200 win pitchers: a brief history

After a flurry of 300 game winners in the first decade of this century, attention is focused again on who might be the next pitcher to reach this most celebrated of pitching milestones. As well, there has been as much or more speculation as to whether there will be another 300 game winner, what with the ever-increasing “care” with which pitchers are handled and the decline of the complete game to almost negligible levels.

Lost in the speculation about 300 wins is the fact that to reach that level a pitcher must obviously first pass 200 wins, a not insignificant accomplishment in itself. As there has been the unusual occurrence of 3 pitchers reaching 200 wins this season, it seems an opportune time to look a bit closer at that milestone.

After the jump, more on the 200 win club.

Let’s start with the history of the 200 win club, now with 114 members, Here’s a chart showing, by year, the number of 200 win pitchers, including the subset in the 300 win club.

200 and 300 Game Winners

Despite the increasing numbers of teams in the expansion era, growth in the 200 win club has shown a remarkably constant trend. That said, the rarity of 200 game winners has obviously become more pronounced in the expansion era than previously. Rarer still, of course, are the 300 game winners which, aside from a few periods of rapid growth, increase in number at a very slow rate indeed. Notable among those growth periods are the preceding decade and also the middle 1980s, both clearly visible on close inspection of the chart.

The increased rarity of the 200-game winner is also suggested by the overlaid line (plotted on the right axis) showing the median age of the active 200 game winners. 19th century pitchers normally reached 200 wins in their late twenties and early thirties (and, consequently, were frequently done shortly thereafter). Pud Galvin and Will White had as many as 75 starts in a season, and there have been 160 other seasons of 50+ starts, the last by Jack Chesbro in 1904. With downward trending of workloads, it takes longer for pitchers to reach 200 wins with the result that only older pitchers will reach this milestone today. That fact is graphically illustrated by the 200-game winners of the previous decade with median ages well into their forties, though this was also influenced by the unusual confluence of multiple 300 game winners during this period.

Next, let’s look at how many 200 and 300 game winners were active at any point in time. Following are charts for the entire history of the major leagues, showing the number of 200 game winners active in each season. For the purposes of this analysis, a pitcher must appear in a game to be active in a season (thus, a pitcher may be active, then inactive, then active again owing to injury, war or other circumstances). The totals for each season are broken down into 300 game winners, pitchers who would later reach 300 wins, and those who finished below the 300 level. Beside the bars are the names of 200 win pitchers, in the season in which they reached that milestone.

Active 200 Win Pitchers 1871-1919

 

 

HOFer Al Spalding was the first pitcher to 200 wins, doing so in only 5 seasons, with win totals of 19, 38, 41, 52, and 54. Spalding had just 5 losses in the last of those seasons in 1875, a .915 winning percentage, the best of any season with 20+ decisions.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, a majority of the active 200 win pitchers were 300 or future 300 game winners, including the 1888 season with four active 200-game winners who would all reach 300 wins. It would be over 100 years before that happened again with as many as four pitchers. Notable also are the peaks and troughs phenomenon, with sudden dips in the mid-1890s and late 1910s, patterns that recur in later years.

Active 200 Win Pitchers 1920-1972

Quite a different looking chart for the next period. Where there was as much red and green as purple in the previous chart, now there are large swaths of purple and little of the other colors, indicative of a paucity of 300 game winners, especially relative to the number of 200 game winners. This is most notable for the 30-year period from 1931 to 1960 with but a single 300-game winner, Lefty Grove, and he only just so, finishing right on the number (as an aside, by today’s rules, Grove would have reached no more than 298 wins, with two of his credited wins coming in starts in which he pitched less than 5 innings of a 9-inning game).

The impact of the lost seasons due to military service is also evident, with at least 4 active 200-game winners every year from 1925 to 1942, but not again until 1956. Included in this period is the entire 1949 season and the first part of the 1950 season, when there were no active pitchers at the 200-win level, an occurrence not seen again until more than 60 years later.

Active 200 Win Pitchers 1973-2013

The next period shows the greatest sustained concentration of active 200-win pitchers, running from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. The peak of 6 current or future 300-win pitchers in 1980 and 1981, at least five such pitchers for 8 seasons (1979 to 1986), and at least four for 10 seasons (1978 to 1987) are all without equal before or since. Not coincidentally, most of the pitchers represented in this period made their debuts in the early expansion years in the 1960s, with that sizable increase in teams and pitchers no doubt contributing to the later “bumper crop” of 200 and 300 game winners.

