SweetSpot: Sandy Koufax

This year's National League MVP vote promises to be an interesting result no matter who wins -- Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen or Giancarlo Stanton. If Kershaw wins, he'll be the first NL pitcher to win MVP honors since Bob Gibson in 1968; if McCutchen wins, he becomes a back-to-back MVP winner, the first center fielder to do that since Dale Murphy in 1982-83; if Stanton wins, he becomes the first MVP on a losing team since Alex Rodriguez of the Rangers in 2003.

Does a pitcher deserve to win, even one who went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA? There's still a reluctance by some voters to consider a pitcher for MVP honors, or at least consider them for the top of their ballot. Working against Kershaw is that he missed a month of action and pitched 198 innings, a low total for a Cy Young winner let alone an MVP. Working in his favor is that there was no clear best position player and it's possible that McCutchen and Stanton split first-place votes, allowing Kershaw to slip past them as the winner. Kershaw led all National League players in WAR at 8.0 -- more than a win better than the No. 2 player according to Baseball-Reference, Cole Hamels. Jonathan Lucroy led position players at 6.7 with Stanton at 6.5.

Still, it's a classic pitcher versus position player debate. Here are few others from the past:

2011: Justin Verlander vs. Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista
Verlander: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 250 SO, 8.4 WAR.
Ellsbury: .321/.376/.552, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB, 8.1 WAR.
Bautista: .302/.447/.608, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 8.1 WAR.

Verlander ended up winning with 280 points to beat out Ellsbury (242 points) and Bautista (232 points). Two things worked to Verlander's advantage: 1. There was no clear position player rival, as five different position players received first-place votes -- collectively, they had 15 first-place votes compared to Verlander's 13; 2. The other thing that happened was Ellsbury's Red Sox collapsed in September and missed the playoffs. Ellsbury himself had a great month -- he hit .358 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs -- and he probably would have won the award if Boston had made the playoffs.

[+] EnlargePedro Martinez
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesHow could Pedro Martinez NOT be the MVP in 1999?
1999: Ivan Rodriguez versus Pedro Martinez
Rodriguez: .332/.356/.558, 35 HR, 113 RBI, 25 SB, 7.0 WAR
Martinez: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 213.1 IP, 313 SO, 9.7 WAR

Actually, you can throw Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez into the mix, as voting results went Rodriguez with 252 points, Martinez 239 and Alomar and Ramirez with 226. (Derek Jeter actually might have been the best position player that year but finished sixth in the voting.) Pedro had the most first-place votes with eight compared to Rodriguez's seven, but was left off two ballots. Most infamously, George King of the New York Post said pitchers shouldn't win MVP awards -- even though he had included two pitchers on his 1998 ballot, including David Wells of the Yankees.

Anyway, the voters missed this one as Pedro had a historic season. The Red Sox even made the playoffs that year, so that wasn't a viable excuse. The next year, Pedro could have won again when he went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA; he finished fifth in the voting.

1995: Barry Larkin and Dante Bichette versus Greg Maddux
Larkin: .319/.394/.492, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 51 SB, 5.9 WAR
Bichette: .340/.364/.620, 40 HR, 128 RBI, 1.1 WAR
Maddux: 19-2, 1.63 ERA, 209.2 IP, 181 SO, 9.6 WAR

Wow. In retrospect, this looks like an awful vote. Larkin had a great year and was honored for his all-around play while the Reds won their division, but Maddux had that 1.63 ERA in an era when offense had started to peak. Larkin received 11 first-place votes to Bichette's six and Maddux's seven, with the final vote totals going 281-251-249. That 1.1 WAR isn't a misprint for Bichette, who put up his numbers in Coors Field and was a lousy defender. In the end, at least Larkin won and not him.

1986: Roger Clemens versus Don Mattingly
Clemens: 24-4, 2.48 ERA, 254 IP, 238 SO, 8.9 WAR
Mattingly: .352/.394/.573, 31 HR, 113 RBI, 7.2 WAR

This one was a good debate in part because it was also Red Sox versus Yankees. Clemens actually won pretty easily, collecting 19 of the 28 first-place votes, and the fact the Red Sox won the division certainly helped. I think the voters got it right (and Clemens would be the last starting pitcher to win MVP honors until Verlander) ... actually, Baseball-Reference says Teddy Higuera was the most valuable player in the AL that year at 9.4 WAR. (Clemens led the majors in WAR in 1987, 1990 and 1997, so you can argue he deserved three MVP awards.)

1985: Willie McGee versus Dwight Gooden
McGee: .353/.384/.503, 10 HR, 82 RBI, 56 SB, 8.1 WAR
Gooden: 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276.2 IP, 268 SO, 13.2 WAR

McGee wasn't a bad choice -- he led NL position players in WAR -- but it's hard to believe that Gooden received only one first-place vote with that otherworldly 1.53 ERA. He actually finished just fourth in the voting so it wasn't even much of a debate. The Cardinals did beat out the Mets for the NL East title, but it still seems strange now that Gooden's season didn't impress the MVP voters. (Especially when Clemens would win in the AL the next season with the same 24-4 record and an ERA a run higher.)

