Elmhurst Pub Roundtable

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Goodbye 300 Game Winner

22 players have reached that magical win number of 300, most recently Clemens and Maddux. But that trend will all but vanish in the coming years. To me, that's a shame. This was a number similar to 400 home runs for hitters. It's a number that means Hall of Fame. But several things have caused this number to all but disappear in the coming years - 5 man rotations, pitch counts, reliance on bullpens, innings limits, you name it. How can a young pitcher rack up wins if people are so afraid of letting them pitch? These players are on such strict pitch counts that they hand the ball to the bullpen after 5 or 6 innings and then are reduced to spectators, hoping that they come out on top. The Red Sox organization is one of the great offenders of this. Papelbon last year was placed on such a strict limit that they sent him back down so he could work out of the bullpen and see reduced innings. He had been dominant in his few appearances, but he'd pitched too much according to management. The same is being done this year with Lester. Let's be certain that these are not really "young" pitchers. Papelbon is 25, a four year college veteran. Lester I believe is 23 or 24 and has been in pro ball for a couple years now.

More teams are doing this as well. The Twins have one of the best young pitchers in the game in Francisco Liriano, but started him out of the bullpen in order to conserve his arm. The Tigers will be doing it with Verlander later this year. A host of other young arms will suffer the same fate. But why does this have to be? Throwing programs are being developed left and right. They have more time between starts, more medical advances, and then the fact that your arm gets stronger the more you throw (within reason). But not anymore. Protect these young players, coddle them, don't let them go too long. Yet with all this, pitchers are spending more time on the DL than ever before. What gives? If pitchers were spending less time on it with fewer days off and more pitches being thrown, what has happened to this current crop? I look at all the young talent in the majors and minors (Papelbon, Lester, Verlander, Blanton, Harden, Hamels, etc.) and wonder why we aren't seeing such sure fire Hall of Fame arms that we were allowed to see when a 23 year old Clemens broke into the majors and was allowed to throw 254 innings in 1986 and win 24 games. Then a 34 year old Clemens threw 262 innings to win a Cy Young in Toronto. These innings didn't put a hurt on his career (regardless if you believe steroid rumors).

Bullpen talent is spread so thin across the majors that these young pitchers who come out early are losing games. Their teams aren't winning because they aren't being allowed to go long enough. And commentators, reporters, and all media harp on pitch counts all too much. I don't care if the guy threw 90 pitches or 150 pitches as long as he doesn't get hurt, is still effective and pitches consistently. No one else should either. Instead all these statistics have let us measure future performance after certain dates and pitch totals and make fictitious correlations that have no mathematical relevance and no physical relevance as NO ONE knows how a pitcher feels except the pitcher.

So who can do it right now? Glavine has 275 wins, Big Unit has 264. But then only Wells, Mussina, Moyer, and Brown have more than 200 wins (Pedro has 197, Schilling 199). We should see, however many years from now, those young players above mentioned. Maybe Colon and Pettite who have outside shots. But don't look at that active wins leaders, when #30 on it is 35 year old Jon Lieber. Let's say pitchers average 17 wins a year through their 38th birthday. Maybe that's not right, but give injuries, missed starts, or whatever else some consideration and it's close. Currently, there is not one "young" pitcher who would do it. Not Santana (projected 244 wins), not Zito (289), Sabathia (264), Halladay or Wood (263 each), or Buehrle (275). So, say hello to 250, it's the new 300.

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