Let’s take a new look at an old-fashioned topic: baseball’s winningest pitchers.
One of baseball’s most unique aspects is the outsize role of the starting pitcher in each game, reflected in the fact that only a pitcher (usually the starter) is assigned a “win” or “loss.” Even today’s advanced statistical formulas confirm the primacy of the starting pitcher: using the popular “Wins Above Replacement” metric, Babe Ruth in 1923 is the only non-pitcher since 1872 to play more than 8 games in a season and earn more than 1 WAR per 11 games played; 167 starting pitchers have topped that threshold just since 2010. Put another way, in any given baseball game, a typical #1 or 2 starting pitcher is at least as valuable to his team as Babe Ruth at his best.
That’s never more true than in October. In the era of three divisions and a wild card (expanded in 2012 to a play-in game, and sometimes requiring a play-into-the-play-in game), starting pitchers throw fewer regular-season innings and make more postseason starts than ever in the game’s history. 2013 saw the end of the career of Andy Pettitte, whose 44 career postseason starts and 276.2 career postseason innings are career records and represent more than 8% of his career workload and more than a full season’s work for a 21st century pitcher. This will also be the first year on the Hall of Fame ballot for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Mike Mussina, all stalwarts of the post-1994 October order (it’s also the second year of Curt Schilling on the ballot, and next year we get John Smoltz). The games they won there are a part of their stories.
The Story Of The Win
Traditionally, 300 wins has been the gold standard for a successful pitching career. There’s a simple logic to this: 30 wins a year for a decade, or 20 wins a year for 15 years, or 15 wins a year for 20 years, or 12 wins a year for 25 years…no matter how you slice it, you need an exceptional combination of success and durability to win that many games. And winning games is, after all, the point of playing them; a starting pitcher who walks off the field with a W can always feel satisfied with his day.
In the age of advanced statistical analysis, wins have come under a lot of criticism as a yardstick of pitching success. Much of that criticism is fair. Pitchers have always been at the mercy of their offensive and defensive support to win games; while some of these factors even out over the course of a career, not all do. Among the greats, for example, Jim Palmer had unusually good defensive support, while Warren Spahn and Christy Mathewson had unusually good offenses behind them.
Then again, applying current criticisms of the win retrospectively can overlook the extent to which the game has changed over time. The big change in the starter’s role is the role of the bullpen: with starters finishing ever fewer of their games and increasingly leaving games in the fifth or sixth inning, they are more and more at the mercy of their bullpens as well. This is not a new trend – complete games have been in steady decline since the dawn of organized baseball in the 1870s, part of a broader pattern of declining pitcher workloads – but the late 1970s was really the tipping point, after which it became accepted that even a staff ace would finish no more than half of his own games. Roger Clemens in 1987 was the last starter to finish half his starts; no pitcher did that more than twice after 1977. By contrast, Spahn completed at least half his starts in 17 different seasons, Fergie Jenkins in 9 seasons. The argument that awarding wins to the starter vs the reliever is arbitrary may be a fair one in the baseball of 2013, but it made a lot more sense in Spahn’s day. And in other ways, pitchers have more control over their situation than they used to – defense is actually less important in today’s game than ever before, due to historically low percentages of plate appearances resulting in a ball in play – down to around 70% where it was once above 90%. Instead, we’re more likely than ever to see a time at bat end with a walk, strikeout or home run, all of which are one-on-one contests between pitcher and batter.
So, if we’re doing a sophisticated look at ranking baseball’s best pitchers, we’d use multiple measurements more precise than their win totals. But if the win has fallen from its once-privileged place in the world of analysis, career won-loss records still tell a story of the great pitching careers, of successes and failures both earned and fortuitous – and any list of the game’s winningest pitchers over their careers will still overlap quite a lot with any list of the game’s best. As Joe Posnanski has written, sometimes you have to sit back and let the numbers tell those stories. To expand that story, let’s taking a look baseball’s winningest professional pitchers, including not only the postseason but also the minor leagues and in some cases other professional leagues in the United States and abroad. As we’ll see, in some cases there’s a good deal more to the story, our appreciation of which can only be deepened by taking in the whole picture.
