Fantasy Baseball: 15 Greatest Fantasy Pitching Seasons of All Time
There's nothing like watching a pitcher on cruise control for an entire season.
Good morning. Good afternoon. Good night.
Whether it be high cheddar, a Bugs Bunny changeup, a 12-to-6 hammer or a filthy slide-piece, these guys knew how to get it done on the hill.
The term "of all time" is slightly misleading. Rotisserie leagues weren't created until 1980, when Daniel Okrent developed the idea in the restaurant La Rotisserie Française in New York City.
Here's the top 15 fantasy pitching seasons since 1980. Unfortunately, you won't find Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn or Bob Gibson on the list.
A Brief Introduction
Completing a list like this is always a daunting task. Obviously, my rankings will differ from yours. I'd love to see your top 15. We can compare and contrast our lists.
This list was constructed for the 15 best fantasy seasons. Not most impressive. Not most exciting. Not anything else.
This list was made by strictly looking at stats primarily used in fantasy leagues (W's, ERA, WHIP and K's). I didn't care if offenses were worse in the late 1980s. If a pitcher dominated, that's all I looked at.
Also, I decided to use a formula. You'll see it referred to as the EM Ranking in the slides to follow, but it's the same equation used in rotisserie leagues. I compiled what I believed to be the best 20 seasons since 1980.
The guy with the most wins got 20 points, the second highest got 19 and so on for all four stats looked at.
No. 15: Clayton Kershaw, 2011
2011 stats: 233.1 IP, 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 248 K's.
EM Ranking: 36 points.
Clayton Kershaw won the NL Triple Crown and Cy Young last season as a 24-year-old.
Kershaw had five losses last year, and three of those came in his first six starts. So after starting 2-3 with a 3.52 ERA, Kershaw went 19-2 with a 2.03 ERA the rest of the way.
Kershaw was on fire down the stretch, winning 15 of his last 18 decisions.
No. 14: John Smoltz, 1996
1996 stats: 253.2 IP, 24-8, 2.94 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 276 K's.
EM Ranking: 42 points.
John Smoltz won the 1996 NL Cy Young Award, right in the prime of his career.
Aside from seeing the numbers posted above, Smoltz had an incredible 5.02 K:BB ratio during the '96 season. He gave up just 55 walks in 253.2 innings.
His 24 wins ranked him tied for second on the list of 20 players.
No. 13: Curt Schilling, 2002
2002 stats: 259.1 IP, 23-7, 3.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 316 K's.
EM Ranking: 42.5 points.
Curt Schilling finished in second in the NL Cy Young vote in 2002 because his teammate Randy Johnson absolutely dominated (we'll see from him a little later).
Schilling has the highest ERA on the list, but his 23 wins, 0.97 WHIP and 316 strikeouts make up for it.
In 2002, Schilling had 14 games reaching double-digit strikeouts, including his season-high of 17 against the Brewers in his second start of the year.
No. 12: Steve Carlton, 1980
1980 stats: 304 IP, 24-9, 2.34 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 286 K's.
EM Ranking: 42.5 points.
Steve Carlton is one of the best pitchers of all time. His 1980 season only further proves that.
Carlton is the last man to throw at least 300 innings. During the '80 season, Carlton had 13 complete games and three shutouts. He also allowed just 15 home runs in 304 innings.
To put that into perspective, Colby Lewis has already given up 12 homers in 60 innings in 2012.
Carlton's best season is 1972 (when he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA), but that didn't meet the requirements for the list.
No. 11: Randy Johnson, 2001
2001 stats: 249.2 IP, 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 372 K's.
EM Ranking: 43 points.
Randy Johnson's 2001 season was his third straight NL Cy Young Award. He went on to win again in 2002.
Johnson's 372 strikeouts in '01 is the third-highest total since 1900, ranking behind Nolan Ryan's 383 (1973) and Sandy Koufax's 382 (1965).
In 35 starts, Johnson had 23 games with double-digit K's, including a 20-strikeout performance against the Reds.
For a power pitcher, Johnson also had excellent control. He posted a 5.24 K:BB ratio in 2001.
No. 10: Johan Santana, 2004
2004 stats: 228 IP, 20-6, 2.61 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 265 K's.
EM Ranking: 43.5 points.
Johan Santana won his first of two AL Cy Young Awards in 2004.
Santana was a horse in 2004, pitching at least six innings in 28 of his 34 starts. What's even more impressive is that he went six or more innings in 22 of his final 23 starts.
Santana started off slow. He was 2-3 with a 5.61 ERA at the end of May. But he went 18-3 to finish the season, including a stretch of 13 straight wins to end the season.
No. 9: Bret Saberhagen, 1989
1989 stats: 262.1 IP, 23-6, 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 193 K's.
EM Ranking: 44.5 points.
Bret Saberhagen had a career year in 1989, and he was rewarded with the AL Cy Young.
Saberhagen was average for his career. He had 167 wins with a 3.34 ERA. But he picked a great time to break out. His '89 season followed a year in which he went 14-16 with a 3.80 ERA.
Saberhagen tossed 12 complete games and four shutouts in '89. His ERA/WHIP ratio is one of the best on the list. He'd be higher if his K/9 was better than 6.6.
