Although winning 300 games is not a must for a starter to make it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it certainly has been a benchmark. No longer. Thus the criteria to judge Hall-worthy starters must change.
"I don't think anyone else will win 300," Don Sutton, a Hall of Famer and 324-game winner, told my friend Danny Schlossberg a few years ago. "More and more pitchers are coming out prior to the decision of a ballgame. Pitchers don't go nine innings, because the environment doesn't encourage it."
Schlossberg, who wrote a book titled "The 300 Club," interviewed all 10 living members and says they all feel the same way: The era of the 300-game winner is over.
"It's going to be tough," said Gaylord Perry, who finished with 314. "But that's OK with me."
Now digest this: Of the past 11 pure starters elected to the Hall, eight have won 300 games. That group of eight includes the past three: Johnson, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, whose 355 wins was the tops for his generation.
There are three very prominent starters on the current ballot -- Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. None is expected to be voted in this year. Of the 24 pitchers with 300 wins, Clemens is the only one not in the Hall. He had 354, but the suspicion he used performance-enhancing drugs is the reason for his exclusion, although his percentage of votes -- along with those of all-time home run leader Barry Bonds -- is ascending.
This year's results will be revealed on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m. A news conference introducing any new inductees will be staged the next day at the St. Regis Hotel in New York at 3 p.m.
Fangraphs recently posited that if the voters don't adopt a more analytical approach to electing starters, the current crop will have no real shot at election. And they're talking about such hurlers as Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, who, per Fangraphs, is the only current starter with the metrics to qualify if his career continues in its current direction.
The top older active pitchers with the most wins are Bartolo Colon (233) and CC Sabathia (223). Of the two, only Sabathia is on the bubble, Fangraphs said.
The win already has been dismissed as a viable statistic for many members of the sabermetric community, and under the game's current structure, it's becoming harder and harder to argue that point.
Other stats -- such as WHIP, WAR, FIP, ERA-, strikeouts and walks per nine innings -- have already been used for years in the voting for the Cy Young Award. They will also have to be considered by Hall voters, who are generally older, because a voter is required to have 10 consecutive years in the Baseball Writers' Association of America to qualify. The yearly awards can be voted on by anybody in the group.
JAWS, a metric that equalizes WAR to account for the variables in offense from generation to generation, has also become a valuable tool for Hall of Fame voters. Meanwhile, Fangraphs has developed a point system called HOF Rating based on WAR to account for peak years as well as the depth of a player's long career.
"You'll have to do a completely different recap of what starters have done," Perry said. "They don't get a chance to complete many games or go deep into games. They come out as soon as they get in trouble. You have 14 pitchers on a club. The managers better use them, or he'll get fired."
Perry completed 303 games in 22 seasons. Last year, the 30 Major League teams combined compiled 104.
It's not as if starters have been overwhelming elected in recent decades anyway. Between Nolan Ryan in 1999 and Burt Blyleven in 2011, there were none. Dennis Eckersley, a starter who spent his final 12 seasons as a lights-out closer, joined fellow relievers Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage in the Hall in 2004.
But the Classes of 2014 and '15 offered an explosion of great starters, including the trio of 300-game winners, plus Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz (who, like Eckersley, was judged both as a starter and a reliever). Those were the best of the best, and were overwhelmingly elected the first time on the ballot.
Mussina and Schilling are obviously considered a cut well below that.
Mussina, with 270 wins pitching in the tough American League East, is seriously trending upwards, and he's at 60.6 percent of the 198 ballots publicly revealed per the tracker kept online by Ryan Thibodaux. He has six more years of eligibility, so his chances look good.
Schilling has lost 10 votes so far, and at 52.5 percent, is heading in the wrong direction. But that may be because of his political views rather than his stats as a pitcher for three World Series-winning teams and another pennant-winner.
"That's Curt Schilling," said Kevin Millar, his former teammate on a Red Sox club that won the 2004 World Series, breaking a drought of 86 years. "What you see is what you get, guys."
Separating Schilling the pitcher from Schilling the personality makes him a good example of how voters must now evaluate starters -- in the same vein as Martinez, another Red Sox teammate.
Pedro won just 219 games, the fewest of any pitcher in the Hall whose career ended after 1958. But there was a lot more to him than that. His winning percentage (.686) was the sixth highest in history, and his WAR (86) is seventh best.
Comparatively, Schilling had 216 wins and a .597 winning percentage. His WAR of 80.7 is 26th. Mussina, by the way, is 24th, at 82.7. Above Mussina in that category, the top 23 pitchers are all already in the Hall.
Schilling has five more years on the ballot.
Beyond that the choices are few. There's Jamie Moyer, eligible in 2018, who accumulated 269 wins and pitched until his left elbow blew out at the age of 49. And a year after that, it's Andy Pettitte, with 256 wins and 19 more in the playoffs, on the same ballot as closer Mariano Rivera, his longtime Yankees teammate.
Even by the old criteria, the ranks of potential Hall of Famer starters becomes very thin. If voters don't change their perspective by then, they will be hard-pressed.