Major, Minor; Season, Postseason
Now that baseball-reference.com has expanded to more comprehensive (if still not 100% complete) coverage of the minor leagues, we have a consistent source of data to see the all-time wins list in a new light – because most everybody on the list of the game’s great pitchers has won games outside of their career win totals. Some pitched a good deal in the postseason, as noted. And most pitched at least some years in the minor leagues, others quite a few years, as we will see below. It was particularly common in the years between 1900 and 1940 for major league players to not only spend years working their way up the minor league ladder, but also spend additional years working their way back down it once their major league primes had passed.
To understand why, a very brief history is in order. Professional, league baseball began with the National Association in 1871, followed five years later by the foundation of the National League. The “major” leagues were in a state of flux from 1871 until the American League opened up shop in 1901, and unsurprisingly, other “minor” leagues were even less stable in terms of things like keeping the same franchises in business from year to year, having a standard length to the schedule and keeping players on their rosters from jumping teams – to say nothing of their record-keeping. The numbers laid out below include largely complete minor league records from around 1900 onward, but are much spottier for the 19th century.
Beginning in 1903, the NL and AL each had 8 teams, which didn’t change cities until 1953; none of those teams was south or west of St. Louis, leaving many markets without a major league team. The leagues also stopped raiding each other’s rosters, with the brief exception of the 1914-15 Federal League experiment, baseball’s last effort at a third major league. This was an era of peace and stability in the game, but it left the players little bargaining power, so few made very much money. And until Branch Rickey began building the first farm system beginning in the early 1920s, most minor league teams were independent businesses. The result was that many experienced players spent significant time in the minor leagues – either they liked it on the West Coast (the Pacific Coast League being the most powerful minor league), or their teams wouldn’t sell them to the majors, or they were ex-big-leaguers employed as player-managers or just looking to make a living. Between the late teens and the early 1950s, there were also Negro League teams composed of black players who couldn’t cross MLB’s color line, although for a variety of economic reasons the Negro Leagues generally played less regular schedules than white baseball did (contributing to the difficulty of getting reliable Negro League statistics). Minor league competition was rarely the equal of the big leagues, but these were nonetheless competitive leagues.
With that background in mind, let’s take a look at baseball’s winningest pitchers, adding up major league wins, minor league wins and major league postseason wins. I haven’t included exhibitions like spring training or the All-Star Game (starters can only go three innings in the ASG anyway), and stats on the minor league postseason are too irregularly kept to be included. In a few cases down the list, I include statistics from Japan, and in just one (Satchel Paige) is there sufficient information to include Negro League stats.
The 400 Win Club
|1909||1930||Pete Alexander (1)||373||208||3||2||45||21||421||231||0.646||190|
|1940||1967||Warren Spahn (3)||363||245||4||3||41||23||408||271||0.601||137|
Key: 1st & Last is first and last pro season. Asterisks denote pitchers for whom minor league numbers may be incomplete. The number in parenthesis is years lost to military service. “G+.500” is games over .500 across all wins and losses.
The distinction of being a bone fide regular season Major League 400-game winner belongs to only two major league pitchers, Cy Young and Walter Johnson. But when we include the postseason and the minors, we find eight 400-game winners, the most recent being Greg Maddux. And two of the six men who get elevated into this club could very, very easily have won 400 in the majors.
Cy Young remains the one and only 500-game winner no matter how you look at the numbers; he won 15 games in his only minor league season. Young had three calling cards as a pitcher. The first was control: Young led the league in fewest walks per 9 innings 14 times. From age 29-39, his walks per 9 innings rate was less than half the league average 11 straight seasons, including a 3-year stretch when he walked a third as many batters as the average AL pitcher. Only twice in his career was his walks-per-inning rate even two-thirds that of a league-average pitcher. (Measured by walks per batter faced, Young walked less than half the league average 11 times in 13 years from age 29-41). Young’s second distinguishing feature was adaptability: he survived the mound being moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches in 1893, at age 26 (the move wiped out many of the league’s veteran pitchers), jumped to the AL when it opened in 1901, and thrived in the low-scoring “deadball” game after 1903 (when foul balls were first counted as strikes in the AL), just as he had in the offensive bonanza of the 1890s. And the third was durability. Great pitchers come in many shapes and sizes, the most common including the long, lanky types like Walter Johnson and Randy Johnson, the powerful lower bodies of Clemens, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan, and the broad shoulders of Mathewson and Rube Waddell. Young was a different type, a tall, barrel-chested bull of a man who pitched until he was 45, appeared in exhibition games in his mid-60s, and was still hale enough at age 86 to throw out the first pitch of the 1953 World Series (caught by Yogi Berra, who is older now than young was then; 6 of the first twelve 300-game winners were born after Young, but only one of them – Lefty Grove – was still living when Young died in 1955). He was historically unique in combining the workloads of a 19th century pitcher with the longevity of a 20th century pitcher: of all the pitchers to throw more than 400 innings in a season in the majors, only Young stayed in a major league rotation long enough to crack 200 innings more than 13 times; Young did it 22 times. He threw 300 innings in 16 different seasons, 400 in five different seasons, and averaged 372 innings a year from age 24-40.
