Wednesday, December 26, 2007

20 Game Winners With Fewer Than 100 Career Wins

Pitchers who win twenty games in a season have traditionally been considered elite by baseball fans. Today, a pitcher's won-loss record is not considered as important as it once was. For example: does Nolan Ryan's 1987 record of 8-16 mean he was a terrible pitcher that year? Apparently the BBWAA didn't think so as he placed fifth in the Cy Young voting, likely based on his 2.76 ERA and 270 strikeouts.

Regardless of the won-loss record's importance overall, 20 game winners still carry a sort of mystique. A pitcher that reaches twenty wins has to be durable, obviously making more than 20 starts in a season. One exception, sort of: Bob Grim of the 1954 Yankees made only 20 starts while putting up a 20-6 record in 37 total appearances; he holds the record for fewest games started among 20 game winners.

A pitcher with twenty wins must also be a pretty competent pitcher, at least during that year. Though ERA's a pretty bad measure across time, only two pitchers with an ERA above 5.00 have won 20 games: Ray Kremer in 1930 and Bobo Newsom in 1938. However, the league ERA adjusted to the pitcher's ballpark (ERA+; basically, guys playing in a bandbox get credit for having faced more difficult conditions and vice versa) for each pitcher was 4.97 and 4.98, so it's not as though they were far below average. In fact, the 20 game winner with the worst ERA+ was Henry Schmidt in 1903; his ERA of 3.83 just didn't cut it. Oddly enough, he called it quits (at least in the NL) after his 22-win rookie season and headed west.

It's not unreasonable to figure pitchers who win twenty games in a season would go on to have a relatively lengthy career. After all, if they have the stuff to win twenty, they surely have enough to survive in baseball for longer than a short while, right? It turns out that's not necessarily the case (see the article I linked to about Henry Schmidt for one-and-done twenty game winners). To me, guys that won twenty or more games in a season but failed to collect 100 wins in their career hold a special charm. They seem to epitomize the flash-in-the-pan pitcher with one great season and subsequent performance that failed to match it.

Since the creation of the National League in 1876, 154 pitchers have won more than twenty games in a single season and finished with less than 100 career wins. Three of those 20 game winners are still active with fewer than 100 career wins: Johan Santana (93), Josh Beckett (77), and Dontrelle Willis (68). It seems very likely all three of those pitchers will reach the 100 win mark, but you never know. Below is the list of all pitchers who won 20+ games in a single season with less than 100 career wins, sorted first by their first 20 win season and then by career wins.

In case you don't want to scroll down the entire list and look at a bunch of names from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I'll list the pitchers on the list who pitched either in or since 1968, "The Year of the Pitcher."
  • Jim Bouton, 62 career wins, 20+ win season(s): 1963
  • Sammy Ellis, 63, 1965
  • Dave Boswell, 68, 1969
  • Jim Merritt, 81, 1970
  • Jim Colborn, 83, 1973
  • Ron Bryant, 57, 1973
  • Steve Busby, 70, 1974
  • Wayne Garland, 55, 1976
  • Ed Figueroa, 80, 1978
  • Mike Norris, 58, 1980
  • La Marr Hoyt, 98, 1983
  • Teddy Higuera, 94, 1986
  • Bill Swift, 94, 1993
  • Rick Helling, 93, 1998
  • Jose Lima, 89, 1999
  • Johan Santana*, 93, 2004
  • Dontrelle Willis*, 68, 2005
  • Josh Beckett*, 77, 2007
* - active player

1 comment:

William Miller said...

And just missing your list, Randy Jones enjoyed two 20-win seasons, won a Cy Young, and was runner-up another season, finishing his career with exactly 100 wins. Oh, so close.