Greatest Single Season Pitching Performances.

     As a follow up to my last blog, I want to discuss the greatest single season performances by a pitcher, relative to the league/time period.  As I have stated many times, I believe that what Pedro did in 99′ or what Maddux did in 95,’ is more impressive than what Christy Matthewson may have done in 1905.  But when I compare single season pitching performances, I put a lot of stock in "Adjusted ERA," so I know that it takes into account the performance of the rest of the league, etc.  But I truly believe that it is harder to excel in todays game.  The population has increased significantly, there are more countries producing great ball players, and ball players in general.  The stadiums are smaller, generally speaking.  So if it was harder for Babe Ruth to hit home runs in the early 1900’s than it was also easier for Cy Young to keep the ball in the ballpark, right?  Not to mention that the game back then revolved a lot less around the home run anyway.  But on to the best single seasons ever by a pitcher we go (No particular order).

Greg Maddux, 1995-  This season falls in at fifth, tied with Walter Johnson, in "ERA+."  Maddux went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA and a WHIP of 0.811.  His 94′ campaign was even a little better but the season was never finished due to idiocy. 

Bob Gibson, 1968-  22-9 with a 1.12 ERA.  A WHIP of 0.853.  The lowest WHIP he had by a rather large amount, when compared to his other seasons.  He also only gave up five earned runs in 27 innings in the World Series that year.  But after all, he was Bob Gibson.

Sandy Koufax, 1966?-  He had a few years that could be on here, as do some other pitchers.  1966 was his best regular season.  But in 65′ he gave up only 1 earned run in the World Series over the span of 24 innings.  And he is the most overrated left hander of all time, right Jayson Stark?  It is up in the air, because if we include Barry Sanders or Jim Brown in the discussion of greatest running backs of all time, then we have to include guys like Pedro and Koufax, right?  But I understand where Stark came from in his argument, but Koufax was simply dominating, as I watched him numerous times back in 1965…when I was -16 years old. 

Roger Clemens, 1997-  According to "Adjusted ERA" this was his best season.  He struck out 292 batters and finished up the season with an ERA of 2.05.  Attribute it to Dan Duquette, or the "whispers" that we hear.  But this was an incredible resurgence by arguably the greatest pitcher of all time. 

Walter Johnson, 1913-  I cannot assume that everyone who played in this era wasn’t a quality player.  Assumptions can get people in trouble, see "whispers" above.  All Walt Jocketty, I mean all Walter Johnson did was win 36 games and give up only 44 earned runs in 346 innings.  But come on, obviously 36 wins is not going to happen in this day and age. 

Dwight Gooden, 1985-  A 24-4 record.  An ERA of 1.53.  This was definitely an aberration from the rest of his career, but he was still very good for this portion of his career.  It was more a sign of what could have been had he focused on baseball, unfortunately he did not solely do this. 

Pedro Martinez, 1999-  My all time favorite single season performance.  This included with the year 2000 were in my mind the most dominant years ever, by any pitcher.  Steroid ERA.  Played in a division with arguably the best dynasty ever.  This season the Red Sox made the playoffs, unlike the following season.  9th best season according to "ERA+."  2000 comes in at 2nd.  Which in my opinion, makes Pedro’s 1999 and 2000 seasons the most impressive seasons of all time.   Tim Keefe’s season in 1880 is the only one that falls in ahead of Pedro’s according to my omnipotent "Adjusted ERA" stat.  I doubt very much so, that Keefe was a better pitcher in 1880 than Pedro was in 1999. 

Ron Guidry, 1978-  This falls in at 29th all time in "ERA+."  But more importantly he was the leader of a team that came back from a 14 game deficit.  Everyone speaks of Bucky Dent.  But what Dent did, was have a miserable regular season followed up by an incredible home run at maybe the most perfect time ever.  His contributions were miniscule when compared to Guidry’s.  People need to recognize this more, as I am doing now.  Same thing with Aaron Boone.   

     Well there are the greatest seasons of all time, but not all of them.  It would take too long to list every single one of them.  But feel free to leave suggestions.  That is what I am doing here, trying to promote a discussion on the one thing I am truly passionate about right now.  But the one thing you will not persuade me to do is admit that there was anyone better than Pedro at his peak, so don’t even try.    


  1. joseph

    I did enjoy, thank you. I do go to this site but I missed this article.

    I guess no one cares about the greatest single seasons. The discussion about the last blog had 36 total responses, and this now has two when I am finished.


    hey, it’s not that i didn’t find it interesting, i really did as i do most of your writing. it’s just that i didn’t have anything original to add to it.
    i don’t know enough about baseball history to write an intelligent answer, but i wanted to comment to let you know that i had read it and learned something from it…so thanks



    I think I agree with you on Pedro. I think you need to make some adjustments when comparing pitchers from vastly different times. Walter Johnson pitched during the dead ball era when there just wasn’t much scoring, while Pedro pitched right before drug testing. There almost has to be a difference, but I’m not sure how you would adjust for it, as things have changed so much. (There are more players now, but the potential talent pool is larger also, so it gets tough)

  4. PAUL

    Orel Hershiser in 1988 almost singlehandedly carried the Dodgers to the Western Division title and over two better teams in the post-season in the Mets and the Athletics; 59 straight scoreless innings; a 2.26 ERA; 23-8 record; eight total shutouts; and he won a Gold Glove.

  5. joseph

    And it wasn’t that I would throw out Hershisers season, I excluded a lot of seasons because it would take so long. It was hard for me to settle on the 20 greatest pitchers which makes it very hard to settle on the greatest single seasons, as he each great pitcher wusually has a few seasons that should be considered. But I definitely did not even think of Orel’s season. Good contribution, Paul. Haha.

    Mike, I was just disappointed that no one had left any comments yet, you said something, so at least I knew one person read it.

    Jan Nugent, Adjusted ERA takes into account the league, etc. Here is BR’s description of it.

    ERA+ – the ratio of the league’s ERA (adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark) to that of the pitcher. > 100 is above average and < 100 is below average. lgERA / ERA

    But yes, it doesn’t take into account steroids, only the amount of runs scored. But pitchers were on steroids too. However, if Pedro were clean (hopefully he was, I believe so) then he would be facing some guys who had the advantage of PED’s and therefore it would in fact make the game much harder to succeed at. And I completely agree that it is harder to be great in todays game because of the competition. I think people like to ignore this and look at the sheer numbers that guys like Ruth put up.

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