Kid Nichols is probably baseball’s most underappreciated great pitcher, almost as good as his contemporary Young, and would have won over 400 games in the majors if he hadn’t spent two years in mid-career as player-manager in his home town of Kansas City. Few pitchers have ever had a professional league hogtied quite like “the Kid” at age 18-19 in the Western Association in 1888-89, going 55-10 with a 1.58 ERA, striking out 6.9 batters per 9 innings (an extraordinary rate for that era, especially considering that the league still played with the four-strikes-for-a-strikeout rule) while walking 1.7 in nearly 600 innings of work. On the whole, the wiry Nichols – he probably weighed about 135 at the time – threw 1,020 minor league innings and won 84 games as a teenager before reaching the majors.
Acquired by what is now the Braves, Nichols immediately became the chief rival of Young and Amos Rusie as the best pitcher in the National League; from age 20-28, his average season was 31-15 with a 2.97 ERA (an ERA+ of 147, meaning he was nearly 50% better than the league) in 406 innings. He became the only 7-time 30-game winner in the game’s history, albeit with help from a powerhouse offense. In the Braves’ 5 pennant-winning seasons with Nichols, he won 30 games all 5 times and was an average of 18 games over .500 for teams that won the pennant by an average margin of 5 games, in a decade when durable star pitchers were few and far between; Bill James once determined that only Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle had been the decisive factor on more pennant-winning teams than Nichols. Among pitchers who threw at least 3,000 career innings, Nichols’ career ERA+ (ERA compared to a park-adjusted league average) of 140 is fourth only to Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens, and Nichols threw over a thousand more major league innings than Grove and about 300 more minor league innings.
After a 19-win season at age 31 in 1901, Nichols left Boston for Kansas City to try his hand at managing; he would win the pennant his first year, but faced a draining attendance war with a crosstown rival, and the league folded due to financial hardships after the historic Kansas City flood of 1903. As a pitcher, Nichols went 47-19 in two seasons in KC, then picked up where he had left off, going 21-13 with a 2.02 ERA with the Cardinals in 1904 before pleurisy finally finished him as a pitcher in 1906. Nichols’ major league career was 39 wins short of 400; it’s as likely as not that he would have won those 39 games had he been pitching in the majors in 1902-03, when he was still clearly good enough to pitch in the majors at a high level. (In addition to his “official” minor league record of 131-49, I’ve included here his 3-1 record in the Wisconsin-Illinois League at age 38).
By the end of the 19th century, Nichols was generally regarded as the best pitcher in baseball’s quarter-century history, but in the absence of good record books (the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia wasn’t published until 1969), and with Nichols living in the Midwest and out of the game since 1906, his memory faded after his playing days. Nichols failed to draw as much as 4% of the vote in the first decade of Hall of Fame voting; it took a belated newspaper campaign to get him in the Hall in 1949, thirteen years after it opened, when Nichols was 79. He even enjoyed a brief resurgence to public view in those years, in 1947 penning an article for Baseball Digest entitled “Pitchers Are Sissies Now,” the contents of which are pretty much what you’d expect.
An intelligent, clean-living man with an entrepreneurial streak, Nichols became a successful competitive bowler and golfer after his playing days (winning a bowling tournament in his 60s), ran bowling alleys and a movie theater, and received a patent in 1913 for his invention of an electronic system (similar in concept to ESPN’s Gamecast and similar web-based systems of today) that tracked games in progress in other cities, complete with moving baserunners; it remained in use until the spread of radio. He was still working 14-hour days in a bowling alley into his mid-70s; at 79, he took a job as an elevator operator.
Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity managed to have a legitimate Hall of Fame career despite the fact that (1) nearly half his professional wins were in the minor leagues and (2) because he didn’t pitch professionally until he was 22 and then took 3 years off in his mid-20s to run a saloon in Illinois (he served as his own bouncer, not a task to be taken lightly in the 1890s), his professional record was just 31-34 through age 27.
