The odd part about that is Johnson is 45.
The so-called “Big Unit” got his first win at age 25, had just 68 wins by the time he turned 30, missed a large portion of the 1996, 2003 and 2007 seasons, won 20 games in a season just three times. Never appeared in more than 35 games in any season, and he still got to 300.
And he got there in fewer games than anyone else.
So the popular notion that Johnson could be the last 300-game winner for a long, long time just doesn’t make sense. No, there isn’t anyone on the horizon closing in unless one counts Jamie Moyer, who, generously, needs at least 10 more wins this season and 40 more in the next three years to have a shot. But 300 wins isn’t as farfetched as the baseball punditry would leave one to believe.
First of all, Johnson had 68 career wins by the time he turned 30. 68! That means he averaged nearly 16 wins over the last 15 years, which includes the parts three seasons lost to injury and the shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons because of the players strike.
But here’s where Johnson is underrated amongst his brethren in the 300-win club:
- Second most career strikeouts behind Nolan Ryan.
- Best strikeout rate per nine innings with 10.64.
- Second in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.26).
- Fourth-best winning percentage with .647.
Underrated? Yeah, no doubt. But the last guy to win 300 games? No, no doubt.
See, what the experts miss is that the 300-game winner is an anomaly and there is no way to gauge who can get there. First, longevity plays the biggest factor, but even that’s deceiving. From 1988 to 2007, Tom Glavine rarely missed a start. But Johnson missed plenty of starts and had several injuries. In fact, this doesn’t make Johnson all that different from many of the other 300-game winners.
Roger Clemens certainly had his share of injuries and ineffectiveness and Warren Spahn didn’t get his first win until he was 25. The same goes for Lefty Grove and Phil Niekro. Actually, Niekro – the oldest to win 300 – had just 31 wins by the time he turned 30.
Hell, Don Sutton had just one 20-win season and he got there.
If there is one common denominator in all 300-game winners it seems to be dedication, and fitness. Exercise and training techniques have come a long way in just the last five years with advances coming every year. Baseball, of course, is the slowest to embrace change when it comes to physiology, but new things are introduced every day.
In fact, Cole Hamels and Raul Ibanez of the Phillies use some of the training techniques common amongst marathon runners, which should lead to long term health and fitness.
Of course it doesn’t hurt to have good stuff either.
Still, every pitcher in that exclusive group is unique and each took a different path to 300. So to say Johnson is the last to get 300 is pretty silly.
Maybe even Cole Hamels can get there? With 42 wins at age 25, it’s not unreasonable to think the Phillies’ lefty could do it, especially when one considers how focused on career longevity he is. How about Johan Santana? At age 30 he has 116 wins and hasn’t had major injuries.
Hey, someone will do it… maybe Moyer will stick around long enough to get those 50 wins he needs.