In it's history, baseball has bared witness to countless spectacular season performances on the mound. In that time, the game has evolved many times over, as have the hurlers who have graced the rubber of America’s timeless classic. In baseball’s infancy, the pitcher ruled, as wins soared and ERA’s plummeted. Pitchers dominated in such a way prior to the turn of the century, the mound was pushed down five inches to literally even the playing field. This change – and the introduction of genetically enhancing drugs – led to the hitter’s era; a time where the home run ruled and dominant pitching was scant. Today, a delicate balance has seemingly been found.
Regardless of the era, dominant pitchers have prospered. In fact, some of baseball’s greatest arms have put up seasons so impressive, hitters may well have been better off not leaving the dugout. While there have been far too many brilliant pitching seasons to recall, here is a list of the very best.
10 Cy Young, 1901 Americans
33-10, 1.62 ERA, 371.1 IP, 324 H, 37 BB, 158 SO, 6 HR
9 9. Sandy Koufax, 1966 Dodgers
27-9, 1.73 ERA, 323 IP, 241 H, 77 BB, 317 SO, 19 HR
8 Roger Clemens, 1997 Blue Jays
21-7, 2.05 ERA, 264 IP, 204 H, 68 BB, 292 SO, 9 HR
There is a case to be made that Roger Clemens may have been the greatest pitcher ever to set foot on a major league mound. In 24 seasons, Clemens went 354-184 with a career ERA of 3.12 and 4,672 strikeouts. Clemens also appeared in 11 All-Star games, and earned a record seven Cy Young Awards – all during baseball’s age of steroid-fueled offense. Ironically enough, Clemens also was an integral part of the steroid age, widely accused of steroid use later in his career.
7 Randy Johnson, 2001 Diamondbacks
21-6, 2.49 ERA, 249.2 IP, 181 H, 71 BB, 372 SO, 19 HR
Randy, the Big Unit, Johnson dwarfed hitters like no other pitchers could dream of during his 20-year reign. Standing 6-feet, 10-inches, fully equipped with a mullet and a mustache, Johnson quickly developed a reputation as a menace to opposing hitters.
6 Dwight Gooden, 1985 Mets
24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276.2 IP, 198 H, 69 BB, 268 SO, 13 HR
Dwight Gooden’s 1985 season was easily one of the most dominant pitching performances in history. Gooden led baseball in ERA (1.53), strikeouts (268), complete games (16), and innings pitched (276.2). For stretches of time, Gooden was literally unhittable. He once went an unfathomable seven straight games, spanning 49 consecutive innings, without allowing a single earned run. In 35 games pitched, all but two were quality starts.
5 Steve Carlton, 1972 Phillies
27-10, 1.97 ERA, 346.1 IP, 257 H, 87 BB, 310 SO, 17 HR
In 1972, the Philadelphia Phillies won 59 total games. Steve Carlton, the team’s ace pitcher, recorded 27 of those wins in one of the most dominant seasons ever by a starting pitcher. A year after coming to Philadelphia in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, Carlton quickly established himself as the most dominant pitcher in baseball. And while Carlton would eventually go on to win four Cy Young Awards and a second World Series win, his 1972 season was unquestionably his best.
4 Walter Johnson, 1913 Senators
36-7, 1.14 ERA, 346 IP, 232 H, 38 BB, 243 SO, 9 HR
Possibly the greatest pitcher of all time, Walter Johnson fittingly put up one of the greatest statistical pitching seasons of all time in 1913. Of course, 1913 was just one of a number of seasons in which Johnson dominated baseball, as he put up similar numbers in 1912, 1915, 1918, and 1919.
3 Greg Maddux, 1995 Braves
19-2, 1.63 ERA, 209.2 IP, 147 H, 23 BB, 181 SO, 8 HR
If this were a list titled “Pitchers with the best command,” Greg Maddux would be head and shoulders above his competition. Maddux didn’t have the most dominant arsenal of pitches, but he certainly knew what pitches to throw at the right times, and where to throw them. Raw talent aside, Maddux was probably the greatest to ever touch a rubber.
2 Bob Gibson, 1968 Cardinals
22-9, 1.12 ERA, 304.2 IP, 198 H, 62 BB, 268 SO, 11 HR
1968 will always be remembered as the year of the pitcher. It was a year in which pitchers held a collective 2.98 ERA, while hitters averaged just .237. Seven pitchers recorded ERAs of less than 2.00 and tallied at least 20 win seasons. Luis Tiant, Sam McDowell, and Denny McLain all were among pitchers who dominated the game unlike any other year, while McLain is still the last pitcher to reach the 30-win mark in baseball.
1 Pedro Martinez, 2000 Red Sox
18-6, 1.74 ERA, 217 IP, 128 H, 32 BB, 284 SO, 17 HR
Nasty. If you had just one word to describe Pedro Martinez, that’s it. Nasty. When he first entered the league, Pedro Martinez was an afterthought. But it took little time for the lanky five-foot, 11-inch Dominican pitcher to stun the baseball world, specifically the hitters he faced.
It’s hard to choose which season Pedro was ‘nastiest,’ but his 2000 campaign likely was not only his best season ever, but also was the most dominant pitching season baseball has ever seen. In the 2000 season, Martinez led the league with a career-best 1.74 ERA, nearly three points less than the league average 4.91 ERA and two points better than Roger Clemens’ second best ERA of 3.70. Despite recording only 18 wins, Martinez was absolutely dominant, even in losses. In his six losses, Martinez had 60 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.44. In wins, he was even better.
However, what makes Martinez’s 2000 season the best pitching season ever is the dominance relative to the era he pitched. The year 2000 was in the thick of an era defined by power and, unfortunately, steroids. That season, 16 players hit more than 40 home runs, while 53 players hit .300 or better. In 2013, only two players slugged 40 home runs or more, and just 24 players hit above .300. All told, the offensive era in which Pedro Martinez pitched and the pure dominance of his pitches make his 2000 season the most dominant pitching season ever.
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