It’s a bizarre twist. A win for an MLB pitcher has never held more value precisely because its value has plummeted.
Adam Wainwright logged his 200th victory Monday and was widely celebrated for reaching a milestone that would have elicited yawns years ago.
The win came via an unexpectedly outstanding performance by the 42-year-old St. Louis Cardinals starter, who tossed seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and called to mind Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw’s 200th win in April.
Kershaw, 35, also spun seven scoreless innings while striking out nine and walking none in a 5-0 victory over the New York Mets.
Savor those moments. Only one other pitcher is on pace to reach 200 wins. The New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, 33, has 143 wins, averaging 13 over 11 seasons. At that rate, it would take him five to six more years to join Kershaw and Wainwright.
Below Wainwright is a deep gulf. No other active pitcher has even 150 wins, only a dozen have 100, and all but Cole are at least 34 years old. The 200-win club is 122 pitchers strong, but additional entries will be few and far between.
Wainwright is a bit of a special case who reached 200 on fumes. He has spent his entire 18-year career with the Cardinals, is nearly certain to retire at the end of the season and had lost 10 consecutive decisions before winning No. 199 on Sept. 12. He’s 5-11 with a 7.40 earned-run average in 21 starts, but is immensely popular in a town that appreciates his long career and loyalty.
If he does hang them up, he’d join former Angels star Chuck Finley, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and George Uhle at exactly 200 wins.
“I’ve never had to work harder for a win in my life,” Wainwright told MLB Network. “It made me savor that last one. I felt very loved. The crowd was way behind me, pumping me up big time.
“I dropped my son off to school this morning and about seven people said, ‘Hey, good job.’ Then I went to the store to get cigars for [my teammates], and seven more people said, ‘Hey, way to go.’”
Wainwright joins four other active pitchers in the 200-win club, none of whom stands any chance of reaching 300 because of their age: Justin Verlander (255 wins, age 40), Zack Greinke (224, 39), Max Scherzer (214, 39) and Kershaw (209, 35).
It used to be that 300 wins punched a pitcher’s ticket to Cooperstown. All but one of the 24 300-game winners are in the Hall of Fame, with steroids-clouded Roger Clemens the lone exception.
The last pitcher to retire with 300 wins was Randy Johnson in 2009, shortly after Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine did so in 2008, following Clemens in 2007. There likely will never be another 300-game winner because pitchers make fewer starts and throw fewer innings per start than ever.
Wins lost luster as a measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness during the sabermetrics revolution 15 years ago. Starters on teams that score a lot of runs early in games and that have strong bullpens to hold leads rack up the Ws. Starters on mediocre teams can pitch just as well but don’t have wins to show for it.
Kershaw acknowledged as much after his 200th win.
“There’s been a lot of pitchers that have pitched well but maybe don’t have the team behind them,” he said. “Just reflecting on that, and just thankful for being part of great teams, that’s what wins signify to me.”
Wins are increasingly credited to relievers because more starts than ever end before the requisite five innings to qualify for one. A 20-game winner — another longstanding measure of a quality starter — is increasingly rare.
All of which results in starters inching toward 200 career wins far too slowly to get there before retirement beckons. Here’s the list of active pitchers with 100 or more wins but fewer than 200.
Is there a surprise? Well, the Dodgers’ Lance Lynn, who has given up an MLB-high 42 home runs, ranks third with 135 victories.
Active pitchers with at least 100 wins
Name: Wins, Age
Justin Verlander: 255, 40
Zack Greinke: 224, 39
Max Scherzer: 214, 39
Clayton Kershaw: 209, 35
Adam Wainwright: 200, 42
Johnny Cueto: 144, 37
Gerritt Cole: 143, 33
Lance Lynn: 135, 36
Madison Bumgarner: 134, 33
Charlie Morton: 130, 39
Chris Sale: 120, 34
Corey Kluber: 116, 37
Carlos Carrasco: 107, 36
Wade Miley: 107, 37
Ian Kennedy: 104, 38
Yu Darvish: 103, 36
Kyle Gibson: 103, 35