Tuesday in Atlanta, Tim Hudson won the 200th game of his marvelous Major League Baseball career.
I hope you were paying attention.
Hudson became only the 110th pitcher in MLB history to accomplish the feat, according to STATS LLC. For context, 236 pitchers have thrown no-hitters. So, Hudson’s new distinction is more than twice as rare as having thrown a no-hitter.
And here’s what was really rare: Hudson homered in the fifth inning of the Braves’ 8-1 win over Washington — with an assist from Bryce Harper — to join Bob Lemon as the only pitchers to hit a home run in their 200th career victories since at least 1920, according to STATS LLC.
Hudson’s achievement deserves to be celebrated because of baseball’s present environment, as much as for its place in history. In an era of pitch counts and specialized bullpens, round numbers are becoming more difficult to reach. Hudson is one of only three active pitchers with 200 wins, the others being Andy Pettitte (248) and Roy Halladay (201).
Now that Hudson has arrived, the focus turns to CC Sabathia (195). After that, the 200 Club will stop processing new applications this year. Derek Lowe is behind Sabathia with 176, but he’s now a 40-year-old middle reliever with the Rangers who’s unlikely to earn membership at all.
So, what does a 200-win career mean? Quite a lot, particularly since only 1.26 percent of pitchers in major league history have made it there. Strict sabermetricians probably disagree, because they fume at the continued existence of wins as a popular statistic. But pitching wins recognize two traits — longevity and, well, winning — that are highly valued among major league players, managers and coaches.
In that way, a 200-win career acts as a lifetime achievement award for many pitchers. And as fewer of them reach 300 and even 250 — as Pettitte, by the way, is about to do — then the 200-victory threshold will assume a greater importance.
“I think 200 wins is definitely challenging, no question about it,” Hudson told me over the weekend, while his Braves were in Detroit. “You have to be healthy. You have to pitch a long time. Nowadays, who knows how long careers are going to be?
“There’s a lot of power arms, a lot of money to be made in this game. A lot of guys may not have the passion to play 15, 20 years. You may have some really good potential 200-, 250-, 300-win guys who shut it down after 12 years because they made their money or got hurt — or both.”
Hudson said baseball “may have seen the last 300-win pitcher,” and he isn’t alone in that belief. Only four pitchers have reached 300 wins over the past 22 years: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and, most recently, Randy Johnson in 2009.
Who has a chance? Probably not Pettitte, who turns 41 in June and already has retired once. Sabathia, 32, is on a good pace, but he’s shown signs of slowing within the last year (e.g., elbow surgery, diminished velocity). Sabathia will benefit from the fact that he’s pitching for the Yankees — a perpetually competitive team, even when they shouldn’t be (like now).
Justin Verlander, 30, has said publicly that he wants to pitch long enough to reach 300, but 25-year-old Clayton Kershaw may have the better shot because of the young age at which he arrived (and excelled) in the majors. (Verlander has 127 wins, Kershaw 64.)
Earlier this year, I asked Verlander if he thought a 200th win should garner the same media attention that a 300th win once did because of how the sport has evolved.
“Maybe 250,” he replied. “I don’t know. I think the criteria for the Hall of Fame pitcher is going to go down. Time will tell. (There were) set benchmarks in the past, but that was a different time. In this era, who knows what the numbers are going to be? It’ll be interesting to find out. If 300 is the benchmark, you might not have a lot of pitchers in the Hall of Fame from here to the end of time.
“The bullpen (is part of the reason), and money plays into that, too. Teams are careful with their pitchers. Look at (Stephen) Strasburg (last year). Even a lot of veteran guys, teams get them out of there at 100 pitches. It’s pretty tough to go CG (complete game) with 100 pitches.”
It is. And it’s even harder to win 200 games, especially now. Hudson deserves acclaim from the baseball world for what he did Tuesday night. The next round numbers for Pettitte and Sabathia merit the same.