Celebrating a Legend: Ranking Cy Young's Most Unbreakable Records

Joe HalversonCorrespondent IJune 9, 2011

Celebrating a Legend: Ranking Cy Young's Most Unbreakable Records

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    Cy Young
    Cy Young

    One of the most overlooked anniversaries in all of sports is occurring at the end of this year: on October 11th, it will have been 100 years since Denton True (Cy) Young retired from the Major Leagues.  

    Everybody understands that he was a legendary pitcher—the award for best pitcher in each league bears his name, after all—but few truly appreciate just how terrific he was, and for an incredible length of time.  Cy Young's career lasted from 1890 to 1911, and he holds numerous career records that have been in place for over a century—and in all likelihood, will still be there a century from now.

    Here is a ranking of Cy Young's greatest and most unbreakable records: 

815 Starts

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    Nolan Ryan
    Nolan RyanJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This record is an example of how people do not understand just how freakish Cy Young’s career was, even for the Dead Ball Era.  This total was jaw-dropping 100 years ago; in fact, among his contemporaries (and I’m using that term VERY loosely), only Pud Galvin and Walter Johnson are even within 200 of Young’s career starts total. 

    How it can be Broken

    Of all Cy Young’s career records, this is the one that is most likely to fall.  Contrary to popular belief, pitchers are actually making more career starts than ever before; pitchers may be making fewer starts per year, but they are compensating by pitching more seasons than ever before.  Case in point:  seven other pitchers have started 700+ games, and all of them pitched in the 1980s at some point in their career.  There is little reason to think that future pitchers will not continue to be able to make 700+ starts in their careers, particularly with the game seemingly swinging back in favor of pitching.

316 Losses

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    Pud Galvin
    Pud Galvin

    Most people do not realize that Young holds this record, but it only makes sense considering some of the other records on this list.  Young doesn’t hold this record by much, as Pud Galvin is just six behind him on the all-time list.

    How it can be Broken

    A starter makes a run at the first record on this list.  Truth be told, a number of modern starters have actually made a run at this record simply by going over 700+ starts.  Nolan Ryan finished his career with 292 losses, while Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, and Bert Blyleven all cleared 250. 

    Of the most recent crop of 300-game winners, however, Greg Maddux finished with the most losses with 227.  This could be an indicator that this record is actually becoming more unattainable.

146 WAR (Pitchers Only)

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    Felix Hernandez
    Felix HernandezOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Even the newfangled sabermetric stats agree that Young was an incredible pitcher.  However, it’s important to remember that WAR is just like any other counting stat in that the pitchers who pitch the most often tend to have the highest totals.  So it really should be no surprise that Young’s career WAR is over 17 points higher than that of second-place Roger Clemens.

    How it can be Broken

    A starter puts up more than a decade of incredibly high-level pitching (8+ WAR per year), then coasts for another decade.  So yeah, this one is also fairly unlikely to ever be touched, though it’s lower on this list because the player who is second on the list retired just recently.  The player with the best chance to break it right now is Felix Hernandez, who ended last year with a career WAR of 24.4 but recorded 11.8 of that over the last two seasons.  If he can keep up that pace for the rest of his career, he will be at around 119 by age 40.

7356 Innings, 7092 Hits Allowed, 2147 Runs Allowed

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    Phil Niekro
    Phil Niekro

    I lumped these three together because the latter two are simply a function of the first one.  Young is over 1300 innings ahead of second-place Pud Galvin and nearly 2,000 innings ahead of any post-integration pitcher, making them all three of them equally unattainable. 

    How they can be Broken

    The closest modern pitcher to the innings record offers a blueprint to how it can be done.  During his career, Phil Niekro relied primarily on the knuckleball, a pitch that puts very little stress on the pitcher’s arm and allowed him to seemingly throw forever.  So really, if a pitcher is able to develop command of the knuckleball at a very early age, any or all of these records could be challenged again.

511 Wins

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    Greg Maddux
    Greg MadduxDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Everybody knows about this record, as the number 511 ranks among the most iconic in all of sports.  In fact, most people reading this will probably be surprised that this one isn’t at the very top of this list.

    How it can be Broken

    An extremely durable pitcher pitches at a high level for 3+ decades.  Don’t get me wrong:  it is highly unlikely that anyone is touching this record any time soon, as Young is nearly 100 wins ahead of second-place Walter Johnson and nearly 150 ahead of the closest post-integration pitcher.  But modern starters have gotten just as close to this one as their predecessors, and baseball by nature guarantees that every single game will have a pitcher recording a win.  Therefore, it is theoretically possible to break this one with enough time, and this record can only be second on this list.

749 Complete Games

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    Roy Halladay
    Roy HalladayJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Forget baseball:  this is also the most untouchable career record in all of team sports.  I have long felt that complete games are far more meaningful than win-loss records, as there are very, very few complete games that are earned cheaply.  And Young’s complete game total was ridiculous even for the Dead Ball era, too; second-place Pud Galvin is a full 103 games behind him, and Galvin spent his career pitching off a mound that was ten feet closer to the plate.

    How it can be Broken

    Our future robot overlords decide to replace all pitchers with modified howitzers. 

    Seriously, though, the only way it can happen will involve a fundamental change in the rules.  Complete games have been declining since the mound was moved back to 60 feet, six inches in 1893, and numerous other developments (different baseballs, better training methods, more selective hitters, etc) have almost always favored hitters and made the complete game an increasingly rare event. 

    Warren Spahn is the closest modern pitcher to this record, and his 382 complete games are barely halfway there.  Among active pitchers, Roy Halladay has the most with a mere 62.  So unless we either change multiple rules or start producing bionic or genetically-engineered arms, this record will never, ever be approached.