1978: Jim Rice versus Ron Guidry
Rice: .315/.370/.600, 46 HR, 139 RBI, 7.5 WAR
Guidry: 25-3, 1.74 ERA, 273.2 IP, 248 SO, 9.6 WAR

Unlike 1986, this Red Sox-Yankees debate went to the position player whose team failed to win the division. Guidry even got the win in the Bucky Dent tiebreaker game. Rice got 20 first-place votes to Guidry's eight.

1966: Roberto Clemente versus Sandy Koufax
Clemente: .317/.360/.536, 29 HR, 119 RBI, 8.2 WAR
Koufax: 27-9, 1.73 ERA, 323 IP, 317 SO, 9.0 WAR

Clemente had his best season while Koufax's Dodgers won the pennant. Koufax got nine first-place votes and Clemente eight, but Clemente edged him in the voting, 218 points to 208. In the '60s, the MVP went to a player on the pennant winner or division winner almost every year -- 15 out of 20 times -- so it has to be considered a little surprising that Clemente beat out a 27-game winner.

1965: Willie Mays versus Koufax
Mays: .317/.398/.645, 52 HR, 112 RBI, 11.2 WAR
Koufax: 26-8, 2.04 ERA, 335.2 IP, 382 SO, 8.6 WAR

Mays could have easily won eight or nine MVP awards in his career instead of the two he did win. The Dodgers won the pennant by two games over the Giants, but Mays easily won his second MVP award with nine first-place votes to Koufax's six. Remarkably, Maury Wills, who hit .286 with no home runs for the Dodgers, received the other five first-place votes. Anyway, the voters got it right as Mays had one of his greatest seasons.
We had an odd result Wednesday night at Tampa Bay: The A's got one hit but beat the Rays 3-2. Oakland scored two runs in the second inning without a hit thanks to a pair of errors and a pair of walks. Oakland's lone hit was Brandon Moss' solo home run in the fourth.

As ESPN Stats & Information reported, the A's are now 1-82 all time when getting one hit.

"It's not the easiest way to win a baseball game," Moss said, "but it's better than getting one-hit and losing."

This leads to my twisted mind asking: How often does this happen? A quick search on the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index reveals that a team has won 64 times since 1914 when being one-hit. So, as you would imagine, not very often. Broken down by decade:

2010s: 5
2000s: 6
1990s: 7
1980s: 7
1970s: 6
1960s: 5
1950s: 6
1940s: 2
1930s: 4
1920s: 0
1910s: 16

By score:

1-0: 32 times
2-1: 17 times
3-2: 7 times
2-0: 4 times
3-1: 3 times
4-2: 1 time

You would guess the most common score would be 1-0, and indeed that is the case. Anyway, let's look at a few of the more interesting games:
  • July 20, 2013: Mariners 4, Astros 2. This is fun: Erik Bedard started Wednesday night and started this game, the only time a team scored four runs while being one-hit and won the game. The Mariners would strike out 15 times but scored twice in the sixth on two walks, a passed ball, a sacrifice fly and another passed ball. They scored twice more in the seventh on two walks and Michael Saunders' two-run double off Jose Cisnero.
  • April 20, 2010, and Sept. 14, 2010: The Giants lost two of these games in one season, to the Padres and Dodgers. In April, Jonathan Sanchez lost 1-0 to Mat Latos, the run coming on a base hit, stolen base, foul pop (runner advancing) and sac fly. In September, Barry Zito lost to Clayton Kershaw, the run coming in the sixth inning on a hit batter, two walks and an error.
  • April 27, 2002: Mariners 1, Yankees 0. Ted Lilly took a no-hitter into the eighth, but after a walk and wild pitch, Desi Relaford hit an RBI single for the game's only run.
  • April 13, 1996: Royals 3, Brewers 2. You might expect a knuckleballer to turn up here, and Charlie Hough did have one of these games as well. Steve Sparks gave up just the one hit, but it was a three-run homer by Michael Tucker in the fifth inning, following walks to Bob Hamelin and Joe Vitiello. (Yes, I just wanted to mention Bob Hamelin and Joe Vitiello.)
  • Oct. 9, 1974: A's 2, Orioles 1. This is one of two postseason games to make the list. In Game 4 of the ALCS, Orioles pitchers walked 11 batters (Mike Cuellar walked nine). The only hit was Reggie Jackson's RBI double in the seventh off Ross Grimsley.
  • Sept. 9, 1965: Dodgers 1, Cubs 0. Bob Hendley fired a masterful one-hitter for the Cubs, the only run coming in the fifth inning on a walk, sacrifice, stolen base and error when the catcher threw the ball into left field. Oh, this also happened to be the night Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game with 14 strikeouts. Here's Vin Scully poetically calling the final three outs.
  • May 15, 1965: Dodgers 3, Cubs 1. Yes, same teams, same year. Dick Ellsworth had carried a no-hitter into the eighth. Jeff Torborg reached on an error by Ron Santo. Dick Tracewski bunted but was safe on a fielder's choice when the Cubs failed to get the lead runner. After a sacrifice, Al Ferrara pinch hit and belted a three-run homer.
  • May 26, 1959: Braves 1, Pirates 0. In one of the most famous games in history, Harvey Haddix took a perfect game into the bottom of the 13th. Felix Mantilla reached on a throwing error by third baseman Don Hoak. After a sacrifice bunt, Hank Aaron was intentionally walked. Joe Adcock, who had nearly ended Haddix's career five years earlier with a line drive that struck Haddix in the knee, hit a slider for a three-run homer, except Aaron thought the ball had bounded off the fence and headed to the dugout. When Adcock passed Aaron, it became a double and thus the final 1-0 score. Lew Burdette pitched all 13 innings for Milwaukee. Burdette called Haddix in the Pirates' clubhouse. "You deserved to win," he said, "but I scattered all my hits and you bunched your one."
  • Oct. 3, 1947: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2. In Game 4 of the World Series, Bill Bevens took a 2-1 lead and a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth. He had already walked eight batters. He got a fly ball, walked Carl Furillo and then got a foul out. Al Gionfriddo ran for Furillo and stole second. Pete Reiser was intentionally walked, bringing up pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto. He hit a double off the right-field wall -- the final hit of his career -- and the Dodgers won (although the Yankees would win Game 7).

