Pitcher wins aren’t a good measure of performance. It’s 2012, and I’d wager that most people are aware of this fact. Yet there are always those who will cite the metric in situations such as, for instance, the Cy Young award debate. “But Verlander won 24 games,” they’ll cry, as if the Tigers have but one man on their roster.
Of course, that argument is incredibly flawed. What about all the other variables—run support, quality of relief pitching, quality of opposition, defense, and battled ball luck (to name a few)—that determine the amount of wins a pitcher accumulates in a given season? But the stalwart, hardened traditionalist will simply fail to acknowledge the rational arguments made against pitcher wins.
Why is this? The win is so deeply embedded in baseball’s culture. It is a relic of a storied history that no other sport can boast. Steve Carlton won 27 games in 1972 with a club that only won 59 games. Hell, Old Hoss Radbourn won 59 games in a single season. These romanticized feats are part of the reason why pitcher wins are still around, despite the fact that most people don’t read too much into them. It’s just plain fun to root for your ace to become a 20 game winner—an increasingly uncommon feat that makes him part of baseball history.
With that being said, we’re spoiled here in Philadelphia to have three pitchers that, given the right circumstances, could easily win 20 games in any given year. We’re also spoiled to have the one guy in baseball that probably has the best chance of reaching the elusive 300 win club—a mark that has only been surpassed 24 times in all of baseball history. Roy Halladay, who will turn 35 in May, sits at 188 wins. He will need 112 more of those to join the likes of Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and the most recent 300 game winner, Randy Johnson. Quite obviously, this is going to be hard to do.
But what are the chances that Halladay actually does this? Is it so impossible? Tom Tango, perhaps the most well-respected researcher in the sabermetrics community, recently did a rough calculation of Cliff Lee‘s chances of reaching 300 wins, and concluded that the probability was somewhere around 10 percent. I’d like to use the basic framework that Tom developed to assign a rough estimate to the chances of Halladay joining the club.
First, we need to look at pitchers who were similar to Halladay. In his age 31-34 seasons, he pitched 969.1 innings while giving up runs at a rate of 62.5% of league average. Lowering the standards a little bit, I searched through Baseball Reference’s play index for pitchers who threw at least 800 innings of a 120 ERA+ during their age 31-34 seasons, giving me a sample of 17 rough comparisons for Doc. To clarify, we’re not looking for pitchers on this list that are necessarily in the 300-win club. Instead, we’re looking to see how many of these guys won at least 112 games from that point on in their career.
|Pitcher||Wins after 34|
Clemens, Maddux, and Perry are the only three that managed to win at least 112 from age 35 and onward (Lefty just missed the mark with 104). Three of 17 gives a rough—and I mean rough—probability of 18 percent. Clearly the most important determining variable here is longevity as each pitcher that accumulated 112+ wins pitched at least a few years into their 40s.
So what are the chances that Halladay wins 300 games? I’d go with odds of about 1 in 5. It’s really not hard to picture Doc being an effective starter at least until the age of 40, and his last few years almost seem to suggest that he is getting better with age. Instead, my main concern is the anemic Phillies offense that he will likely play behind until at least 2014. Run support hasn’t been an issue for him during his time in Philadelphia (40 wins in just two years), but it’s difficult to imagine this aging offense helping him much over the next few seasons. It will take an incredible amount of unwavering talent, good health, and mostly luck to help push Halladay into baseball immortality, but if there’s someone that could do it, it’s Doc.