While Tom Glavine chased down his magical 300th victory, we were subjected to a lot of commentary regarding the growing difficulty of achieving the milestone most associated with Hall of Fame pitchers. As the 500 HR club grows at a dramatically faster pace, it has been widely publicized that the 300 W plateau is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. The five-man rotation, smaller ballparks, the slider, steroids, etc. All are indicted as creating an atmosphere for pitchers which has allowed only three 300 game winners in the last sixteen years. In other words, as many as will likely join the 500 HR club this season.
The fact is, however, the 300 W club has always been this exclusive. Only three times in baseball history have there been three new members of the 300 W club in the span of five seasons. From 2003-2007 we have seen the addition of Glavine, Maddux, and Clemens. From 1982-1986, five pitchers - Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton - reached the mark. And the first five ballplayers to win 300 did so between 1888-1892: Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch, Charley Radbourn, and John Clarkson. So, you could say, there has been a glut of 300 game winners in recent seasons. Many of our contemporary commentators were probably spoiled by the richness of legendary pitchers in the '80s, which may be why it seems to them that winning 300 is getting harder. But, prior to 1982 there had been an even longer drought. Eighteen seasons came and went between Early Wynn's 300th win and Perry's. When Wynn won his 300th, Perry was still a relief pitcher with four career wins. And that isn't even the longest stretch without new members. Nineteen full seasons expired between 1941, when Lefty Grove won his 300th, and 1961, when Warren Spahn did. There has been speculation that we could be in for another, perhaps longer, drought, now that Glavine has reached the plateau. But I doubt it. Perhaps, due to his chronic back problems, Randy Johnson really will call it quits only 16 wins shy of 300. But I doubt it. The Big Unit proved this season that even in pain he could still be pretty dominant. He made seven quality starts in ten attempts for the Diamondbacks. Next season he is likely to start receiving the Roger Clemens treatment, thus giving him extra time to rest his back. And, he'll be pitching on a young team that is proving during the second half of this season that they can win a lot of games. Perhaps Mike Mussina, at age 38, cannot expect to win 50 more games. But I doubt it. He hasn't thrown less than 165 innings or won less than twelve games since his rookie season in 1991. He is a physically fit, control pitcher playing for a perennial contender. He is likely to follow in the footsteps of Glavine, Maddux, and Clemens, pitching well into his forties. Perhaps Pedro Martinez' surgery will leave him a shadow of his former self and prevent him from chasing the best winning percentage of any pitcher from the modern era (Spud Chandler - 71.7%; Pedro - 69.1%). But I doubt it. Pedro is only 35, but still needs 94 wins to reach 300. That's something of a long shot, I'll admit. But if Pedro does maintain the pace of his injury-free seasons, he'll only need five and a half more years.
Those are the only three who have already recorded upward of 200 victories who have a legitimate chance. Here are five more active pitchers who with another decade or so, have at least an outside chance of winning 300: Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, C. C. Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, and Johan Santana. Three factors figure heavily in these choices. Longevity: this includes both a track record of avoiding injury and a body-type likely to age gracefully (i.e. not David Wells or Bartolo Colon). Since Christy Mathewson (1912), only Maddux and Carlton have reached 300 prior to the age of 40. Stamina: the ability to consistently work deep into ballgames, the longer a pitcher stays around the more likely he is to get the W. The three most recent additions to the club averaged 6.77 inning per start over the entirety of their careers. Control: While there are some great strikeout artists in the club, the vast majority of the members pitched to contact and avoided the base on balls. Only Clemens (#14) and Ryan (#4) have 300 wins and also rank among the top 70 all-time in K/9 IP. Only four members (Wynn, Carlton, Glavine, and Niekro) averaged more than 3.00 BB/9 IP.