  • Sept. 18, 1934: Red Sox 2, Browns 1. Bobo Newsom had allowed a run earlier but had a no-hitter until two outs in the 10th inning. He lost the no-hitter and the game.
Joe Posnanski is ranking the 100 best baseball players of all time and the other day he wrote about Sandy Koufax, his No. 46 guy.

Koufax is one of the most difficult players to rank in a list like this due to his short career. His case raises the problems of factoring in peak value versus career value, not to mention postseason performance. Even Koufax's peak -- five great seasons, three of which were pantheon-level seasons -- is relatively short. Plus, he benefited from his time and place: A pitcher's era in a pitcher's park.

Joe writes:

At Dodger Stadium, on that Everest of a mound, Koufax was both literally and figuratively on an even higher level.

– in 1963, at Dodger Stadium, he went 11-1 with a 1.38 ERA and batters hit .164 against him.
– In 1964, the one year he did not manage 300 innings, he went 12-2 with an 0.85 ERA at home.
– In 1965, the league hit .152 against Koufax in LA, and he went 14-3 with a 1.38 ERA. On the road that year, he was a much more human 12-5 with a 2.72 ERA.
– In 1966, he was was more or less the same dominant pitcher at home and on the road. His 1.52 ERA at home was not very different from his 1.96 ERA on the road.

So what do all these advantages mean for Koufax’s legacy? Well, I’m a numbers guy at heart but I have to say … it doesn’t mean much to me. Koufax, like all of us, was a man of his time and place. He was given a big strike zone and a high mound and, with the wind at his back, he became indelible, unforgettable, the greatest and most thrilling pitcher many would ever see in their lifetime. No, of course the numbers do not compare fairly with pitchers of other eras — you can’t say Koufax was better than Lefty Grove or Roger Clemens just because his ERA was lower — but those numbers offer a nice display of his dominance and, more, the way people looked at him. He still had a 1.86 ERA over four seasons. He still struck out 382 batters in a season.

Overall, in his three monster seasons in 1963, 1965 and 1966 Koufax went 25-5, 1.88; 26-8, 2.04; and 27-9, 1.73.

Now, in retrospect we know Koufax gained a big advantage from Dodger Stadium. They probably knew that on some level at the time, but nobody really kept track of the numbers. What I always found interesting is that other pitchers were putting up big numbers in the same era, and yet it's Koufax whose legacy grew the largest. For example:
  • Juan Marichal went 25-8 in 1963, 25-6 in 1966 and 26-9 in 1968.
  • Bob Gibson had his 1.12 ERA in 1968.
  • Dean Chance went 20-9 with a 1.65 ERA in 1964.
  • Tom Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA in 1969 (after the mound was lowered) and 20-10 with a 1.76 ERA in 1971.
  • Koufax struck out 300 batters three times; Sam McDowell did it twice and even had a season with a 1.81 ERA.
  • Denny McLain won 55 games in 1968-69, two more than Koufax won in 1965-66.

The point: Other guys were doing Koufax-like things at the same time. So why Koufax? (Not that Seaver, Gibson and Marichal are disrespected but I'm guessing more casual fans would be inclined to call Koufax the greatest pitcher ever over those three.) Maybe it's the two World Series titles in 1963 and 1965, including a Game 7 shutout in 1965, when the World Series still meant everything. Maybe it was pitching in Los Angeles. Maybe retiring early added to his aura; nobody saw Koufax grow old.

A recent article by Bill James on Bill James Online titled "Climbing the Stairway to Sandy Koufax" finally made my understand why. Bill wrote:
Since 1900 there have been only three seasons by a pitcher in which the pitcher had 25 wins, 300 strikeouts, an ERA under 2.50 and a winning percentage of .750. Those three seasons were by Sandy Koufax, 1963, Sandy Koufax, 1965, and Sandy Koufax, 1966.

