Tommy Pham is a big personality. We know this. So, of course, when he goes on a Facebook Live show, there’s bound to be something to write about. On MLB.com’s 12:25 Live, Pham appeared and made some interesting comments. First, and unsurprisingly, that he was excited Ozuna had joined the Cardinals. He also talked about his nickname. However, the most significant prediction he made was about Carlos Martinez.
He picked Martinez to win 20 games in 2018.
Now, many of us believe Carlos has the talent to do that, but actually pulling it off is a different story. I remember writing my first post for Viva El Birdos—it was about Martinez’s continued effort to improve against lefties. He has certainly shown incredible flashes of potential, but has never won more than sixteen games in a season. Of course, we no longer measure pitcher success by wins. Still, it is difficult to reach that number with only luck.
But how often do pitchers actually win 20 games? In the last 10 years, it has happened 23 times—not the smallest number, but it is still an elite club. It is certainly a more exclusive group than 20-game winners between 1998 and 2007.
In this graph of 20-game winners over the last twenty years, a few trends are visible. First, from 1998 to 2005, winning twenty games as a starting pitcher was much more common than it is today. Since 2005, the number of pitchers to accomplish this feat has never eclipsed four. And every few years, including in 2017, no pitcher makes it to twenty wins.
The Cardinals have had more than their fair share of twenty win pitchers. Darryl Kile did it in 2000. In 2001, Matt Morris made it passed the teens. Chris Carpenter accomplished the same milestone in 2005 and Adam Wainwright joined them in 2014.
The question really isn't whether or not Carlos Martinez has the talent, he certainly does. The fact of the matter is pitchers just don’t make it to twenty wins that often, not due to a lack of skill, but rather a lack of time.
In 2017, twenty pitchers threw at least 200 innings. Ten years ago, that number was at 38. Twenty years ago, it was at 43. You can see the trend and it is not unknown. These days, pitch counts are monitored more closely than ever, decreasing innings pitched. Unsurprisingly, win totals are deflated as a result.
Although it may not have sounded as great, perhaps Tommy Pham should have predicted Martinez to improve in a statistic that is valid for measuring pitcher success. In 2016, his HR/9 was at .69, but skyrocketed to 1.19 this past season. There is room for improvement here. He could further increase his K/9. It rose from 8.02 in 2016 to 9.53 in 2017—a top twenty finish in all of baseball. His FIP ballooned to 3.91 last year—a career high. But if Pham predicted that to drop, it wouldn’t have made the news.
The crux of the matter is already well known—measuring pitcher success by win total is not the answer. Carlos Martinez is as talented of a pitcher as any in this league and he still may not win twenty games. Win total cannot be a measure of success. Although it sounds like a bold prediction, Martinez’s win total will not define his season.