Who the hell decided 20 was going to be this big magical number? In fact, who decided that round numbers are so good anyway? Is this hard-wired into our minds from birth or is it something we learn in youth? Somebody get Malcolm Gladwell on this! Why is it that multiples of 10 have so much appeal to them? How did it become so important that every time I mention to someone that Mike Mussina is a hall of famer, without fail the first thing they say is “But he’s never won 20 games?” How did we become this way and what does it really mean?
According to the amazing software at baseball-reference.com Mike Mussina’s most similiar pitcher for his career is Juan Marichal. Marichal is a Hall of Famer; inducted in 1983, eight years after retiring. During his 16-year MLB career Marichal won 243 games. His case for induction is based around his performance from 1961 to 1971 (with the exception of a down year in 1970) when he had the following amazing win totals: 18, 25, 21, 22, 25, 14, 26, 21, 18. If Mike Mussina had won 20-games 6 times, but still had only 269 career wins would he be a HOF’er?
Marichal was with only 243 wins.
Those years gave Marichal 190 of his 243 career wins. Marichal is in Cooperstown because of how dominate he was winnning games. If you think Marichal is in, then what about Mussina? Marichal’s career ERA+ is only 123 compared to Mussina’s 122. Marichal got there because of those amazing win totals in the 1960s. But was he a better pitcher than Moose?
Juan Marichal had those great years because he did not get removed from games. He are Marichal’s complete games for that same time period (1961-1969, 1971): 18, 18, 22, 24, 25, 18, 30, 27, 18. Wow. During the period that Marichal won 190 games he accumulated 200 complete games. For his career he recorded one more complete game than wins (244 to 243). Eleven times Marichal had more or the same amount of complete games as wins. Marichal won so much because he was allowed to pitch complete games. Mike Mussina has not been give the same opportunities, because baseball is a different game today.
Mussina has 57 complete games. Marichal did that in 1968 and 69 combined. In 1969, Marichal went 21-11, his team went 21-16 in games he pitched. In 1964 he was 21-8, his team was 25-8. This year Moose is 19-9, but the Yankees are 22-11 in his starts. Give Mussina a few complete games and he’s probably already at 20. When Moose won 19 in 1995 the Orioles won 20 of his starts, in 1996 when he won 19 again they won 22. When he won 18 in 1993, the O’s won 21, again he had 18 in 1999 and the Orioles won 22 of his starts and when he gave the Yankees 18 wins in 2002, they won 23. And in 1997 when Mike Mussina only went 15-8, the Orioles went 21-12 in games he started.
The 20-win season is a function of the complete game. If Mike Mussina was allowed more complete games each year he would have multiple 20-win seasons, be a sure-fire Hall of Famer and probably would have been done with his career at age 35, like Juan Marichal.
Patrick’s edit: Well, look, you don’t have to be an idiot to see that–Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia excluded–complete games are becoming more and more rare. And obviouly, if he’s a very good pitcher, the longer he stays in, the better chance he has of getting a win, because he’s the pitcher of record for longer. I don’t think 20-game winners are completely a thing of the past, but it’s not a coincidence that 16 wins led the NL in 2006, and that Webb is the only guy who even came close in the NL this season. But I think it’s more about pitch counts than anything. Once pitchers hit the 100 mark, out comes the manager for the change. Relievers make a whole lot of money relative to the innings they pitch, so teams are going to use them. 20 is not unattainable. But even great pitchers having great seasons have failed to do it.
As human beings, we read left to right. So seeing the 2 in the tens column makes it seem much larger than it is. Try this on for size.
Football game A: 41-19
Football game B: 39-21
At first glance, the top score probably looks a lot worse, but it’s really not. This is why cars are always priced $19,995. Because we focus on the 19 more than the 995. It’s why almost every price you see is ends with .99.
Roberto Clemente is a good example of this: He passed away at exactly 3,000 hits. Now, he was one of the all-time great players, but I do think we’d have a different view of him had he wound up with 2,995 hits. Mickey Mantle always said his biggest regret as a ballplayer was not finishing with a .300 average. But he hit .298. What’s the difference?