So there you go. Those other guys came close and maybe did two of those things, but only Koufax has had a Koufax season. Vida Blue came close in 1971; if he'd gone 25-8 instead of 24-8, he would have had a Koufax season. If Steve Carlton goes 27-9 instead of 27-10 in 1972, it's a Koufax season. Randy Johnson came close.

The rest of the article is a fun look at isolating the best pitching seasons ever, or as Bill wrote, "trying to develop a protocol to make a list of the seasons worthy of the Sandy Koufax label."

A few other things to check out:
  • John Dewan writes that shifts are still on the rise. Teams are on pace for more than 12,000, more than 4,000 more than last season. The Astros lead the majors with 176 shifts; the Yankees are second with 98. The White Sox are fourth with 61 -- just 12 fewer than they had all of last season.
  • Be sure to check out the ESPN The Magazine story by Scott Eden on Yasiel Puig's defection from Cuba if you missed it last week.
  • Via Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk, the respected Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post drops a few hints as to why Matt Williams may have pulled Bryce Harper from Saturday's game after Harper failed to run out a little tapper to the mound.
  • Harper Gordek of Nationals Baseball writes about Bryce and Boswell.
  • On the same subject, in his newsletter, Joe Sheehan writes, "The problem isn't that Matt Williams benched Bryce Harper for some perceived lack of effort. The problem is the antediluvian mindset that even makes that an option. Modern baseball players aren't wide-eyed farm boys being herded from the saloons to the ballyard and back, they're highly-trained professionals recruited, trained and deployed in a nine-billion-dollar industry. You do nothing for the Washington Nationals by treating them, collectively or individually, like something less."
  • Adam Wieser of Disciplines of Uecker writes about Carlos Gomez -- and his "crazy" swing. (That's his bat, not his jab.)
  • Michael Eder of It's About the Money on who will replace Ivan Nova for the Yankees.
  • The Twins are actually scoring some runs this year, but they're still looking for some offense at shortstop and center field, writes Nick Nelson of Twins Daily.
  • Brandon Land of One Strike Away on the curious case of J.P. Arencibia and his play so far with the Rangers.
  • The Mets are calling up Bobby Abreu. Must need some veteran leadership.
  • Domonic Brown is still struggling, writes Bill Baer.

Comparing greatness: Kershaw vs. Koufax

November, 12, 2013
Kershaw-KoufaxAP Photo/ Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw is starting to challenge Sandy Koufax for southpaw supremacy in L.A.
The quotes about Sandy Koufax's dominance are almost comical -- until you consider the sources. Longtime general manager Al Campanis, the architect of those great Dodgers teams of the 1970s and 1980s, quipped in Jane Leavy's bestselling book, "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," "There are two times in my life the hair on my arms has stood up: The first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Sandy Koufax throw a fastball."

But it wasn't just Koufax’s blur of a heater.

There was the curveball, an almost unhittable offering that can't be taught; you're born with it.

Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks once said, "Sandy's curve had a lot more spin than anybody else's -- it spun like a fastball coming out of his hand -- and he had the fastball of a pure strikeout pitcher."

In a 1999 Sports Illustrated article by Tom Verducci, Banks continued: "It jumped at the end. The batter would swing half a foot under it. Most of the time we knew what was coming, because he held his hands closer to his head when he threw a curveball, but it didn't matter."

It almost doesn't seem fair. Two pitches. Both nearly unhittable, the driving forces behind one of the game's best five-year stretches.

From 1962 through his final season in 1966, Sanford Koufax was the greatest pitcher on earth, backed either by oral history or the numbers. And, now, with head bowed, another lefty donned in Dodger Blue is quietly approaching the franchise's most revered moundsman.

It's almost easy to forget that Clayton Kershaw is just 25 years old. Likewise it's almost easy to overlook the type of production authored by the former first-round pick.

Machine-like consistency and God-given ability melded together have allowed Kershaw to be one of the best pitchers in baseball since the age of 21. No downturn in production. No sophomore slump. No one-year stumble. Just steady dominance. Just ... pitching perfection. Or at least something close to it.

In his latest season, Kershaw continued his early assault on what is typically a hardened, nearly impenetrable path to the Hall of Fame. Among all qualified MLB hurlers, he finished first in ERA (1.83), adjusted ERA+ (194), WAR (7.9) and WHIP (0.915). He placed second in innings pitched (236.0), and third in strikeouts (232).

But, again, it comes down to the game-to-game consistency.

Of his 33 starts, Kershaw topped seven innings 24 times and never lasted fewer than five. He allowed more than four runs -- not just earned runs, but total runs -- just four times. The southpaw ace fanned seven or more batters on 19 occasions and walked more than three just twice.

As for wielding an ungodly-like curveball similar to that of his predecessor, opponents have batted a meager .121 against Kershaw’s deuce since 2007, via BrooksBaseball.net, including slugging just one home run. (ESPN data since 2009 have Kershaw allowing three home run off his curveball, to Ryan Ludwick and Adam Dunn in 2010 and Allen Craig in 2011.)

The pièce de résistance, however, is that in the entire history of the game, spanning all the way back to 1871 and including the American Association, only three pitchers have led all of baseball (not just one league) in ERA for three consecutive years: Lefty Grove (1929-1931), Greg Maddux (1993-1995) and Kershaw (2011-2013). One Hall of Famer. One soon-to-be Hall of Famer. Kershaw well on his way.

