Age takes no Halladay
Over the past 4 years, Roy Halladay leads the majors with 77 wins, a 160 ERA+ (min. 500 IP), 969 IP and 27.7 bWAR. With 188 career wins through age 34, he’s the active wins leader (at least until Jamie Moyer takes the mound in a real game). He still in peak form, winning 19 last year while leading the NL in ERA+ and pitchers’ WAR.
What are his chances of winning 300?
In a poll on ESPN.com with over 10,000 votes cast, 66% say “yes.” SweetSpot blogger David Schoenfield builds his case for “yes” by examining the last 10 pitchers to reach 300 wins. I like Schoenfield – his postgame stories during last year’s postseason were terrific deadline writing – but that strikes me as no way to tackle the problem. Those guys made it to 300 wins in large part because they were able to stay healthy and effective for many years after age 35. They averaged 128 wins from age 35 onward, with at least 97 wins for all but one; six of them won more than the 112 that Halladay needs to join the club.
I think it’s more useful to look at those who were similar to Halladay through age 34, and what they did from there on. So here goes:
Group 1: Since 1901, there are 111 pitchers who:
- had 15+ wins in their age-34 season; and
- are either retired or over the age of 45 (Moyer).
Care to guess their average win total from age 35 onward? Or how many of those 111 pitchers won at least 112 more games from age 35 (the number Halladay needs for 300)? While you ponder that….
Group 2: Let’s narrow the field to the 25 pitchers who met the prior criteria and had 180+ wins through age 34.* Almost all those guys are in the Hall of Fame (19) or have a very good shot at enshrinement (Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Mussina). The only one’s who’ve been rejected by the HOF are Jim Kaat and Carl Mays. What would you guess was the average win total for those elite pitchers from age 35 onward?
And the answers are:
- Group 1 averaged 53 wins from age 35 onward, with a median of 44. Just 13 of the 111 got the 112 wins that Halladay needs for 300.
- Group 2 averaged 78 wins from age 35 onward, with a median of 73. Six of the 25 got 112+ wins.
Here are Group 2’s totals from age 35:*
Considering that Halladay has been consistently great over the past 10 years and is still at his peak, it may seem natural to project him winning 18+ for many years to come. But I looked at the top 10 from Group 2 in wins at age 34; that’s 10 guys with at least 187 wins through age 34 and 21+ wins at age 34. Only three of those ten got to 300 wins: Roger Clemens (354), Tom Glavine (305, 97 from age 35) and Early Wynn (300).
Notes on the other seven:
- Burleigh Grimes had a spectacular year at 34, with a career-high 25 wins, which gave him 207. Grimes won 50 over the next 3 years, but managed just 13 in his last 3 seasons and was washed up at age 40. He finished with 270 wins.
- Whitey Ford went 24-7 at 34 (leading the league in wins and innings), giving him 199 wins. He won 33 over the next 2 years, but injuries limited him to 4 wins in his final 2 years, and he retired at 38 with 236 wins.
- Bob Gibson at 34 won his 2nd Cy Young Award with a career-high 23 wins, giving him 190. He won 35 over the next 2 years, but just 26 in 3 years after that. Gibson retired at 39 with 251 wins.
- Carl Hubbell at 34 went 22-8 and placed 3rd in the MVP vote. It was his 5th straight year of at least 21 wins, and gave him 192 for his career. The Meal Ticket pitched 6 more years but never won more than 13, totaling 61 wins from age 35 and 253 for his career.
- Eppa Rixey won 21 at 34, giving him 100 wins in the past 5 years and 187 for his career. He won 45 over the next 3 years, but just 34 over his last 5 years as both he and the Reds (7th or 8th each year) fell on hard times. Rixey finished with 266 wins.
- Mordecai Brown won 21 at 34, capping a 6-year run averaging 25 wins, reaching 190 for his career. It was his last really good year in the true majors, and even counting his 17-8 season in the Federal League, he won just 49 games from age 35 and finished with 239.
- Red Ruffing won 21 at 34, his 4th straight 20-win season, reaching 214 career wins. He won 44 over the next 3 years, though with a clear decline in IP and effectiveness. But WWII service cost him the next 2-1/2 years, and he won just 15 more in his last 2-1/2 years, giving him 59 wins from age 35 and 273 career wins. (Just how many wins Ruffing lost to the service is debatable. Although he won 29 in his prior 2 years, he was clearly in decline, averaging 190 IP and a 110 ERA+ those 2 years. Also, the Yankees in 1944-45 averaged 82 wins, down 16 from Ruffing’s prior 12 full years there.)
One more perspective, starting from Halladay’s 4-year total of 77 wins. Here are the pitchers in the last 20 years with 70+ wins in a 4-year span (I’ll list just one per pitcher):
- 81, Randy Johnson, 1999-2002 (age 38): That run of 4 straight Cy Young Awards, each one somehow better than the last, helped vault Johnson from 81 wins through age 30 all the way to 224 wins through age 38. But there was only one more year of vintage Big Unit; it took him 7 years to get #300.
- 77, Pedro Martinez, 1997-2000 (age 28): 3 Cy Youngs in 4 years left Pedro with 125 wins. He won 94 more over his last 9 years and finished with 219.
- 74, Bartolo Colon, 2002-05 (age 32): 22 wins in 6 years since.
- 74, Curt Schilling, 2001-04 (age 37): 32 wins in his final 3 years.
- 72, Mark Mulder, 2001-04 (age 26): 22 wins in the next 2 years, none since. Mulder had 97 wins through age 27, but finished with 103.
- 71, Greg Maddux, 1999-2002 (age 36): Pitched 6 more years, with a record of 82-75 and 104 ERA+.
- 71, Tom Glavine, 1998-2001 (age 35): Winning 18 at age 36 gave Glavine 242 wins and 55 in his past 3 years. But it took him 5 full years to get #300.
- 71, David Wells, 1997-2000 (age 37): Pitched 7 more years, through age 44, adding 78 wins.
- 70, Brandon Webb, 2005-08 (age 29): Hasn’t won a game in 3 years since.
- 70, Johan Santana, 2004-07 (age 28): 40 wins in the 4 years since.
Finally, I ran Halladay’s numbers through the Bill James Career Assessment Tool. It came up with a 17% of winning 300, roughly 1 in 6. My gut tells me it’s a little better, but not more than 30%. What do you think – and why?
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