The 10 Best Pitched Seasons Of The Last 20 Years


Earlier this week, a few of the talents here at TSFJ came together to honor the career of Roy Halladay, and in the process of doing so, the question came up of if he truly was the best pitcher of his era. He had a few classic years, but where did his best work fall into the mix? And what's more, what exactly are the best pitched seasons of the last couple decades? While an era can be defined variously, one definite way to break it down is by what one has seen firsthand. And for me, that opened up a challenge to not so much figure out whom the best pitcher of my lifetime has been, but instead what have been the best seasons I have ever seen pitched.

I began watching baseball in the late '80s according to my father and, as I can recall firsthand, remembering it year to year since I was 10. That was in 1993, and since then, there have been some remarkable seasons to consider.

A pitcher that’s on top of his game is a sight to behold. He brings that sensation that every fifth day there’s no hope for the opposition. If you manage to get him, you better hope he makes the rare mistake, because there’s little hope to take him down if not. Sometimes this level is hit just for one year, or in the case of the Pedro Martinez's, Greg Maddux's or Randy Johnson’s of the world, it takes a fine-tooth comb to even separate their best years apart.

With Maddux likely headed to the Hall of Fame, Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera retiring, it seems like a fine time to take a look back at the era they defined from 60 feet, 6 inches away. To find the cream of the crop, I pulled together the 30 best seasons from the last 20 years and took it from there. Enjoy, debate and remember some of the best artistry that a mound has ever seen … in my life at least.

10. 2008—Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees: 39 Saves, 1 BSV, 60 GF, 1.40 ERA, 70.2 innings, 77 strikeouts, 0.665 WHIP

To narrow down one season above all for Mo is a tough proposition, because for nearly two decades he dropped a new classic effort every summer. However, 2008 was an especially ridiculous outing for the Sandman. He converted is first 28 save chances of the year before blowing his only chance of the year. He finished with only six walks on the year compared to 77 strikeouts, batters only hit .165 against him, and he turned in his fifth sub-2.00 ERA in a six-year span.

9. 1997—Roger Clemens, Toronto Blue Jays (Cy Young): 21-7, 2.05 ERA, 292 K’s, .750 win%, 264 innings, 1.030 WHIP, 9 CG, 3 SHO

When the Rocket left Boston, he left with a huge chip on his shoulder, and he took it out relentlessly on the entire American League. In his first year north of the border, he led the AL in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, ERA, complete games, shutouts and WHIP — a feat he would nearly duplicate again the next year.

8. 1994—Greg Maddux, Atlanta Braves (Cy Young): 16-6, 1.56 ERA, 156 K’s, .727 win %, 202 innings, 0.896 WHIP, 10 CG, 3 SHO

1994 will forever be one of the more frustrating years in sports history. It was the year that a strike interrupted some of the great seasons of all time, and Maddux was no exception. The 28-year-old Mad Dog won 16 of his 25 starts and posted the lowest ERA since Bob Gibson’s landmark 1968 season. He won his third straight Cy Young and set the table for an even greater “comeback” campaign.

7. 2010—Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies (Cy Young): 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 231 K’s, .677 win%, 250.2 innings, 1.041 WHIP, 9 CG, 4 ShO

When Doc crossed over to the NL after 12 years in Toronto, he vented years of frustration into his first real push for a championship and spared nobody along the way. He threw both a perfect game and the just second no-hitter ever in MLB postseason history, while becoming the first pitcher since 1923 to throw 250 innings while walking 30 or fewer batters. As a reward, he won his second Cy Young, which made him the fifth pitcher to win the honor in both leagues.

6. 2002—Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks (Cy Young): 24-5, 2.32 ERA, 334 K’s, .828 win%, 260 innings, 1.031 WHIP, 8 CG, 4 SHO

The Big Unit had a lot of years that were of the classic caliber, but his most overwhelming was in 2002, while he formed the front half of one of the most devastating duos of all time with Curt Schilling. He won his fourth consecutive Cy Young, while batters were helpless with a .197 batting average against him on the year. He won the pitcher’s Triple Crown for the only time in his career as well.

5. 2003—Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers (Cy Young): 55 Saves, 0 BSV, 67 GF, 1.20 ERA, 82.1 innings, 137 K's, 0.692 WHIP

There was a three-year run where Eric Gagne was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. With his Horace Grant-style glasses and disgusting fastball-changeup-fastball-mystery ball arsenal, it seemed like he was untouchable. In ’03, he turned in the best closer season in history by tying the NL record for saves, converting 100% of them and striking out nearly two batters for every inning he pitched. After the dust settled, he walked off with a Cy Young nod as the first NL closer in 15 years to do so.

4. 2011—Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (Cy Young, MVP): 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 K’s, .828 win %, 251 innings, 0.920 WHIP, 4 CG, 2 ShO

A season that was great enough that only an MVP and a Cy Young could do it justice, Verlander nearly threw four no-hitters in the summer of 2011 but settled with “only” one. He led the AL in eight pitching categories and threw at least six innings in every start, issuing a miniscule six hits a game. He hit a stride where when the first hit would come against him, it was shocking on some levels. Dominance was barely the word for it.

3. 1999—Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox (Cy Young): 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 K’s, .852 win%, 213.1 innings, 0.923 WHIP, 5 CG, 1 SHO

Pedro became a member of the “only one name required” community in ’99, as he had simply one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. He struck out an absurd 13.2 batters per nine innings, striking out 100 more batters than innings pitched while walking only 37 batters on the year. He won all but six games he started and capped the season with his legendary six-inning relief no-hitter in Game 5 of the ALDS.

2. 1995—Greg Maddux, Atlanta Braves (Cy Young): 19-2, 1.63 ERA, 181 K’s, .905 win %, 209.2 innings, .811 WHIP, 10 CG, 3 SHO

Remember his 1994 season from earlier that got interrupted by that pesky strike? Well, Maddux just walked back out there and picked the ball up like nothing had ever happened. With a full schedule to work his corner-painting voodoo, the winningest pitcher of his generation had his greatest season. He was the first pitcher since 1918-19 to follow a sub-1.80 ERA season with an encore effort of the same level. But to truly appreciate how great Mad Dog was, his effort needs to be put into context: His 1.63 ERA was more than two and a half runs beneath the league average. Simply put, he was a one-man war in spite of drugs in the height of the PED era.

1. 2000—Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox (Cy Young): 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 K’s, .750 win%, 217 innings, 0.737 WHIP, 7 CG, 4 SHO

1999 was incredible, but Pedro’s follow-up effort blew even it out the water. He set an all-time WHIP (walks+hits divided by innings pitched) record, walking only 32 batters on the year and allowing only five hits per game, the third stingiest amount in history. His ERA got down to a crazy 1.74, while only 21% of batters that faced him reached base and did so with a .167 batting average. To top off his classic year, it saw him become the only pitcher in history to strikeout out twice as many batters as hits allowed.

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