CC Sabathia and the most wins before turning 31

Recently, Yankee starting pitcher CCSabathia celebrated his 31st birthday. Shortly afterwards, he won his 172nd career game. That’s not bad, 172 wins less than a week after turning 31.

It brings up the question: How does Sabathia compare with other pitchers prior to their 31st birthdays? Where does he stand historically?

Let’s look it up and see how Sabathia’s 171 wins before turning 31 years old compares historically. It’s best to limit any comparisons to 1920-onward pitchers. If you included deadballers and 19th-century guys, they’d dominate the list. Simply put, the game has changed too much to make them effective comps for anyone more recent.

Below is a list of the 25 winningest liveball pitchers prior to turning 31 years old. I might have missed one or two guys, but I think I got everyone. They’re grouped into fives to make it easier to read. Listed are their wins before their 31st birthday, then in parentheses their full career victories, and then their names:

202 (224) Catfish Hunter
192 (266) Bob Feller
191 (207) Hal Newhouser
190 (193) Wes Ferrell
189 (286) Robin Roberts

185 (209) Don Drysdale
174 (268) Jim Palmer
173 (237) Waite Hoyt
171 (???) CC Sabathia
171 (223) Mel Harder

170 (243) Juan Marichal
168 (311) Tom Seaver
167 (287) Bert Blyleven
167 (355) Greg Maddux
165 (209) Vida Blue

165 (174) Ken Holtzman
165 (189) Lefty Gomez
165 (184) Dave McNally
165 (165) Sandy Koufax
161 (354) Roger Clemens

161 (200) George Uhle
157 (194) Dwight Gooden
156 (209) Milt Pappas
155 (324) Don Sutton
152 (219) Pedro Martinez

There are quite a few very highly talented pitchers listed there. And Milt Pappas.

Anyhow, Sabathia is tied for ninth, which is certainly impressive. It’s the best start anyone has had since Jim Palmer. Also impressive. (Or, if you want to make it sound less impressive, he’s off to as good a start as Mel Harder).

Interesting point: Only four of the 25 won 300 games, including none in the top 11. In part that’s because many here blew their arms out, as you can see by all the guys under or barely over 200 career wins. Also, it’s because winning 300 games depends largely on what you do after your 31st birthday. Palmer didn’t really age that poorly. He just stopped winning 20 games every year and didn’t last as long as someone like Don Sutton.

On a final note, this list gives some new appreciation for Catfish Hunter. Not normally considered to be a great pitcher—especially not in sabermetric circles—he was an all-time great workhorse. Adjust for run support all you want, and he’d still score very highly.

As for Sabathia, if he ages well, he has a very good shot to win 300. Heck, if he stays on hard-hitting teams like the Yankees and ages as well as Maddux and Clemens did, he has at least a chance to become the winningest pitcher since Pete Alexander.


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Michael
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Michael

Slamming Pappas while extolling the virtues of Hunter. Really? Pappas leads Hunter in ERA+ and WAR. Give me Milt.

Greg
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Greg

Milt Pappas is the worst thing since sliced crap.

Hunterfan
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Hunterfan

Could you clarify if by the cutoff date of 1920, did you mean pitchers who started their careers later than 1920, or pitchers who pitched after 1920?

(For example, Walter Johnson would qualify under the latter category, but not the former.)

Chris J.
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Chris J.

Hunter,

I’m basically looking at guys who did it since 1920.  Waite Hoyt is an oddity in that he started before 1920, but that’s such a small sliver that hardly means anything.

The key cutoff is when the liveball era began.

Benny
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Benny

looking at wins is not enough…look at pitcher wins AND ERA+. Like this article on blog that seems to be closed but written months ago http://www.mlbexpertanalysis.com/blog/?p=336

Shimi Goodman
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Shimi Goodman

i think you may be going out it the wrong way. some of these pitchers (for example hunter) won a lot of games without being that effective. thus when the inevitable drop off due to age occurred these guys were done. cc on the other hand is so good that even in decline phase should still be able to win games. this article lists the top wins guys but requires a great era+ as well and the list looks much better for cc, basically with just the stars form your list above:
http://www.mlbexpertanalysis.com/blog/?p=336

Chris Jaffe
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Chris Jaffe

What happened to Hunter was quite a bit much more than “the inevitable drop off due to age.”  His arm was fried.  The Yankees wanted to use him more – they actually paid him a boatload of money when they signed him as a free agent after Charles Finley violated the terms of his contract – but Hunter’s arm was shot.

Preston
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Preston

You can’t overstate how good Bob Feller was. He had 192 wins before age 31 while missing three years to WWII. The man could pitch.

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