The One-Two Punch: History's Greatest Pitching Duos
This time last year the Giants didn't have a whole lot to cheer about. The team was 17 games under .500 and looking pretty lost.
A huge deal to a mechanically unsound Barry Zito proved to be a giant mistake, and outside of a phenomenal performance by young ace Tim Lincecum, there didn't appear to be a whole lot of hope for the club.
Flash forward to 2009. The Giants have the best team ERA in baseball, a winning record, and are right in the middle of the NL wild-card race. No, Zito has not reemerged as a dominant pitcher, so how did the staff do it?
The Giants have risen out of baseball's cellar on the arms of the best pitching duo in baseball, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
That statement sounds fun, but what does it have to do with history's greatest pitching duos? Not much at all, actually. I just wanted to point out how good Lincecum and Cain were playing.
Maybe good isn't the word, though. Great is probably closer.
As it stands, Lincecum is 12-3 and leading the league in strikeouts and ERA with 205 and 2.19 respectively. His partner, Cain, has also posted 12 wins and an ERA of 2.49.
History buffs, don't skip to the comments yet. I realize what this piece is titled, and I can tell you that Lincecum and Cain will not be appearing in this slideshow. It's been a great year, but 1) it's not over yet, and 2) it's been just one year.
The duos on the following pages had multiple seasons together and were often the faces of their respective franchises for that period.
Lincecum and Cain are certainly on their way to that level of distinction though. Maybe we'll have to revisit this piece in 2011 or 2012 to see if I need to amend it.
Note that I use a few sabermetrics in my analysis. Here's a quick rundown in case you are not familiar with them.
ERA+: ERA+ adjusts a pitcher's ERA to the league average for the particular year and can be used for comparative analysis across different years/generations. A league average ERA+ is 100; players who pitch better than average have an ERA+ over 100, and players who pitch worse have ERA+ less than 100.
WHIP: Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched. Could also be called average baserunners per inning.
I could have made this a top 10, and almost did, but there were a lot of guys who were also-rans after the seven on the list. I've highlighted a few, but by no means is this all of the great pitching duos.
Roger Clemens-Andy Pettitte: NYY, 1999-2003
Oooh, steroids. I didn't keep them off because of that though. Their performance together, not their PEDs together, kept them from having their faces etched onto this Mount Rushmore.
During their time together, Clemens posted below-career average numbers in nearly every category. Even his 2001 Cy Young season was sub-par for his standards.
It's not that they were bad though. Remember, below-average by Clemens' standards is not necessarily below-league average. The two combined to average a 31-15 yearly record, and both carried above average ERAs.
It's just that they weren't good enough to make it onto a list this exclusive.
Warren Spahn-Lew Burdette: Milwaukee Braves, 1956-1958
Spahn was the best pitcher over this three-year period, capturing a Cy Young and finishing in the top three for the other two years, and Burdette was pretty good himself.
However, these two didn't really distance themselves from their peers. Relatively low ERA+ numbers coupled with a short period of time does not help the pair. They were good, but not dominant.
Gary Peters-Joe Horlen: Chi WS, 1966-1967
These guys were just about unhittable but only won .582 of their decisions combined. Peters had an ERA+ of 143 and a 1.031 WHIP, while Horlen carried an ERA+ of 138 and a 1.032 WHIP.
I don't like docking great individuals for bad teams, but the guys on this list won as well. Unfortunately for these two, their offense wasn't good enough to get them the wins needed to compete with the heavy hitters...err, pitchers on the next slides.
Ron Darling-Dwight Gooden: New York Mets 1986-1988
Lots of wins between the two at 146 over four years. They didn't lose a lot either, with a combined win percentage of .682.
However, Darling was not dominant, posting two years at or above league average ERA and a 1.253 WHIP, causing the duo to just miss out on this list.
No. 7 Early Wynn-Bob Lemon: Cleveland, 1950-1956
These two guys were solid every year they were together. Lemon led the league in wins three times, and Wynn led once during their seven-year period of dominance. Each finished in the top 10 in MVP voting—Lemon four times and Wynn twice.
Even more impressive was Wynn's win percentage. He only posted one sub-.600 win-loss percentage during the span, and over his 214 decisions he averaged a W-L percentage of .645, good for 138 wins.
He also averaged a 3.03 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 127, very respectable for a seven-year period.
Lemon was equally dominant, posting 144 wins and a .637 W-L percentage for the same period. He held a similar ERA too, at 3.24—good enough to land Wynn and Lemon at No. 7.
No. 6 Hal Newhouser-Dizzy Trout: Detroit, 1944-1946
These guys hold the distinction of being the longest-tenured duo on the list at 14 years. Unfortunately, they did not dominate together often, only posting three consecutive seasons worth mentioning. However, those three seasons were magnificent.
Unfortunately, it was not enough to place them higher on the list.
In 1944-45 Hal won back to back MVPs. He's the only pitcher to accomplish such a feat. Dizzy finished second in MVP voting in 1944 and posted good numbers in the following two seasons.
From 1944-1946 the duo combined for an astounding 142 wins and a win-loss percentage of .673.
Hal posted an ERA of 1.99 during that time, good enough for a stratospheric ERA+ of 180 over the period. Dizzy was no slouch either, notching an ERA+ of 144. These guys put down numbers good enough to be considered dominant pitchers during the dead-ball era.
