Tuesday June 25th, 2024 4:37PM

Forget 300 career wins. Even 200 wins for an MLB pitcher might be a thing of the past

By The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — José Berríos turned 30 years old on Monday, giving up an obscure crown in the process.

The two-time All-Star, who started his career with the Minnesota Twins and now pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays, has 88 career wins, which made him the active leader for under-30 pitchers in Major League Baseball, according to baseball-reference.com.

“That's crazy,” D-backs pitcher Zac Gallen said a few weeks ago. “I didn't realize he wasn't 30 yet.”

He is now. And his ascension into the 30-plus category has brought into focus just how few young, accomplished pitchers there are in the big leagues these days, at least when it comes to traditional stats. Forget about the 300-win pitcher that was the gold standard for Hall of Fame career excellence over the past century — even 200 career wins might be out of the question soon.

Thanks to a combination of less usage for starting pitchers and an uptick in arm injuries — particularly Tommy John surgery — the up-and-coming group of 20-something pitchers has been slow to develop. Colorado's Germán Márquez is now the under-30 leader with 65 career wins, but he's recovering from Tommy John surgery.

That's a common theme. Cleveland's Shane Bieber is next on the list with 62 wins, and he's also on the shelf because of Tommy John. After Bieber, its Boston's Lucas Giolito with 61 wins, and he's out too after elbow surgery.

The sub-30 leader who is actually pitching these days is Baltimore's Corbin Burnes, who has 49 career wins and turns 30 on Oct. 22. He's one of the few young flamethrowers to stay relatively healthy. Others, like Atlanta's Spencer Strider or Miami's Eury Perez, haven't been as fortunate. Not far behind Burnes are Dylan Cease (48 wins at age 28), Walker Buehler (47 wins at 29) and Logan Webb (46 wins at 27).

Once the current generation of older pitchers like Justin Verlander (260 career wins), Zack Greinke (225), Max Scherzer (214) and Clayton Kershaw (210) retire, it's fair to wonder if we'll ever see a 200-win pitcher again.

There's still a solid chance that 33-year-old New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who has 145 career wins, could get there. Of course, he's also hurt at the moment, out with an elbow injury that hasn't required surgery.

Gallen helped lead the Diamondbacks to the World Series last season and is still under 30. The 28-year-old started the All-Star Game for the National League last season and is widely viewed as one of the game's top young pitchers. But even with his health and relative success, he's got just 44 career wins.

It's fair to wonder, when it comes time for Hall of Fame selections in 2040, if there will be any pitcher who can make the cut? The last pitcher who spent his entire career as a starter and made the Hall of Fame despite fewer than 200 wins is Sandy Koufax more than 50 years ago. He won 165 games and three Cy Young Awards, but his career was cut short by injuries at age 30.

“That's a really good question,” Gallen said. “It used to be 300 wins, 3,000 strikeouts. That was the benchmark. Now it's probably going to be closer to 200 wins and 2,000 strikeouts. Careers aren't as long. The length of a career is just shorter."

Indeed, 2,000 strikeouts could also be a stretch. The active under-30 leader there is Giolito with 1,077, the only pitcher over 1,000.

Gallen's old enough to remember pitchers like Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, legends who wrapped up their careers around 2007-09. All of them reached 300 wins. That might not seem like that long ago, but in the realm of pitching, it feels like an eternity.

Gallen says he wouldn't be surprised if current pitchers are evaluated by a similar standard — at least for a while.

“The generation now for the next 20 years is going to be that bridge gap,” Gallen said. “You might seem some guys who were really good players in their time get burned for the Hall of Fame, because they just don't have the counting numbers.”

There are other alphabet soup stats that pitchers can be judged by like WHIP, ERA+, FIP and SO/9. Those might be better indicators of true dominance, anyway.

But there's something that still stands out about the win. After all, it's the whole purpose of competition.

“It makes me appreciate those guys who did it that long at that level for that much intensity,” Gallen said. “As a kid, I thought a good career is 20 years, but then you get into it and then you realize 20 years is unbelievable. Especially being dominant for 15 of them.”

Last week, Miami Marlins lefty Braxton Garrett had a throwback outing in a 3-0 win against the Diamondbacks, finishing with complete-game shutout and needing just 95 pitches to do it. Highlighting how much the game has changed at every level over the past 20 years, the 26-year-old said it was the first time he'd thrown nine full innings in his life.

Garrett's teammate Sandy Alcántara is the closest thing to a current-day ironman on the mound after throwing 228 2/3 innings in 2022, including six complete games. The effort earned him the NL Cy Young Award.

After Garrett's gem, Alcántara jokingly called the left-hander a “mini-Sandy.”

“He seems to do (complete games) with ease, so it's cool to do that in front of him,” Garrett said.

Then again, carrying a heavy workload like Alcántara comes with risks. You'll never guess why the right-hander isn't pitching this season.

Tommy John surgery.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

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