Fantasy Baseball Edge: The Best Fantasy Pitching Seasons Of All Time
By Matt Cott, Matt Schwimmer and Moe Koltun of RotoAnalysis.com
After breaking down some of the best hitters in each decade last week (read it here) we at RotoAnalysis wanted to look at some examples of dominant pitchers. Across each decade, there were some phenomenal seasons and players, but some rose to the top. There are plenty of the big names you may expect, and a few surprises as we scoured through the data. Sure there weren’t any fantasy leagues around in 1968, but just imagine how valuable Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA would have been. Here are our picks for the MVP of each decade, with a few other guys who just missed the cut.
Two Thousands Fantasy MVP: 2002 Randy Johnson
24-5, 2.32 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 334 K
The Big Unit didn’t disappoint fantasy owners after an impressive 2001 season. Coming off a season in which he struck out 372 hitters, Johnson 334 hitters in 2002 for a ridiculous 11.56 K/9. Aside from teammate Curt Schilling, who struck out 316 hitters, Randy Johnson struck out 95 more hitters then anyone else in the league. Johnson was also first in the league with 24 wins, second with his 2.32 ERA, and 5th in WHIP. Although he didn’t lead the league in ERA or WHIP, he was just as valuable in the categories for fantasy owners because he pitched 260 innings, 60 innings more than the leader in those categories, Pedro Martinez. The Big Unit was especially worth his draft pick for owners whose teams made the playoffs as he finished strong with a 0.66 ERA in the months of September and October and won 5 of his last 6 starts.
2001 Randy Johnson (21-6, 2.49 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 372 K)
2000 Pedro Martinez (18-6, 1.74 ERA, .737 WHIP, 284 K)
2009 Zack Greinke (16-8, 2.17 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 205 K)
Nineties Fantasy MVP: 1999 Pedro Martinez
23-4, 2.07 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 313 K
Pedro was everybody’s daddy in 1999, posting arguably the best season for a pitcher ever. He had over 12 WAR thanks to one of the best strikeout rates of all time (13.20 K/9) over 213 ridiculous innings. He ended second in MVP voting after winning the Triple Crown. A roided-up era didn’t stop some of the best pitchers from producing incredible seasons, from Roger Clemens’ two years in Toronto to Randy Johnson’s 364-strikeout season. Even though Pedro only pitched 213 innings, they were that good; his combination of league-best strikeouts and walks led him to 23 victories, and his fantasy owners to a championship.
1997 Roger Clemens: (21-7, 2.05 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 292 K)
1999 Randy Johnson: (17-9, 2.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 364 K)
1996 John Smoltz: (24-8, 2.94 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 276 K)
Eighties Fantasy MVP: 1985 Dwight Gooden
24-4, 1.53 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 268 K
Dwight Gooden’s first two years in the league may have been the best entrance into the league by a starting pitcher ever. It is a true shame his career was derailed the way it was – I believe he is now underrated in the history books. His second season was his best for fantasy, as he maintained a sensational 1.53 ERA over 277 innings to go with his strong strikeout totals and top-notch control. Doc’s season included a stretch of 49 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run would have buoyed any fantasy team for weeks. His ERA was the second lowest in the “Live Ball Era,” and he won the pitcher’s “Triple Crown” by leading the league in ERA, Wins, and Strikeouts. Doc’s dominance should not be forgotten.
1986 Mike Scott: (18-10, 2.22 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 306 K)
1986 Roger Clemens: (24-4, 2.48 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 238 K)
1980 Steve Carlton: (24-9, 2.34 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 286 K)
Seventies Fantasy MVP: 1978 Ron Guidry
25-3, 1.74 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 248 K
The 70’s were certainly the era of Nolan Ryan, but he was a much better pitcher from a real life perspective than a fantasy perspective. From a fantasy angle, Ryan’s WHIP was never elite, and although he does own the top 5 strikeout seasons of the decade, he never really had a season where he was elite in all four categories. Ron Guidry in 1978, on the other hand, had almost as complete a fantasy season as you’ll find, finishing first in MLB in wins by 3, first in ERA by more than half a run, tying for third in strikeouts (and one of only 5 pitchers to get over 200 Ks) and, perhaps most impressively, finished first in the league in WHIP by a full 11 points. Maybe Nolan Ryan would have been the most impressive in leagues with bonuses for no-hitters, but in standard formats, thanks to his inordinately balanced skill-set, no one from the 70’s had a better fantasy season than Ron Guidry in ‘78.
1971 Tom Seaver: (20-10, 1.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 289 K)
1972 Steve Carlton: (27-20, 1.97 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 310 K)
1972 Nolan Ryan: (21-16, 2.28 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 329 K)
1979 J.R. Richard: (18-13, 2.71 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 313 K)
Sixties Fantasy MVP: 1968 Bob Gibson:
22-9, 1.12 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 268 K
It was quite the season for elite pitchers in 1968, as Bob Gibson and Denny McLain duked it out for the top spot of the decade. Ultimately, Gibson’s 1.12 ERA and 0.85 WHIP were too much for McLain to handle. Gibson almost led the league in ERA by a half of a run. At the same time, Gibson’s WHIP led the league while he finished third in wins and strikeouts. Gibson only made 34 starts as opposed to McLain’s 41 so perspective fantasy owners would have been able to play a replacement for Gibson when he did not take the mound. When he was on the mound, there was no question who was the best pitcher in the game, as he averaged over 8.9 innings per start and led the league with 13 shutouts.
1968 Denny McLain (31-6, 1.96 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 280 K)
1966 Sandy Koufax (27-9, 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 317 K)
1963 Sandy Koufax (25-5, 1.88 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 306 K)
Pre-60’s Fantasy MVP: 1924 Dazzy Vance:
28-6, 2.16 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 262 K
“Who the **** is Dazzy Vance?” I assume that’s what you’re thinking right now, because it’s exactly what I was thinking as I mined through the shocking amount of data on pitchers before 1960. There were names that I already knew, like Christy Mathewson or Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, but some guy named Dazzy Vance by far stood out from the rest as the best fantasy pitcher of this entire era. Visually, Radbourn’s stats are the most impressive: “59 wins and 441 strikeouts” just sounds so much better than “28 wins and 262 strikeouts,” but the reality is, Vance’s stats blow Radbourn’s out of the water. In that amazing 1884 season, Radbourn’s 441 K’s only ranked him 3rd in the league, and his 0.92 WHIP only ranked him 5th. When that’s paired with the most wins in the league and best ERA in the league, it’s impressive, and probably the 2nd best season of this era, but it’s nothing when compared to Dazzy Vance’s 1924; in ’24. Vance’s 262 strikeouts were 104 more than any other pitcher (only 5 other pitchers reached triple digits in Ks), his 2.16 ERA was first in the league by .53 runs, his 28 wins were first in the league by a full 5 wins, and his 1.02 WHIP was first in the league by .10 points. Vance somehow managed to lead MLB in every single category, had over 60% more strikeouts than any other pitcher in the major leagues with an ERA that was 20% better than any other pitcher in the major leagues. In today’s terms, that would be a 29 win pitcher with 415 K’s, an ERA of 1.90 and a WHIP of 0.83, or in other words: utter insanity.
1908 Christy Mathewson: (37-11, 1.43 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 259 K)
1884 Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn: (59-12, 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 441 K)
1884 Guy Hecker: (59-20, 1.80 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 385 K)
1946 Bob Feller: (26-15, 2.18 ERA 1.16 WHIP, 346 K)
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.