January 27, 2023

The Best Starting Pitching Staffs in the Last 100 Years: Part IV

June 12, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

From Part I: Pitching, pitching, pitching. You may have heard the saying, “You can never have enough pitching.” Of course, if you are going to have good pitching it begins with your starting pitching staff.

Which starting pitching staff was the best ever?

I considered and reviewed every team that made it to the World Series and some other notable ones that did not. After viewing all the statistics, teams after the Dead Ball Era were only considered. Comparatively, considering teams before and after 1920 is more an apples-to-oranges comparison than an apples-to-apples one. (You can read Part II here.)


Another way to compare pitching staffs is how their ERA compared to others in the same league that year. Why? In 1968, pitching statistics were better throughout major league baseball, but which starting pitching staffs stood out in their respective year? The following starting pitching staffs had an ERA one run or more less than the average starting pitcher’s ERA in their league that year and how much lower it was than their league average:

1.89 1925 Washington Senators
1.38 1998 Atlanta Braves
1.36 1997 Atlanta Braves
1.26 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers
1.22 2016 Chicago Cubs
1.20 1948 Cleveland Indians
1.19 1938 New York Yankees
1.19 2011 Philadelphia Phillies
1.17 1939 New York Yankees
1.12 2002 Seattle Mariners
1.11 1944 St. Louis Cardinals
1.10 1964 Chicago White Sox
1.06 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers
1.05 1998 New York Yankees
1.04 1942 St. Louis Cardinals
1.01 1999 Atlanta Braves
1.00 1927 New York Yankees
1.00 1954 New York Giants
1.00 1985 Los Angeles Dodgers

You may be wondering about some other notable pitching staffs that did not get mentioned because they did not make any of my five gold starting pitching staff standards.

Those would include: The 1961 Dodgers, 1962 Dodgers, 1980 Astros, 1980 Orioles, 1993 Braves, 1998 Astros, 2002 Braves, 2002 Yankees, and the 2014 Tigers.

After digesting all those statistics, the gold standard of a four-man rotation to no one’s surprise would be the 1971 Orioles.

Mike Cuellar 20-9 3.08
Pat Dobson 20-8 2.90
Jim Palmer 20-9 2.65
Dave McNally 21-5 2.89

The Orioles quartet combined for an 81-31 record and an ERA of 2.89 and won 81 out of the Orioles 101 wins on the year.

The only other quartet to have four 20-game winners were the 1920 White Sox. They combined for a record of 87-46 and an ERA of 3.38. They won 87 out of their team’s 96 wins.

Red Faber 23-13 2.99
Eddie Cicotte 21-10 3.26
Lefty Williams 22-14 3.91
Dickey Kerr 21-9 3.37

Although back then, relievers were pitchers that were not good enough to be starters. As a result, starting pitchers were more likely to factor into a higher percentage of their team’s wins.

The starters for the 1942 Yankees, the 1944 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1954 Indians and the 1971 Orioles met four of my five gold standards. The ’42 Yankees, ’54 Indians and ’71 Orioles starters combined ERA was less than their league’s starting pitchers average but still within one run of their league’s average. The Yankees were 0.97 lower, the Indians 0.82 lower, and the Orioles 0.58.

The ’42 Yankees used six starting pitchers that year:

Tiny Bonham 21-5 2.27
Spud Chandler 16-5 2.38
Hank Borowy 15-4 2.52
Red Ruffing 14-7 3.21
Atley Donald 11-3 3.11
Marv Breuer 8-9 3.07

The 1944 Cardinals starters almost made all five of my gold standards but fell one percent short of winning 80 percent of their team’s games as they won 79 percent of them.

Mort Cooper 22-7 2.46
Max Lanier 17-12 2.65
Ted Wilks 17-4 2.64
Harry Brecheen 16-5 2.85
Red Munger 11-3 1.34

Interestingly, only one starting pitching staff met all five of my gold standards: 80 wins, an ERA under 3.00, an ERA at least one run less than their league’s average starting pitchers, a winning percentage of .700 or better and winning 80 percent of their team’s wins – the 1998 Atlanta Braves.

Tom Glavine 20-6 2.47
Greg Maddux 18-9 2.22
John Smoltz 17-3 2.90
Kevin Millwood 17-8 4.08
Denny Neagle 16-11 3.55

The 1998 Braves had only the second starting pitching staff in Major League Baseball history that had five 16-game winners or better.

The other team to have five 16-game winners were the 1923 New York Yankees.

Sad Sam Jones 21-8 3.63
Herb Pennock 19-6 3.13
Bullet Joe Bush 19-15 3.43
Waite Hoyt 17-9 3.02
Bob Shawkey 16-11 3.51

They were the only pitching staff to have five 16-game winners till the 1998 Braves did it. As good as those Yankees starters were, they only met three of my five gold standards having an ERA of 3.42 which was only 0.39 less than the average starting pitchers in the American League that year.

The 1954 Cleveland Indians starting pitching staff:

Early Wynn 23-11 2.73
Bob Lemon 23-7 2.72
Mike Garcia 19-8 2.64
Art Houtteman 15-7 3.35
Bob Feller 13-3 3.09

The 1944 Cardinals would be comparable to the 1998 Braves for the best five-man starting pitching staffs.

As the numbers show, the best 4-man starting pitching staff was the 1971 Baltimore Orioles. The best 5-man starting pitching staff was the 1998 Atlanta Braves. The best 6-man starting pitching staff was the 1942 New York Yankees.

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