Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 29, 2005
Continuing on the Tom Glavine kick, comments here got me thinking about Glavine as a Hall of Fame candidate, and specifically about the fact that he has won 20 games in a season five times. How much of a lock is a 5-time 20-game winner for Cooperstown?
Not certain. But aside from winning 300 games, there are few achievements more likely to send a pitcher to the Hall of Fame than a large number of 20-win seasons. With the aid of Aaron Haspel's search engine, I put together a list of all the pitchers who have won 20 a significant number of times.
Among pitchers who pitched primarily before 1900, winning 20 five times was no guarantee of immortality; 10 of the 22 pitchers to do it are in the Hall. All but one of those (Al Spalding, who's in for a variety of reasons) did it at least 7 times, and there are guys on the outside looking in with as many as 8 20-win seasons. A good example of why can be seen with Jim McCormick, an 8-time 20-game winner who went 20-40 in 60 starts in 1879 and 26-30 two years later. (For what it's worth, Cy Young holds the record for 20-win seasons with 15).
Among pitchers who pitched mainly since 1900, there are 39 pitchers with three 20-win seasons; 6 are in the Hall, 30 are not, and three are ineligible (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling are still active and Ed Cicotte is banned).
Among 4-time 20-game winners, 10 are in and 13 are out; the post-war pitchers in the latter group are Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Johnny Sain, Dave Stewart, Luis Tiant and Wilbur Wood.
Among 5-time 20-game winners, 8 and in, 3 are out and Glavine's still pitching. Among those with 6 or more, 16 are in, 3 are out and Roger Clemens is still pitching. In short, only 6 pitchers have won 20 five or more times in the last century or so without making the Hall.
So, how do you not make the Hall with 5 or 6 20-win seasons? Well, three of the six are not all that modern; Pirates teammates Deacon Phillippe and Jesse Tannehill, both 6-time 20-game winners (like their teammate, 4-time 20 game winner Sam Leever) both had their last 20-win season in 1905, and neither won 200 games. 5-timer George Mullin was 21-21 in 1905 and 20-20 for a pennant winning team in 1907, and even his 29-8 season in 1909 had more to do with Ty Cobb hitting .377; Mullin's ERAs were barely better than the league for his career. 5-timer Hippo Vaughn was a great pitcher in the late teens, but had a very short career and won just 178 games. 5-timer Carl Mays is probably the most similar to Glavine of this group, with a 207-126 career record and a 2.35 ERA in four World Series, but Glavine never killed a man with a pitch. 6-timer Wes Ferrell, the most recent of the bunch (his last 20-win season was in 1936), retired with 193 career wins and a 4.02 ERA. Ferrell was a tremendous pitcher in his prime and a much better hitter than his brother, who's in the Hall as a catcher, but the era and parks he pitched in did his numbers no favors, and he was finished as an effective pitcher at 29 (his ERA in just under 500 innings after age 28 was 5.41). (How good a hitter was Ferrell? In 612 at bats from 1931-35, he batted .294/.493/.361 with 29 home runs, 101 runs scored and 123 RBI).
So, if Glavine's 5 20-win seasons alone don't make him a lock for Cooeprstown, they get him so far that little else is needed.