From a peak of eleven 200-win pitchers reached in 1979, 1982 and 1983, that number was halved 10 years later, and than dropped to just a single 200-game winner in 1995 and 1996. Roger Clemens‘ entry into the 200 club in 1997 signaled a rapid rise that peaked at a record twelve 200-game winners in 2008. Included in this period was 2001, the first year since 1888 that as many as four current or future 300-win pitchers comprised all of the active 200-game winners.

The most recent seasons have seen a sudden collapse from that 2008 peak with no more than two active 200-game winners at any time since 2010. That is, until this season, with Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson and CC Sabathia all reaching 200 wins within two months of each other. Included was 2011 when, for the first time since the start of the 1950 season, there were no active 200-win pitchers until Tim Wakefield‘s final career victory on Sep 13th of that season (Jamie Moyer and Andy Pettitte had both already passed 200 wins and would both be active players again, but neither was under contract to any organization in 2011).

To close here are charts showing each season’s active leader in career wins, with their end-of-season win totals.

Active Wins Leader 1871-1917 Active Wins Leader 1918-1967 Active Wins Leader 1968-2013

Notable currently is the active wins leader changing each season for 7 years running. That is likely to stop soon as, once Pettitte retires (for good), CC should run off several seasons as active leader.

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43 Comments on "200 win pitchers: a brief history"

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Richard Chester
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Early Wynn got credit for a win on 9-29-43 while pitching for the Senators in a game that he started and lasted only 4.2 innings. That was an early win.

e pluribus munu
Guest

A few more like that, Richard, and you’ll have to start contributing under a pseudonym.

John Autin
Editor

Hello, my name is Sue d’Aunim. What interesting blog posts are found here! Very much informative.

e pluribus munu
Guest

Nice to meet you, Sue. But please put John back on the line . . . unless you’re actually Richard.

Richard Chester
Guest

The PI shows 238 games with starting pitchers getting credit for a win with fewer than 4.2 IP, with 228 of them occurring before 1950. Some of them, especially in recent years, were a result of rain-shortened games. There were three games in which the pitcher went all of 1 inning and got the win. I don’t know when the 5-inning rule went into effect.

Richard Chester
Guest

Should be equal to or fewer than 4.2 innings.

Mr. Dave
Guest

I think Sabathia will eventually get to 300. Of the present pitchers, he seems to have the best shot at it.

Scott
Guest

I’d like to think that he will and he has a chance, but there are two things that come to mind:

1. He’s been going hot and cold recently along with being on a Yankees team that is having a little trouble with offense as of late.

2. He needs to lose some weight. Over time it will take a toll on him if he doesn’t do something about it soon.

I certainly hope that he can reach 300 wins though. He could be the last pitcher to have a shot at it for a while, maybe period…

John Autin
Editor
Nice piece, Doug! Those “Active” charts would make great posters. I just wish I had better color vision! I always laugh at the latest round of laments over the presumed “death” of the 300-game winner. It happened after Grove, it happened after Spahn/Wynn, it happened after the spate in ’80s, and it’s happening again now that the last batch of 4 have been gone for a few years. What the pundits seem to miss is that 300-game winners are inherently outliers; the prevailing trends are not that big of a determinant. Of the last 4 to reach 300 wins, none… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest

Other factors suggesting new generations of 300-game winners may be increased average longevity of productive pitchers as a consequence of reduced IP/yr and medical advances.

Side note: We were talking about Spahn the other day. When Spahn hit 350 wins after duplicating a career-best 23-7 season record in ’63, it seemed like a very good bet that we’d soon be seeing a 400-game winner. That’s one prospect we haven’t seen reappear in the last half-century.

PS: Second John on the artwork, Doug.

John Autin
Editor

Re: Spahnie’s collapse from age 42 to 43 — That might make an interesting study, guys who were good to a ridiculous age, but then suddenly lost it. Spahn at 40, 41, 42 was as consistent as you could imagine in almost all relevant stats — there wasn’t even a whiff of a fade at 42, with a 2.51 ERA in the 2nd half — and then, poof, it was gone.

no statistician but
Guest

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay?

John Autin
Editor

Why, no, nsb, I had not — but now I shall recite it each time I wind (in vain) my grandfather’s clock!

no statistician but
Guest

Them’s fightin’ words. One of the great satiric American poems likened to a sickly piece of sentiment of the Lawrence Welk ilk? I get the point, but there’s no comparison otherwise.

