Moyer dazzling in his later years
After a tremendously slow start to his career, Jamie Moyer has sparkled as he's aged.
What's amazing about Jamie Moyer isn't that he's still pitching effectively in the major leagues at 40. There have been plenty of pitchers like that, and in fact there are two others right now, in the persons of Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.
No, what's amazing about Jamie Moyer is that he's still pitching effectively at 40 after he spent his 20s not pitching effectively.
Since turning 34, Moyer has won 111 games. That's impressive; only 14 other pitchers in major league history have won more than 100 games from their Age 34 season (the season in which they were 34 on July 1) through their Age 40 season.
34-40 Before 34 Cy Young 171 286 Warren Spahn 143 166 Eddie Plank 135 186 Early Wynn 123 161 Gaylord Perry 121 158 Phil Niekro 121 158 Roger Clemens 117 192 Tommy John 114 134 Pete Alexander 113 235 Jamie Moyer 111 72 Dazzy Vance 111 64 Charlie Hough 111 53 Joe Niekro 109 95 Steve Carlton 107 192 Randy Johnson 105 124
Nine of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, and two others (Clemens and Johnson) will be, the moment they're eligible.
What's most interesting about this list? Well, again, most of them were great pitchers for a number of years before they turned 34. What sets Moyer apart is that he wasn't. But as you can see, he's not unique in this respect. There have been a few other pitchers who didn't find themselves until their middle 30s.
Just a few, though.
Dazzy Vance, due mostly to a serious arm injury, didn't establish himself in the major leagues until 1922, when he was already 31 years old. But Vance, who at the time probably threw as hard as anybody in the world, immediately became a star. He led the National League in strikeouts seven straight seasons and eventually earned a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Vance enjoyed his last great season in 1930, when he was 39.
Charlie Hough and Joe Niekro both have excuses for winning fewer than 100 games before their Age 34 seasons: they were knuckleball pitchers. Unlike many knuckleball pitchers, though, both actually reached the majors at fairly young ages.
Hough debuted with the Dodgers when he was only 22, and became a valuable member of the staff when he was 25 ... as a relief pitcher. Hough didn't become a regular starter until 1982, by which time he was working for the Rangers. And then for the next decade he was one of the more reliable starting pitchers in the game. Hough wound up winning 216 games, and 163 of them came after his 34th birthday.
Niekro, too, reached the majors when he was 22. But his first team, the Cubs, wouldn't let him throw his knuckleball, and he basically spent the first eight seasons of his career trying to establish himself as a quality major-league pitcher (and not quite succeeding). But in 1975 he hooked up with the Astros and began to rely on his knuckleball. And like Hough, once he got into a rotation with a reliable knuckleball, he enjoyed a long (if late) career.
But Jamie Moyer doesn't throw a knuckleball, nor does he resemble Dazzy Vance in any fashion (other than his late-career success). As near as I can tell, Moyer is the only "conventional" pitcher who essentially struggled throughout his 20's (for no apparent reason), and then learned how to pitch brilliantly in his mid 30s (for no apparent reason).
In 2001, Moyer became the oldest first-time 20-game winner in major-league history, and he's got a real good chance to win 20 again this season. He turns 41 in November, but his contract with the Mariners runs for two more seasons. So how many more games can Jamie Moyer win?
Pick a number out of a hat. There's never been anybody quite like him.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.