Toronto Baseball Guys
Monday, August 13, 2007
  Glavine WON'T Be The Last
The popular sidebar story to Tom Glavine's 300th win was that he may be the last pitcher ever to accomplish the feat, what with 5-man rotations, specialty relievers and the adherence to pitch counts.

This is nothing new. I can recall reading an old Baseball Digest story that predicted the downfall of 300-game winners, going so far as to dismiss Nolan Ryan among a group of pitchers "too old and too far away" to reach the mark (Ryan retired with 324 wins). The prevailing theme of the article was that modern players made so much money there was no need for them to work all those years. Sound reasoning if the job in question is bomb disposal in a cactus mine, not so for Major League Baseball.

Stories of this kind used to be common whenever a major milestone was reached: Will this be the last 3,000 hit man? 500 HR hitter? These stories lost a little steam during the 90's, when it became apparent that a whole lot of guys were going to reach a whole lot of benchmarks.

Still, the whole "dying breed, last of his kind" angle has a certain nostalgic appeal. It also has the unfortunate quality of being woefully inaccurate, for a couple of reasons.

1. Forever is a long time. Sure, if they stop playing baseball in 2030, then maybe Glavine WILL be the last 300-game winner, but all signs point to the game being pretty healthy, and its just silly to start forecasting the careers of hundreds of players who haven't even stepped on the field yet.

2. Articles of this kind are great at tracking the changes in the game that have made such records so difficult, such as the pitch counts and the 5-man rotation, but they never seem to allow for future changes that might swing the pendulum in favour of the records becoming easier to reach. Maybe in 30 years we'll have Tommy John surgery in pill form, or 196-game schedules or a rover in the outfield. You just never know.

There are some compelling reasons to believe that there will be more 300-game winners:

Pitcher Health: the afore-mentioned TJ surgery has extended the careers of hundreds of pitchers by now, and is now routine. Shoulder surgeries are dicier propositions, but improving all the time. Young arms are now nursed along much more carefully than in year's past, and almost no pitcher is asked to throw more than 130 pitches in a start - a far cry from 30 years ago.

Graying of the Mound: On a related note, look at how many 40 year-olds have pitched in the majors this year:

Curt Schilling
Roger Clemens
Jamie Moyer
Tom Glavine
Greg Maddux
David Wells
Kenny Rogers
Orlando Hernandez
Tim Wakefield
Randy Johnson
Todd Jones
Roberto Hernandez
Mike Timlin
Jose Mesa

And these aren't guys just hanging around in the back of a bullpen, these are all significant contributors on teams in contention. So why hang around this long?

Show me the money: The salaries cited by Baseball Digest have had the opposite effect. In a world in which Gil Meche lands $11 million per season, what sane human being who can still get people out would retire early? David Wells has said that someone will have to take the ball from his hand before he'll retire (that may have happened, as he's been released by the Padres).

Finally, the most compelling reason that more pitchers will win 300?

300 means something: Sam Rice retired with 2,987 hits, because the number 3000 just wasn't all that important. Now, milestones are hallowed, and unless a player simply runs out of gas and opportunities - like Fred McGriff and his 493 homers - he'll stick around until he makes it.

Let's take the next two active pitchers closest to 300: Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina.

Johnson is 43 years old and is down with season - and possibly career - ending back surgery. His odds of a comeback are long, but he's just 16 shy of 300, and he was pitching effectively before he got hurt. If he wants to come back, there will be no shortage of teams willing to give him a shot.

Mussina is 38 and needs 53 more wins to reach 300. Pitching with the Yankees offense behind him, he doesn't need to be all THAT effective to pile up victories, and could get there in 4-5 seasons, if he wants to.

There's always the chance that he'll be surpassed in the rotation by younger, more capable arms, but as long as he doesn't suffer an injury or a sudden inability to get hitters out, Mussina could always price himself into the back of a rotation in a pitcher's park like San Diego or Los Angeles to pursue 300. While a 42-year-old starter used to be an anomaly in Major League Baseball, that's no longer the case - and that's why there will be more pitchers who clear the 300 win plateau.
 
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