In Major League Baseball, a win (denoted W) is generally credited to the pitcher for the winning team who was in the game when they last took the lead. A starting pitcher must generally complete five innings to earn a win. Under some exceptions to the general rules, the official scorer awards the win based on guidelines set forth in the official rules. The winning pitcher cannot also be credited with a save in the same game.
The pitchers who receive the win and the loss are known, collectively, as the pitchers of record.
Every game (excluding the rare tie game) has both a winning and a losing pitcher. A pitcher who starts a game but leaves without earning either a win or a loss (that is, before either team gains or surrenders the ultimate lead) is said to have received a no decision, regardless of his individual performance.
A pitcher's total wins and losses are commonly noted together; a pitching record of 12-10 indicates 12 wins and 10 losses.
In the early years of major league baseball (USA) before 1900 it was common for an exceptional pitcher to win 40 or more games in one season. However, after that, pitchers made fewer and fewer starts and the standard changed. In the first third of the 20th century (especially in the Live Ball Era), winning 30 games became the rare mark of excellent achievement; this standard diminished to 25 games during the 1940s through 1980s (the only pitcher to win 30 or more games during that time was Denny McLain in 1968, in what was an anomalous pitching-dominated season).
Since 1990, this has changed even further, as winning 20 or more games in a single season is now achieved by only a handful of pitchers each season (for example, in 2004 only three of the more than five hundred major league pitchers did so). Winning 25 or more games is now considered one of the highest marks of extreme success and excellence in the sport, on a par with winning 30 or more games a generation or two ago. It is so rare now that the last pitcher to even do this was Bob Welch back in 1990 though it was achieved several times per decade immediately before that.
Wins have become in an increasingly controversial way of determining a pitcher's brilliance. Some baseball analysts (sabermetricians) argue that many times a win is completely out of the pitcher's control, and in turn a dominant pitcher with weak run support from the offense can have a substantial losing record, which affects Cy Young Award consideration. For instance, in 2004, Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Ben Sheets had a losing record of 12-14, despite displaying an easy league best 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and was among baseball's Top 5 in ERA (2.70) and WHIP (0.98).
All the pitchers listed below are members of the 300-win Club, one of the most coveted landmarks for pitchers. Members of the 300-win Club are dead locks for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and all members (except for Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who have not retired as of 2008. and Roger Clemens, who is not yet eligible) are indeed Hall-of-Famers.
The 300th win today is a cause for on-field celebration. The achievement is exceedingly rare in modern times as starters are getting fewer starts.
(Bold denotes active pitchers as of 2008)
- Cy Young - 511
- Walter Johnson - 417
- Grover Cleveland Alexander - 373
- Christy Mathewson - 373
- Pud Galvin - 364
- Warren Spahn - 363
- Kid Nichols - 361
- Roger Clemens - 354
- Greg Maddux - 353
- Tim Keefe - 342
- Steve Carlton - 329
- John Clarkson - 328
- Eddie Plank - 326
- Nolan Ryan - 324
- Don Sutton - 324
- Phil Niekro - 318
- Gaylord Perry - 314
- Tom Seaver - 311
- Charles Radbourn - 309
- Mickey Welch - 307
- Tom Glavine - 305
- Lefty Grove - 300
- Early Wynn - 300
- Winning-losing pitcher - MLB Official Rule 10.19