Over the last few articles, I've discussed the offense of MLR, dependent on many different players helping a team succeed. Over the next 2 articles, we will be discussing the defensive side of MLR; pitching. We're gonna take a look today at the best pitching in MLR History, and to do that, let's get ourselves a graph of all pitching teams in MLR History.
Quick reminder for those who haven't read previous articles; This graph shows RAA which stands for Runs Allowed above Average. It compares the Runs allowed/game by every team compared to the league average that season.
In League-News-Discussion, I asked who everyone thought had the best pitching season in MLR History. I have labeled all of the guesses which were not in the top 5 in the graph below:
All these guesses were very good. Pittsburgh in season 2 seems a bit off, but that may be because Gare, the guesser of these guys as best season ever, may have forgotten the 6 game stretch where the Pirates allowed 10, 9, 6, and 9 runs (in addition to a 1 run game and a shutout). Take these away and the Pirates have a top season all time in a heartbeat, but ignoring 3 games of 9+ runs? We can't do that. The Pirates were great. and their pitching by the end of the season had propelled them to a postseason berth and the best record in the league. And if you look at their roster from season 2, Vader with 57 IP and a 2.42 ERA? And Dylan Green with 13.2 and a 0.88 ERA? How are these guys not top?
Well it turns out, that's not quite 96 innings, and Batholemew Crumblepuff threw 19.1 innings with a 6.21 ERA. Not gonna help the team pitching with that so much. Additionally, there were pitches from several others throughout the season, including Hudson Quin, who threw a respectable 34 innings with a 2.94 ERA, as well as scattered other innings thrown by position players to save pitchers' arms.
San Francisco season 3 was also guessed by Isaac Snowbender, and the Giants are a really good guess. San Francisco has been a bastion of good pitching since joining the league in season 2. San Francisco has just barely clipped top 5 of pitching all time once, but they've always been in the top 5 of pitching rotations every season, finishing 5th best in season 2, 3rd best in season 3, and tied for 2nd best in season 4. Interestingly enough, though season 3 was guessed, that isn't even the Giants' best pitching season.
Rusty Nails thought the Diamondbacks' season 4 was a top pitching season all time, and though he slightly hinted at sarcasm, he's not far off. The Diamondbacks in season 4 gave up less runs/game than the league average for the first time since season 1, and Arizona ranked 85th percentile for all MLR seasons ever by pitchers. So you don't have to even assume the /s Rusty, the Diamondbacks really were that good. The thing with Arizona this last season wasn't that they only had only a couple games higher than league average in runs; hell they gave up 4 or more in a game 7 times; they just never blew up. No one ever scored more than 6 in a game against Arizona, which has only been done in 8 other seasons in MLR history (not including season 1, which played fewer than half the games of any other season).
And finally, Brusdar Gatorade, who's a rookie, threw out the most accurate guess not in the top 5, the season 4 Rangers. When I asked him why he guessed this he just stated "Idk, superbone?" An astute observation from the young gun, as superbone would be half of the Rangers' 2 pitchers who threw 35+ innings and maintained a sub 3.00 ERA. The other was Aaron Burr, who was the first non-Superbone pitcher to lead the Rangers in innings pitched, while also maintaining a 2.74 ERA. The Rangers gave up 6 runs in one game, 5 in another, and have pretty much the most even distribution of runs allowed of any team in season 4 and possibly any season. Solid pitching all around, and when we see this and see that this doesn't make top 5, it's time to get excited for the best pitching teams of MLR History. Strap in, readers; this one's wild.
T5. Season 4 San Francisco Giants
86.1 IP, 2.78 ERA, 2.50 R/G, -0.90 RAA
T5. Season 4 Chicago Cubs
92 IP, 2.61 ERA, 2.50 R/G, -0.90 RAA
T5. Season 4 Boston Red Sox
92 IP, 2.53 ERA, 2.50 R/G, -0.90 RAA
Well, I've already revealed my secret as to why my method may not be the best for determining the best seasons in history. Nonetheless, we march on.
