Saturday, February 5, 2011

A historical rarity: no active 200-game winner

Andy Pettitte: 240 career wins in the regular season,
19 more in the postseason.
Andy Pettitte called it quits Friday. His retirement leaves a gap in the Yankees rotation and raised a Is-He-a-Hall-of-Famer argument.

And, coupled with Jamie Moyer's Tommy John surgery, which least keeps the 47-year-old off the field for 2011 (he says he'll be back in 2012, but really, is that likely?), Pettitte's departure leaves Tim Wakefield the active career wins leader. Moyer has 267 wins, Pettitte 240.

Wakefield has 193 W's. After spending some time chasing this down, I'm quite confident that only once since 1880 has a season opened without an active 200 game-winner, although that may depend on how you define active.

That was 1968. Whitey Ford retired after the 1967 season with 236 wins, leaving nobody over the 200 win mark until Don Drysdale got his 200th win on June 26th, 1968. So there was a bit less than three months in which there was no active 200-game winner. (Drysdale pitched in 1969, during which season Jim Bunning got his 200th, and Juan Marichal got there the following season ... and the chain was not seriously threatened until now.)

Now to explain the "active" question. Bobo Newsom entered the 1948 season with 205 wins. He went 0-4. He didn't pitch in the majors again until 1952. Baseball Reference lists him as the active leader in career wins for 1949. If you don't count Newsom, there was no 200-game winner in the majors until Bob Feller got there in 1950. And if you do count Newsom, we can't know if there is an active 200-game winner now until we know for sure that Moyer's done.

Wakefield is no cinch to get the seven wins he needs for 200; he won four games all of last season. And the next man on the list, Roy Halladay, has but 169 — 31 wins shy of the big round number.

So if Wakefield doesn't get there, nobody will this year.

Two hundred wins is a lot. In all of major league history, 110 pitchers have gotten there. Sandy Koufax didn't.  Nor did Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez or Rube Waddell, to name four Hall of Famers.

It's pretty daunting, really. Say a 24-year-old breaks into the majors and averages 15 wins a year for 10 years. That's pretty strong pitching — and at the end of it, you have a 35-year-old pitcher with 150 wins.

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