Arriving in the majors at age 28 after learning a curveball that changed his fortunes, the burly McGinnity led the NL in wins his first two seasons and five times in 8 years, regularly carrying the league’s heaviest workloads as a starter and closing 5-10 games a year to boot; he’s best remembered for throwing complete games in both ends of a doubleheader three times in a month in August 1902. He threw 434 innings in 1903, and in 1904, he went 35-8 with a 1.61 ERA in 408 innings and led the league with 5 saves. But after going 11-7 with 5 saves at age 37 in the wild 1908 pennant race, McGinnity was let go by John McGraw in early 1909, and became player-manager and part-owner of the Newark Indians in the Eastern League. He would revive there, going 29-16 with a 1.66 ERA his first year at Newark, 30-19 with a 2.14 ERA his second, and racking up 171 wins (more than 21 a year) between age 38-45.
The 400-inning workload was out of style in the majors after 1908; Ed Walsh that year was the last man to clear 400 in the majors. But as his own manager, McGinnity kept on chucking, clearing 400 innings three times between age 38 and 42. At 41 in the International League in 1912, he pitched both ends of a doubleheader for the last time. At 42, he threw 436 innings, leading the Northwestern League by 99 innings over the number two pitcher. At 44 in the same league, he threw 355 innings, leading the league in innings, fewest walks per 9 innings, fewest baserunners per inning and posting a 1.75 ERA. He tied for the league lead in wins with 20 at age 45. As late as age 52, McGinnity threw 206 innings and won 15 games in the Mississippi Valley League. He notched his last 6 wins at age 54, only four years before his death. After leaving Newark following the 1912 season, these were progressively lower minor leagues, but McGinnity’s durability still astonishes.
Walter Johnson remains my own choice for the greatest pitcher in Major League history, when you balance out the quality of his pitching (only Lefty Grove and Pedro Martinez are really in his league) and his workload (Johnson’s third on the career innings list to Cy Young and Pud Galvin, and more than 500 innings ahead of the number four man, and led the league in innings five times). Johnson was utterly dominant in a brief career in the low minors, pitching in Idaho, and made the majors to stay at age 19. He didn’t pitch in the postseason until he was 36, and his last postseason start – Game 7 of the 1925 World Series – remains an icon of stoic defeat in impossible conditions, as the 37-year-old Johnson went the distance in a torrential downpour that left the field too dark for his outfielders to see the ball; Johnson was pounded for 8 doubles, two triples, and a Series-record 25 total bases, including the ultimate game-winning ground-rule double in the 8th that Goose Goslin never saw. Prior to that start, his World Series ERA had been 1.93.
A sidearmer with a blazing fastball and freakishly long arms, Johnson won over 400 games in the majors despite pitching most of his career with terrible offensive support: his next to last season was the only time in his career the Senators finished higher than 4th in an 8-team league in scoring, and Johnson’s teams finished 8th in runs once, 7th five times, 6th twice and 5th seven times (including 1924, when they won the World Series and Johnson went 23-7 and won the AL MVP). Johnson won 25 games three times for teams that finished 6th or 7th in the AL in scoring, and in 1913 he was 36-7 for a team that was below the league average in scoring. I could spend all day reeling off measures of the number of low-scoring games Johnson pitched in, even by the standards of his day. Then again, his pitching success was helped – and his offenses hurt – by cavernous Griffith Stadium; for the years 1916-27, when we have data, Johnson was 125-65 with a 2.22 ERA at home, 86-86 with a 3.18 ERA on the road (this includes 1918-19, when Johnson was 18-13 with a 1.32 ERA and 4 saves on the road; overall, Johnson threw 616.1 innings those two seasons and allowed just two home runs, both to Babe Ruth). From 1920-27, Johnson allowed 21 homers in Washington, 45 on the road.
Measured by defensive efficiency rating, Johnson’s teams were also last in the AL in defense three times, although the 1924-25 pennant winners did lead the league in team defense. Despite this, thanks largely to his high strikeout rates, Johnson regularly allowed below-average amounts of unearned runs – 0.73 unearned runs per 9 innings for his career compared to 0.96 for the typical AL pitcher of his era. Johnson ran for Congress after his retirement, but running as a Republican in Maryland in 1940, he got no more help from his team than he had as a pitcher, and lost a close race.
Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, born a Nebraska farmboy the same year as Johnson in Kansas, would very likely have joined Young and Johnson as 400-game winners in the majors if he hadn’t served in World War I at the peak of his career. A sidearming sinkerballer, Alexander didn’t even enter professional baseball until age 22 (in 1909) and had his career set back when he was nearly killed after being struck in the head by a thrown ball while running the bases in July of 1909. He won 29 games in the minors the following year, and when he did arrive in the majors in 1911 later he immediately led the league in wins and set a rookie strikeout record that lasted 73 years.
Alexander, in contrast to his amazing control and unflappable temperament on the field, had a series of severe problems that eventually ruined his life – epilepsy, alcoholism, and what was described at the time as “shell shock” but would be treated today as PTSD – and biographers have been stymied in attempting to untangle which is the chicken in his troubled life and which is the egg. His long-suffering wife Aimee insisted that the epilepsy was the result of the 1909 head injury; he tried to cover it up during his lifetime, as alcoholism was more socially acceptable at the time than uncontrollable seizures. His father was a heavy drinker, but it’s hard to tell from contemporary accounts whether he had a drinking problem before the war, which left him a changed man; there are reasons to believe that Alexander drank to cover up or deal with the epilepsy. While many of baseball’s famous alcoholics were fun-loving drunks who left behind a trail of entertaining hijinks, Alexander as a drinker left behind no happy stories, only a long trail of self-pity and dependency.
Alexander was the best pitcher in baseball when he was drafted in April 1918; he was 31 and had averaged 31-12 with a 1.54 ERA in 384 innings the prior three years. He had led the league in wins by margins of 8, 8 and 6 in consecutive years, and in innings by margins of 35, 61, and 46. Five pitchers on the pennant-winning 1915 Phillies threw over 170 innings; the second-lowest ERA was 2.36, but Alexander alone lowered the team ERA to 2.17.
And he saw hard combat at the front in France; he served in the artillery, pulling the lanyard on a mortar repeatedly with his prized right arm, probably damaging it in the process. He returned deaf in one ear. In 1919, Alexander was 0-4 with a 4.24 ERA at the end of May before he returned to playing shape; he proceeded to post a 1.30 ERA the rest of the season, win the ERA title, and go 27-14 with his final league-leading 1.91 ERA in 1920 before his sinking fastball began to fade.
Like Johnson, Alexander’s postseason record is tilted towards his latter years. He was 3-1 with a 1.42 ERA, one very famous save in Game Seven in 1926 and complete games in all four of his starts through age 40, but got pulverized for 11 earned runs in five innings by the Ruth-Gehrig juggernaut at age 41 in 1928 (Alexander faced Ruth in all three World Series he pitched in, and had held the Babe hitless in the previous two). Ironically, the man Alexander is linked to in memory – Tony Lazzeri, the Yankees rookie second baseman he struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series – was also epileptic, and died at age 42 from a fall down a flight of stairs after a seizure.
Named after one president, Alexander was portrayed by another, Ronald Reagan, who starred in The Winning Team, a 1952 biopic made after Alexander’s 1950 death, with Doris Day as his wife. It’s an energetic film with its moments, but Reagan’s intrinsic optimism was not really suited to portraying the depth of Alexander’s demons (Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon appears in the film as Hall of Fame pitcher Jesse Haines; Gene Mauch was an extra).
Lefty Grove had one of baseball’s most storied minor league careers before reaching the majors, a factor that Bill James considered in once ranking Grove the best pitcher of all time; he had seasons of 25-10, 27-10 and 26-6 for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League in the early 1920s from age 20-24, and the International League was pretty competitive at the time. But incorporating Grove’s minor league record and ignoring everyone else’s is an incomplete picture. Grove was a fantastically effective pitcher, winning an unprecedented 9 ERA titles, four of them while pitching in Fenway. For his career, his rate of strikeouts per batter faced was 167% of the league average, third best among the game’s 300-game winners behind only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson and equal to the career rate of Pedro Martinez; over Grove’s prime from 1926-32, he struck out more than twice as many batters as a percentage of batters faced than the league average (208%), a higher rate than Ryan, Randy Johnson, or Sandy Koufax in their primes. And in his early years, he did that mostly just with velocity, location and control; Grove didn’t have much movement on his fastball and didn’t throw a lot of curves until later in his career. But Grove wasn’t the colossal workhorse that Alexander or Walter Johnson was, relative to the league; he started more than 33 games only once, his only 300-inning seasons were in the minor leagues, and he never led the league in innings pitched; his last four seasons, including his last two ERA titles, he was basically a “Sunday pitcher,” throwing once a week. (Then again, he was ruthlessly efficient when he started; in 1931 he started 30 games and won 27 of them). Grove also benefitted greatly from powerhouse offenses with the A’s and Red Sox; more than half his career wins (153 of 300) came in games where he started and his team scored at least 6 runs, 184 of 300 in games where they scored at least 5.
