Yet another landmark night in this season for the Cubs, as Jake Arrieta won his 20th game last night. The first to do it since Jon Lieber, and I really just like thinking about Jon Lieber who was basically Kyle Hendricks realized. It still feels like Lieber only got people out because hitters couldn’t believe he was going right after them with his next-to-nothing stuff. But that’s another discussion for another day.
It felt a little strange to me. These days, a lot of us already know that pitcher wins are vastly overrated, if they mean anything at all. And yet, anytime a pitcher piles up enough of them, like say…20, then we all take notice. There’s some sort of metaphor about piling up enough meaningless things to have meaning, I guess.
For Cubs fans, it’s just the enjoyment of a season going far better than any of us hoped. It’s yet another accomplishment, and yet another thing we haven’t seen in a while around here. Hell, it’s not something you see anywhere all that much these days. How many 20-game winners do we get per season? One or two at most? So I guess the “Unicorn” aspect of it is what makes people pay attention. Arrieta might be the only one to win 20 games this year, or one of at most three. That doesn’t mean he’s been the best pitcher (it’s probably still Kershaw but I get the impression that fans are a little Kershaw-ed out). It just means he’s gotten to pitch more often when his offense has produced than others, at least in part.
But this is baseball, and we need to identify these landmark numbers. I was thinking about what might replace or join 20 wins as something we can all see signifies a dominant or transcendent season. It might not be in any of our lifetimes. I feel like the ERA under 2.00 from Greinke and Arrieta is a bigger accomplishment than 20 wins. But we now know that ERA isn’t all on the pitcher either. But still, under 2.00? Kershaw is the only other pitcher to have done it in the past five years. In the past 10 it’s only Kershaw and Clemens, and aren’t we scrubbing Clemens anyway?
Still, because ERA is kind of a calculated stat that fluctuates per inning, no one’s going to track that. It doesn’t have a definitive ending like a win. That also rules out FIP and xFIP obviously, though we’ll always go back after the season and marvel at the numbers.
The only one I can really think of is someone surpassing 300 Ks, which Chris Sale and Kershaw took a run at this season. Yu Darvish came closest in the past 10 years with 277 two years ago. That we can all watch. But is anyone going to throw enough innings to do it ever again. It hasn’t happened in 13 years.
Because we can all see wins, we can watch it take place on the field, it will probably always have some esteem with baseball fans. Everyone got to celebrate it last night. It had a definitive moment that no other reachable number is going to have.
But I don’t want to be that guy. It was a cool moment, a cool night. It’s another in a season full of them.