When you think of 20-game winners in the majors, most of the time you probably think of a fireballin’ pitcher who strikes out a lot of batters. That is not, however, the case all the time. In fact, there have been several pitchers who have won 20 or more games in a season who did not depend on the strikeout for their success.
In MLB history, there have been 132 pitchers who have won 20 or more games in a season with fewer than 100 strikeouts that season. The interesting thing about this stat is that 125 of those pitchers accomplished this prior to 1970. Only seven pitchers have won 20-plus games with less than 100 strikeouts since 1970.
The all-time leader in this odd statistic is Cincinnati hurler Slim Sallee who had only 24 strikeouts in 1919 with 21 victories in the books.
Here are the seven pitchers who tallied fewer than 100 K’s when they were a 20-game winner.
Pitcher, team, year
Tommy John, NY Yankees, 1980, 78 strikeouts/22 wins
Ross Grimsley, Montreal, 1978, 84 strikeouts/20 wins
Dave McNally, Baltimore, 1971, 91 strikeouts/21 wins
Bill Gullickson, Detroit, 1991, 91 strikeouts/20 wins
Ed Figueroa, NY Yankees, 1978, 92 strikeouts/20 wins
Randy Jones, San Diego, 1976, 93 strikeouts/22 wins
Bob Forsch, St. Louis, 1977, 95 strikeouts/20 wins
Since 2000, there have been only three times where a 20-game winner had less than 130 strikeouts in that season. Jamie Moyer did it twice; in 2001 with Seattle when he had 119 strikeouts in a 20-win season, and two years later with the Mariners when he had 129 K’s in a 21-win season. The other pitcher on the list is Derek Lowe; he won 21 games in 2002 with Boston and had 127 strikeouts that season.
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This season two pitchers won 20 games in major league baseball: Jake Arrieta with the Cubs and Dallas Keuchel of the Astros. Ironically both of these pitchers won their respective league’s Cy Young Award. The two 20-game winners in the majors this past season were the fewest since only one in 2013 and none in 2009.
If we plot out the numbers of 20-game winners in each of the preceding decades going back to 1960, we discover that there has been a slow decline in pitchers who reach this milestone. In the 60’s there were 73 20-game winners; in the 70’s there were 96. In the 80’s that number dropped drastically to only 37; in the last two decades, the 90’s and the 2000’s, both of those decades saw 34 pitchers reach the 20-win mark. So far in this decade there have been only 16 pitchers who won 20 games, a average of 2.7 per year. If those numbers remain constant and play out to the end of this decade it would be the fewest number of 20-game winners in a decade.
Eight teams have not had a 20-game winner this decade. The Padres have the longest drought; the last 20-game winner in that franchise was Gaylord Perry in 1978.
Here’s a look at the eight MLB teams that have not had a 20-game winner this century.
Team, last 20-game winner (pitcher)
San Diego, 1978 (Gaylord Perry)
Baltimore, 1984 (Mike Boddicker)
Milwaukee, 1986 (Teddy Higuera)
Kansas City, 1989 (Bret Saberhagen)
Pittsburgh, 1991 (John Smiley)
Colorado, have never had a 20-game winner (first year of the franchise was 1993)
San Francisco, 1993 (Bill Swift/John Burkett)
Texas, 1998 (Rick Helling)
There has not been a team with back-to-back 20-game winners in the majors since 2005 (either the same pitcher or two different pitchers). In 2005 Houston’s Roy Oswalt won 20 games after winning 20 in 2004. It is not only the last time a team had back-to-back 20-game winners but also the last time any individual pitcher won 20 games in back-to-back seasons.
Seven teams have never had back-to-back 20-game winners in their franchise history: In the A.L., Seattle, Tampa Bay and Texas; in the N.L., Colorado, Florida, Milwaukee and Washington.
Here’s a look at the last time the other 23 franchises had 20-game winners in consecutive years (either the same pitcher or different pitchers).
St. Louis, 2000-01
Chicago White Sox, 1992-93
Kansas City, 1988-89
N.Y. Yankees, 1979-80
L.A. Dodgers, 1976-77
N.Y. Mets, 1975-76
San Diego, 1975-76
L.A. Angels, 1973-74
Chicago Cubs, 1971-72
San Francisco, 1969-70
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