Justin Verlander and the 10 Most Dominant Pitching Seasons of the PED Era
The last twenty years haven't exactly been the greatest years for pitching in Major League Baseball. The era of performance enhancing drugs started in the late 1980's but really seemed to take off following the baseball strike of 1994.
In spite of players amassing 60 or even more than 70 home runs in a single season there were a few notable pitching performances since the beginning of the 1995 season. The ten best? Well that's up for debate- or not.
Number 10: Johan Santana 2004
It might have been the greatest half-season of the entire period. Unfortunately this slideshow is covering full seasons so instead Santana will have to settle for bringing up the rear.
It was still a great year though. In 2004 Johan Santana who had just emerged as a starting pitcher in 2003 burst onto the scene with a solid first half and then followed it up with an amazing second half.
Santana gave up four or fewer hits in 10 straight starts. He was 13-0 and his earned run average was 1.21.
For the whole season Santana was 20-6 with a 2.61 earned run average. He had 265 strikeouts and a 0.965 whip. In a year in which the American League offensive averages were .270 for batting Santana allowed a .192 average. That's pretty good offense and even more impressive pitching.
Number 9: Tom Glavine 1998
1998 will always be remembered for the epic home run race that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in through the summer and into the early fall.
In retrospect it was tainted by the specter of performance enhancing drugs. If that leaves a bad taste in your mouth then you may want to look at what Tom Glavine did that season.
In one of baseball's most home run happy seasons ever Tom Glavine still managed to go 20-6 with a 2.47 earned run average and 157 strikeouts. The National League average for e.r.a was 4.23 that season so Glavine's 2.47 was nothing to sneeze at. He also led the league in wins with 20 .
Number 8: Justin Verlander in 2011
If there was one legitimate claim to be made that could somewhat dampen enthusiasm for the 2011 season that Justin Verlander put together it would be that the offense just wasn't quite as prolific as in some past years in 2011.
Verlander won the earned run average crown with his impressive 2.40 but Jared Weaver was second with an earned run average of 2.41. Verlander was the best pitcher in baseball and the league MVP. For 2011 that's great. If you start to compare his production with years past it looks just a little less impressive.
Number 7: Randy Johnson 1995
Prepare yourself to see a number of Randy Johnson slides because Johnson who would make the short list of "Most Dominant Pitchers Of All Time" was at his best during the steroid era.
In 1995 Johnson was still considered a bit of an enigma. No one ever questioned his stuff. A fastball that approached 100 miles per hour coupled with a devastating slider and lethal change-up. It was his control that gave fans and everyone else pause.
Too many walks, fell behind in the count too often. It was only a matter of time until he put it together and became nearly or at times literally unhittable.
1995 was that time. Johnson who had yet to finish a season with an earned run average under 3.00 finished at 2.48, he went 18-2 and had 294 strikeouts in only 214 innings pitched. He also nabbed his first Cy Young award. He would get better though...
Number 6: Pedro Martinez 1997
Much like Randy Johnson Pedro Martinez will be seen in a number of the remaining slides.
He was baseball's most dominant pitcher through the late 1990's and 1997 was the year he first garnered major attention.
Playing in Montreal always had the ability to somewhat hide individual accomplishments. Pedro's 1997 was just too good though. He was 17-8 with an earned run average of 1.90. His whip ratio was league leading 0.932 and he mowed down 305 batters with only 214.1 innings pitched.
In a season smack dab in the midst of baseball's steroid era the National League average e.r.a. was 4.20 that year. Pedro's 1.90 is even more impressive when that is factored in.
Number 5: Greg Maddux 1995
To sum up how amazing Greg Maddux was in 1995 all One really needs to do is look at a few key statistics.
209.2 innings pitched.
23 walks ( and three were intentional).
Everything else is very impressive but those two key numbers really tell the story. Oh yea and he was 19-2 with a 1.63 earned run average. Those numbers aren't bad either. Just one other eye popping number for you to ponder. In 1995 there were 4081 home runs hit in all of baseball and only eight of them were hit of off Greg Maddux. Steroids? What steroids?
Number 4: Randy Johnson 2001
In 2001 as an allegedly juiced Barry Bonds clobbered 73 home runs on his way to a new single season record something else historical was taking place in the National League West.
Randy Johnson was in pursuit of another momentous single season accomplishment. Johnson wouldn't catch Nolan Ryan's single season strikeout record of 383 set in 1973. Johnson would strikeout 372 which is good for third all time in a single season.
The two men ahead of him- the aforementioned Ryan and Sandy Koufax who mowed down 382 in 1965 both reached those lofty marks in years in which offense in general was not that dominant in baseball.
Johnson got to 372 in the same season in which Bonds hit 73 homers. It was also the year in which baseball as whole hit the third most home runs in a single season in MLB history.
