COULD WALTER JOHNSON
WIN 417 TODAY?
Could Gregg Maddux?
By John B Holway
The best hurlers of our era, Gregg Maddux and Roger Clemens, finished more than 60 victories under him. They were given the hook so often that their skippers and bullpens cost them a chance to pass Johnson.
Gabriel Schechter is one of the two greatest baseball researchers in America, along with Tom Ruane. In a brilliant study, Schechter delved into the record of the 25 greatest pitchers of the last 65 years.
Earlier generations – Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver etc – were expected to pitch complete games. They threw as many pitches as it took to get the job done, and rarely did anybody keep count.
Today, a starter gets high-fives if he returns to the dugout after six innings, out of gas or approaching the 100-pitch mark. Schechter discovered that in the 1960s Juan Marichal completed 85% of his victories. By the 1990s, Pedro Martinez completed only 15%.
Meanwhile, managers save their best reliever for 9th inning “closer” duty. But Schechter says more blown saves occur in the 7th or 8th innings, when managers use their second-line relievers.
I looked into Blown Saves in 1995 and ‘96 for USA Today’s “Baseball Weekly” to see who suffered the most Blown Saves. In 1995 Mike Mussina of Baltimore officially won 18 games, but five more were kicked away by his bullpen. His “True Wins,” therefore were actually 23. The next year Jimmy Key of the Yanks led in official wins with 17. But he too watched helplessly from the dugout while his relievers blew five more.
Gabriel picked up the ball and looked at how many times in the last half century starters got jaked out of a win by their bullpens. His results
Roger Clemens .… 67
Gregg Maddux .…. 61
Tom Glavine ……… 53
Jamie Moyer ………53
Tommy John……… 52
The bottom three were:
Juan Marichal….… 18
Could anyone have passed Walter Johnson’s mark with better help from his bullpen? Two pitchers almost did it!
Here are how Schechter’s 25 starters did, compared to other all-time top winners:
Sir Walter is still champ – by a toe plate.
Official W Blown W True W
Walter Johnson 417 *6+ 423+
ROGER CLEMENS **354 67 421
GREG MADDUX 355 61 416
CHRISTY MATHEWSON 373 na 373
GROVER ALEXANDER 373 na 373
DON SUTTON 324 48 372
NOLAN RYAN **324 45 369
BOB FELLER ***366 na 366
PHIL NIEKRO 318 47 365
STEVE CARLTON 329 35 364
WARREN SPAHN 363 na 363
TOM GLAVINE 305 53 358
RANDY JOHNSON **303 49 352
GAYLORD PERRY 314 37 351
TOM SEAVER 311 35 346
TOMMY JOHN 288 52 340
BERT BLYLEVEN 287 47 334
EDDIE PLANK 326 na 326
JIM KAAT 283 41 324
JAMIE MOYER 269 53 322
FERGUSON JENKINS 284 26 310
MIKE MUSSINA 270 40 310
LEFTY GROVE 300 na 300
EARLY WYNN 300 na 300
DENNIS MARTINEZ 245 46 291
JIM PALMER 268 22 290
FRANK TANANA 240 49 289
JACK MORRIS 254 30 284
BOB GIBSON 251 15 266
JUAN MARICHAL 243 18 261
PEDRO MARTINEZ 219 31 250
DON DRYSDALE 209 31 240
SANDY KOUFAX 165 13 178
* 1914-1927 (courtesy Retrosheet)
** we’ll ignore the steroid problem
*** includes 4 years in World War II
(c) 2015 Gabriel Schechter
Of course a century ago Johnson coasted, letting up if he had a comfortable lead or when the bottom of the order was up. And he didn’t have to worry about home runs much; now any shortstop can pop one over the fence. Today’s pitchers are told, “Throw as hard as you can as long as you can, then we’ll come get you.” Could modern pitchers coast and still win? By bearing down. Could they have pitched as many complete games as Walter did?
We don’t know. But generally speaking, they are bigger and heavier than Walter was (200 pounds).
Which manager cut down on his aces’ Wins the most? It would seem from the above that it might be Bobby Cox of Atlanta.
The flip side is Rescued Losses. That’s when the starter is on line for the loss when he hits the shower, but his offense rallies, and the bullpen holds the opponents’ bats to win the game and wipe out his defeat. In a future post, Gabriel will show how many times the starter was saved and rescued.
Best newspaper lead on a pitching article:
“Alan Sutton Sothoron pitched his initials off today.”
SEE A GOOD MOVIE
For a great white-knuckle true adventure movie – maybe the greatest ever – go see Meron.
Three men and a mountain. Not the highest, but – wait ‘til you see it – probably the greatest challenge humans can face on this planet. Ice and bare rock, almost straight up. More than 20,000 feet. And you are with them every nail-biting crampon step of the way.
I’ve been to Nepal and trekked around Annapurna, the world’s 9th highest peak. That was thrill enough for me. The mountains around and above us were magnificent. We got to 17,800 feet at the pass. At lower heights, we breathed once every two steps. Then one breath per step. And finally, two per step as we trudged, or wallowed, in snow half-way up to our knees. We moved in slow mo. Just taking off our gloves and putting them back on was an agonizing ordeal, taking many minutes.
Not these guys. If they took a deep breath, I didn’t see them. They even smoked a cigarette or two.
An avalanche buried one of their buddies. I mean completely. He was never found. On our trek, we also saw avalanches. Luckily, we were across a valley when they billowed down, creating their own snow storm, even where we stood a few miles away.
If you want to know what it’s like to be in one, this film is it.
From: Gary Growe
Subject: Wasting Rivera
Looking forward to Gabe’s study on relief pitchers. As you say,
use ’em when you need ’em, not when some arbitrary fashion calls for them.
From: BRIAN ALDRIDGE aldridgebrian@*********.net
Excellent article! This has been one of my pet peeves for a long, long time. I had no idea Mussina’s and Keys’ 1995 season was so good. Other than a typo or two, good stuff, John!