Once upon a time, 300 Wins as a pitcher was THE pitching stat, alongside 3,000 K’s, that etched your name automatically into the Hall of Fame.
And by once upon a time, I mean as recently as 2009, where we saw our last 300 game winner (Randy Johnson). And he was only the 4th person to do it in the new millennium, joining Clemens, Maddox, and Glavine.
Since then, we haven’t seen it done.
But the game has changed since The Big Unit etched his name into the 300 win club. Players have changed since then. The other day during the Yankees pre-game on WFAN, John Sterling mentioned that St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Jon Lester recently earned his 199th win. Jon Lester is a name that has been around seemingly forever if you’re a mid-20s baseball fan like me, and it’s honestly mind-boggling that he’s just now, in 2021, closing in on only 200 wins. You would think this guy would have 500 by now. But like I said, the game is changing.
Pitchers aren’t going as deep into games. “Bullpenning” is becoming a model for success. Arm durability and organizations erring on the side of caution and arm rest have been hindering pitchers ability to sustain success over the span of a career.
And it got me thinking about 2 things:
- We will most likely never see another 300 game winner in the Major Leagues.
- If 300 games is no longer attainable, which pitching stat or accomplishment is going to replace it as THE pitching credential that automatically gets you into The Hall?
To address the first thought: Justin Verlander (226) and Zack Grienke (219) are the closest active pitchers to 300 wins. At ages 38 and 37, respectively, it’s hard to envision them reaching that 300 plateau before their careers are complete. Other than them and the aforementioned Jon Lester, the next closest to even reaching 200 wins is Max Scherzer with 189 at age 36.
As for the second thought: I had a bunch running through my mind. Will it be Career ERA? Career WHIP? Reaching 3000 Ks? Number of Quality Starts? Let’s take a look at each, break down what they are, and check their case for becoming THE defining pitching stat of the future just as 300 Wins was for generations prior.
Earned Run Average. This is a classic. The amount of earned runs allowed by a pitcher per 9 innings pitched. This stat is always used during the season and even the postseason, to show how much or how little damage teams have done against a certain pitcher. But I think it really just stops there. I think it’s more of an every day stat, and not a defining career stat, especially when you’re weighing a pitchers’ Hall of Fame candidacy.
According to Baseball Reference, Red Ruffing has the highest ERA of all pitchers in the Hall of Fame at 3.798, which is a great ERA by today’s standards, but he had other accolades to help his cause. He was a part of 7 World Championships with the Yankees over his career, a 7 game winner in World Series games, a 3x All-Star and accumulated 273 career wins. He left for military service in 1943-44, losing 2 years of his playing career where he may have amassed the 300 win mark. If all he had was his ERA to look at, he may not be a hall of famer.
Love ERA as a daily or an every-5th-day pitching stat, but it doesn’t have enough to give it that ”it” factor.
Do strikeouts equate to overall career dominance? You could argue that. Of the 19 pitchers in the 3000 Ks Club:
- 2 of them are still active (Scherzer, Verlander)
- 1 isn’t eligible for the HOF ballot until 2025 (Sabathia)
- 2 should be Hall of Famers, but PED speculation and off-field antics respectively have kept them out thus far (Clemens, Schilling)
The other 14? Hall of Famers.
So an argument saying that 3000 Ks being that stamp of approval for the HOF does have some weight to it. However…
Aside from the 2 closest active names to 3000 K’s, Kershaw & Grienke, who in my opinion are both hall of famers to-be, there aren’t many active pitchers that will come close to that anymore. The only other active one close to 3000 is Cole Hamels with 2,560 at age 37. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he doesn’t get there, but even if he did, I don’t think that automatically places him into the hall.
I think that the argument for 3000 Ks being your ticket into The Hall is a bit flawed. There are some legendary pitchers that never reached that 3000 strikeouts and maybe you’ve heard of them: Sandy Koufax, Cy Young (How the fuck did he win 5 billion games but strikeout less guys than Mike Mussina?), Warren Spahn, Tom Glavine, Don Drysdale, Jim Palmer. So I’m going to go ahead and say that 3000 Ks cannot and will not be the next Hall of Fame/career defining stat.
WHIP, meaning Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched, is a relatively newer stat than ERA that we also hear in broadcasts on a daily basis nowadays. Technically speaking, the less walks and hits that you give up in each inning that you pitch, the better of a pitcher you will be. Correct? So this stat definitely has some weight to it. However, I could have an amazing WHIP as a reliever pitching 1-2 innings per game. For example, Mariano Rivera has the #3 best career WHIP all-time with 1.0003. League average today is 1.3, and the 2 guys above him not only have a sub-1 WHIP, but also played in a much different era of baseball (early 1900s).
This is not to say what Mariano did in the WHIP category wasn’t amazing in its own right as a reliever. I mean, the guy was great. He’s a Hall of Famer. His stats speak for themselves. But if we’re strictly talking about starting pitchers here and looking for something to define their careers with, we need something that could give more substance. Something that shows us they carried their team to success and kept them in game, just like a Win once did. WHIP doesn’t quite deliver that for me. But the next one might.
A job well done. That was the idea behind John Lowe’s coined phrase, ”Quality Start”, when he introduced it to the world in 1985. A Quality Start is considered when a pitcher pitches at least 6 innings and allows 3 earned runs or fewer.
Let’s remind ourselves: What is the job of a pitcher? To prevent runs and get outs. This may be the start that showcases a pitchers ability to actually do their job. The cool thing about Quality Start is that a pitcher doesn’t have to earn a win to earn a Quality Start. Those two things are, or rather, can be mutually exclusive. A pitcher can go 7 innings, holding onto a shut-piece, and the bullpen blows it for him. He won’t get a decision, the shutout, or the satisfaction of his team finishing the game, but his Quality Start will still be recorded.
He doesn’t have to throw a complete game. He doesn’t have to record 20 punchies per game. It won’t even take into account the amount of walks or hits he gave up (unless they result in runs, of course). QS only cares about limiting runs, and going 2/3 of the way deep into the game.
This is not to say that the Quality Start stat is flawless. As pitchers get deeper into ballgames, hitters see them more often. The more often a pitcher is seen, the less effective they are. So it’s almost an incentive to not have your pitcher even go 6 innings deep into ballgames, even if they’re pitching great. Even in the World Series.
However, If a guy can go deep into ballgames, keep their team close while also holding the opponent to 3 runs or fewer, I personally think that really shows how effective a pitcher is. I can’t say for certain that this is the stat of the future or the defining accolade that will propel a pitcher into the Hall.
It’s possible that none of these stats mentioned are going to ever have the same mystique, power, or presence that 300 wins once did. We may have to adjust our next defining benchmark for the way the game is played and strategized nowadays. But I guess for now, we’ll keep on searching for that next stat to become THE stat.