Tim Wakefield is almost there. After 3,000-plus innings over 19 seasons with two teams, the knuckleballer who just celebrated his 45th birthday last week has 199 career wins. Next time he steps on the field, which should be later today, he can become the 111th person to win 200 big league games (108th if you don’t count the National Association as a big league).
Now 200 wins isn’t one of the great milestones. That’s what 300 wins is for, or for batters 3,000 hits or 500 homers. But 200 wins is still mighty dang impressive. You have to be a pretty good pitcher to make it that far.
197, 198, 199 . . .
In honor of Wakefield’s impending achievement, I thought I’d take a look at the 200-win club and some of the more interesting facts about its members and their 200th wins. One nice thing about the 200-win club—since there are more members than the more prestigious 300-win club, there are more comparisons to make. Besides, since this is my 200th column for THT, it’s as good a time as any to look at 200 wins.
One quick note: in general, most comments here deal not with the entire 110 members of the club, but the 80 or so who joined since 1919. I’d love to comment on the entire bunch, but Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference’s Play Index only go back so far.
That said, here are some fun facts about the club Tim Wakefield is on the verge of joining:
1. Tim Wakefield will be the oldest person to post his 200th victory
Let’s say Tim Wakefield wins No. 200 tonight against the Twins. He’ll be 45 years and 6 days old, which would set a new record for oldest man to win No. 200.
The current record holder is Charlie Hough, who won No. 200 exactly seven months after his 44th birthday. After him is Jack Quinn, 44 years, 2 months, and 9 days old when he did it. By comparison, Jamie Moyer, was a sprightly 42 years, 7 months and 20 days old upon notching win 200.
Let’s flip this around: who is the youngest guy to do it? Well, the long dead guys dominate this list. A sizable majority of the pre-1920 200-game winners did it before turning 31 years old. Only one man has done it since 1920.
But the youngest man ever? If you count the NA as a real league, it’s Al Spalding, who did it around his 25th birthday. If you ignore the NA, the record holder is the Hoosier Thunderbolt, Amos Rusie, who did it just before his 26th birthday. He would’ve done it even earlier, too, but he sat out his entire age-25 season.
Among post-1920 pitchers, the youngest is Mustache Gang ace Catfish Hunter. He was 30 years, 5 months, and 11 days when he crossed that threshold.
2. Tim Wakefield will end one of the longest droughts without a 200th win
Quick quiz: who was the last man to win his 200th game? Answer: Andy Pettitte, back in September 2007. Nearly four years is an eternity between 200-game winners.
It’s the longest wait in a half-century, since four years and 10 days separated the 200th win for Robin Roberts and Billy Pierce from 1958 to 1962. Before that you need to go back another generation. After Eddie Cicotte won his 200th in 1920, the next member came in 1924, Wilbur Cooper.
The longest wait between 200-game winners is five years. After a slew crossed the barrier in 1897 (Cy Young, Silver King, Amos Rusie, Jack Stivetts), no one else did until Clark Griffith in 1902. After Griffith, it was another four-year wait until Iron Man Joe McGinnity in 1906.
At any rate, at least those earlier droughts had the excuse of occurring in pre-expansion days. Given that there are currently 30 teams, the ongoing drought might be the worst.
The last 200-game winner, as of Monday morning anyway.
3. Averages at the 200-win plateau
In the Retrosheet era, 80 men have won 200 games. Their average record upon joining the club is 200-146. Strangely, no one’s ever had that exact record. Three were 200-145 (Eddie Cicotte, Steve Carlton, and Luis Tiant), and three were 200-147 (Waite Hoyt, Hal Newhouser, Fergie Jenkins). Thirty-six were better than 200-146 and the other 44 worse.
Wakefield? He’s currently 199-176. In the Retrosheet era, no one had exactly 176 losses, and only a dozen had more when they won No. 200.
4. Only five guys had fewer than 100 losses when they won No. 200
Trivia time: In the Play Index era (1919-onward), can you name any of the five men who won 200 games before losing 100? I’ll give you a few seconds.
The first one did it really early. In fact, if you shift the border from 1919 to 1920, he’s left out. It’s Pete Alexander, who had a record of 200-95 once upon a time.
