CC Sabathia reached a milestone on Wednesday with his six strong innings against Tampa Bay. The Yankees left-hander earned the victory, making Sabathia the 48th pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win 250 games.
The postgame conversation included a lot of Hall of Fame talk for Sabathia, who also reached 3,000 career strikeouts earlier in 2019, expected to be his final season. Twelve of the previous 13 pitchers with at least 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts are in Cooperstown, with only PED taint keeping Roger Clemens out.
“I think he’s a lock,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, per MLB.com. “This is it for him. I think in five years, they come calling.”
For years any time a pitcher would reach 300 wins, many folks would wonder if he would be the last 300-game winner. Randy Johnson, who reached 300 wins in 2009, was the last to do so. Now the question might be if anyone else after Sabathia will even get to 250 wins.
Starting pitchers aren’t pitching as deep as they used to these days, making wins harder to come by. The average start in MLB in 2019 is 5.31 innings, down from 5.97 just five years ago, in 2014. Starters getting two fewer outs, on average, has resulted in fewer wins — in 2014, starters got a win in 35.1% of their starts, compared to just 31.0% this year.
Here are baseball’s active win leaders, after Sabathia.
Bartolo Colon in theory has the best shot at 250, needing only three more wins. But even though he pitched in the majors last year and won seven games with Texas, Colon isn’t currently pitching in any big league organization, and he’s also 46 years old.
The only other active 200-game winner is Justin Verlander, who might have the real best shot. He’s only 37 wins shy, and is still excellent in his age-36 season. He has a 2.59 ERA and leads the majors in WHIP this season (0.743), and already has nine wins in 2019. Under contract through 2021 with the Astros, Verlander might very well reach 250 wins before hitting free agency.
Zack Greinke is 35, and sitting in a good spot at 195 wins. His ERA is only 2.65 this year, and he’s won eight games. Even if he wins another 10 games in the rest of 2019, can Greinke get the other 45 wins in his age 36-38 seasons, which would match his total from ages 32-34?
Clayton Kershaw still has age on his side at just 31 years. He has more work to do, but already getting to 160 wins puts him in a good spot. But then again, 90 wins is an awful lot, especially for someone who has been on the injured list in five of the last six seasons.
Consider that Sabathia, who like Kershaw reached the majors at age 20 and was an innings horse for years, had 191 wins through his age 31 season. It took Sabathia seven more seasons to reach 250. Injuries and decline phases can wreck the best of intentions.
So enjoy these 250 wins for Sabathia, and marvel if or when the next pitcher reaches the milestone, because it won’t be easy.