Johnson's 2001 was something special. 21-6, a 2.49 earned run average and of course the 372 K's.
Number 3: Randy Johnson 2002
What could Randy Johnson do for an encore after 2001? 2002 was a season in which he improved in nearly every aspect except strikeouts which were still clearly a key part of his dominance. After all he still managed to strikeout 334 batters in 2002.
In addition Johnson went 24-5 with a 2.32 earned run average. Both were career and league highs. His 334 K's paced the National League as well. He also led the league in innings pitched with 260 and complete games with eight. It was arguably the greatest season of Johnson's Hall Of Fame caliber career as well as indisputably one of the best of the steroid era.
Number 1 ( Tie) Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000
It's impossible to choose between these two masterpieces. Pedro in 1999 was amazing. The list of individual moments he provided while also dominating baseball in the year in which the second highest total of homeruns in major league history were produced is stunning. Consider.
Pedro was MVP of the All-Star game: He started the game for the American League and proceeded to strikeout five of the first six batters he faced. Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa in the first. Then Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell in the second.
Pedro pitched what many consider to be the most dominant performance by a visiting player in Yankee Stadium history. He pitched a complete game one-hitter, the one hit was a solo home run by Chili Davis. The Red Sox won 3-1 but Paul O'Neil summed it up best.
''We didn't get beat by the Red Sox,'' said Paul O'Neill, the Yankees' right fielder. ''We got beat by Pedro Martinez.'' http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/11/sports/baseball-1-hit-17-strikeouts-no-way-for-the-yankees.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Pedro then injured his back in the postseason. With limited movement and his velocity hampered the Red Sox called on Pedro in the decisive game five against the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. Pedro entered the game to start the fourth inning with the game tied at 8-8. He went the next six innings without allowing a hit, he walked three and had eight strikeouts to earn the decisive win.
His numbers that year were impressive as well. 23-4 with a league leading 2.07 earned run average. His whip ratio was 0.923 and he also led the league with 313 strikeouts. 1999 was a year of prolific offense in Major League Baseball. The second best earned run average in the American League was David Cone with a 3.44- more than a full run worse than Pedro.
As good as 1999 was 2000 was in some ways better. The Red Sox weren't as good a team so there were no chances for postseason glory. The wins were down to only 18 but the earned run average also dropped to an astounding 1.74. The league earned run average for the AL in 2000 was a historically bad 4.91. Yet Pedro somehow managed to finish with a number over three full runs below the league average.
His whip was also something to marvel at. By the year 2000 hitters had started to really work counts with more frequency. There were 8390 walks issued by American League pitchers in 2000 but only 32 of them were issued by Pedro. His season ending whip of 0.737 is the lowest by a starting pitcher in all of major league history- and it happened in the midst of one of the greatest seasons for offense in major league history as well. The other members of the top five for single season whip is a who's who of deadball era pitchers.
Guy Hecker in 1882 - 0.769
Walter Johnson in 1913 - 0.780
Tim Keefe in 1880 - 0.800
Addie Joss in 1908 - 0.806
To put that in perspective here are the Home run leaders in those leagues in the seasons in which those whip ratio's were achieved.
In 1882 there leader was George Wood with seven home runs.
In 1913 the leader in the American League was Frank Baker with 12 home runs.
In 1880 the leader in baseball was a tie between Jim O'Rourke and Harry Stovey with six home runs.
In 1908 the leader in the American League was Sam Crawford with seven home runs
In 2000- when Pedro had a better whip than every single one of those pitchers the home run leader in the American League was Troy Glaus with 47 home runs.
Pedro's production and dominance in the years of 1999 and 2000 were not just phenomenal for when they happened but now over ten years later with the advantage of some historical perspective one can surmise they were amazing when compared to almost any single season pitching performances from any time in any era.
A Notable Omission: Roger Clemens.
In coming up with this slide show I was faced with a bit of a dilemma. Roger Clemens won back-to-back Cy Young awards and triple crowns of pitching while a member of the Blue Jays in 1997 and 1998. His 1997 season in particular with a 21-7 record, a 2.05 earned run average and 292 strikeouts was great.
He's also been under the white hot spotlight of the steroid investigation. He's still awaiting a federal trial to face perjury charges for lying while under oath to congress. He was mentioned frequently in the Mitchell Report as well.
While it's not proven that he's guilty of these charges I felt odd placing him on this list. The other pitchers mentioned in this slideshow have not at this time fallen under anywhere near the scrutiny that the Rocket has. While I'll readily acknowledge that Clemens performances in 1997 and 1998 were fantastic what made the other performances on this list all the more impressive is that they were performing against hitters in an era when many were using performance enhancing drugs.
His own suspected use of those very same drugs would ( in my mind) somewhat negate the magnitude of his accomplishments. I'm sure some will agree with me and some will disagree.