularly Johnson, so that may skew the results in favor of Johnson and Glavine, plus Glavine and Leiter may be further away from the average just as a fluke of making just 2 appearances each there. But this isn't really a scientific study anyway, just a look at how the best have handled the worst conditions, and a reminder of how these pitchers' records might look if they too had to live with the Coors effect.
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Random observations: I forgot to list Marlon Anderson on my "thumbs down" pre-season list and Brad Penny, Ben Sheets and Toby Hall on the "thumbs up" list, although I see Hall as more a Terry Steinbach-type hitter than a Ted Simmons-type hitter . . . the early returns are looking up for the 2002 Corey Patterson Experience . . . look for Brian Hunter to get lots of playing time in the Darren Lewis role in Houston . . . Opening day was a banner one in Yankee-land. Sure, Roger Clemens got rocked by the worst team in baseball, giving up a grand slam to Tony Batista and a bases loaded 3-run double to Melvin Mora. But Pedro got clobbered, and the logic is inescapable: Pedro never gets rocked if he's healthy; if Pedro's not healthy, the Sox don't challenge for the division title; if the Sox don't challenge for the division title, nobody does, and the Yankees start resting people for October. An ugly loss, but a good day for the Yankees.
Al Cowens died recently, of a sudden heart attack. In his youth, Cowens was the Carlos Beltran of his day, but better; as a 25-year-old in 1977, he hit .312, slugged .525, drove in 112 runs, and won the Gold Glove as a right fielder for the team with the best record in baseball. He finished second in the AL MVP voting, ahead of Reggie and Jim Rice and behind only a .388-hitting Rod Carew, and drove in 5 runs in the best-of-5 ALCS. Cowens followed with a disappointing 1978 and missed 21 games after Ed Farmer drilled him in the jaw with a pitch in May 1979, escalating a feud that would culminate in Cowens charging the mound after grounding out against Farmer in June of 1980. Cowens had good years and bad years in the 9 seasons after 1977 - after he hit .205 in 1982, Bill James remarked that he'd had "a worse year than a biker in a Clint Eastwood movie" -- but in what should have been his prime years he was never the same star he had been for that one magical year. Sometimes, the best part gets away from you before you know it. Cowens was only 50 when he died.
Jesse Orosco is 5 years younger than Cowens, and he made his major league debut on this day in 1979 at Wrigley Field, relieving Dwight Bernard following a 2-run double by Ted Sizemore with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and retiring one batter to protect a 4-run lead. Here's the box score, thanks to the magic of Retrosheet.
The one batter, the first Orosco faced in over 1100 major league games? Bill Buckner.
TRIVIA QUESTION: Name the 5 men who played for Pete Rose in Cincinnati who have gone on to manage in the major leagues.
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