The other four all are safely post-1920 pitchers: Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal, and Pedro Martinez. Ford had the best record of them all, 200-79. Three of those names aren’t surprising at all.
Martinez: only Ford (200-79) and Grove (200-83) can top his start of 200-84.
Ford, Martinez, and Grove all ended their careers with winning percentages among the best ever; all over .680.
But Marichal? Hey—great pitcher. But Marichal ended his career with a 243-142 (.631) record. After starting 200-97, he was actually below .500. What can I say? The man had a great run with terrific run support, but when it ended, it really ended.
If you go back in time, a few more guys won 200 before losing 100. 19th century star Bob Caruthers ended his career with a record of 218-99. John Clarkson ended the 1889 season with a mark of 220-98. Christy Mathewson, Mordecai Brown, and Old Hoss Radbourn all conceivably could have done it to, though they all may have made it to 100 losses first.
5. Those Niekro and Perry brothers
The Niekros had virtually identical records when they did it. Joe Niekro was 200-174 and Phil 200-175. That’s a surprise—Phil’s the much better pitcher overall, and ended his career with a much better record.
Well, the record only tells you so much. How old they were at win No. 200 matters. Sure enough, Joe was one of the oldest of all-time: 40 years, 7 months, and 25 days. But … Phil was exactly one month past his 40th birthday.
So they had the same record at about the same age. Phil was a much better pitcher. He generally had worse run support than Joe did and was far better in his peak. But beyond that, a large part of the difference in the Niekros was what happened in their 40s. Phil just aged really, really well, even for a knuckler.
As for the Perry brothers, they also had nearly identical records. Jim Perry was 200-159 and Gaylord 200-157. There’s a bigger gap in ages here, as Gaylord was 25 months younger.
Here’s the best part about the Perrys, though. When Jim Perry won No. 200, he led the Indians to a 2-1 win over the Red Sox. The next day, the Indians again beat the Red Sox 2-1 The winning pitcher? Brother Gaylord, of course.
The better of the Perry brothers
6. Best/worst after win No. 200
Remember how Marichal’s record fell off after winning No. 200? That brings up some questions. Who did the best/worst after winning 200? Who had the biggest fall off? Did anyone actually get better in terms of winning percentage?
Let’s limit this to people with more than 50 decisions after their 200th win, or else the answer will be someone like Charlie Root, who went 1-0 between his 200th win and retirement.
Among those guys, the best winning percentage belongs to Roger Clemens, who went 154-73 (.678) after his 200th win. Prior to that he won only at a .643 clip. (Pause for people to mutter a steroids-related comment.) Yeah, but he also had much better run support later in his career, too.
Clemens found his own fountain of youth somewhere along the way
Next-best winning percentage after joining the club: Red Ruffing. Huh. Ruffing is a guy who lost 90 games before winning 40. Pitching for terrible Red Sox teams, Ruffing had an even worse winning record. Then he went to terrific Yankee teams and had an even better winning percentage. Weird.
Plus Ruffing also aged really well. He went from 200-184 (.521) to 73-41 (.640) in his final years. And yes, that’s the biggest improvement in winning percentage for anyone with at least 50 decisions after the 200th win.
The worst winning record. With 50 or more decisions, Joe Niekro is on bottom: 21-30. That’s another reason he and his brother had such very different career marks. That said, two guys narrowly under 50 decision were worse than the lesser Niekro: Charlie Hough (16-30) and Mickey Lolich (17-31).
In fact, if you shift the boundary from 50 decisions to 48, Lolich steals Marichal’s crown for the worst drop-off. Lolich went from a record of 200-160 (.556) to 17-31 (.354).
7. Best performances in winning No. 200
Let’s shift focus and look at the specific game a pitcher wins No. 200. The last 80 times a guy won his 200th, five did it in relief. Aside from Lew Burdette, the relievers all did it from 1932-41.
For the 75 starters, their average line is: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, and 4 K for a typical Game Score of 64 Only one pitcher, Greg Maddux, had a Game Score of exactly 64. Forty-one others topped it, and 22 were below it.
By Game Score, the best performance ever belongs to that craftiest of left-handers, Tommy John. He allowed two singles and that was in his 200th. His Game Score of 89 ties his personal best. John is one of eight since 1919 to toss a complete-game shutout in his 200th win. Since John, no one has done it, though. Rick Reuschel almost did, giving up his only run in the bottom of the ninth.
