Zack Greinke (6-0, 0.40) is off to a fast start for the Kansas City Royals and is on pace to win 30 games in 2009. No pitcher has won 30 games since former Detroit Tiger Denny McLain won 31 games in 1968 against just six losses.
It is tougher to win 30 games now because most starting pitchers average 34-35 starts a season. That means they have to record a decision in at least 30 games a season in order to match McLain.
Cliff Lee was 22-3 last season after starting the season 6-0, much like Greinke has this season. Lee was 12-2 last season before the All Star game and 10-1 after the break, but still fell eight wins short of winning thirty games.
McLain made an amazing 41 starts during his 30 win season. He pitched 28 complete games. CC Sabathia led the majors in complete games with 10 in 2008. Cliff Lee only pitched four complete games last season despite his 22-3 season.
Most if not all teams today have five pitchers in their starting rotation, as opposed to McLain; who was part of a four-man rotation.
In this time of pitch counts and relief specialists for the eighth and ninth inning, a starter can be taken out of a tie game and lose any chance of being the winning pitcher.
We may see another 25-game winner since Randy Johnson won 24 games and Barry Zito won 23 games in 2002 but nobody has won more than 22 games since then.
While McLain was getting a lot of attention in 1968 for winning 31 games Juan Marichal had a 26-9 season the same year.
McLain came back to win 24 games in 1969 but the 661 innings pitched over the 1968 and 1969 seasons appear to have worn him down. He never won more than 10 games in his last three seasons.
I saw him in the '70s, warming up in the bullpen for the Shreveport Captains at Bringhurst Field in Alexandria, LA. It was ironic that a 31 game winner would finish his career pitching in the Double-A Texas League.
For a pitcher to win 30 games today, they would have to be incredibly lucky to stay in games long enough to record that many wins. They would have to win 30 of 34 starts which is next to impossible today. It may happen someday, but I wouldn’t bet my last nickel on it happening.