The parallels and comparisons come quickly. And easily.

Los Angeles Dodgers. Left-handed. Dominant. Fall-off-the-table, knee-buckling curveball. Big strikeouts. Good control and command. When the adjectives, hyperboles and fantastical quotes end, there are the numbers, decades apart but quite similar.


Name Years Age IP ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 bWAR bWAR/100
Koufax 62-66 26-30 1377.0 1.95 167 9.4 2.1 40.9 2.97
Kershaw 09-13 21-25 1072.1 2.43 155 9.3 2.9 30.8 2.87
(Note: bWAR/100 = Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement per 100 innings.)

The two come from different eras. Koufax was a member of a four-man rotation and limitless pitch counts and completed 27 games in each of his last two seasons. Kershaw is the beneficiary of added rest, but under the disadvantage of playing in a more offensive environment on a lowered mound.

The adjusted numbers, though, remain remarkably similar.

Koufax's ERA+, a statistic adjusted for a pitcher's ballpark and league, is an impressive 167. Kershaw’s comes in at 155. And Koufax's bWAR per 100 innings also bests Kershaw's, if ever so slightly: 2.97 to 2.87.

But therein lies the argument: Koufax's remarkable five-year run is comprised of his five best years; Kershaw’s five-year stretch just happens to be his first five full seasons in the majors. Theoretically, as Kershaw embarks toward his peak season(s) -- quite a scary thought -- he could continue to improve, or at least top his early years, those at the start of his current streak. The endgame is known for Koufax, not so for Kershaw.

So while the Dodgers' ace of yesteryear gets the nod, the argument is far from settled, especially if Kershaw, the likely winner of the NL Cy Young Award when it is announced Wednesday, continues to pile up the numbers and the subsequent hardware.

Joseph Werner contributes to the It's Pronounced "Lajaway" blog on the Indians.

Jim RiceMalcolm Emmons/US PresswireJim Rice may not have made the Hall of Fame had he not played for 16 years in Fenway Park.
One of the first major impacts Bill James made as a sabermetrician was pointing out the huge effect that ballparks had on statistics. I mean, people always knew that Fenway Park and Wrigley Field were good hitting parks, or that the Astrodome was a lousy place to hit home runs, but that doesn't mean people in the game properly accounted for these factors. For decades, the Cubs always overrated their hitters and underrated their pitchers. That was one reason they were the Cubs.

Obvoiusly, a park can drastically effect our view of a player if we're not aware of the advantage he's receiving from his home park. Here are a few historical players who received a big boost from their home park or parks.

Jim Rice
When Jim Rice hit the Hall of Fame ballot after his 16-year career with the Red Sox, the debates got ugly. Rice was feared, argued his supporters; Rice was overrated, a beneficiary of Fenway Park, argued his detractors. During most of Rice's career in Boston, Fenway was a terrific hitter's park, the traditional Fenway of "no lead is safe" lore. Overall, Rice hit .320 with 208 home runs at Fenway but .277 with 174 home runs on the road. In his 1978 MVP season, Rice hit .361/.416/.690 with 28 home runs at home and .269/.325/.512 with 18 home runs on the road. The debates lasted until Rice's 15th and final year on the ballot when he made it in.

Sandy Koufax
Through 1961, Koufax was 54-53 in his career with a 3.94 ERA, a talented but erratic left-hander. Suddenly, in 1962, he put it all together, and over his final five seasons in the majors went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA, leading the NL in ERA all five seasons. Koufax's control did improve dramatically, but something else happened in 1962: The Dodgers moved out of the L.A. Coliseum and into Dodger Stadium. In 1961, Koufax had a 2.77 ERA on the road … but 4.22 at home. In 1960, he had 3.00 ERA on the road … but 5.27 at home. In 1962, Koufax had a 3.53 ERA on the road … but 1.75 at home. In 1963, he was 2.31 on the road … and 1.38 at home. He had always been pretty good on the road, but the difference was he became unhittable at Dodger Stadium.

Nolan Ryan
Before finishing his legendary career with the Rangers, Ryan spent eight seasons with the Angels and nine with the Astros; that's 17 years in parks that heavily favored pitchers. Check out his career home/road splits, including his days with the Mets and Rangers: 189-136, 2.77 ERA at home; 135-156, 3.73 ERA on the road. Yes, Ryan had a career road record 21 games under .500.

Ryne Sandberg
Sandberg made the Hall of Fame in his third year on the ballot, with his reputation as an all-around player -- power, speed, defense -- overcoming some career counting stats that might be considered marginal for a Hall of Famer: 2,386 hits, 282 home runs, 1,061 RBI and a .285 average. But those totals would look even more marginal without a little help from Wrigley Field. Sandberg hit .300/.361/.491 with 164 home runs at home and .269/.326/.412 with 118 home runs on the road. (Ernie Banks, by the way, had a similar split: .290 at Wrigley and .259 on the road.)

