Max Scherzer is about to do something historic. But should we care?
The Detroit Tigers righty is 18-1 and plays for one of the most powerful offenses in baseball. It’s a nearly foregone conclusion with 38 games left in Detroit’s season he’ll get to 20 wins. Scherzer has about seven starts left to do this, and if he finishes the year – at worst – 20-5, he’ll join an elite group of starters to win 20 games with a winning percentage above .800. Only 38 pitchers have ever done this since 1901.
But again: Should we care?
The argument against paying too much attention to this accomplishment has nothing to do with the often-fickle nature of wins or even the sabermetric tendency to devalue the worth of a pitcher win all together. No, let’s assume everyone agrees wins are just dandy for the moment.
The issue is that the feat USED to be exciting and rare. Recently, it’s become old hat.
From 1901-1996, a span of 96 seasons, only 27 pitchers reached 20 wins with a winning percentage of at least .800 – an average of once every 3.5 seasons. That includes several golden eras of pitching and only the tail end of that time frame reaches into the so-called “steroid era” of bloated offenses and poorer pitching.
Since 1997, however, 15 pitchers have reached the mark – that’s 15 in 15 years.
Prior to 1997, two pitchers achieved the mark in the same season only once, Chief Bender (23-5, .821) and Russ Ford (26-6, .813) in 1910. But multiple pitchers have recorded the accomplishment in five seasons since: 1997 (Randy Johnson and Denny Neagle), 1999 (Mike Hampton and Pedro Martinez), 2002 (Barry Zito, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez), 2011 (Ian Kennedy, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw) and 2012 (David Price and Jered Weaver).