Greatest Fantasy Seasons Ever: Pitchers
Who's produced the best fantasy seasons ever from the hill? Ray Flowers explores that question.
GREATEST FANTSY SEASON – PITCHERS
In what follows you will see my list of the greatest single fantasy seasons in baseball history for pitchers since 1900. No normalization or deference will be given to when a pitcher pitched, where he suited up or the level of competition. I will simply be looking at the raw data to determine which hurler produced the best 5x5 performance on the hill.
*Note: I originally wrote this article back in 2008 so nothing that has happened the last few years was included in what follows.
Click on this link to see the Greatest Hitting Seasons of All-Time.
Best ever: 1908, Ed Walsh (40-15, 1.42 ERA, 269 Ks, 0.86 WHIP in 464 IP)
Runner up: 1904, Jack Chesbro (41-12, 1.82 ERA, 239 Ks, 0.94 WHIP in 454.2 IP)
Those of you who are baseball historians will have certainly heard these of two names, but for those of you who haven't read the encyclopedia in the bathroom since you were six years old, they might be "new" names. Look at those innings pitched totals. Doesn't it make you rethink the idea of 200-innings being the barometer of success? Certainly, the game was vastly different back when these two hurled the ball, as they used only 2-3 baseballs per game and it didn't even have a cork-center, but again, we are looking only at the raw numbers and not the era in which they were produced. The bottom line is that if either of these guys walked in and won 40 games with an ERA of 1.80 and a WHIP of 0.90, you could engrave your name on your league's championship trophy - even if your offense was made up of a bunch of Nick Punto’s.
Best ever: 1913, Walter Johnson (36-7, 1.14 ERA, 243 Ks, 0.78 WHIP in 346 IP)
Runner up: 1971, Vida Blue (24-8, 1.82 ERA, 301 Ks, 0.95 WHIP in 312 IP)
The Big Train was in the midst of a run of almost unprecedented success as this was the fourth of seven straight seasons of at least 25 victories (the record is nine by Kid Nichols in 1890-98). Back in 1913 there was no Cy Young award. In fact, Young had just retired in 1911, so Johnson had to settle for the MVP. Johnson produced a 1.14 ERA, the fourth lowest in the modern game, while his 0.78 WHIP is the second best of the modern era behind a season you can read about below. Blue certainly isn't a bad fallback option, and considering that some of you might have been born when he produced this season, it seemed right to include it. With 24 wins and 301 strikeouts, Blue produced just one of 15 such seasons by a left-handed pitcher in league history on his way to AL MVP and Cy Young awards.
Best ever: 1908, Christy Mathewson (37-11, 1.43 ERA, 259 Ks, 0.84 WHIP in 390.2 IP)
Runner up: 1972, Steve Carlton (27-10, 1.97 ERA, 310 Ks, 0.99 WHIP in 346.3 IP)
Mathewson is perhaps the best right-handed pitcher in history (sorry, Cy Young), and in 1908 he was at the height of his powers. In fact, this was the fourth time in six years that Mathewson won at least 30 games, and amazingly, as great as his ratios were, they were even better in 1909 (1.12 ERA, 0.83 WHIP). Carlton is lefty who pitched in the 70’s and won at least 24 games with 300 strikeouts, but he too fails to make the final list, though there is no shame in finishing in the top-10 even if you have to pitch in long relief. Plus, the Phillies won only 59 games that season, so you have to give a whole lot of credit a guy who won 46 percent of his team's games in 1972.
Best ever: 1965, Sandy Koufax (26-8, 2.04 ERA, 382 Ks, 0.86 WHIP in 335.2 IP)
Runner up: Dwight Gooden (24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 Ks, 0.97 WHIP in 276.2 IP)
Baseball historians will argue whether or not there has ever been a better four-year run than what Koufax produced in 1963-1966, but there is no doubt that in his illustrious career1965 was his best season, as he set career bests in wins, strikeouts and WHIP.
His massive total of 382 strikeouts is one off the modern-day record of 383 by Nolan Ryan. For one shining moment, Gooden lived amongst the stars of the heavens in a realm only few mortals ever reach. Before booze, drugs and women took him down, a 20-year-old Gooden won the Cy Young award and finished fourth in the MVP voting by producing a simply tremendous season that included the second-best ERA of any pitcher who has thrown 162 innings in a season since 1950 (Bob Gibson with a 1.12 ERA is first).
