In 1978, Ron Guidry had the greatest season of any New York Yankees pitcher in the team's history. Yes, it was better than Jack Chesbro's 1904 season in which he set a record for wins that will never be matched.
Although it is acknowledged that comparing pitchers that pitched in completely different eras is difficult because so many uncontrolled variables exist, it is possible to reach a "ballpark" conclusion.
The following table compares each pitcher's season:
PITCHER Win Loss ERA+ WHIP
J. Chesbro 41 12 148 0.937
Ron Guidry 25 3 208 0.946
Guidry has a significant advantage in ERA+ while the two pitchers' WHIPs are almost equal.
During the early 1900s, some teams, such as the pennant-winning Boston Americans, carried as few as five pitchers. The game was played differently, in part because the ball was "dead." Teams played for one run, emphasizing defense, speed and pitching.
Chesbro worked an incredible 454.7 innings, allowed 338 hits (.743 H/IP) and had 236 strikeouts (0.519 K/IP).
Guidry pitched 273.7 innings, allowed 187 hits (.683H/IP) and struck out 248 (0.906 K/IP).
American League teams averaged 3.64 runs a game and 20 home runs for the 1904 season while batting .244/.295/.321.
American League teams averaged 4.20 runs a game and 120 home runs for the 1978 season while batting .261/.326/.385.
Nap Lajoie (.376), Wee Willie Keeler (.343), Elmer Flick (.306) and Bill Bradley (.300) were the only .300 hitters. Keeler was on the Yankees (Highlanders), which meant that Chesbro never faced him.
In 1978, Rod Carew (.333), Al Oliver (.324), Jim Rice (.315), Lou Piniella (.314), Ben Oglivie (.303) and Leon Roberts (.301) were the league's .300 hitters.
Besides Chesbro, eight other American League pitchers won at least 20 games. In the National League, Iron Man Joe McGinnity won 35 games, his New York Giants teammate Christy Mathewson won 33 games, and five others won at least 20.
Besides Guidry, Mike Caldwell (22), Dennis Leonard (21), Jim Palmer (21), Dennis Eckersley (20) and Guidry's teammate, Ed Figueroa (20) won at least 20 games. In the Senior Circuit, only Gaylord Perry (21) and Ross Grimsley (20) won at least 20 games.
Night games, a longer schedule, the designated hitter, the lively ball, bigger gloves, a bigger player population pool and amphetamines were factors that weren't present when Chesbro pitched.
The statistics, even when they are adjusted (Chesbro's WAR is 8.8; Guidry's is 8.5), reveal only part of the picture.
An interesting sidelight is that Chesbro was 5'9" tall and weighed 180 lb. Guidry is 5'11" and only 161 lb.
The "ballpark" conclusion is not only that Guidry's season was better than Chesbro's, but there is a good chance that in 2012, many "experts" might consider Chesbro too small to be a major-league starter.