It may be worth noting that this all happened during World War II, when many players were serving in our armed forces. Dizzy was a classic "Wartime pitcher," a guy whose career was unremarkable outside of the period from 1943-1946.
Hal, on the other hand, blossomed during the war as well, but continued to dominate after the veterans returned and landed himself in the Hall of Fame.
If not for that, they would have found themselves much higher on this list.
No. 5 Gaylord Perry-Juan Marichal: San Fran, 1966-1969
In case you've never seen this photo, that's Marichal with a bat. He was as scary on the mound as he was with a bat though, and the period from 1966-1969 was no exception.
He won 86 of his 121 decisions and carried a 2.35 ERA (144 ERA+) with 811 strikeouts and a 1.004 WHIP. That's an average of 21 wins and 202 strikeouts a season, numbers which make for a great single season, or a phenomenal four years.
His spitballing partner, Gaylord Perry, also enjoyed a great deal of success. Perry won 71 times, good for a win percentage of .568. His ERA and strikeouts were more impressive than his win total though, tallying a 2.62 ERA, 837 strikeouts, and a 1.096 WHIP.
No. 4 Steve Carlton-Bob Gibson: St. Louis, 1967-1969
Yet another duo from Dead-Ball Era 2.0. Bob Gibson, a power pitcher famous for one of the most dominant seasons ever in 1968, and more recently as one of the few crying "Who cares?" about all this steroids talk, and Steve Carlton, the left-handed curveball master, enjoyed three outstanding seasons and two World Series trips together.
The duo combined for 99 wins, a .664 win percentage, and 1,224 strikeouts during the period. Additionally, Gibson posted a 1.008 WHIP and an ERA+ of 166. This was a power pitcher in his prime.
These three seasons served as a coming-out party for Carlton. He would go on to be a Hall of Famer, dominating in the '70s and early-'80s, but just because he wasn't in his prime doesn't mean he wasn't great. His ERA+ sat at a very good 120, and his WHIP was under 1.200.
No. 3 Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling: Arizona, 2001-2002
These two have perhaps the most dominant two-year period by any pitching duo—a short period, but brilliant enough to land them on this list.
From 2001-02, Schilling and Johnson won 45 games each. Johnson won the Cy Young Award both years as well. He posted a 2.40 ERA, struck out more than 700 batters, and recorded six shutouts. His ERA+ was an astronomical 192, and his WHIP was nearly an even 1.00.
Where was Schilling? He finished second in voting for the Cy Young both years. Not bad for the staff No. 2. Can you even call a pitcher who over a two-year span was a 45-game winner with 600-plus strikeouts and a 3.10 ERA a No. 2?
I guess only when Johnson is the No. 1.
Schilling would have been the ace of any other staff in the league, which is why despite their short span of collective excellence these guys rank so high.
No. 2 Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale: LA Dodgers, 1961-1965
Two Hall of Famers both in their prime make for a very good pitching duo. In fact, it makes one of the best.
How does 50 shutouts over five years sound?
Granted, it was a different era, but these two were at their best and the best around during that five-year period. Three Cy Youngs, two for Koufax and one for Drysdale, and 200 wins between the two make for a very fearsome tandem.
From 1961-1965 Koufax led the league in nearly every statistical category at some point—ERA four times, wins twice, strikeouts three times, WHIP four times, and shutouts twice.
Drysdale carried his weight too. He was the definition of a workhorse, leading the league in games started in all but one of the five seasons and averaging 222 strikeouts a year. Despite the innings, his ERA remained low, at 2.78.
These two easily take the two spot, only overshadowed by the next duo.
No. 1 Greg Maddux-Tom Glavine: Atlanta, 1993-2002
The '90s Braves have, in my opinion, the two greatest pitching rotations in baseball history. The 1993 rotation (Maddux, Glavine, Steve Avery, John Smoltz) is only one-upped by the 1998 staff (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood).
Notice anything about those two? Three names appear on both lists: Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz.
I could have easily thrown Smoltz on here, as he was 106-64 during that period and will likely be a Hall of Famer. However, this is the best pitching duos, so Smoltz just doesn't fit in.
From 1993-2002 the Braves had two of the finest pitchers of all time in Maddux and Glavine. Both are 300-game winners, and both will be first ballot Hall of Famers.
How good were these guys? Well, I could start by saying I didn't need to narrow down their period beyond the time that they were playing together.
Yep, unlike every other duo on this list, for Maddux and Glavine I decided to use the entire 10-year period.
They weren't just good. They were consistently great. During that time, the two combined for 347 wins and a win-loss percentage of .684.
Maddux is my pick for best pitcher of the past 20 years; he was one of the most consistently great pitchers of all time.
With Glavine beside him, Maddux averaged 17 wins and a 2.51 ERA; his WHIP hovered around 1.00, and his ERA+ was an astounding 171. From 1993-2002 Maddux posted one of the best periods in baseball history.
Glavine was not quite as dominant, but equally consistent. He averaged 16 wins over the period with a 3.25 ERA. Additionally, he only posted a WHIP above the league average three times during the span and always carried a better than average ERA+.
You don't get better or more dominant than these two.