Major League Baseball: Are 20 game winners a dying breed?

Are 20 game winners in Major League Baseball a thing of the past?

From 1886 -1981, there was only one Major League Baseball season (1981) where an individual pitcher failed to become a  20 game winner. Since 1994, there have already been six such seasons, with 2017 on pace to make that number rise to seven.

The importance of winning 20 games is often considered in close Cy Young races, with Adam Wainwright falling just short of becoming a 20 game winner in 2013, costing him the prestigious award. Max Scherzer was able to hit that mark last season, locking up the award for the hard-throwing righty. There are three pitchers currently tied for 17 wins during this year’s campaign — Kershaw, Davis, and Greinke — and with only two weeks worth left of games, its doubtful any of them will hit that mark.

What’s causing a huge drop-off for individual wins within the game of baseball? You would think with a 162 game schedule, which was not always the case for previous record setters, that 20 game winners would increase or at least stay on par with past seasons.

Injuries have limited starting pitcher’s ability to reach that mark, with more and more having Tommy John surgery, or other procedures, that take them out of a commission for a full-season or even longer. That leads to shorter leashes, with managers and pitching coaches setting limited pitch counts. You now have the newer art of “specialty pitchers” which eat into the innings of starters, allowing the chance for more no decisions.

With those factors, its making it less likely for pitchers to see the amount of innings necessary, in order to qualify for enough wins throughout the season.

Fun facts regarding twenty game winners, brought to you by Baseball Almanac:

  • The most home runs allowed by an American League twenty game winner is forty-two by Denny McLain in 1966.
  • During the 1974 season, Nolan Ryan walked two-hundred two batters, which is the most by any American league twenty game winner.
  • Chief Bender had the most saves during his twenty win season with thirteen in 1913.

With the lack of twenty win seasons year-by-year, it also has limited the chance of hitting 300 career wins, which is now a daunting task with the current state of things within Major League Baseball.

Most Career Wins in Baseball History: 

  1. Cy Young                          511
  2. Walter Johnson              417
  3. Pete Alexander              373
  4. Christy Mathewson      373
  5. Pud Galvin                       365
  6. Warren Spahn                363
  7. Kid Nichols                      361
  8. Greg Maddux                  355
  9. Roger Clemens              354
  10. Tim Keefe                        342
  11. Steve Carlton                  329
  12. John Clarkson                 328
  13. Eddie Plank                     326
  14. Nolan Ryan                     324
  15. Don Sutton                     324
  16. Phil Niekro                      318
  17. Gaylord Perry                 314
  18. Tom Seaver                     311
  19. Old Hoss Radbourn      309
  20. Mickey Welch                 307
  21. Tom Glavine                    305
  22. Randy Johnson              303
  23. Lefty Grove                     300
  24. Early Wynn                     300

The closest active players to that 300 mark are: Bartolo Colón (239), C.C. Sabathia (234), and John Lackey (187), with no younger pitchers anywhere on the horizon.

Us modern day baseball fans will just have to get used to a day and age, where we see numerous pitching changes, limited pitch counts, and a ton of dead-time at ballgames. This current trend is terrible for the sport and I wish baseball would get back to its roots, where pitchers stayed out for entire games, or even pitched both games of a double-header. Most current players are coddled too much and lack that toughness of a Cy Young, Bob Gibson, or even that of Curt Schilling during the 2004 World Series run of the Boston Red Sox.

For the time being, we will have to settle for watching the greats of old on ESPN Classic, when baseball was at its all-time best, where we can hope things start shifting back to where they used to be during the good ole days, whenever 20 game winners were the norm.