My theory on Spahn is that he suffered an arm injury, by the way, not sudden but gradually worsening, in May of 1964, that he toughed out for two years without revealing.

Compare Whitey Ford, who at age 36 went 16-13 for the bottom-dropped-out, 77-85 Yankees in 1965, then spent a year and a month on and off the disabled list, before the pain overcame the pride.

John Autin
Editor
nsb @12 — I thought of firing back, but since you managed to abut “Welk” and “ilk,” I shall forgive you. (Plus, I’m glad you led me to the Holmes poem.) There are things one is exposed to in a positive light at so tender an age that one can never thereafter view them with a mature eye and perceive how truly objectionable they are. For some, it is Yankee fandom; for me, it is maudlin ditties like “One Tin Soldier” and “My Grandfather’s Clock.” I cannot recall when, where or why I first heard “My Grandfather’s Clock,” nor why… Read more »
bstar
Guest
Hmmm, 400 wins. Spahn was an outlier (obviously) for his generation, as he outdistanced contemporary Early Wynn by 63 wins. Similarly, Maddux and Clemens won 50 more games than next-best Tom Glavine in the most recent generation. I’ve never really thought about it ’til now, but it’s food for thought: if you transport Maddog or Roger back 20 years or so and have them pitch ’65-’87 instead of ’85-’07 (that span is an approximation of the years actually pitched by these two), would they have come much closer to 400 wins? It’s a tough question, and my guess is it… Read more »
John Autin
Editor
Ramble on, bstar; ramble on. One easy source of more wins for Maddux is if the 1994-95 seasons had been played in full, especially as those were his best years, by most measures. Seems like the shortened schedules probably cost him at least 10 wins. I was looking at those years and making mental calculations. He’d averaged 36 starts for 4 years before the strike, and was on track for 37 starts in ’94. Then I noticed that he only had 28 starts in ’95, a year that was only shortened by 18 games. So I looked at his ’95… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest

Spahn missed 3 years due to WW II. No telling how that might have impacted his career, but . . . 13 wins/season isn’t out of the question, and all other things staying the same, that would put him at 402.

John Autin
Editor
nsb, that might be a reasonable projection for Spahn, but I’d be reluctant to speculate on a guy who had not yet established himself in the majors before going into the service. Spahn spent 1942 in the class-A Eastern League (not the highest minors). He did very well there, but got tattooed in 4 games with the Braves. And then his next professional action was June ’46 with the Braves. (No record of any minor-league tune-up those first two months.) It’s possible, maybe probable, that Spahn would have won 30-50 games in those 3 lost years, even though the Braves… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
If we’re going to give Maddux and Spahn catch-up opportunities on a level playing field, perhaps we should let the Braves play 8 more games a year from 1946 to 1961 to counter (and more) the completions of the 1994-95 seasons for Maddux. Heck – give Alex his single season in WWI and, at the rate he was winning before the war, he’d be over 400. On the other hand, would Spahn have won 287 games after age of 30 if he’d pitched when he was 22-24? The problem with this type of speculation for pitching wins is that if… Read more »
bstar
Guest
Good sniffing around on the ’95 game logs. I think Bobby Cox knew what he had in Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz and hoped to squeeze as much effectiveness out of this Hall-caliber trio that he could as far as number of years pitched without the toll of accumulated innings taking their effect. Plus he was probably factoring in all the extra pitching these guys had thrown in the postseason from ’91 on (and I’m sure it wasn’t just Cox mulling over those decisions either). I had certainly forgotten that the Braves staff went five-deep year-round as early as ’95. Further evidence of Cox… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

@21

4 no decisions out of those 11 games in 2002.

Including this one, pulled in a scoreless game after 5, with only 51 pitches:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ATL/ATL200206200.shtml

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Muddux’s final start:

6 innings
1 run

47 pitches

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN200809270.shtml

Mike L
Guest
Maddux was one of my favorites (yes, I know, I’m a Yankee fan…) but I think the last third of his career he relied far more on pitch selection, movement, change of speeds, varying the plane of the ball, etc. Probably took more mental and physical energy than just cutting loose for 110 pitches. And he knew himself, and his limits, very well. Here’s a bit from the Chicago Times reporting on his 299th victory. “Maddux stumped the slumping Brewers, losers of nine of their last 10, over six innings. He allowed one run, on Russell Branyan’s long home run,… Read more »
bstar
Guest

Good call, Mike.

