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Where's Your 20?

The Dodgers have long been known as a franchise rich in pitching history and tradition, especially since their move to Los Angeles. One reason for this has of course been Dodger Stadium, which has played as a pitcher's park for the bulk of it's history (although in the last few years, not so much). There have also been some very good pitchers in Dodger blue as well.

Although wins are certainly not the best measuring stick for starting pitchers, a long-standing mark of excellence for starting pitchers has been the 20-win season. For the Dodgers, can you guess how many 20-win seasons they have had in the last 30 years?

From 1979 to 2008, the Dodgers, a team as rich in pitching tradition and history as any other franchise, have had a grand total of three 20-win seasons from their starters:

Pitcher Year Wins Losses
Fernando Valenzuela 1986 21 11
Orel Hershiser 1988 23 8
Ramon Martinez 1990 20 6

That figure seems astonishingly low to me. I decided to see how the Dodgers fared compared to other teams in this department, and I was even more surprised to find that three isn't such a bad total after all. In the last 30 years, there have been only 110 20-win seasons, an average of 3.67 per team.

20-Win Seasons From 1979-2008
Team # of 20-Win Seasons
Braves 10
Yankees 9
Athletics 9
Red Sox 8
Astros 7
Blue Jays 7
Cardinals 6
D-Backs 5
White Sox 5
Twins 5
Orioles 4
Royals 4
Dodgers 3
Mets 3
Giants 3
Tigers 3
Mariners 3
Cubs 2
Reds 2
Phillies 2
Pirates 2
Rangers 2
Marlins 1
Brewers 1
Angels 1
Indians 1
Padres 0
Nationals/Expos 0
Rays 0
Rockies 0
Total 20-Win Seasons* 110

*There were two 20-win seasons involving multiple teams. In 1984, Rick Sutcliffe won 20 games for the Indians and Cubs (along with the NL Cy Young Award). In 2002, Bartolo Colon won 20 games for the Indians and Expos. What is it with the Indians trading away these 20-game winners midseason? Actually, I'm pretty sure Cleveland liked the return of the Colon trade. Anyway, I didn't count those seasons in the table above.

Outside of the Rockies and Rays, with zero 20-game winners in their short history, only 6 teams have had a longer 20-game winner drought than the Dodgers:

Last 20-Win Season
Team Year Pitcher W-L
Dodgers 1990 Ramon Martinez 20-6
Reds 1988 Danny Jackson 23-8
Brewers 1986 Teddy Higuera 20-11
Orioles 1984 Mike Boddicker 20-11
Phillies 1982 Steve Carlton 23-11
Nats/Expos 1978 Ross Grimsley 20-11
Padres 1978 Gaylord Perry 21-6

That's 18 seasons for the Dodgers without a 20-game winner. In fact, the Dodgers haven't even had a 19-game winner in that span. The closest they've come to the magical 20-win plateau was a pair of 18-win seasons in 1999 (Kevin Brown) and 2000 (Chan Ho Park).

Winning 20 games is a lot harder to do these days. Look at the decline in 20-win seasons by decade in MLB:

20-Win Seasons By Decade
Decade 20-Win Seasons Team Seasons % Per Team Season
1960-1969 73 198 36.9%
1970-1979 96 246 39.0%
1980-1989 37 260 14.2%
1990-1999 34 278 12.2%
2000-2008 34 270 12.6%

There just aren't that many 20-win seasons to go around anymore. Who will be the next Dodger to reach the 20-win barrier? My gut says Billingsley, provided of course he takes Bill Plaschke's advice and raises his machismo. Kershaw is another possibility, but the soon-to-be 21-year old has enough expectations already.