No Moyer 200 Game Winners

2011 is the first season in 26 years without Jamie Moyer in professional baseball. He is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, enjoying a seat on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight in the meantime. His contract with the Phillies expired, so while he is working towards a comeback for his age-49 season in 2012, he is not currently employed by any team. When baseball lost Jamie, it didn’t just lose its grandfather. It lost its only 200-game winner.The active leader in wins right now is Tim Wakefield. As of this post, he is at 196 wins. This is the first time since 1880 that baseball hasn’t had a 200-game winner. Wakefield could easily finish this year still shy of the bicentennial, and even if he gets there, this might be his last year. After him, Roy Halladay and Tim Hudson are just in the 170’s. So, just where have our win totals gone?

Good luck coming back, Jamie.

Well, on the surface, nothing appears to be wrong. From 2000-2010, there were 29 seasons of 20+ wins. From 1990-2000, there were 30 such seasons. From 1980-1990, there were 32. Lowering the criterion to 15+ wins yields these results from 2000-2010, 1990-2000, and 1980-1990 respectively: 137 seasons, 118 seasons, and 122 seasons. So, pitchers are getting as many wins per season as before. Yet, no single pitcher has accumulated even the modest total of 200 for his career. How could this be?

Part of it can be blamed on coincidence. We are simply at the end of a tremendous generation of pitchers. The top hurlers of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s happened to be of the same class, and they all retired within a year or two of each other: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Tom Glavine have all retired in the last few years, leaving baseball without a remnant of its last decade.

The next batch of 200-game winners might be a little scant, because the game is changing. When pitchers were less coddled, teams would lose a high percentage of them to injuries and a lack of mental preparation. Now, with stakes being so high and it being so difficult for mid-market teams to compete, that success rate is unacceptably low. So, these are a few of the changes that will make it difficult for all but the best pitchers to reach even 200:

  • Teams feel they will lose a player to free agency after 6 seasons, so they wait to call up their prospects until they’re older. They would rather have a player’s 25-30 year-old seasons than his 21-26 year-old seasons.
  • Many pitchers start their careers in the bullpen. For whatever reason, teams have begun this superstition. Johan Santana, Derek Lowe, Mark Buerhle, Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke, and Chad Billingsley are all pitchers who have had their chances at 200 wins severely diminished by spending time in the bullpen.
  • Injuries. Teams are quick to protect their investments by shelving them and putting them under the knife. Sure, this is best for 90% of the pitchers it happens to. However, pitchers like Sandy Koufax managed to pitch through intense pain (with the help of greenies), and we have a great career to look at because of that. Nowadays, he never would’ve been allowed to keep hurling shutouts through those injuries (but he would be able to lift his arm above his shoulder in retirement).

    Pitching is not a natural motion.

We certainly haven’t seen the last 200-game winner. I even doubt that we’ve seen the last 300-game winner. I do think we will see a lot fewer of them, though. As if we needed another reason to treasure Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and the other few with a chance to achieve these career milestones.
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