The 10 Most Dominating Pitching Seasons in MLB History
Justin Verlander has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball and has the American League Cy Young award locked up. Verlander ends the season as the AL leader in wins (24), ERA (2.40), strikeouts (250), WHIP (.92) and innings pitched (251).
Verlander certainly has been dominant, but where does his 2011 season make the cut as one of the 10 most dominating pitching seasons in Major League history?
*Note: For the sake of argument, this list only takes into account pitchers active in the live ball era (post-1918). If not, this would essentially be a list of the career accomplishments of Cy Young, Christy Matthews, Hoss Radbourn and Walter Johnson.
10) Roger Clemens, 1990
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Key Stats: 21-6, 1.93 ERA, 209 Ks, second in Cy Young
Roger Clemens won a record seven Cy Young awards in his career. Incredibly, his best season in terms of ERA was not one of them. Bob Welch took that award, even though Clemens had him beat by over a run in ERA, had nearly a hundred more strikeouts, five more complete games and twice as many shutouts.
The ’90 Sox had one player reach 20 home runs. Welch’s A’s had five players hit 19 or more, and featured mashers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Run support may have played a part in Welch reaching the 26 wins that won him the Cy Young.
9) Lefty Grove, 1931
Key stats: 31-4, 2.06 ERA, MVP
Lefty Grove is one of just five left-handed pitchers to eclipse 300 wins and was lights-out in 1931. Grove set career-highs in wins and ERA, and led his team all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
Justification for having a 30-game winner this low? Grove pitched in an era where pitchers would make around 50 starts, so his 30 wins were not that much ahead of his contemporaries.
8) Greg Maddux, 1995
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Key Stats: 19-2 1.63 ERA, 209 IP 10 complete games, Cy Young
Greg Maddux’ miniscule ERA might be enough for some to rank his ’95 season much higher on the list. So why rank him this low? Maddux’ performance may hold the second-lowest ERA on the list, but it also holds the fewest innings pitched, wins, appearances and strikeouts.
7) Randy Johnson, 2002
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Key Stats: 24-5, 2.32 ERA, 260 IP, 334 Ks, 11.6K/9, won NL, Cy Young
Randy Johnson’s 2002 season was a throwback to the aces of generations past. His 260 innings pitched are by far the most of any of the pitchers on the list post-1990, and his 334 strikeouts are the seventh-most in the live ball era.
Johnson’s previous season could be argued as even more dominant than ’02. His 372 strikeouts were third all time, and his strikeouts per nine innings set a record at an astounding 13.6. All in all, Johnson had more wins, a lower ERA and more innings pitched in ’02, so that season gets the nod out of his astounding four-year Cy Young run.
6) Steve Carlton, 1972
Key Stats: 27-10, 1.97 ERA, 346 IP, 310 Ks, 30 CGs, 8 shutouts, Cy Young
Steve Carlton was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game for 18 seasons, but was no better than in 1972. He led the league in wins, ERA, games started, complete games, innings pitched, hits allowed, strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Fittingly, no one else received a first-place vote in the Cy Young race.
5) Tom Seaver, 1971
Key Stats: 20-10, 1.76 ERA, 21 complete games, 289 Ks, second in NL Cy Young
Even though his ERA was over a run lower and had three fewer losses than Ferguson Jenkins, the voters still selected the Cubs’ hurler. The Seaver lost the Cy Young Award in one of the best seasons of all time is a travesty. The New York Mets' ace also added 21 complete games and four shutouts to his resume.
4) Pedro Martinez, 1999
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Key Stats: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 Ks, 13.2K/9
If the 1919 season determines the live ball era, then the super ball era should be considered from 1995 to 2005. Batters were hitting home runs at an alarming rate, until MLB finally decided to do something about it. That did not stop Pedro Martinez from dominating the competition. He had an even more ridiculous ERA (1.74) the following season, but fewer wins and strikeouts, and more losses.
As the National League’s sluggers were obliterating the power records, Martinez stepped on center stage in the Midsummer Classic and delivered an epic performance. Martinez struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire consecutively.
3) Denny McClain, 1968
Key Stats: 31-6, 1.96 ERA, 280 Ks, MVP, Cy Young
Forty-three years later, Denny McClain is still the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season. Poised for superstardom, McClain could not stay out of trouble, and his career was quickly derailed after this phenomenal season. McClain breezed through the regular season and the playoffs before winning the World Series with the Detroit Tigers.
2) Sandy Koufax, 1966
Key Stats: 27-9, 1.73 ERA, 27 complete games, 317 strikeouts, Cy Young winner, second in MVP
Sandy Koufax was arguably the game’s greatest pitcher, and was in prime form in the 1966 season. He completely dominated his opponents with a hard fastball and a curveball that dropped off the map. Koufax’s impressive 317 strikeouts were actually down from the previous season, when he fanned 382. From ’65-66, the lefty pitched nearly 660 innings and had 54 complete games.
Unfortunately, Koufax’s best season was also his last. After the season, it was said he could not lift that golden left arm to comb his hair. He never pitched again.
1) Bob Gibson, 1968
Key Stats: 22-9, 1.12 ERA, 304 IP, 368Ks, 13 shutouts, Cy Young, MVP
When you look up “dominance” in the dictionary, Bob Gibson’s 1968 baseball card should be plastered right there in the middle of your Webster’s. St. Louis’ offense had to be absolutely anemic for Gibson to have lost nine games. And it was. The Cardinals had one player batting over .300 (Curt Flood at .301), and their leading home run hitter was Orlando Cepeda with 16.
Still, Gibson dragged his team to Game 7 of the World Series. In a matchup of MVPs, Gibson out-pitched 30-game winner Denny McClain with a complete game shutout in Game 1, had a one-run complete game, and finally lost Game 7, proving that he was indeed human.
Between the shutouts, the strikeouts and the ERA being just about one, Gibson’s season has to go down as the most dominant pitching performance of all time.
Justin Verlander, 2011, Final Analysis
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Key Stats: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 250 Ks
Verlander’s season was certainly impressive and one to be remembered. He is a lock for the Cy Young award, and he may hog all the first-place votes, like Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez before him.
However, Verlander’s season falls just outside the realm of top 10. His ERA is higher than anyone else on the list, even those pitching in the steroid era. His strikeouts are eclipsed by most, as are his innings pitched. His wins are impressive, but not enough to give him top-10 status.
Like Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax, perhaps Verlander will follow his career year with an even better season. With performance just now catching up to ability, a top-10 season is certainly within Verlander’s reach.
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