Mel Ott
Ott hit 511 career home runs and led the NL in homers six times but took advantage of the short porch at the Polo Grounds to do so. He hit 323 home runs at home and 188 on the road. He was still a great hitter, however; on the road, he hit more doubles and triples and hit for a higher average, so his overall batting line was still an impressive .311/.408/.510 compared to .297/.422/.558 at home. But he wouldn't be a member of the 500-home run club if he'd played elsewhere.

Carl Yastrzemski
Fenway Park isn't the hitter's park it used to be. It's believed that renovations in 1988, which moved a new press box above the stadium club seats behind home plate, changed the air currents. It's also underrated as a good park for left-handed hitters, especially those who can go the opposite way and take advantage of the Green Monster. Yaz hit 237 home runs at home and 215 on the road, but he loved hitting at Fenway, with a .306 average there compared to .264 on the road. His OPS was 125 points higher at home than on the road. (Ted Williams hit .361 at Fenway and .328 on the road.)

Don Sutton
Like Koufax, Sutton enjoyed pitching at Dodger Stadium. He went 169-119, 2.81 at home in his career and 155-137, 3.77 on the road. Thirty-nine of his 58 shutouts came at home. Pulling out Dodger Stadium individually (which includes some road games when he pitched for the Astros), Sutton posted a 2.66 ERA there. Despite winning 300 games, he was a somewhat controversial Hall of Fame selection; he might have still won 300 games for another organization, but his ERA might have been a bit higher.

Would any of these guys not be a Hall of Famer without their home parks? It's difficult to say. Extreme talents can learn to take advantage of unique situations. But maybe Koufax's curveball was better because of the high mound at Dodger Stadium, or Ryan's fastball harder to pick up in the gloomy indoor lighting of the Astrodome. Rice, in particular, had a weak Hall of Fame case as-is; if he hadn't played for the Red Sox, I doubt he'd be in Cooperstown.
From the World Of I Can't Believe You Spent The Time Doing This, what would the NCAA tournament bracket look like if we picked the best major leaguer from each school? Well, something like this (* denotes Hall of Famer) ...

Round of 64
Liberty (Sid Bream) over Louisville (Sean Green)
Missouri (Ian Kinsler) over Colorado State (Tippy Martinez)
Oregon (Joe Gordon*) over Oklahoma State (Robin Ventura)
Saint Louis (Gene Robertson) over New Mexico State (Mark Acre)
Saint Mary's (Harry Hooper*) over Memphis (Dan Uggla)
Michigan State (Robin Roberts*) over Valparaiso (Lloyd McClendon)
Creighton (Bob Gibson*) over Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax*)
Duke (Dick Groat) over Albanay (none)

Round of 32
Missouri (Ian Kinsler) over Liberty (Sid Bream)
Oregon (Joe Gordon) over Saint Louis (Gene Robertson)
Michigan State (Robin Roberts) over Saint Mary's (Harry Hooper)
Creighton (Bob Gibson) over Duke (Dick Groat)

Round of 16
Oregon (Joe Gordon) over Missouri (Ian Kinsler)
Creighton (Bob Gibson) over Michigan State (Robin Roberts)

Regional Final
Creighton (Bob Gibson) over Oregon (Joe Gordon)

Round of 64
Southern (Lou Brock*) over Gonzaga (Jason Bay)
Wichita State (Joe Carter) over Pittsburgh (Doc Medich)
Wisconsin (Addie Joss*) over Mississippi (Don Kessinger)
Boise State (Larry Jackson) over Kansas State (Elden Auker)
Arizona (Kenny Lofton) over Belmont (Jerry Bell)
Harvard (Eddie Grant) over New Mexico (Scott Stickland)
Notre Dame (Ed Reulbach) over Iowa State (Bob Locker)
Ohio State (Frank Howard) over Iona (Dennis Leonard)

Round of 32
Southern (Lou Brock*) over Wichita State (Joe Carter)
Wisconsin (Addie Joss*) over Boise State (Larry Jackson)
Arizona (Kenny Lofton) over Harvard (Eddie Grant)
Ohio State (Frank Howard) over Notre Dame (Ed Reulbach)

Round of 16
Southern (Lou Brock*) over Wisconsin (Addie Joss*)
Arizona (Kenny Lofton) over Ohio State (Frank Howard)

Regional Final
Arizona (Kenny Lofton) over Southern (Lou Brock*)

Round of 64
Kansas (Bob Allison) over Western Kentucky (Duane Kuiper)
North Carolina (B.J. Surhoff) over Villanova (Mickey Vernon)
VCU (Brandon Inge) over Akron (Mike Birkbeck)
Michigan (Barry Larkin*) over South Dakota State (Vean Gregg)
UCLA (Jackie Robinson*) over Minnesota (Dave Winfield*)
Florida (David Eckstein) over Northwestern State (Brian Lawrence)
San Diego State (Tony Gwynn*) over Oklahoma (Lindy McDaniel)
Georgetown (Doc White) over Florida Gulf (Chris Sale)

Round of 32
Kansas (Bob Allison) over North Carolina (B.J. Surhoff)
Michigan (Barry Larkin*) over VCU (Brandon Inge)
UCLA (Jackie Robinson*) over Florida (David Eckstein)
San Diego State (Tony Gwynn*) over Georgetown (Doc White)

