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Double 300, The Hard Way
2005-04-29 21:45
by Mike Carminati

Greg Maddux and the Cubs beat Roger Clemens and the Astros tonight, 3-2, in the first matchup of 300-game winners since 1987 and the first between National Leaguers in 113 years.

From ESPN:

Before Friday, there had been only four matchups of 300-game winners in the modern era, all between June 28, 1986 to Aug. 4, 1987, all involving California's Don Sutton in the American League. Sutton made two starts against Phil Niekro and one apiece against Tom Seaver and [Steve] Carlton.
The last time two NL pitchers with 300 or more victories faced each other was in July 21, 1892, between Philadelphia's Tim O'Keefe [Mike: actually it's Tim Keefe, not O'Keefe] and St. Louis' Jim "Pud" Galvin.

Retrosheet doesn't go back that far so I'll take their word for it.

However, I thought it might be interesting to theorize how many times it would be possible for two 300-game winners to match up throughout baseball history. That would mean that both players would have won 300 games by the end of the given year (or the stint with the given team in that year). They would have to be in the same league (at least until interleague play started in 1997) but NOT the same team.

So how many times has that happened? And how many years even had a possibility of two 300-game winners facing off? Let's see.

I found 36 possible matchups prior to this season (none due to interleague play) in three distinct periods consisting in just eight years (1890 through 1893, 1985 to '87, and 2004):

1890PLTim KeefeNew York Giants308191Pud GalvinPittsburgh Burghers340284
1891NLCharley RadbournCincinnati Reds309195Pud GalvinPittsburgh Pirates354298
1891NLCharley RadbournCincinnati Reds309195Tim KeefeNew York Giants310196
1891NLCharley RadbournCincinnati Reds309195Tim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies313202
1891NLMickey WelchNew York Giants307210Charley RadbournCincinnati Reds309195
1891NLMickey WelchNew York Giants307210Pud GalvinPittsburgh Pirates354298
1891NLMickey WelchNew York Giants307210Tim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies313202
1891NLTim KeefeNew York Giants310196Pud GalvinPittsburgh Pirates354298
1891NLTim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies313202Pud GalvinPittsburgh Pirates354298
1892NLMickey WelchNew York Giants307210John ClarksonCleveland Spiders304151
1892NLMickey WelchNew York Giants307210Pud GalvinPittsburgh Pirates359304
1892NLMickey WelchNew York Giants307210Pud GalvinSt. Louis Browns364310
1892NLMickey WelchNew York Giants307210Tim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies332218
1892NLPud GalvinPittsburgh Pirates359304John ClarksonCleveland Spiders304151
1892NLPud GalvinSt. Louis Browns364310John ClarksonCleveland Spiders304151
1892NLTim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies332218John ClarksonCleveland Spiders304151
1892NLTim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies332218Pud GalvinPittsburgh Pirates359304
1892NLTim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies332218Pud GalvinSt. Louis Browns364310
1893NLTim KeefePhiladelphia Phillies342225John ClarksonCleveland Spiders320168
1985ALTom SeaverChicago White Sox304192Phil NiekroNew York Yankees300250
1986ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels310239Phil NiekroCleveland Indians311261
1986ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels310239Steve CarltonChicago White Sox323229
1986ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels310239Tom SeaverBoston Red Sox311205
1986ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels310239Tom SeaverChicago White Sox306198
1986ALPhil NiekroCleveland Indians311261Steve CarltonChicago White Sox323229
1986ALTom SeaverBoston Red Sox311205Phil NiekroCleveland Indians311261
1986ALTom SeaverBoston Red Sox311205Steve CarltonChicago White Sox323229
1986ALTom SeaverChicago White Sox306198Phil NiekroCleveland Indians311261
1987ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels321250Phil NiekroCleveland Indians318272
1987ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels321250Phil NiekroToronto Blue Jays318274
1987ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels321250Steve CarltonCleveland Indians328238
1987ALDon SuttonCalifornia Angels321250Steve CarltonMinnesota Twins329243
1987ALPhil NiekroCleveland Indians318272Steve CarltonMinnesota Twins329243
1987ALPhil NiekroToronto Blue Jays318274Steve CarltonCleveland Indians328238
1987ALPhil NiekroToronto Blue Jays318274Steve CarltonMinnesota Twins329243
2004NLGreg MadduxChicago Cubs305174Roger ClemensHouston Astros328164

You may notice that during the 113-year gap in the NL, there were just two years (1893 and last season), in which a double 300-winner faceoff was even possible.

ESPN mentions that given the dearth of future 300-game winners, two may never face each other in a game ever again. But if you consider that there are only three distinct periods in which it was ever even possible, the possibility of another pair of 300-game winners meeting in a game is always remote.

The first period (1890-94) was at the end of the era in which teams used one or two pitchers exclusively. Therefore, there were a large number of 300-game winners hanging around.

The second period (1985-87) was at the end of era in which teams went to five-man rotations and also the first great era of the closer. One would expect that this would cause a paucity of 300-game winners. However, what ended up happening was that managers expected pitchers to throw more innings given the extra day off. So instead of killing the 300-game winner, it helped them thrive.

The last period (2003-04) followed an era in which closers and bullpen specialists took hold and starting pitchers pitched fewer and fewer innings. Again, one would expect 300-game winners to dry up. However, we have Maddux and Clemens facing off tonight. They might be two flukes, great pitchers who were lucky enough to last long enough to win 300 games.

However, what if all of the effort over the last bunch of years to protect pitchers arms starts to par dividends? What if young pitchers today can pitch effectively into their forties? We could have another era of 300-game winners in the next decade or so. Also, some teams are toying with going back to four-man rotations give the shorter outings on average that starters are expected to throw.

All of this gets to the fairly new field of the biomechanics of pitching, which is still in its infant stage. My colleague Will Carroll can speak to this topic more effectively than I. But I do know enough to believe that this will become the next step in the evolution of pitching.

Pitching since the Fifties has been about ceding control from the starter to the reliever or relievers. That seems to have reached its ultimate evolution. So what's next? Tweaking the starters. And pitch counts are just the start of it.

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