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Berry Tramel

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Where have baseball's 20-game winners gone?

by Berry Tramel Published: August 22, 2014
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Oakland's Scott Kazmir is tied for the American League lead with 14 victories and is on pace for 18 wins. (AP Photo)
Oakland's Scott Kazmir is tied for the American League lead with 14 victories and is on pace for 18 wins. (AP Photo)

The Twins’ Phil Hughes, the Athletics’ Scott Kazmir, the Tigers’ Rick Porcello and the Tigers’ Max Scherzer are tied for the American League lead with 14 victories each.

Which means they are on pace to finish with 18 wins. More evidence that baseball has changed.

Only four times in baseball history — going back to 1876 — has the league leader finished with fewer than 19 victories, discounting work-stoppage years.

In 2006, Aaron Harang, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Brandon Webb and Carlos Zambrano tied for the National League lead with 16 victories.

In 1987, Rick Sutcliffe led the NL with 18 wins.

In 1960, Chuck Estrada and Jim Perry tied for the AL lead with 18 wins. In 1955, Whitey Ford, Bob Lemon and Frank Sullivan tied for the AL lead with 18 wins.

Those seasons in the 1900s were aberrations. 2006 and 2014 are not.

Reaching 20 victories has become harder and harder in baseball as teams limit the starts and the innings pitched for their aces. No major leaguer has reached 22 wins since 2008 (Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb), and no pitcher has reached 23 wins since 2002 (Randy Johnson and Barry Zito).

In 2009 and 2006, no major league pitcher reached 20 wins.

Before 2006, rarely did a league leader not reach 20 wins.

Sutcliffe. The Phillies’ John Denny in 1983, the White Sox’ LaMarr Hoyt in 1982, Estrada and Perry in 1960, the 1955 trio and the 1931 trio of the Phils’ Jumbo Elliott, the Cardinals’ Bill Hallahan and the Pirates’ Heinie Meine.

As recently as the 1970s, good pitchers made at least 40 starts. Mike Flanagan, Dennis Leonard, Jim Palmer, Randy Jones, Andy Messersmith, Don Sutton, Jack Billingham, Steve Carlton, Jerry Reuss, Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins.

Denny McLain made 41 starts when he won 31 games in 1968. Mickey Lolich made 45 starts in 1971.

But now, no pitcher has started at least 36 games since Greg Maddux and Roy Halladay in 2003. No pitcher has started at least 37 since Maddux in 1991. The last pitcher to start 40 games was knuckleballer Charlie Hough in 1987. Before that, it was Jim Clancy in 1982.

It’s hard to win 20 when you’re making 35 starts. And you’re coming out of a 3-2 game in the seventh inning.

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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