You never really know athletes you cover or cheer for, even the ones in your own town. So making judgments on a guy who stops by once a year is fool’s gold. But C.C. Sabathia certainly comes across as a solid guy.
Down to Earth. Humble. Friendly. Heck, just the fact that he comes to the Warren Spahn Awards Gala every year — three straight years now — shows some solid character in the guy. Lot of guys who shine on the pitching mound of Yankee Stadium would say no to a January trip to Oklahoma City.
But here’s what I learned yesterday researching some Sabathia stuff for my column. The guy could make a run at 300 wins.
It’s become common to claim the 300 club is about to close, that we’ll see no more members join the fraternity in in the next generation. Only 24 pitchers have reached 300, the most recent being Randy Johnson (2009), Tom Glavine (2007), Greg Maddux (2004) and Roger Clemens (2003).
Nobody else is within sniffing distance of 300. Heck, no one else is within a Polo Grounds home run of 300.
The remarkable Mike Mussina retired after the 2008 season, a year in which he went 20-9. At the age of 39, he had 270 wins. Hang on for three more years, get 10 wins a year, and Mussina would have been there. He was the last chance for probably a decade. David Wells is the next-highest winner on the recently-retired list, with 239 victories. He retired at age 44 in 2007. Curt Schilling retired after the 2007 season at age 4o; he had 216 wins.
Among active pitchers, Jamie Moyer is the closest, with 258 victories. But Moyer is 46 years old. He’d have to win 11 games a year until he’s 50. I guess it’s possible. Moyer the last three seasons with the Phillies — a real ballteam, not some franchise just filling out a roster — has gone 14-12, 16-7, 12-10. That’s 42 wins the last three years. Get 42 wins the NEXT three years, and Moyer will reach 300. He also will smash all known age barriers in baseball.
Past Moyer, there’s no one. Here are the next four active victory leaders:
* Andy Pettitte: 37 years old, 229 wins. Pettitte’s last five seasons have been unbelievably solid: 17-9, 14-13, 15-9, 14-14, 14-8. He’s not fooling anybody anymore; his ERA hovers over 4.00. But Pettitte can still win games with the Yanks. To reach 299, Pettitte would need five straight years of 14 wins. Possible, I suppose, but not likely. Probably about the same chance as Moyer.
* Pedro Martinez: 37 years old, 219 wins. Pedro once was the best pitcher in baseball, but that was in the decade before last. He seems to have nine lives; the Phillies signed him late in 2009, and he actually started two World Series games. But he hasn’t reached double-digit wins in five years. Virtually no chance at 300.
* John Smoltz, 42 years old, 213 wins: Smoltz’s mid-career move to the bullpen cost him his chance. I think he would have made it to 300 if he hadn’t spent four full seasons as the Braves’ closer. By the way, that was an awful move. You’ve got a Hall of Fame pitcher, a guy who throws anywhere from 180 innings to 250 inning a year, averaging about 18 wins a season, and you move him to the bullpen so he can average 71 innings a year. Teams that do that aren’t interested in getting batters out.
* Tim Wakefield, 42 years old, 189 wins: The knuckleball specialist can go for a long time, but let’s get real. Wakefield broke in with the ’92 Pirates — yes, the Pirates doomed by Sid Bream — and he’s been tossing up knucklers ever since. He got to 189 wins the hard way. Only four times has Wakefield posted more than 12 wins. If he gets to 300 by winning 11 games for the next decade, it’s the ultimate tortoise story.
And that’s everybody in the major leagues with more than 156 wins. Now you’re getting into the Livian Hernandez, Kevin Millwood, Bartolo Colon, Mike Hampton crowd. So we have to readjust and start long-range projecting. Here are five guys worth discussing.
1. Roy Halladay, 32 years old, 148 wins. Halladay does two things necessary. He pitches, and he wins. Rarely hurt, rarely hit hard. If Halladay can win 17 games a year for the next six years — a very difficult task — he’s at 250, age 38 and maybe he could hang on to reach 300.
2. Javier Vasquez, 32 years old, 142 wins: Latin pitchers are an interesting lot. They are unusually good in their 30s but don’t tend to hang on into their 40s. So Vasquez has a tough road. He’s six wins behind Halladay, the same age with nowhere near the established winning track. We asked Halladay to win 17 games a year for six years; Vasquez never has won 17 games yet.
3. Roy Oswalt, 32 years old, 137 wins: Another 32-year-old, but this one is a bigger winner. He got a later start; his first victory with the Astros came at age 23. His established performance level is greater than Halladay’s, not by much, but every little bit counts. He’s won 94 games the last six years. Win 94 the next six years, and he’s at 231 wins and age 38. A little behind Andy Pettitte.
4. C.C. Sabathia, 29 years old, 136 wins: Now we come to the crown jewel. A guy still in his 20s. That’s the key, you see. No one — with the exception of Phil Niekro and the possible exception of Jamie Moyer — reaches 300 wins from behind. You’ve got to get a good start. Sabathia has a good start. He’s pitched nine seasons in the big leagues and averaged 15 wins a year, often for bad teams. He’s no longer on a bad team. The Yanks are loaded for the future, and Sabathia never has shown a sign of breaking down. What if he wins 15 games a year for the next 10 years? Does that seem unreasonable? Sure, he might have an arm injury that limits him to 10 starts some year, but he’s also going to win more than 15 several times. I don’t think 150 wins the next 10 years is kooky talk about this guy, who is among the most consistent pitchers of recent decades. Sabathia won the Warren Spahn Award; he’s Warren Spahn light. Spahn seemed to win 22 games every season. Sabathia seems to win 17 games every season. If Sabathia wins 15 games a year for 10 years — which to me is the most likely of all these possibilities we’ve discussed — he’s 39 years old and has 286 wins. Which means he’ll make it.
So there you have it. Only 24 men have reached 300 wins in the major leagues. The most likely pitcher to be No. 25 is C.C. Sabathia.