Every one of these teams allowed 40 runs in season 4. Why is the Red Sox ERA slightly better than Chicago's? Well, of course Boston had 1 game go to extras, runs allowed in extras from runners starting on the basepaths don't count, of course. Well, in this case, Boston could be considered to have the best pitching staff, slightly ahead of the Cubs, and even more ahead of the Giants. They threw the most innings and allowed the same amount of runs. Maybe though, we should praise the Cubs slightly more because they never allowed unearned runs in extras, so their clutch pitching is better. Or maybe we should consider the Giants the best, because they pitched so well at home that they never had to pitch a final inning (The Giants went 7-1 at home compared to their 4-4 record on the road).
This will be the only time we have this sort of tie in top 5s. Let's dig equally into each of these teams and figure out why they're here. First, San Francisco.
It turns out that Isaac's guess of the Giants was almost correct, the season 4 Giants actually had a better season than season 3 compared to league average and were tied for top 5 All Time RAA. The Giants had a pretty great ideal for pitching, and it went like this:
Darth Vader or Andrew Peters starts, throws 4 or 5 innings, Longuys comes in for the save, Giants give up 1-3 runs/game. If one wants some of the most consistent pitching in MLR history, just look at these 3 players' statlines:
I could tell who each of these players are. Does it matter? Look at how consistent this pitching is. Two starters with an ERA of 2.6-2.9, closer with a sub 1 whip? This is the pinnacle of consistency in MLR, and it should be lauded much more than this. Oh and the W-L stats? 5-2 for each starter, closer is 1-1 with 3 sv.
And the best part? The Giants have been doing this for years.
Season 3: 2 pitchers (Vader and Peters): 2.63/2.36 ERA, 1.27/1.18 WHIP. The Giants have found pitching and have latched on, and it's led them to 3 playoff berths (and 2 division titles) in 3 years as a franchise. Oh and I mentioned that they've been top 5 in pitching every year they've been in the league right? Ok, good.
The Cubs in season 4 hit a new stride. In season 3, the Cubs had 4 pitchers, who had a high 2, 2, high 3, and mid 4 ERA. Not great, but when the best ERA pitchers have the fewest innings, it doesn't bode well for a low team ERA. In season 4, it changed. The Cubs kept that high 2 pitcher and dished out everyone else. They got 3 new pitchers, and, well, it worked. Verducci struggled, Sini Alexander had a good season with 25 IP and a 3.08 ERA, and Nick Tits and Tonto Kowalski took over. Both had a sub 2 ERA and pitched more than 20 innings.
3 games into the season, the best pitching team of the season seemed out of reach. 11 runs through 3 games isn't great. However, the Cubs would surrender a single run in 3 of the next 4 games. You know what also helps get your team ERA low? Shutouts. The Cubs threw 2 of them in the final 4 games of the season, which certainly aided in the team's ERA breaking records.
In season 4 the Red Sox had an interesting strategy pitching wise. What they would do is wait until they'd given up 12 runs since the most recent shutout, then throw another shutout. In season 4, Boston gave up 2 and 3 runs, then shutout the Yankees. Then, they'd give up 8, 3, and 2 runs and shut out the Devil Rays. Then, they'd give up 2, 5, 3, and 2 runs and shut out Tampa Bay AGAIN. Then average 2.5 runs/game for the last 4 games of the season.
The Red Sox also had the most bright spots in terms of pitching rotations; 2 starters with 25+ innings and sub 2.5 ERAs (one sub 2.0), and a closer with a sub 1 ERA in 14 innings of relief work. Throw in one other starter with a mid 4's, and that'll land you a spot just on the edge of the top pitching rotations of all time.
