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Is This the Year MLB Finally Witnesses Another 25-Game Winner?

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Is This the Year MLB Finally Witnesses Another 25-Game Winner?
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainright can't seem to do any wrong in 2013.

You know, it sure would be cool to see another 25-game winner.

I know, I know...pitcher wins are bogus. They're much too dependent on things like run support and luck dragons, and they're particularly out of place in a day and age where managers are more willing than ever to put the fate of a game in the hands of their relievers.

Yet still I hope to see a 25-game winner someday, if for no other reason than to revel in the sheer rareness of it.

Per Baseball-Reference.com, there have only been three 25-game winners since 1978. The most recent was Bob Welch in 1990, a year in which there were still only two Die Hard movies and the respective home run records of Roger Maris and Hank Aaron looked as safe as could be.

It seems now like we could go forever without seeing another 25-game winner, but you'll also recall that it very recently seemed like we would never see another Triple Crown winner. One of those came along last year. A 25-game winner is bound to come along eventually.

But this year? That would be lovely. But nah...ain't happening.

Just in general, one disadvantage that today's pitchers have is the fact that they're not making as many starts. Every pitcher who made it to the 25-win threshold between 1952 and 1990 started at least 35 games.

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Worth sharing: One of the last five pitchers to make at least 35 starts in a season was Dontrelle Willis in 2007. He was the only pitcher to do so that year.

Want to know how many pitchers made at least 35 starts in 2011 and 2012? Try zero, and there have only been five pitchers to make at least 35 starts ever since 2007. For some perspective, there were five 35-start pitchers in 2006 alone, and at least four each year between 1996 and 2006.

That's a complication, and there are also complications to discuss when it comes to the top win collectors in baseball this year.

For starters, none of them are off to a dazzling start on the win front. Nobody has hit double digits yet, meaning the top candidates to win 25 games this year are all lagging behind the ideal pace.

On top of that, they all come with various question marks. With numbers coming courtesy of FanGraphs, ESPN.com and Baseball-Reference.com, here's a look at some need-to-know info for the 11 pitchers who have at least eight wins thus far in 2013:

FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching, a statistic that assesses a pitcher's talent by only looking at strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit batsmen. The xFIP stat is similar, except it replaces a pitcher's home run total with an estimate of how many home runs he should have allowed.

Either way, both stats are meant to show what a pitcher's ERA should be. They come in handy in determining who's been lucky and who's been unlucky.

I highlighted the luckiest ERAs in yellow. They belong to Clay Buchholz, Jordan Zimmermann, Patrick Corbin, Mike Minor, Matt Moore and, not the least bit surprisingly, Jason Marquis. They've all pitched well, but regression awaits them.

Lest you've forgotten how good Jimenez was early in 2010; video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com

Think of Ubaldo Jimenez. He was the best pitcher in the world back in the first half of 2010 with a record of 15-1 and a 2.20 ERA, but his FIP was 3.09 and his xFIP was 3.55 (see FanGraphs). These numbers barely budged in the second half—his FIP was 3.11 and his xFIP was 3.67—but Jimenez's ERA soared to 3.80 and he collected only four wins.

There's also run support regression in the cards for some of these pitchers.

I highlighted the pitchers whose average run support is at least half a run better than their team's normal output, and the only pitchers who aren't getting a suspicious amount of run support are Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander and Justin Masterson.

Naturally, the three of come with their own complications.

Buchholz won't be able to maintain his 1.71 ERA all season, and he's also had some minor health issues. He's already had to miss some time with a shoulder issue, and the latest from The Boston Globe says that he may have to miss another start with neck stiffness.

Masterson is certainly owed some run support, and his ERA is about where it should be, but he's also the only pitcher here who is through 14 starts already. He may only have another 20 starts coming his way, in which case he would have to win 17 of them to get to 25 wins. That's a tall order on an Indians team that is plummeting to earth after a promising start.

Verlander is the best bet. His run support is about where it should be and his ERA is due for an improvement as the season goes along. We've also seen him go on a tear before, as he absurdly won 18 of his last 21 starts in 2011 on his way to winning the Cy Young and MVP.

But that was the year that Jose Valverde was lights out, going a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities. Papa Grande has been far from perfect since then, and this year he's part of a Tigers bullpen that shouldn't be trusted.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
One of these guys is still good.

Other pitchers on our list who have less-than-awesome bullpens are Adam Wainwright, Masterson, Buchholz, Moore and Zimmermann. According to FanGraphs, their respective bullpens all rank in the bottom half of MLB in ERA.

The condensed version of all this: Among the 11 pitchers who have at least eight wins, there are no safe bets to get to the big 25. 

The only guy who comes even close to being a safe bet is Wainwright. His 2.34 ERA is no joke. And while his run support has been a bit generous, he pitches for a team that scores a lot of runs in general. His bullpen may be shaky, but he generally doesn't leave it with much work to do when he pitches. He's logged at least seven innings in all but three of his starts and has already pitched three complete games.

Waino also has the proper attitude, as ESPN's Buster Olney can vouch:

Wainwright would have to win 16 of what will likely be 21 starts from here on out to get to 25 wins. Not an absurd proposition, but not one worth betting the house on, either. It would be a safer bet if Waino already had at least a dozen wins and, say, Boston's offense or Pittsburgh's bullpen.

In case you're wondering, nobody else out there looks like a particularly intriguing dark horse.

Shelby Miller, Waino's rotation-mate, has seven wins and solid numbers. But he's not an innings-eater and will probably only get 30 starts. This is the 22-year-old's first full season, after all, and he's only going to make so many starts as a back-end starter.

Cliff Lee is another seven-game winner with solid numbers, but Philly's offense consists of Domonic Brown and not a whole lot else.

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Felix Hernandez is yet another seven-game winner who boasts some solid numbers across the board, but his offense is characteristically lousy. Wins generally aren't his thing, and it looks like a par-for-the-course kind of year for him in Seattle.

Yu Darvish is a seven-game winner with terrific numbers, but he has some catching up to do seeing as how his last win came almost a month ago. He hasn't been pitching poorly, but...well, you know how wins are. They come when they want, and they don't gravitate toward starting pitchers as much as they used to. The game has evolved to restrict the flow.

Twenty-five-win seasons turned into fluky things a long time ago. The next time we see one—and it won't be this year—we're going to be looking right at one of the great flukes in baseball history.

Maybe next year.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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