Round of 16
Michigan (Barry Larkin*) over Kansas (Bob Allison)
UCLA (Jackie Robinson*) over San Diego State (Tony Gwynn*)

Regional Final
UCLA (Jackie Robinson*) over Michigan (Barry Larkin*)

Round of 64
Indiana (Ted Kluszewski) over LIU-Brooklyn (Sid Gordon)
North Carolina State (Dan Plesac) over Temple (Bobby Higginson)
California (Jeff Kent) over UNLV (Matt Williams)
Syracuse (Dave Giusti) over Montana (none)
Bucknell (Christy Mathewson*) over Butler (Doug Jones)
Davidson (Fred Anderson) over Marquette (Ralph Shinners)
Illinois (Lou Boudreau*) over Colorado (John Stearns)
Miami (Ryan Braun) over Pacific (Chase Headley)

Round of 32
Indiana (Ted Kluszewski) over North Carolina State (Dan Plesac)
California (Jeff Kent) over Syracuse (Dave Giusti)
Bucknell (Christy Mathewson*) over Davidson (Fred Anderson)
Illinois (Lou Boudreau*) over Miami (Ryan Braun)

Round of 16
California (Jeff Kent) over Indiana (Ted Kluszewski)
Bucknell (Christy Mathewson*) over Illinois (Lou Boudreau*)

Regional Final
Bucknell (Christy Mathewson*) over California (Jeff Kent)

Creighton (Bob Gibson) over Arizona (Kenny Lofton)
UCLA (Jackie Robinson) over Bucknell (Christy Mathewson)

Creighton over UCLA

* * * *

Anyone want to place a big bet on Creighton to win it all?

Wait a minute ... you can't leave it there! Explain some of your picks, pal.

OK, quickly here. Yes, Kenny Lofton was better than Hall of Famer Lou Brock (and Lofton was a point guard at Arizona, so it makes sense to give him a little extra credit as tie-breaker). And I'm taking Jackie Robinson over Christy Mathewson in the semifinals. Why? It's Jackie Robinson! He happened to play basketball as well at UCLA. And Bob Gibson was good enough at hoops to play for a time with the Harlem Globetrotters. Pretty cool that three of the final four guys played college basketball. Maybe Mathewson did as well, back when they still used peach baskets. As for Gibson over Robinson ... well, he was known as one of the greatest big-game pitchers of all time, so I have to take him in a one-game showdown. Plus, this thing isn't real anyway. I'm just making it up as I go along.

Hey, Gibson versus Koufax in the first round? Tough one!

Yeah, tough one. I was going to give the edge to Koufax (he was at Cincinnati for one year, which he attended on a basketball scholarship) since he beat Gibson four of the five times they started against each other (including two 1-0 shutouts), but in the end I went with Gibson since his career was longer. And he played for the Globetrotters.

Didn't Cap Anson and Carl Yastrzemski attend Notre Dame? Why didn't you pick one of them?

To my knowledge, neither actually played baseball there. In fact, Anson actually only attended the prep school boarding school at Notre Dame when he was about 14 or 15. And Yaz did receive a basketball scholarship to Notre Dame but left after a short time to pursue a professional baseball career.

You went with Robinson over Dave Winfield?

Difficult, but at his peak Jackie was more valuable. I could have gone with Paul Molitor to represent Minnesota, but gave the edge to Winfield since he was a basketball star as well, helping lead the Gophers to the 1972 Big Ten Title.

Any other big names you considered?

Hall of Famer Larry Doby briefly attended LIU-Brooklyn to play basketball for legendary coach Clair Bee, but I couldn't find any evidence he played baseball there. I chose Barry Larkin over Charlie Gehringer at Michigan. Gehringer said he never lettered in baseball at Michigan, although I'm not sure if he played at all. Anyway, it's choosing between Hall of Famers, so I went with the guy I know played baseball there.

Robinson over Tony Gwynn? You sure on that one?

Another tough one. Gwynn was an outstanding point guard at San Diego State, getting drafted by the Clippers in the 10th round the same day the Padres drafted him in the third round. Love all the basketball tie-wins here! Anyway, Gwynn chose wisely. You can make the argument for Gywnn, but Robinson's peak value was impressive, with seasons of 9.3, 9.3, 8.1, 7.1, 6.7 and 5.0 WAR. In 10 seasons in the majors, he averaged 5.9 WAR per season. Gwynn's best seasons were 8.3, 6.4, 6.1 and 5.3. Have to give it Robinson.

More hoops tie-ins!

Dick Groat was a two-time basketball All-American at Duke (he played one season in the NBA). ... Frank Howard was two-time All-Big Ten at Ohio State. ... Lou Boudreau was captain of the basketball team at Illinois. ... Robin Roberts attended Michigan State to play basketball and lettered three seasons and only tried out for baseball after his second year of hoops. Legend has it the coach put him at pitcher only because that's where the team needed help. I'm guessing the 95-mph fastball may have helped with that decision.
Sandy KoufaxFocus on Sport/Getty ImagesOver his final five seasons, Sandy Koufax went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA and three Cy Young Awards.
This is another follow-up to a debate that arose in a recent chat session: Which pitcher had the best five-year peak?

