And, as always seems to happen whenever there’s a 300-game winner, he is being heralded as the last of a dying breed.
You know the drill: Before Johnson, Tom Glavine was supposed to be the last 300-game winner. Before him, Greg Maddux was supposed to be the last. Before him, it was Roger Clemens. The death of the 300-game winner, it seems, has been greatly overstated.
True, the gap between Johnson and the next legitimate candidate is pretty wide. And true, innings pitched and games started are down.
And true — perhaps the most important part — we’re starting to realize that the Win is an overrated stat. The pitcher with the most wins is not necessarily the best pitcher, but 300 of them is a significant accomplishment. A pitcher can throw an amazing game and not get a win. Likewise, he can throw a terrible game and get a win.
Let’s take a look at Glavine and Maddux, the last 300-game winners, Johnson, probably the next 300-game winner, and some of the top candidates to be the one after that.
Johnson was a steady performer, but his numbers didn’t really begin to skyrocket until his age 29 year, at which point he won 17 or more games 8 out of the next 9 seasons. He didn’t have his first 10-win season until he was 26 – just a year younger than Zambrano and Sabathia are right now.
What does it take to be a 300-game winner? You’d have to be a 20-game winner fifteen times to get to 300, or a fifteen-game winner twenty times. A single-digit win season puts a pitcher off of the mark – but you can see now that Glavine, Maddux, and Johnson all had single-digit seasons, but their longevity helped them make up for it.
We’re probably never going to see another “Kid Nichols,” who became a 300-game winner at the age of thirty. He had seven thirty-plus win seasons – not likely for any other pitcher to accomplish without a drastic change in the way the game is played. At the age of 20, he won twenty-seven.
Sabathia won seventeen at the age of twenty.
I’m not ready to say that none of these guys is going to reach three hundred. After the 2008 season, C.C. Sabathia had 117 wins at the age of 27 – more than either Glavine, Maddux, or Johnson had at that age. He’s also thrown more innings (253) than Glavine (267) or Maddux (265) at that point.