Don Drysdale probably had the most impressive performance of all, though. He came four outs from a no-hitter. He ended with two hits, three walks, and an unearned run.
In some incredibly unsurprising news, the most strikeouts by a pitcher winning his 300th was Nolan Ryan, who fanned 13. See? Told you it wasn’t surprising. Ryan also struck out 13 when defeated by Luis Tiant for Tiant’s 200th win. Only one other pitcher fanned double-digits in his 200th win, Roger Clemens with 12.
No one out-Ryans Nolan Ryan
At the other end, three guys fanned no one in a complete-game win, including Early Wynn with a complete-game shutout.
Warren Spahn deserves a special commendation for winning 4-3 in 12 innings while batting 3-for-3 with a double. Not bad.
8. Best hitting in No. 200
Spahn’s performance brings up the question—who did the best job with the bat in his 200th win?
It’s Spahn, as no one else had three hits in a game. A handful of guys had two hits, but only one since World War II: Orel Hershiser.
Only one pitcher ever homered in his 200th win: Bob Lemon. That makes sense, given that he’s one of the best-hitting pitchers of all time. Lemon blasted a two-run homer in a 3-1 win. Nice.
Two men tripled—Stan Coveleski and Hooks Dauss. Actually, Hooks Dauss won in game memorably for other reasons. In that game, Dauss’ Tigers triumphed over the Yankees by the ever so narrow margin of 19 to 1. For a long, long time, that was tied for the worst loss in Yankee history. Then they had to go and lose by 22 runs by in August 2004.
9. Worst pitching in No. 200
Let’s flip around a question asked earlier: what’s the worst pitching performance ever by a guy who won his 200th decision? By Game Score, Fergie Jenkins “wins” in a route. He beat the Indians—or more accurately was the pitcher of record when his Boston teammates beat the Indians, 8-7 on July 27, 1976.
Fergie got the win despite allowing seven runs (all earned) on 14 hits in seven innings. His Game Score of 23 was the worst he had in any start all year. It’s the worst he’d ever have in any game he claimed the victory in.
Still, that might not be the real worst start here. Herb Pennock deserves at least a mention. His Game Score of 30 tops Jenkins (though no one else) but it was a very strange victory. He lasted only four innings. It wasn’t a rain-shortened game or called for darkness—he pitched the first four innings of a nine-inning game, yet the official scorer gave him the decision anyway. Weird.
And Pennock didn’t even pitch that well in the game, either. He allowed eight hits and four runs, all earned. In other words, he allowed as many hits and runs per inning as Jenkins, he just pitched fewer of them.
Vida Blue might have had the least enjoyable experience, though. After pitching five shutout innings, he had to leave the game and didn’t return to the mound for 34 days. I bet he’d trade a middling performance for an injury.
10. Best games and matchups
Even aside from the milestones achieved, most of these games were pretty good. Twenty-seven of them were one-run games, including 25 of the 75 times the 200-gamer was a starting pitcher. Rather fittingly, most of the games were pitchers duels. The most common score was 3-2, achieved eight times.
It’s hard to point to one game as the greatest. Drysdale’s near no-hitter would be one possibility. Billy Pierce’s win might be the best, a 5-4 for the Giants over the Dodgers (and Don Drysdale, as it turns out) in 1962. That came in the midst of tight pennant race between those teams. As it turns out, had Pierce and the Giants lost that day, they wouldn’t have won the pennant over LA that year.
The Pierce game is also one of 10 times the 200-gamer faced another member of the club in his milestone victory. You can form a chain with guys sometimes. For instance, Dennis Martinez won his 200th game against Atlanta and John Smoltz. Smoltz won his 200th game over his former longtime teammate Tom Glavine. Actually, both those games were also great pitcher’s duels with a 2-1 final score in each of them. Glavine’s 200th win came against Chris Holt, so that ends that streak.
Gaylord Perry has an odd claim to fame – he’s the only pitcher on the receiving end of two different 200 milestone wins. He lost 2-1 to Jim Bunning, and 7-2 to Bob Gibson in their milestone victories.