There was a time in the not-too-distant past when baseball observers conjectured that pitchers who attain 300 or more career victories will be fewer and fewer with each passing season.
The primary reasons given were the preference of five-man, rather than four-man, rotations, and the increasing frequency in which managers these days pull a starter in favor of a reliever in late innings.
This state of affairs may be so, but there has been a bumper crop of 300-win talents in the last half-dozen years.
Tom Glavine joined the 300-win club on Aug. 5, 2007. Former teammate Greg Maddux hurled his 300th win on Aug. 7, 2004. Roger Clemens accomplished the same feat on June 13, 2003, breaking a 13-year dry spell. Nolan Ryan had reached the career milestone on July 31, 1990.
Randy Johnson, with 295 career wins, seems poised to reach the 300-win plateau. Last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Johnson hurled 184 innings, posting an 11-10 record with an 3.91 ERA and a glowing WHIP of 1.239, strong indicators that, at the age of 45, he still has the tools to be a front-line starter.
After Johnson, the pickings become slim indeed.
Philadelphia Phillies Jamie Moyer, at age 46, would have to go where no starter went before, except Phil Niekro, and still maintain his effectiveness. With 246 career victories, Moyer would need to average 18 victories in each of the next three seasons to hit 300, nearly the same time that he would be eligible for an AARP card.
Kenny Rogers (219) and Curt Schilling (216) both recently retired. Andy Pettitte (215), who will turn 37 on June 15, has posted an ERA of above 4.05 in each of his last three seasons. He has pitched 200 or more innings in his last four seasons. He has pitched well this spring, but he will need plenty of run support in coming seasons for him to achieve the 300-victory mark.
The status of Pedro Martinez (214) is up in the air, and John Smoltz (210) is battling injury and age.
With Tim Wakefield (179), the issue isn't so much with his age. He's only 42, an adolescent by knuckeballer standards, but he could be the odd man out in the rotation, since the Boston Red Sox' acquisition of Brad Penny and John Smoltz.
Bartolo Colon (150) is 36. He hasn't pitched more than 99 1/3 innings since 2006. Livan Hernandez (147), too, seems to be nearing the end of line. He's penciled in as the Mets' No. 5 starter, but he's coming off a so-so season with Minnesota and Colorado in which his ERA zoomed to 6.05.
Tim Hudson (146), at age 33, would need to average at least 20 victories for the next seven-plus seasons to reach the 300-win milestone, highly unlikely since he's reached the 20-win mark in a season only once before.
Forget about the chances of Steve Trachsel (143), Kevin Millwood (142), and Mike Hampton (141).
Roy Halladay (131), barring injury, looks like a sure bet to capture at least 250 career victories. He's only 31, and he's maintained a high level of effectiveness during the past four seasons. Over that time frame, he's won 64 and lost just 27 games with an ERA ranging from 2.41 to 3.71 and a WHIP no higher than 1.243.
Roy Oswalt (129) is another workhorse who, at age 31, shows no signs of slowing down. He's pitched 200 or more innings six times in eight seasons, and at age 31, Oswalt should have plenty of productive seasons ahead of him.
CC Sabathia (117) and Johan Santana (109), ages 28 and 30, respectively, have already positioned themselves as likely Hall of Fame candidates if they're able to hold their current form over the next half-dozen seasons.
And therein lies the rub.
Funny things happen to pitchers on the road to the Hall of Fame.
Herb Score went 36-19 in his first two seasons with the White Sox. In 1957, he was struck by a line drive that broke several bones in his face and threatened to rob him of his sight. He recovered from that injury, although it dimmed his effectiveness on the mound. Score then suffered a torn tendon to his pitching arm in 1958 that put an end to his career once and for all.
Arm and shoulder injuries derailed Gary Nolan's shot at the Hall of Fame at the age of 29. By that time, the Cincinnati Reds' ace had compiled a record of 106-64 with a career ERA of 3.08 over parts of 10 seasons.
Of more recent vintage, Dwight Gooden amassed a 132-81 record and earned a Cy Young Award by the time he was 27. Injuries and drug addiction quashed his hopes of a shot at the Hall of Fame.
Whether Halladay, Oswalt, Sabathia, and Santana can join Maddux, Glavine, Clemens and possibly Johnson as members of the 300-win club remains to be seen. Time will tell.
Funny things happen to pitchers on the road to Cooperstown. It's a road full of landmines, unexpected curves, and detours. You not only need to be good, you need luck.