You’re right, Maddux was known for removing himself from ballgames when he wasn’t feeling it–a very stark contrast to the “You had to pry the ball from his hands” mentality of the Jack Morrises of the world.

But I doubt that’s what was going on very often pre-2004.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
@13/bstar, What they gained in games and innings pitched, they may have lost in medical care. If Clemens and Maddux’s careers started two decades earlier, they wouldn’t have had the benefit of the more advanced medical technology and overall care of the era in which they actually played. Not that doctors were using leeches in the 60s/70s, but arthroscopic surgery hadn’t been invented yet, so any surgery would’ve been more invasive. Also, it’s possible that the lack of pitch counts, and the expectation of aces pitching complete games, may have led to their arms getting abused and their careers ending… Read more »
bstar
Guest
You’re right, Lawrence. This was more of a thought experiment, and I did conclude almost immediately that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the win totals of Rocket or Maddux had they played twenty years prior. I wasn’t thinking of medical care, I admit. Maddux especially was freakishly healthy. Rather than spending off-days in the training room, he was more likely out on the golf course losing money to John Smoltz. And Clemens, PED possible-use notwithstanding, had a legendary year-round workout regimen similar to that of Nolan Ryan, so I’m not convinced these two particular guys benefited… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
Guest
@24/bstar, Well, I don’t think either one of us is “right” or “wrong”; as you say, it’s just a fun thought experiment in an alternate universe, so to speak, for their careers. Yes, Clemens had a legendary year-round workout regimen, but his 1985 season ended early for shoulder surgery. He also missed significant time in 1990, 1993, 1993 and 2002 with injuries. Maddux was indeed a freak of nature, not missing a start in – well, I really can’t figure if he indeed did miss a start, once he was established in the rotation. Warren Spahn’s win totals may have… Read more »
Mike L
Guest
Not to be heretical, but the person who reminds me most of Maddux physically/in terms of delivery is Mariano Rivera. Both extremely athletic although they don’t necessarily look it, both with perfect mechanics, no wasted motion. The two of them and Wayne Gretzky were all cut from the same genetic material, and all three of them were geniuses. I used to see Gretzky on the street a few times a month when he played for New York (he lived a few blocks away and many millions of dollars apart) and if you didn’t know who he was, you wouldn’t look… Read more »
bstar
Guest

Not to be doubly-heretical, but the guy Matt Harvey reminds me the most of in terms of physique/stuff/delivery is the guy who wore a #300 on his glove when he had 299 wins. (sure hope John Autin doesn’t read that).

John Autin
Editor

Did I not just say “Grrrr…”???

RJ
Guest

John Hiller is overrated.

Hartvig
Guest

You grab RJ’s other arm John and maybe KalineCountry can get his legs and we’ll give him a swirly….

RJ
Guest

I realise now that I have made some mistakes. I wish to apologize to any Tigers fans I may have offended. I am glad to have this matter behind me, and I cannot wait to get back to posting comments on the baseball community I love.

Ed
Guest

Who’s John Hiller????? (kidding, kidding)

Darien
Guest

Come on, Ed. Seriously? John Hiller? He directed Love Story, remember?

Ed
Guest

Darien – Didn’t he also play Higgins on Magnum P.I.? 🙂

bstar
Guest

Magnum, Shmagnum. To me, John Hiller will always be noted Rock Ridge socialite Howard Johnson.

Darien
Guest

Shame it’s so far from April; somebody really should put up a post about the many off-the-field achievements of John Hiller. 😀

John Autin
Editor

All umbrage aside, I do see resemblance between Harvey and Lucius Malfoy … er, Clemens. Both a little chubby in the face. I think the Harvey delivery looks a little more effortless, but I’m surely biased on both counts.

KalineCountry
Guest

I just spit out some coffee, and crumbled my morning cigar in my hand reading post 29.
A swirly doesn’t cut it…..I can make a call to a couple of friends in the North End of Boston.

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[…] a fun graphics-intensive post at HighHeatStats about 200 and 300 game winners from July […]

crazesupplement
Guest

Terrific Post. I’ve been speaking this for decades but no one
has wanted to listen. Now i’m merely glad I’m not the only person and there are other folks
on my side. Appreciate it!

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