No. 8: Greg Maddux, 1995
1995 stats: 209.2 IP, 19-2, 1.63 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 181 K's.
EM Ranking: 46 points.
Greg Maddux won his fourth straight NL Cy Young in 1995.
In '95, Maddux gave up more than three earned runs just twice out of 28 total starts. Furthermore, he gave up one earned run or fewer in 18 starts.
His control was also ridiculous. Maddux fanned 181 batters and walked just 23.
Yes, that's correct. Maddux had 23 walks in 200-plus innings. Compare that stat to Ubaldo Jimenez, who has already walked 38 batters in 52 innings this season.
Maddux's '95 campaign might be one of the most impressive seasons, but his 19 wins and 181 strikeouts dropped him to eighth.
No. 7: Justin Verlander, 2011
EM Ranking: 47.5 points.
Justin Verlander was so dominant in 2011 that he was named AL MVP as well as winning the AL Cy Young.
Imagine a season in which a pitcher threw at least five innings every single start. Pretty impressive right?
Well, Verlander topped that in '11. He threw at least six innings in every single start.
With a 24-5 record, you're going to have a long string of W's, but Verlander finished the 2011 campaign in style, winning 12 straight games.
No. 6: Roger Clemens, 1997
EM Ranking: 47.5 points.
Roger Clemens secured his fourth Cy Young in 1997.
The Rocket lifted off in '97. He had 15 games with at least 10 K's and pitched at least six innings in every start except for one (he went 5.2 innings in his second start of the season).
Clemens finished the year with nine complete games and three shutouts in his first season north of the border.
Clemens and Verlander tied in my ranking system, but I gave Clemens the edge because he had a lower ERA and more strikeouts.
No. 5: Mike Scott, 1986
EM Ranking: 48.5 points.
Mike Scott is probably the least-known pitcher on the list, but he earned the spot after winning the 1986 NL Cy Young Award.
Scott, like Bret Saberhagen, finished with an average career. He was 124-108 with a 3.54 career ERA and 6.4. K/9 ratio. But he certainly exceeded those numbers in '86.
Up until 1986, Scott's best K/9 was 5.6 (reached in 1985), but he exploded for 306 strikeouts the following season. He more than doubled his strikeout total from '85 to '86.
The highlight of the year was Scott's no-hitter, delivered against the Giants to clinch the division. In the game, Scott yielded three base runners and struck out 13.
No. 4: Pedro Martinez, 2000
EM Ranking: 53 points.
Pedro Martinez won his second straight AL Cy Young Award in 2000.
Martinez's 0.74 WHIP was the lowest number in the live ball era (from 1920 and on). Just look at these numbers: He gave up only 128 hits and 32 walks in 217 innings.
Martinez had 15 double-digit strikeout games in 2000 and recorded 48 K's in four July starts (an average of 12 per game).
Eighteen wins is good, but it could have been more. He had four losses in which he gave up two earned runs or fewer.
No. 3: Randy Johnson, 2002
EM Ranking: 53.5 points.
Randy Johnson's '01 season was already on here, but he ranks No. 3 for his 2002 performance. He won his fourth straight Cy Young in '02.
It seems really hard to exceed his 2001 numbers, but he somehow managed to do it a year later. His strikeouts dipped from 372 to 334, but yeah, that's still nasty.
He was able to improve his ERA and added more wins.
He also went on a stretch where he had six straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts. He averaged 13.17 strikeouts per game during that span.
As a 39-year-old, 2002 was Johnson's last great season.
No. 2: Dwight Gooden, 1985
EM Ranking: 59.5 points.
In just his second year in the MLB, Dwight Gooden won the NL Cy Young Award in 1985.
Gooden's line is just absolutely ridiculous, and it's especially scary coming from a 20-year-old.
Gooden made 35 starts in '85, and he completed 16 of them, while eight of those 16 went for shutouts. So, he threw a complete game in 45 percent of his starts and recorded a shutout in 23 percent of them.
In those 35 starts, Gooden allowed more than three earned runs just once. His worst monthly ERA during the season was 1.81 in August.
No. 1: Pedro Martinez, 1999
EM Ranking: 62.5 points.
Alas, No. 1 is a repeat offender.
Pedro Martinez was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He picked up his second of three Cy Youngs in 1999.
Obviously Martinez's numbers are incredible, but it's even more impressive given the era in which he was pitching.
This was the time when steroids were running rampant. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were shattering Roger Maris' home run record. But, at the same time, Martinez was filthier than an 18th century Scottish sewer.
After looking over a plethora of pitching stats, it's hard to argue anyone over Martinez for the top spot.
These guys had great seasons, but they just missed the cut.
Orel Hershiser, 1988: 267 IP, 23-8, 2.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 178 K's. EM Ranking: 32 points.
Steve Carlton, 1982: 295.2 IP, 23-11, 3.10 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 286 K's. EM Ranking: 29.5 points.
Zack Greinke, 2009: 229.1 IP, 16-8, 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 242 K's. EM Ranking: 25 points.
Bob Welch, 1990: 238 IP, 27-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 127 K's. EM Ranking: 25 points.
Kevin Brown, 1998: 257 IP, 18-10, 2.38 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 257 K's. EM Ranking: 23.5 points.