Best ever: 2000, Pedro Martinez (18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 K, 0.74 WHIP in 217 IP)
Runner up: 2002, Randy Johnson (24-5, 2.32 ERA, 334 K, 1.03 WHIP in 260 IP)
Pedro produced the best WHIP in baseball history with his 2000 performance with an almost unfathomable 0.74 mark in over 200-innings. Pedro also posted a 1.74 ERA in the American League when the league had a 4.91 ERA, yes, 182 percent better than the league average. Then we have another lefty, and another runner up finish. Johnson's 334 strikeouts gave him 300-plus strikeouts in five straight seasons, and since the league's ERA was 4.57, his ERA was 97 percent better than the average hurler in 2002. Still, it wasn't good enough to make the list.
Best ever: 2003, Eric Gagne (2-3, 1.20 ERA, 137 Ks, 0.69 WHIP with 55 saves)
Runner up: 1998, Trevor Hoffman (4-2, 1.48 ERA, 86 Ks, 0.85 WHIP with 53 saves)
From 2002-04, Eric Gagne produced the most dominant back-to-back-to-back relief seasons ever, as he had at least 45 saves, 114 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.91 or lower each year. In the middle year, 2003, Gagne had the best relief season in fantasy baseball history. With 137 strikeouts in 82.1 innings, he produced a K/9 of 14.98, while his 0.69 WHIP is also greatest ever for a pitcher who tossed 80+ innings. It's hard to argue that as the best relief season of all-time. Hoffman finished second in the Cy Young race, thanks in large part to a career best total of 53 saves and a career low 0.85 WHIP. Hoffman also averaged 10.60 K/9, as his fastball had some serious giddy-up in those days.
Best ever: 1992, Dennis Eckersley (7-1, 1.91 ERA, 93 Ks, 0.91 WHIP with 51 saves)
Runner up: 2003, Keith Foulke (9-1, 2.08 ERA, 88 Ks, 0.89 WHIP with 43 saves)
Eckersley, at the direction of Tony LaRussa, became the first of what has come to be known as the modern day closer (by this I mean that Eck only came into games to pitch one inning, and basically only when there was the chance for a save). In no season were Eckersley's talents more on display than in 1992, when he captured the AL MVP and Cy Young awards. Not just a pitcher who tried to fool hitters, Eck punched out 93 batters in 80 innings (10.46 K/9), and he walked only 11 batters all season for an exquisite K/BB ratio of 8.45. Any one of Foulke's numbers would be a fantasy boon, and when you add them up they represent a simply tremendous season for the soft-tosser. I know it's blasphemous to leave out the best closer in AL history in Mariano Rivera, but his performance in 2005 falls ever so slightly behind Foulke on this list (7-4, 1.38 ERA, 80 K, 0.87 WHIP with 43 SV in 2005).
Best ever: 1974, Mike Marshall (15-12, 2.42 ERA, 143 Ks, 1.19 WHIP with 21 saves)
Runner up: 1959, Elroy Face (18-1, 2.70 ERA, 69 Ks, 1.24 WHIP with 10 saves)
These two pitchers come from a time when relievers didn't just come in and toss an inning with a three-run lead. These two pitched when relievers, not yet known as closers, often found themselves pitching in the eighth and quite often the seventh inning.
Marshall, far from an imposing figure at 5'10", 180 lbs, was a machine in the early 70’s for the Dodgers, as he rang up seasons of 14, 14 and 15 wins in 1972-74 while making zero starts. That's right, in those three years he had 41 victories out of the bullpen, the same number that Dallas Keuchel eared from 2013-15. As you might imagine Marshall also threw a ton of innings, and in 1974 he actually tossed 208.1 innings out of the bullpen. Marshall pitched in an all-time record 106 games that year in the most remarkable display of arm alacrity in decades. Simply amazing.
In 1959 Roy Face produced only 10 saves and fairly average ratio numbers for the Pirates (the saves were postdated by the way, because the "save" hadn't been invented in 1959). Still, when a relief pitcher wins 18 games and doesn't make a single start, it's worth noting, don't you think?