Randy Johnson may be one of the most underrated athletes ever. His list of incredible accomplishments could fill an entire article. First and foremost, he has won an incredible five Cy Young awards; only the disgraced Roger Clemens has more. He has led his league in strikeouts nine times and topped 300 K's in five seasons. Johnson and teammate Curt Schilling were Co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series, and three seasons later he pitched a perfect game at age 40. This season, the 45-year-old fireballer will reach another milestone: 300 career wins.
Johnson would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer even if he had retired several years ago, but for many pitchers, reaching 300 is very important to their chances of being inducted. (Just ask Tommy John, who won 288 games and, 20 years after his retirement, still hasn't gotten in). Over the past few seasons, we've seen Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine win their 300th game. But when Johnson wins number 300, he may be the last pitcher to do so for a very long time.
Glavine, who is currently on the Braves' 15-day DL, has the most wins among active pitchers with 305. Next is Johnson with 297 wins. The age-defying Jamie Moyer stands at 249, but it seems doubtful that the 46-year-old has 51 wins left in him. Kenny Rogers, Andy Pettitte and Pedro Martinez form a trio of 200-game winners whose career totals are affected by injuries. John Smoltz, who has had success as a starter and a closer, bottoms out the 200-Win Club with 210. It seems unlikely that any of these veteran pitchers will be able to reach 300 wins by the end of their career. I can think of an elite group of younger pitchers who may have a chance of reaching the milestone. They are as follows:
Roy Halladay, Blue Jays, 136 wins
He's almost 32 and has had his share of injuries, but Halladay continues to be a workhorse for Toronto. He won 20 games last year and has already won five in 2009. Halladay is still one of baseball's best pitchers, and if he can stay healthy, he has as good a chance as anyone at reaching 300 wins. He definitely gets plenty of opportunities; the strong-armed ace started 97 games from '06-'08.
CC Sabathia, Yankees, 118 wins
New York's $160 million man is off to a rough start this year (1-3, 4.85 ERA). But, at age 28, he's younger than Halladay and has never won fewer than ten games in a season. After going 11-2 in Milwaukee last year, he showed that he can be one of the game's most dominant pitchers. And now that he's playing on baseball's richest team, he should be able to have enough run support to get him through the occasional bad start.
Johan Santana, Mets, 112 wins
As Randy Johnson began to decline in the second half of this decade, Johan Santana became baseball's new strikeout king. He's reached 200 strikeouts for five straight years, and also won at least 15 games in each of those seasons. At age 30, reaching 300 wins is pretty unlikely, but barring a total flame out, this two-time Cy Young winner could easily be a Hall of Famer.
Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks, 87 wins
As we drop below the 100-win mark, picking the group is less logic and more guesswork. I chose Webb over fellow National Leaguer Carlos Zambrano (99 wins) because Webb doesn't rely on a blazing fastball that will deteriorate with age. Webb mainly uses a sinker, a pitch that helped him win 22 games last season. However, he's on the DL right now, and he'll have to pitch well for an incredibly long time for him to even approach 300 wins.
Felix Hernandez. Mariners, 43 wins
How does he fit on this list, with less than half as many wins as Webb? Well, he does happen to only be 23 years old. Guess how many wins Tom Glavine had at that age? 23. Randy Johnson? Zero. Hernandez is 4-0 this year on a remarkably improved Mariners team, and it seems like the sky is the limit for this talented young pitcher.
But remember, not a single one of these pitchers is likely to reach 300 wins. To win that many games requires many years of sustained excellence, which explains why only 23 (with Johnson, 24) pitchers have reached that number. So when "The Big Unit" steps on to the mound with 299 wins, try to watch. It may take another generation of ballplayers for a pitcher to win 300 games.