If a pitcher never gets more than 17 wins in a season and retires at age 34, what are his chances of winning 200?
Since 1945, eleven pitchers have reached 200 wins by their age-33 season. Ten of them had a 20-win season by the time they won #200, and nine did it more than once, totaling forty-four 20-win seasons. The 11th guy just plugged away:
- Jim Palmer had 8 20-win seasons (counting the year of #200), with a high of 23.
- Fergie Jenkins had 7, with a high of 25. (Yet Pappas was 3 months younger than Jenkins when they won their respective 200ths.)
- Robin Roberts had 6, with a high of 28.
- Juan Marichal had 6, with a high of 26.
- Tom Seaver had 5 (counting the year he won #200), with a high of 25.
- Catfish Hunter had 5, with a high of 25.
- Steve Carlton had 4, with a high of 27. (Pappas was 3 months younger than Carlton….)
- Don Drysdale had 2, with a high of 25.
- Greg Maddux had 2, both exactly 20.
- Don Sutton had one 21-win season.
- Milt Pappas never won more than 17 in a season.
This column started with me looking at Raphy’s recent post and wondering which of those first eight pitchers reached 200 wins the fastest and youngest, despite never winning 20. Each took at least 17 years (Chuck Finley) and was at least 36 at the time (Frank Tanana) — except for Pappas, who made it in his 16th year, at age 33.
Milt Pappas signed with the Orioles in 1957 as a “bonus baby” out of high school. After 3 games in class A (no wins), he made his big league debut at home against the Yankees, 3 months after turning 18. He held the Bombers scoreless in 2 innings of relief, retiring Enos Slaughter, Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron, Hank Bauer, Tony Kubek and pitcher Bob Turley. (Mickey Mantle and Jerry Lumpe singled.) His very next outing came in Yankee Stadium; he allowed his first run, but retired Mantle, who was on a 29-for-52 streak that raised his BA to .384. Pappas wound up that first year with no decisions in 4 relief games, allowing just that one run in 9 innings. He would not be going back to the minors.
He made the rotation out of spring training in ’58 and earned his first win a week before his 19th birthday. Pappas made 21 starts that year and went 10-10 with a 4.06 ERA, 89 ERA+, becoming the first pitcher in 20 years with a 10-win season before turning 20. In 1959, he logged 209 IP with a record of 15-9 and a 116 ERA+, earning his 14th career win on his 20th birthday; a year later he got win #27 on his 21st birthday and went 15-11, 113 ERA+.
And that pretty much defined Milt Pappas for 14 seasons. From 1959-72, he won 12 to 17 games every year but one, with a winning record all but two years and an ERA+ from 101 to 138 all but three years. Slowly but steadily, the wins mounted: #100 came 2 days after he turned 26, and he had 153 wins before turning 30.
His two losing records were 12-13 in ’68, and 6-10 in ’69, when he had a 101 ERA+ and was the unluckiest pitcher on the division-winning Braves.
Some of that luck was made up in 1972, when Pappas won 17 in just 28 starts and 195 IP. He did have a 138 ERA+, but only 80 strikeouts; he was the first SP in a decade with 16+ wins and less than 90 Ks. However, the luck did not extend as far as getting a gift strike call on Sept. 2, 1972, when Pappas retired the first 26 Padres and had a 2-2 count on pinch-hitter Larry Stahl (a .232 career hitter), but walked him; he then retired Garry Jestadt for the no-hitter. Jestadt was pinch-hitting for leadoff man Enzo Hernandez, who was hitting .184 and wound up at .195 for the year. (“You might not have an optimal lineup if … your best chance to avoid the no-hitter is to PH for your leadoff man with a guy who bats from the same side.”)
The ’72 no-hitter — 8 years to the day after he lost one with 2 down in the 8th on a single by Zoilo Versalles — was his 6th straight win in as many starts. That streak began on August 2, ran through his 200th win on Sept. 20 (a 6-2 CG) and carried to the end of the season, making him a perfect 11-0 in the last two months. It would be 25 years before another pitcher topped that streak. (Brad Radke won 12 straight starts in 1997.)
The next year, Pappas turned 34 and went 7-12 with a 92 ERA+. Three of his last four starts were 6+ IP and 1 run or less, and he was one win shy of 100 in the NL — he would have been just the 4th to win 100+ in both leagues — but he decided to call it quits.