Ubaldo Jimenez has had a great start to the 2010 campaign, where he has a 14-1 record to go along with a 1.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. It measures up against many of the great pitching starts to any individual season.
But how does it measure up against the start of one of the greatest pitching seasons of the modern era: The 22-9, 1.12 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 258 ERA-plus of Bob Gibson's 1968 campaign?
By the end of June, Gibson was a rather pedestrian 9-5, but his ERA was 1.14, and he already had lost games by scores of 1-0 and 2-0. The league ERA at the end of June was 2.93, so Gibson ERA-plus was around 257 after three months of work.
These figures are right in line with Gibson's seasonal marks of 1.12 ERA and 258 ERA-plus. It speaks volumes on how Gibson was extremely consistent throughout that amazing season.
During that entire season, however, the Major Leagues had terrible hitters across the board. For example, only one American League batter, Carl Yastrzemski, hit over .300 (barely at .301), and very few batters in either league hit for power.
Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants led the National League with 36 home runs and was the only NL player with over 100 RBI, racking up 105.
In 1968, the NL had a slash line of .243 BA/.300 OBP/.341 SLG/.641 OPS. Only one team, the Cincinnati Reds, had a team OPS over .700. The average runs scored per game that season in the NL was 3.43.
These were terrible offensive statistics.
The biggest factor was the size of the mound. In 1968, the mound was 15 inches high, but reduced to 10 inches beginning in 1969. But wasn't the mound height 15 inches in the seasons prior to 1968?
Of course, they were 15 inches high since 1903 (sometimes higher), so why weren't the ERAs well below 2.00, and near Gibson's 1.12 ERA, in the preceding seasons?
Maybe the pitchers did not pitch as well. Pitchers do have different seasons all the time. Mechanical faults often lead to missing locations of pitches, and this usually leads to more runs scored for the opposition.
But those great pitching seasons do come around from time to time, and the 1968 season was the post-war "Year of the Pitcher." Of the 16 post-war (World War II) seasons which had sub-2.00 ERAs, Gibson, leading the way with the 1968 season, produced seven of them.
In the year of the pitcher, Hoot was by far the best.
By the end of June, Gibby had a .775 WHIP. In June alone, he had a 6-0 record, six complete games, a 0.50 ERA, and five consecutive shutouts. Does it matter that he was facing some anemic hitters. Why didn't everyone in that era then perform like that?
Whereas Gibson was facing poor hitters, Jimenez is facing more potent lineups, with pretty much any hitter from 1-8 in the National League able to hit the ball over the fence at any time.
During Jimenez's great 2010 start, the Major Leagues are hitting at a slash rate of .259/.329/.405/734 OPS, much superior to the National League hitters of the 1968 season. Hitters today are much more advanced than their predecessors, with video clips, better ideas on hitting mechanics, a tighter strike zone, and that lower mound.
But despite the great 14-1 record thus far, Jimenez has a higher ERA than did Gibson through June at 1.83, and a higher WHIP at 1.053. His ERA-plus, which measures his performance against league average, is 246, lower than Gibson's 257 through June.
Jimenez's ERA-plus has also significantly declined each of his last two starts: two starts which have yielded a win and a no-decision, allowing 10 earned runs in 11.2 innings. His record in June is 4-0 with a 4.41 ERA and 1.439 WHIP.
Those last two numbers are far worse than league average of 4.11 ERA and 1.379 WHIP.
Gibson allowed more than three earned runs only twice in his 34 starts in 1968, one which was over 11 innings.
With his combination of complete games, five straight shutouts (48 straight scoreless innings) and extremely microscopic ERA of 1.14, Gibson had the better three-month start to his 1968 season over Jimenez's 2010 start.
And the best part is that Gibson kept up that pace through the season, while Jimenez has shown signs of mortality over his last couple starts.
Gibson's 1968 campaign was the best ever for a pitcher in the modern era, and we will likely be saying that for decades to come.