All 3 of these teams would have great offenses as well; The Red Sox ranked 7th in the league, Cubs 6th, and Giants 5th. Having a top 10 offense and a top 5 pitching staff all time will certainly get you to the playoffs; The Red Sox went 10-6 and earned a wild card spot in the AL, while the Cubs and Giants would both go 11-5, winning both byes in the National League. However, pitching does not always affect playoff performance, as both Boston and San Francisco gave up season highs in runs in their first playoff game, while the Cubs would give up 3 but fail to score, eliminating them all in their first playoff game.
4. Season 3 Colorado Rockies
94.2 IP, 2.09 ERA, 2.13 R/G, -1.07 RAA
Isaac also guessed the Rockies in season 3 should be on here. He was certainly right.
I wanna start talking about the Rockies by bringing up a few graphs to show much better they were than the rest of the season 3 pitching staffs. Here's that RAA chart from the top, except with only season 3 teams
That one team all by itself? Yeah. That's the Rockies. If we put just season 3 by itself, it looks like this:
Look at the whole league level off, and the Rockies are just like Nah I'm good. The 2nd best RA/G this year was at 2.83. The Rockies were in a different stratosphere, and it makes sense when you have 2 of the 3 top pitchers in the National league on your roster.
Hank Murphy and Garrett Evans were unhittable, both throwing sub 2 ERAs, Evans throwing 1.41 in 34 innings. Einhorn was the only mediocre pitcher on the roster, and he threw 28 innings at a 3.6 ERA. But even still, Einhorn had 9.53 K/6, which fits right in with the powerful pitchers in Coors. Oh, and the Rockies didn't even pick him up until session 5, so in Colorado, his ERA was 2.47 with 9.22 K/6. That's a solid squad.
Let's add another chart in here that really displays the Rockies' dominance. This is the DPA of every team in season 3 by percentile rank.
Take a guess at where Colorado is.
The difference in DPA between Colorado and 3rd place (264.14-254.64) is almost the same as the difference between 3rd place and 22nd place (254.14-242.08). That may sound ridiculous, but let's put some context into this. (Statheads, I know this isn't exactly a correct assessment but just work with me): Instead of batting against the Rockies, one is allowed to bat against an average pitching team from season 3, except every swing, the difference for the result is increased by 14. Swing a 0 diff? Difference of 14. Single? Now a walk. Strikeout? Now a double play. That is what it was like facing the season 3 Rockies.
Unfortunately, no team had an atrocious ERA in season 3, so the average runs scored by the league was much lower. In season 3, the MLR as a whole scored an average of 3.19 runs/game. It's the only time in league history that the league average runs/game has been less than 3.4.
There are also several reasons that the Rockies pitching staff from this year could be considered better than the next 3 teams. One team pitched much fewer games than the rest, one gave up more runs, but in a season where that happened much more often, and one pitched half their games in a park that helped the pitchers out quite a lot.
The Rockies would be the only team in season 3 to win 12 games. When your offense is 7th in the league, that certainly helps. The Rockies would win the NLDS at home against the Giants before facing the Expos. Of course in the NLCS, the Rockies would allow a team to score more than 2 runs for the first time in 9 sessions, falling 5-2 and being eliminated from Paper Cup contention.
3. Season 2 Toronto Blue Jays
103 IP, 2.68 ERA, 2.50 R/G, -1.14 RAA
The Toronto Blue Jays might have to change their name to the Toronto Extremophiles. They were the worst offensive team of all time, AND they're the highest-ranked team on this list that hasn't been in a shortened season or had a controversial location to pitch. Also, they have the highest ERA of any team in the top 4, but it turns out they never had to pitch the final innings of games because Gastings or Dinka would pitch 5 innings of great baseball, then the offense wouldn't score. For example; there was a 4 game stretch near the end of the Blue Jays' season where the Blue Jays allowed 4 runs total over 4 games. During this stretch, the Blue Jays went 2-2. Truly remarkable craftsmanship from the Toronto pitching, followed by their offense being complete garbage (though, on and off for season 2).
