by Asher B. Chancey
Hey! Remember in the mid-1980s when baseball was loaded with aging veteran pitchers? In 1986, for example, there were four 300 game winners (Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Tom Seaver), plus Nolan Ryan, who was already 39 years old but a few years away from his 300th. Additionally, Phil’s brother Joe was still hanging around (221 wins) as was Tommy John (288), Bert Blyleven (287), Charlie Hough (216), Vida Blue (209), Jerry Reuss (220), and Rick Reuschel (214).
Well, Tuesday night’s games were a reminder that we have once again come to one of those brief periods in which there is a healthy crop of aging veteran pitchers, many whom may be in their final year, and many of whom will end up in the Hall of Fame. In Atlanta tonight, it was Tim vs. Tom as Braves pitching past met Braves pitching present, and the present won, 4-0, as Tim Hudson pitched 8 innings of shutout ball while Tom Glavine struggled, as he has most of the season, walking one and striking out one while giving up four runs in 6.2 innings. Glavine has come right out and stated that he intends to win 300 games, but given his performance this season, Glavine could find himself the Tommy John or Bert Blyleven of his era, holding on seasons after his effectiveness has left him, only to come up short. For the record, Glavine came into the season needing 38 wins to get to 300, but has gone 3-5 so far with an ERA of 5.44. And, horrifyingly, Glavine has walked exactly as many as he has struck out (27/27), indicating that he may be nearing the end. Don’t feel sorry for Tom, though, sports fans. Remember, three years ago he chose a big money contract with the Mets over finishing his career with Braves, where Leo Mazzone could have led him by the hand across the 300 barrier.
At the other end of the spectrum is Roger Clemens, who tonight faced off against the Cubs’ Sergio Mitre. Clemens was brilliant through five innings, striking out 6 and walking only one while giving up two hits and no runs to lower his ERA to an astonishing 1.19. However, Clemens is, contrary to popular belief, human, and showed it by leaving after five with a groin injury, and the Cubs’ went on to win as Clemens less dominant teammates failed to hold his lead for him. Nevertheless, what Clemens has done this year and last has been nothing short of amazing, winning the Cy Young in his first year in the National League and this year averaging over a strikeout per inning and well over three strikeouts per walk. When he “retired” after the 2003 season, Clemens had 310 victories, one behind Tom Seaver at 18th place. As of now, Clemens has 331 victories, which puts him at ninth all time, and makes him the fifth winningest pitcher since 1900. Additionally, when he originally retired, he was second in career strikeouts, but was being chased by one of his contemporaries. As of right now, he has kept Randy Johnson at bay, and maintains a 170 strikeout lead on him.
Randy Johnson, of course, has had an interesting last couple of years. Two years ago, he was hurt for a substantial part of the year, and looked every bit of his 39 years in posting a 6-8 record with a horrendous 4.26 ERA, despite his 125 strikeouts in 114 innings and only 27 walks. Last year, he was up to his old tricks, pitching 245 innings with 290 strikeouts and only 44 walks and a 2.60 ERA, plus pitching a perfect game, but his dismal Arizona Diamondbacks gave him no run support and he ended up with a 16-14 record, hanging his hat only on his 30 decisions in 35 games. During the off-season, he moved on to the Yankees where he has done what we would have expected given what the Yankees do with big name pitchers – he has been mediocre, posting a 3.94 ERA in 9 games while going 4-3 with 55 strikeouts and 12 walks in 64 innings. Johnson today stands an even 50 wins from 300, and turns 42 this year. While we may remember fondly that Phil Niekro had fewer than 200 wins when he turned 40, and finished with over 300, and while we have marveled at Randy’s accomplishments over the last ten years, 50 wins after the age of 40 just doesn’t seem like for a power pitcher like Randy Johnson. He may, however, be able to finish second in career strikeouts should Roger Clemens retire soon. Unfortunately for him, he is actually striking guys out at a slower rate than Clemens these days, which means he is actually losing ground on Clemens.
One player who will not be challenging Clemens and Johnson in strikeouts is currently one of the few able arms in the Cubs rotation, and with Clemens and Johnson is a Hall of Fame shoe in. Greg Maddux won 16 games last year in his return to the Cubs, marking the 17th straight he has done so. Maddux has always been a control pitcher rather than a power pitcher, and it shows in the fact that despite the fact that he has significantly fewer strikeouts than Johnson or Clemens, his strikeout per walk ratio is similar to theirs. Maddux remarkable consistency is displayed in his win totals – always over fifteen, but never over twenty. Maddux is a comfort zone pitcher, and has been in that zone for most of his career. Maddux streak is in jeopardy this season, as his age (39) is beginning to show, meaning more occasional bad outings and less dominance. Additionally, Maddux may have the unhappy destiny of finishing his career with a team that underachieves offensively and has a bullpen that can’t hold a lead to save its collective life. Maddux could do some damage to the career wins list if he sticks around until 42 or 43, but his most effective years are behind him.
After Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, and Glavine, the remaining names include guys who have been remarkably consistent in the later years after been rather abysmal in the early years, and guys who have been so out the radar of late that it’s hard to remember that they were once great.
Do yourself a favor. Go to baseballreference.com and look at John Smoltz’s career stats. It is a downright shame that Smoltz did that silly closer thing for the better part of three years, because now that he is starting again and doing so effectively, it is clear that he could have made some good marks on the career charts. Well, really it is a shame that he missed over a year with arm trouble as well, because at the age of 32, Smoltz had 152 wins and 2100 strikeouts. Smoltz could have easily pushed the high 200s if not 300 victories and finished relatively high on the career strikeout list. Today, at the age of 37, Smoltz has returned to the rotation after three great years as a closer, and is looking good, posting a 2.61 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 62 innings. He has 166 career wins, and if he has four or five more years in him should definitely break 200.
