For decades now, 300 wins for a pitcher has been the standard of automatic entry to baseball’s Hall of Fame. However, when Randy Johnson achieved the feat in 2009, many asked the very legitimate question of whether or not the Big Unit would be the last pitcher to ever hit that mark. Conventional wisdom says Johnson will indeed be the last.
History tells us that the Los Angeles Dodgers were the first team to go to a five-man rotation, featuring the likes of Tommy John and Don Sutton. They turned from the four-man staff in the early 1970s, and soon thereafter most of baseball followed suit. Since that point, just 10 pitchers have captured at least 300 victories, only four of those since 1990.
In short, starting pitching wins are becoming rarer, and that’s a trend not likely to change any time soon. Beyond the advent of the five-man rotation, the increased importance of relief pitchers and, moreover, the specialization of their roles has played a huge part in the decrease in total wins by starting pitchers.
This is why Tim Hudson‘s career is so impressive.
On Sunday, the 37-year-old Hudson captured his 200th career win, putting him in rarefied company. Just two other active starting pitchers have hit that total, and they — Andy Pettite and Roy Halladay — are likely to be enshrined in Cooperstown. CC Sabathia, another Hall of Fame candidate, will soon join them, standing with 195 W’s. Mark Buehrle may well get there, too, as the model of consistency has 174 victories at 34 years old.
Beyond those five, however, baseball may be hard pressed to produce another pitcher that wins 200 games any time soon, much less 300.
Justin Verlander is the sport’s best bet, with 127 wins thus far. However, at 30 years old and with already-declining velocity, the next 73 are anything but a safe bet. Ditto for Felix Hernandez, who is already halfway there with 101 and is just 27 years old. However, there will be a lot of variables over the next 99 potential wins. The same can be said for Clayton Kershaw, who, at 64 victories and 25 years of age, may be baseball’s best pitcher right now, but is a long way away from the milestone.
The point is, in the context of baseball history, Hudson’s numbers don’t seem particularly spectacular, definitely not Hall of Fame-worthy. However, when viewed through the context of the baseball history through which Hudson actually played, he ends up looking like one of the best pitchers of the era — particularly in terms of longevity.
To be sure, longevity is probably Hudson’s best case for Cooperstown, because it’s a fair knock that he was never particularly dominant. Ironically, Hudson’s best showing in the Cy Young race, a second-place finish, came in his sophomore season, which was actually the second-worst of his career. Though he went 20-6 in 2000, Hudson also carried a 4.14 ERA, a mark he only topped in 2006.
Throughout his 15-year career, however, Hudson has only garnered Cy Young votes four times. The only meaningful statistic he ever lead the league in — besides those 20 wins in 2000 — was during the 2004 campaign, when his average of 0.4 home runs per nine innings was the best in baseball.
Basically, aside from a standout 2003 campaign where he threw 240 innings with a WHIP of 1.07 and ERA-plus of 165, Hudson has never done anything truly special throughout a whole season. Year in and year out, though, overlooking Tommy John surgery-marred campaigns in 2008 and 2009, Hudson has been consistently good.
Though consistency and longevity may not mean the same things they did in the era of Satchel Paige, Hudson is, along with Pettite, Halladay, Sabathia and Buehrle, the gold standard of modern times.
So, all this being said, it may be too early to say 200 is the new 300. Buehrle’s career, in particular, ought to be an interesting test, once he retires, of the modern-day value of year-to-year consistency. However, Hudson has been a better pitcher throughout his career than Buehrle, Pettite and, perhaps surprisingly, has been virtually the same pitcher as Sabathia, according to park-adjusted ERA.
If Pettite and Sabathia are presumed Hall of Famers, then Hudson absolutely deserves his plaque in Cooperstown, too.