Cy Young has a number of all-time records that would be difficult to beat by today’s pitchers. He has the most games started, complete games, innings pitched, wins and losses. In many of these categories, nobody even comes close. His 511 wins are 94 more than the next guy, and his 7356 innings pitched are 1352.2 more than second place.
In modern day baseball, the most successful pitchers, as far as wins go, is Greg Maddux who leads with 355. Maddux is at 13th in innings pitched, but at 5008.1, that’s far less than Young. Of course, the win statistic is widely known as being far from the best measurement of a pitcher’s success and skill.
On top of that, pitchers are used in a completely different way, making comparisons between the present and past bordering on the impossible. Regardless of its true worth, the win statistic is nevertheless one that inevitably gets highlighted, and as for comparing players, well, that’s part of the fun of statistics.
With this in mind, I indeed attempted a comparison…
I had the notion to check to see which pitcher won the highest percentage of games that they started. For instance, Young won 511 out of 815 starts (62.3%), while Maddux won 355 out of 740 (48.0%).
That might not be such a fair comparison, though, since pitchers are generally taken out of games pretty soon these days and don’t have much of a chance at more wins. I thought I might try out wins per innings pitched for a more accurate (and yet still imperfect) comparison.
Here’s the data for some of the pitchers on the top wins list:
1) Cy Young W: 511 GS: 815 IP: 7356 W per IP: .069
2) Walter Johnson: W: 417 GS 666 IP: 5914.1 W per IP: .071
3) Grover Alexander W: 373 GS: 600 IP: 5190 W per IP: .072
3) Christy Mathewson W: 373 GS 551 IP: 4780.2 W per IP: .078
5) Pud Galvin W: 365 GS: 688 IP: 6003.1 W per IP: .061
6) Warren Spahn W: 363 GS: 665 IP: 5243.2 W per IP: .069
7) Kid Nichols W: 361 GS: 561 IP: 5056.1 W per IP: .071
8) Greg Maddux W: 355 GS: 740 IP: 5008.1 W per IP: .071
9) Roger Clemens W: 354 GS: 707 IP: 4916.2 W per IP: .072
10) Tim Keefe W: 342 GS: 594 IP: 5049.2 W per IP: .068
21) Tom Glavine W: 305 GS: 682 IP: 4413.1 W per IP: .069
24) Randy Johnson W: 298 GS: 593 IP: 4070 W per IP: .073
The results seem surprisingly consistent, considering that some of these players played as much as a century apart.
Aside from Galvin and Mathewson, the remaining ten pitchers all ranged from a W per IP of .068 to .073. At this rate, had Mathewson pitched as many innings as Young, he could have reached around 574 wins. Maddux could have reached 522. Randy Johnson has less innings pitched than anyone else on my list.
Had he pitched the same amount as Maddux, for instance, maybe he would have reached 366 wins. Of course, longevity counts for something (quite a lot, actually) in baseball records.
Who is to say that Maddux could have kept up the rate of .071 wins per inning pitched had he thrown in 2,000 more innings? Stats like win counts increase with longevity, but percentages (batting average, ERA), tend to get worse as players age.
While Cy Young’s 511 wins are impressive, the fact that he kept winning at a rate of .069 per inning pitched throughout 7356 innings is impressive indeed.