The 300-victory workout plan: Win a lot of games after age 35
Pitchers who win 300 are Hall of Fame locks (except possibly Roger Clemens)
The key to reaching 300 is winning a lot of games from age 35 to 44
Randy Johnson, the latest to 300, had only 99 wins at age 31
Three hundred victories is an iconic thing. I realize, of course, that victories is a generally lousy way to rank pitchers, but it is what it is. Pitcher who win 300 go to the Hall of Fame, no exceptions*. Pitchers who don't win 300 ... maybe they go to the Hall (Gibson, Roberts, Marichal, Drysdale, Hunter) and maybe they don't (Blyleven, John, Kaat, Tiant, Morris).
*Unless the voters decide to punish Roger Clemens.
So, how do you get to 300? Well, this will sound blindingly obvious, I know, but in order to win 300 games in the big leagues you pretty much have to win a lot of games as an old man. Blindingly obvious, yes, but this gets at the question that Bill James and I began to talk about recently in our inaugural co-column: Why is it that every time someone wins 300 games (as Randy Johnson has now done) people assume that he will be the last one ever to do it?
The reason, I think, is that you can't project 300 because you have absolutely no idea who is going to win a lot of games from age 35 to 44 -- and having looked hard at the 12 pitchers who have won their 300th game since World War II, winning in those later years is the key to winning 300.
That is, no one since WWII has clinched 300 victories with dominating performances in their 20s. One way to look at it is to take a look at the winningest pitchers, by age, since the War:
Most wins to 25: Dwight Gooden with 119 (career wins: 194), Denny McLain with 114 (career wins: 131) -- none of the top 17 won 300.
Most wins to 27: Gooden with 142, Don Drysdale with 141 (career wins: 209) -- none of the top 10 won 300.
Most wins to 29: Catfish Hunter with 184 (career wins: 224), Robin Roberts with 179 (career wins: 286) -- none of the top 6 won 300.
Most wins to 31: Hunter with 210, Roberts with 206 -- none in the top 5 won 300.
Yes, the march to 300 has been mostly about late-life success. Here's another way to look at it: This is the average number of victories for those 12 pitchers who have won 300 games since WWII, by age:
18-24: 32 victories
Pretty easy to see there -- the 300-game winners averaged more victories from 35 to 39 than they did in their supposed prime of 25-29. They pulled in, on average, 53 victories from age 40 to 48 -- now, admittedly this is somewhat tilted because Phil Niekro won so many games after age 40 (121), but every one of the 300-game winners won more than a dozen games after age 40.
So take someone like Bert Blyleven. After his age-39 season he had 279 victories ... more than half of the post-WWII 300-game winners had at that age, more than Nolan Ryan, Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Tom Glavine, Johnson or Early Wynn. But Blyleven could not quite finish it off. Jack Morris after his age-37 season had 237 victories, pretty darned close to the average of those 12 300-game winners (243). But he won only 17 games in two rough years after that.
So, it's really impossible to predict. Johnson had only 99 victories at age 31. Niekro had only 97 victories at age 33. Perry, Warren Spahn, Ryan, Wynn ... these guys did not look like great bets for 300 when they reached their mid-30s. But they won a lot of games late in their careers. Niekro, as a knuckleballer, just kept going and going and going. Perry had a late-career renaissance -- he won 21 games as a 39-year-old and 47 more after that. Spahn won 20 games or more seven times after he turned 35. Johnson was probably at his very best from age 35 to 40. And so on.
So when looking at potential 300-game winners ... well, there's no way to do it. But we'll go ahead and take a look anyway at the most likely candidates, from age 26 on up. We're not including victories from the first part of this year.
THROUGH AGE 26
THROUGH AGE 27
THROUGH AGE 28
THROUGH AGE 29
THROUGH AGE 30
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