Now some may complain how high the Toronto R/G is straight up, and that's fair. The problem is in Season 2, only 3 other teams gave up less than 3 runs per game. The Season run/game average was 3.64, which is 0.2 runs/game higher than any other season. The Jays pitched incredibly, and just like the Rockies, it could be explained by their pitching staff.
In a similar way to Colorado, the Blue Jays had 2 pitchers in contention for the Cy Young in season 2, and it turns out they were basically identical. Gastings: 37.2 IP, 2.39 ERA, 31 K, 4-2 with 1 save. Dinka: 40.0 IP, 2.40 ERA, 19 K, 4-2 with 1 save. Many forget they had a 3rd pitcher on that staff who didn't dominate but still had a solid pitching season. Levi Pyram threw 25.1 innings and maintained a 3.55 ERA, and went 3-2 on the season.
Toronto would make the Paper Cup after winning their first 2 playoff games in franchise history against the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Dinka and Gastings would both pitch one of those games, and would allow 2 runs through 6 innings. Dinka got the ball in the Paper Cup, and allowed 3 runs through 6, which was clearly too much for Toronto's offense in any season. They would fall to the Phillies 3-2 and have yet to return to the playoffs since.
2. Season 1 Oakland Athletics
41 IP, 2.34 ERA, 2.14 R/G, -1.31 RAA
This really should just be the season 1 Sal Shark.
The Season 1 A's were already in an article for their horrendous offense in season 1, but their season 1 requires further examination, because as it turns out, that season 1 team made the paper cup. It was also almost entirely due to Sal Shark willing the team to the paper cup; I mean, besides throwing a 2.34 ERA and never allowing more than 4 runs in a game, he had 11 PAs and slashed .300/.364/.600. If WAR was a thing in season 1, Shark had to be worth more than 2 games to his team; he hit well and pitched even better.
Now a unique thing is that this team is a top 5 pitching team all time, but never threw a shutout. Instead, what they did was throw the following run distribution for their 7 games, compared to their fellow paper cup participants:
The Phillies were a pretty average pitching team in season 1. The A's (Sal Shark) were on another planet though. The average Phillies allowed 4.14 runs/game in season 1; the A's never allowed more than 4 runs in a game. In season 1, Oakland gave up 4 runs, then 2, then 1, 2, 3, 2, and 1. The A's were a model of consistent pitching, and it was all from the arm of Sal Shark. The A's needed Shark to be on top of his game at all times, and he was.
I want to reiterate this; The A's depended on a single pitcher. If anything went wrong, there was nowhere else to turn to. If Shark struggled, eh, too bad. Nowhere to turn to, just deal with it. They just never needed to turn anywhere, as Shark delivered performance after performance.
Just like the 3rd best pitching team on this list, the A's in season 1 made a Paper Cup run, but they would lose to the Phillies, while Shark would allow 3 runs in the paper cup, which was his 2nd worst performance of the season.
1. Season 4 New York Yankees
98 IP, 1.96 ERA, 2.06 R/G, -1.34 RAA
I know I'm gonna catch some flak for this. That's fair.
Abe Lincoln and River Ride both claimed that the Season 4 Yankees had to be the #1 pitching team all time. And they were right. I want to present the argument for and against why the Yankees deserve to be here, and let you decide for yourselves. Let's start with why the Yankees don't deserve this spot first:
For the first 2 seasons of their existence, the New York Yankees played in a "ballpark" known as Polo Grounds. This ballpark was disgraceful with how it treated hitters. There have been 2 sub 100 diff outs in MLR history, and both occurred in season 4 by the Yankees at Polo Grounds. The first was a 98 diff flyout by Pesky Burrito against Deku Matsui. In a neutral site, this would result in a walk. The next session, Tsun Dere would get an 81-diff flyout against Nori Aru. In a neutral site, this would have been a double.
