Please, please stop saying there will never be a 300-win pitcher again

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Perry 300.jpgOne of the reasons sports journalism gets disrespected so much is that it is standard operating procedure for sports writers to simply repeat evidence-free and even counter-factual assertions about things with little regard for how easily disprovable or unprovable the assertion may be. Case in point: the “no one will ever reach 300 wins again” meme, which gets repeated three or four times a year by people who should know better.

Today’s example: Tim Kurkjian, who writes an otherwise acceptable passing-of-the-torch article about the great pitchers of yesterday and today, but feels it necessary to end with this note:

With five-man rotations and pitch counts and loaded bullpens with
relievers who make millions, it’s going to be hard to find any pitcher
who will pitch long enough in a career, or pitch long enough in games,
to get to 300 wins.

People have been saying that we’ve seen the last 300 winner for years. They said it after Early Wynn did it. They said it after Nolan Ryan did it. They said it after Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine did it. And since last year they’ve been saying that Randy Johnson was the last of the breed. Cut. It. Out.

The last four 300 game winners all pitched in five man rotations and in the era of bullpen specialization. Only Greg Maddux had more than 36 starts in any one season. A five man rotation may cut down on wins per season, but in reducing workloads it may very well lengthen careers.  To cite these factors as bars to another pitcher winning 300 games is simply and inexcusably ignorant.

Sure, you can look around now and say that you don’t see any 300 game winners on the horizon, but that’s simply because (a) it’s rare; and (b) we tend not to think of someone as a 300 game winner until, you know, they win something like 250 games or so and there’s not anyone out there that really fits the profile at the moment (though I could totally see Sabathia doing it).

The thing, is, gaps in 300-game winners are really common. There were 20 years between Lefty Grove and Warren Spahn hitting the plateau. There was a bigger gap between Early Wynn doing it in 1963 and Gaylord Perry doing it in 1982. There was a big gap between Ryan in 1990 and Clemens in 2003 as well.  Indeed, I think the only reason that guys like Kurkjian like to say that there will never be 300 game winners again is because for a brief shining moment during their early adulthood — the 80s — a handful of guys who pitched through the low-offense, heavy pitcher use 60s and 70s made the mark. That was the historical exception, however, not the rule.

Someone will win 300 games again. It may not be a currently active pitcher, but someone will do it.  And I’m sure that the moment they do it, someone will say that we’ll never see it done again. 

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.