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Best Pitching of All Time

 

   Since 1920, the teams that have allowed the fewest runs, relative to the league average, are as follows:

 

 

Team

Runs % below avg
1939 New York Yankees 556 -30.5
1966 Los Angeles Dodgers 490 -26.0
1944 St. Louis Cardinals 490 -26.0
1964 Chicago White Sox 501 -24.2
1993 Atlanta Braves 559 -23.2
1945 Chicago Cubs 532 -22.8
1979 Baltimore Orioles 582 -22.6
1954 Cleveland Indians 504 -22.5
1943 St. Louis Cardinals 475 -22.4
1948 Cleveland Indians 568 -22.2

 

   For my money, the '39 Yankees are the best of the lot.  The Dodgers in '66 were helped greatly by a pitcher's park, that depressed run production from 1964-68 by 22%, and by the superb performance of one Sandy Koufax, whose league-leading ERA of 1.73 (over 323 innings of worked) contributed greatly to the team's 2.62 ERA.  The 1939 Yankees also had a favorable park, but had three great starters: Red Ruffing (21-7, 2.94 ERA) and Lefty Gomez (12-8, 3.41 ERA) finished fourth and fifth in the ERA race that year, and Bump Hadley (12-6, 2.98 ERA) would have finished fourth but didn't work the 10 complete games necessary to qualify him for the ERA title.  Their fourth starter - hard-throwing Atley Donald - went 13-3 with a 3.71 ERA, well below the league average ERA of 4.62, and would have finished in the top 10 pitchers in ERA if the AL had used the modern standard of one inning pitched per game played instead of the 10 complete-game requirement to qualify pitchers for the ERA title.  And Monte Pearson (12-5, 4.49 ERA), their weakest starter, could have been a number 2 on most other teams.  They also had three other pitchers who worked as relievers and as starters - flame-throwing Marius Russo (8-3, 2.41 ERA), Steve Sundra (11-1, 2.76 ERA) and Oral Hildebrand (10-4, 3.06 ERA).  They platooned to deliver 364 IP, a 2.72 ERA and a 29-8 record, numbers which were Cy Young-calibre.

     Simply incredible - a team with three All-Star starting pitchers, and a three-man platoon in Russo, Sundra and Hildebrand who made 37 starts between them and contributed a Cy Young performance.

 

   Another way to determine a great pitching staff is not by referencing the relationship to the league average, but by looking at how many standard deviations above the average the team ended up.  Here are the top teams in that category:

 

 

Team

Runs # Std Dev below Lg. Avg
1967 Chicago White Sox 491 - 2.54
1990 Oakland Athletics 570 - 2.40
1923 New York Yankees 622 - 2.31
1991 Los Angeles Dodgers 565 - 2.29
1979 Baltimore Orioles 582 - 2.29
1999 Boston Red Sox 718 - 2.22
1986 New York Yankees 656 - 2.16
1974 Oakland Athletics 551 - 2.16
1948 Boston Braves 584 - 2.07
1985 Toronto Blue Jays 588 - 2.03

 

   Notice how again the top teams benefit greatly from pitcher's parks - all except the 1999 Boston Red Sox and the 1985 Blue Jays.  All the talk of the Yankee's great pitching in 1999 obscured the fact that Pedro Martinez and four innings-munching regular starters combine to form a world-class rotation.  The latter team had Dave Stieb - the '85 AL ERA champ - and Jimmy Key, who would go on to win the ERA title two years later and who in 1985, at the age of 24, went 14-6 with a 3.00 ERA (good for fourth in the AL).  They also had a top-notch closer in Tom Henke (13 saves, 2.03 ERA in 40 IP) for the last third of the season, and a terrific effort from Doyle Alexander (17-10, 3.45 ERA) and Jim Clancy (9-6. 3.78 ERA) in supporting toles.

 


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