To say Polo Grounds was unfair would be a little cheeky; the Yankees still had to score at that same park, and they did. But Polo Grounds made a lot of teams unhappy with the most odd dimensions in fakebaseball history. These odd stats were nulled in season 5, and with good reason.
It's also been discussed that playing in Polo Grounds made hitters adjust their hitting to have to get on base. This certainly aids the pitcher in getting batters to start playing defensively, and when you have batters second-guessing before they're even at the plate, that's a recipe for good pitching.
Many reading this will see this and discount this Yankees team from qualifying for any pitching award. "They can't be that good, come on, they pitched half their games in a park that literally gave 80-diff flyouts" or "I hate the Yankees." These are all valid points, but I want to also present the side where the Yankees deserve to be this high. They were experts at the craft of pitching, and being in a pitcher's dream park didn't produce their numbers, it only aided them. I wanna dispell some of the rumours about Polo Grounds and why the Yankees don't deserve to be on this list. Because there are some solid reasons that they do.
The Yankees gave up the most runs in a single game at home. The Yankees had 3 shutouts at home, but also had 2 on the road. The Yankees gave up >3 runs in a game 4 times; twice at home, and twice on the road. The Yankees gave up 18 runs on the road, and 15 at home. It's almost as if the Yankees didn't care that their stadium was tremendous to pitch in. They just didn't give up runs no matter where they were. Sure, they gave up 1.875 R/G at home, but 2.25 R/G on the road should be lauded just as much, if not more. On the contrary, there is a much better argument as to why Polo hurt Yankees hitters than helped their pitchers; The Yankees scored 51 runs in season 4; 16 of those runs were scored at home.
Here's a chart that goes with the idea that Polo Grounds is actually the reason Yankee pitchers were amazing:
This chart here helps show how much harder it was to hit at Polo. I've calculated a "hitter help pct" based on averaging every park factor with each other for every major league park. Obviously this is not perfect; for example, a triple park factor will influence a game less than the walk park factor, but nevertheless, we move forward. At the top, at the 113% range, we see Pirates stadium. An on base range 13% wider is always good for batters; pitchers may not be as much of a fan. At the bottom of course, we see New York. At 71%, the Yankees really don't like offense, and their 29% drop to on base range is pretty high. The Next highest percentange for hitting deficiency is 12% in St. Louis. The Yankees did pitch in a stadium where the park factors averaged 71% ranges for all walks/hits. This certainly aided Yankees Pitchers.
But forget all that. I want to give you one chart to prove why I believe the Yankees deserve to be here. Maybe not best all time, but maybe they are. And it's right here:
The Yankees threw the most innings of any team in MLR in season 4. In the 98.0 innings pitched, they had a DPA of 264.3. Sure, the Yankees were in Polo Grounds. But compared to the Season 3 Rockies, who many consider to be one of the best pitching squads of all time, the Yankees are still better by .15 DPA. I don't care if the Yankees pitched half their games in Polo grounds, the Yankees have the best DPA in MLR History. There is no equal in terms of fooling hitters than the Yankees. New York continuously put amazing numbers and never backed down. So we can say they don't deserve to be on this list. But they do. They belong here. They belong in the top 5 for sure, and I'd say that they deserve the #1 spot.
The Yankees would have the best record in MLR in season 4, and won the Divisional matchup with a shutout of the Orioles at home. They then played the Royals at home, and gave up a single run in extra innings, but lost. Polo Grounds, the field that gave them their notoriety for pitching, was their downfall. Oh yeah, that also means they gave up 0 Earned runs in 13 innings in the playoffs. Even considering Polo Grounds, this team's pitching was incredible, and deserves the number 1 spot on this list.
We're almost at the finish line. Just one list left to go, and it's going to be harsh. The worst pitching teams of all time are on the way, and then I'm out of article ideas. Or so it seems....
Thank you for your patronage and reading this article. Until next time, this is Riley Terr, signing off.