On Wednesday, May 27, 2009 Randy Johnson will attempt to attain his 299th victory, bringing him within one game of 300. He would be the 24th pitcher of all time to reach such a milestone.
The question on many minds this coming Wednesday is not "will Johnson reach 300" it is, "Will Johson be the last to reach 300?"
With the offensive explosion of the "steroid era," expanded rotations, specialty pitchers, and the extended development period of young pitchers, it is difficult to find a single active pitcher outside of Johnson who has even an outside chance of making it to the historic benchmark.
After Johnson's 299 wins the next five active pitchers are:
Jaime Moyer, 46—249
Andy Pettite, 37—219
John Smoltz, 42—210
Tim Wakefield, 42—184
Bartolo Colon, 36—152
In fact, the sixth active leader in career wins is Livan Hernandez with 150; the only other current Major League pitcher with at least 150 wins.
Johnson will stand on the mound Wednesday as a symbol of a type of baseball that simply does not exist in today's game.
Of the 23 current members of the 300 club, all of them averaged at least 30 starts a season, with the exception of Lefty Grove who averaged 29 and also averaged 19 wins a season. By itself, 30 starts doesn't sound like an overwhelming number, but when you consider that most of these pitchers pitched for 20+ years and had multiple seasons with less than 20 starts, it adds up to be a bit more impressive.
Everyone has heard the arguments before.
With hitters scoring more runs, starters not going as many innings, or getting as many starts, and more and more teams electing to practice "Joba Rules" on their developing talent, the 300 wins milestone is moving in the opposite direction of the increasingly common 500 Homer club. Just as people begin to ask if 500 home runs should still be enough to guarantee a place in the HOF, we must now begin to wonder if 300 wins is now too high a number for would be HOF'ers to reach.
Current All Star pitchers like Roy Halladay and Johan Santana are believed to be some of those who have the best chance at reaching 300. But both are over 30 years old and are less than half way to the milestone. Halladay, 32, has 139 wins. He would need to average over 16 wins a season for the next ten years to reach 300 by the time he is 42, he currently averages 17 per season.
Santana would need to average over 15 wins to accomplish the same task, he currently averages only 15 per season.
Some point to C.C. Sabathia as a contender for 300. He is younger than both Halladay and Santana and could very likely reach the 150 milestone before the age of 30. But Sabathia has only ever reached over 17 wins once so far in his nine season career and many concede he would have difficulty lasting long enough to reach 300, with his body type.
Many speculate that the number of runs scored in games will begin to decrease now that a stricter testing regime has effectively put an end to the "steroid era" in baseball. Even so, it is clear that the greater issue is the number of starts and innings per start pitchers are now getting.
Pitchers now are not only given less chances to win games than they did twenty years ago but they also must leave their hopes of a W on the shoulders of three or four other pitchers from the bullpen to close out the game.
It seems that unless there is some sort of significant change in the rules or the way baseball is played, it could be more than thirty years before we see the next 300 win man.
Ironically, the amount of time it will take for players like Halladay and Santana to even be able to be considered for the HOF, will also be the approximate amount of time before we really know how likely it is that we will ever see another 300 game winner in baseball. Maybe Tim Lincecum can sustain his winning ways for the next 15 years and make a run at becoming the 25th member of the 300 club.
For Lincecum, it is far to early to know or even really speculate.
But for now, Randy Johnson stands on the doorstep of one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball. A club that could very well welcome it's last member this June.