The answer, Keith, to the question “Who is the most likely active pitcher to approach 300 wins?” is none other than Mike Mussina. The Moose has been very quiet during his Yankee years, at time struggling, but more often being overshadowed by all the stars in the dugout in the Bronx. But Mussina is 36 this year, and pitching well. He currently is 5-2 with a 3.38 ERA after shutting out the Tigers for seven innings tonight, striking out 6 and walking none. Mike currently has 216 victories, which means he needs 84 wins to get to 300. He has averaged 16 wins per year for the last four years, which would mean that he would break 300 wins in six years at the age of 42. He is helped by two factors. First is his durability – in non-strike years he has failed to pitch over 200 innings only twice. Second, he pitches for the Yankees, and despite his at times high ERA he has piled up the victories, and should continue to do so if he stays healthy. Mussina should easily break the 300 win barrier sometime before the end of the 2011 season. The Hall of Fame, however, is a different question, as Mussina has never been dominant, and has made a career out of being a solid pitcher on good teams, which explains his victory total. Not since his first full season has he posted an ERA in the twos, and his strikeout totals have never been impressive. He likely will need to break 300 wins to get into the Hall, and even then it may take a few tries, a la Don Sutton.
Schilling has seen and done a lot. He’s won two World Series. He’s stood side by side on a stage with the President of the United States and asked people to vote for him. He’s pitched with sutures in his ankle, and he’s struck out 300 batters three times. That having been said, he hasn’t done many things a lot of people probably think he has done. For example, here is a quiz:
Curt Schilling has not done which of the following:
a) won 200 games
b) struck out 3000 batters
c) pitched 3000 innings
d) started 30 or more games three years in a row.
As the astute baseball fan will have guessed, the answer is actually all of the above. Schilling has been very good for the last four years. But for the ten years before that, he was remarkably inconsistent and struggled with injuries. Whether Schilling’s abbreviated brilliance, and bloody sock, will be enough to get him into the Hall is to be seen. But there can be no doubt that he needs at least 4 or 5 more good years before he can be considered the lock for the Hall of Fame that Red Sox fans would have you believe he is.
Interestingly, I have noticed that Schilling has had success over the last four years pitching with two of the all time greats – Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Maybe there is something to that, I don’t know.
I would bet that you have already forgotten how good Kevin Brown has been during his career. Quick reminder:
- 1.89 ERA in 1996, the year of the homerun
- ERA 3.00 or below seven straight full seasons during one of the greatest offensive eras in baseball history, 1996-2003
- Over 200 career victories in 16 seasons
But of course, there is the bad part. He gets injured a lot, to the tune of missing significant time in three of the last four years. He was a late comer, not pitching over 200 innings until the age of 26. Apparently, he is a bit of a jerk. And, to the extent that it matters, he jumps teams quite a bit, at one time playing for 5 teams in 6 years, though he went to the World Series with two of those teams. Keith had Kevin Brown in his Top 100 two years ago, which I thought was WAY too early. Brown is 40 this year, pitching for the Yankees and not doing it well, with a 3-4 record and a 5.36 ERA. Even if he gets it together and holds on for a few more years, he likely will not make it into the Hall because writers don’t like him and he has no team to which he is identifiable. Those subjective factors aside, he likely doesn’t belong there anyway.
Jamie Moyer is this generations’ Phil Niekro. Unfortunately, while Moyer’s pitches go about as fast as Niekro’s did, they are not knuckleballs. Moyer is simply a junker these days. He has redefined crafty, and somehow it has worked. Moyer was quite honestly a BAD pitcher right through the age of 32. But, somehow the improbable happened to Jamie, and he has been a very good pitcher since then. He was 7-13 with a 5.21 ERA last season, as the entire Mariners team folded early. But that was the first time in eight years he had failed to win at least 13 games, and failed to have a winning record. After getting his ERA under 4.00 only twice in his first nine seasons, it has only gone over 4.00 twice since. Moyer’s run is probably over, as he currently is 4-1 despite and ERA over six, but he is 4 victories from 200, and getting to 200 would be quite impressive for a guy who got his 100th victory at the age of 35.
The fact that Kenny is even on this list is shocking, but here he is. After going 13-8 in two consecutive years, Rogers won 18 games in his third stint with the Rangers last year at the age of 39, and has gotten off to a blistering start as a forty year old, to the tune of 5-2 record and a 1.73 ERA. Lest we get too excited, Rogers has walked almost as many as he has struck out (23/20), and was aided last year by a potent Rangers offense. But for now, for what ever reason, Rogers seems to have things figured out, and needs 19 wins to get to 200 for his career, and impressive accomplishment for a guy with a 4.21 career ERA and a career strikeout to walk ratio of less than 2 to 1.
Wells turned 42 five days ago, which means he is still in baseball five years longer than I would have assumed he would last. Wells finished his Yankee career with exactly 200 wins two years ago, but last year was deceptively effective for the Padres, going 12-8 with a 3.73 ERA, and finishing with 101 strikeouts and 20 walks for the second straight year. Wells is currently hurt, and has a 2-4 record with a 6.75 ERA in six games this season.
He’s old (39). He’s 2-4 with and ERA over 6.00 and 7 more walks than strikeouts. He has been, at times, a very decent pitcher and, at others, very ordinary. Needs 43 more victories to get to 200, and will lucky to get 10 more wins.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Philadelphia, PA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org