Between starts, Grove was used as a closer to devastating effect in his prime; in 42 relief appearances from 1928-31, he was 10-3 with 21 saves and struck out almost 10 men per 9 innings (90 strikeouts in 84.2 innings) in an era when the league average was a little more than 3 strikeouts per 9 and when even Grove himself was averaging about 5.5 K/9 in his starts. While that disparity in strikeout rates is extreme, it was hardly unique for ace pitchers of that era to have higher K rates in relief; Dizzy Dean, for example, averaged 5.2 K/9 as a starter and only once cracked 6 K/9 in a starting role, but averaged 7.5 K/9 in relief from 1932-37. The rise in strikeout rates in modern baseball is in good part driven by the ability of relievers to air it out. Anyway, Grove was so useful in this role that in the 1929 World Series, Connie Mack used him exclusively out of the bullpen (Mack was also worried about how Grove would handle the Cubs’ overwhelmingly right-handed lineup, but he ended up throwing 6.1 scoreless innings and striking out 10).
Grove won exactly 300 games; he was 7-4 with a 3.65 ERA after winning number 300 on July 25, 1941, but posted a 7.13 ERA in his next six starts and called it a career.
Warren Spahn, who won his first big-league game in July of his age-25 season, was the winningest pitcher in post-World War II Major League baseball, winning all but 8 of his 363 career wins after the breaking of the color line. His late start was attributable to his combat service in the war.
In contrast to Alexander, Spahn insisted that the years lost to war made him the great pitcher he’d become, giving him the maturity to take baseball in stride: “I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work. You get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy threatened territory.” Spahn was modest to the point of litigation about his wartime service, filing a precedent-setting lawsuit against a biographer who exaggerated Spahn’s heroics and falsely claimed that Spahn had won a Bronze Star.
Spahn rarely had dominating seasons, only two years with an ERA+ of better than 130. But his virtue lay in his incredible combination of consistency and durability. From 1947-63, a 17-year period, Spahn won 17 games fifteen times and 20 games thirteen times (his low was 14), started between 32-39 games every year, threw at least 257 innings sixteen times (low of 245.2), and completed at least 16 games each year. And in individual games, Spahn could be dominant often enough. I did a study a few years ago of pitchers with the most “High Quality Starts” – 7 or more innings, 2 or fewer runs allowed – since 1920, and not only was Spahn fifth on the career list with 292 such starts, but he actually had the sixth-highest percentage of High Quality Starts: 43.9% of his career starts. When you have Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews in the lineup, that gets you a pretty long way to a win.
Greg Maddux, you probably remember. Maddux, like Peyton Manning today, was a decidedly bland and unglamorous figure on the field – calm, controlled, looking like he had arrived to audit the opposing team, not pitch to them. He’s the first pitcher on this list who pitched in the era of the expanded postseason, throwing 198 career innings of postseason baseball. Given that he pitched in an era when we were being told the 300 game winner was an endangered species, never had overpowering strikeout rates and lost more than a thirds of a season to work stoppage between 1994 and 1995 at the absolute peak of his career, it’s amazing to consider that Greg Maddux won 402 games as a professional.
He did it with the simplest of combinations: control and keeping the ball in the park. Among all 300-game winners, only 1880s workhorse Pud Galvin matches Maddux’s career batters-faced-per-walks average of 166% of the league average, and only Tim Keefe (another 1880s pitcher), Dead Ball era hurler Eddie Plank and Roger Clemens match Maddux’s career batters-faced-per-home-run rate of 142% of the league average. In his prime, when Maddux had good strikeout rates, that made him unstoppable – only Maddux and Alexander led the league in both innings pitched and ERA+ in the same season more than twice, and Maddux did it four years in a row – and over the rest of his career, an effective workhorse.