With Sandy Koufax having spent time at Dodgers camp this spring it seems like a perfect time for a list, doesn't it?

Well, I can never make things easy, so this will be a long list. I started with pitchers since 1950, primarily because I'm not as interested in comparing the peak of dead-ball era pitchers to the more modern game. Plus, we had to make this somewhat manageable. I'm going to use Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement to rank the pitchers and we'll have a vote at the end of the story.

The rules: It has to be a five-year consecutive peak -- not necessarily the best five seasons of a pitcher's career, but the best five years in a row. A pitcher can appear only once. That's it. I didn't include postseason results, but maybe should have. I looked at all the Hall of Fame starting pitchers from this era, some current guys and some others I wanted to include. The list is 41 pitchers, but this is not the best 41 peaks. I left out some good pitchers, such as Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Roy Oswalt and others. I do think I got all the guys who accumulated at least 30 WAR, however.

Jack Morris, 1983-1987: 20.2 WAR
We have to start somewhere.

Don Sutton, 1971-1975: 21.1
Despite winning 324 games, Sutton was a controversial selection to the Hall of Fame when he made it on his fifth year on the ballot. He was viewed as a compiler -- and, well, he sort of was, as his career-high WAR was 6.3 and he topped 5.0 just three times. From '71 to '75 he went 89-53 with a 2.63 ERA and 25 shutouts. Not bad for a compiler.

Early Wynn, 1952-1956: 22.3
In 1948, Wynn went 8-19 with a 5.82 ERA for the Senators, walking 94 and striking out 49. Bill Veeck of the Indians coveted Wynn anyway because of his good fastball, they got him along with Mickey Vernon in a trade, pitching coach Mel Harder taught Wynn a curve and slider, and he went on to average 18 wins per season in his nine years in Cleveland.

Whitey Ford, 1961-1965: 22.5
Here's a fair question: Is Whitey Ford overrated? Think about it: He pitched in the old Yankee Stadium, with its mammoth left-center power alley, certainly helpful to a left-handed pitcher; he didn't have to face the best team in the league, back when there were only eight teams in the league for much of his career; he won "only" 236 games. Of course, he was the ace of many World Series winners and was certainly clutch in the postseason. Ford's best five years came after Casey Stengel was fired after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series. Stengel was always cautious with Ford's workload, using him for more than 230 innings only once. But from '61 to '65 Ford averaged 260 innings and went 99-38, a .723 winning percentage.

John Smoltz, 1995-1999: 22.9
When Smoltz shows up on the Hall of Fame ballot, it will be interesting to see how he fares compared to Curt Schilling, two guys with similar career records (Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33; Schilling: 216-146, 3.46) and similar excellence in the postseason. The big difference between the two is Smoltz never had the string of dominant seasons like Schilling did.

Catfish Hunter, 1971-1975: 23.4
Made his mark by winning seven games in the postseason as the A's won three consecutive World Series from 1972 to 1974, but vastly overrated as a pitcher. This five-year peak accounts for two-thirds of his career WAR of 32.1

Tom Glavine, 1995-1999: 24.0
What were the odds that a 22-year-old pitcher who led the league with 17 losses and struck out only 84 batters in 195 innings would turn into a 300-game winner and future Hall of Famer? Lower than slim and none? Glavine's best season via WAR was his breakout campaign in 1991 (8.2) when he won his first Cy Young Award, but in many ways he was similar to Sutton, an amazingly durable pitcher who was very good for a long time.

Felix Hernandez, 2008-2012: 24.1
Working on four straight years of 230-plus innings and doesn't turn 27 until April. With his new contract, the Mariners are banking on many more of those 230-inning seasons in the future.

Nolan Ryan, 1973-1977: 26.0
His first big year came after the Mets traded him to the Angels in 1972 and he won 19 games with a 2.28 ERA, worth 5.8 WAR. Twenty years later he was 44 and posted a 5.0 WAR season for the Rangers. In between, he was a dynamic, often wild, always amazing, and certainly one-of-a-kind. His mid-'70s peak was dragged down by a couple mediocre seasons in '75 and '76 when he posted a 3.40 ERA, only league average for the time once you adjust for his home park.

Mike Mussina, 1999-2003: 26.7
His career WAR of 78.1 is higher than many Hall of Fame pitchers of this era. Best season came in 1992 (7.9 WAR), but he had seven seasons of 5.0 or higher, five of those coming with the Orioles.

Justin Verlander, 2008-2012: 26.7
This stretch includes Verlander's 2008 when he went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA, worth 1.5 WAR, so the total will jump up with a big 2013. Verlander led the league in losses that year, which prompts the question: How many Hall of Fame pitchers led their league in losses? Well, Phil Niekro managed to do it four straight seasons. Bert Blyleven did it at the end of his career in 1988, and future Hall of Famer Glavine did it the same season at the beginning of his career. Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts each did it twice. Early Wynn and Hal Newhouser. A couple of others. Not necessarily that unusual.

Steve Carlton
Rich Pilling/Getty ImagesSteve Carlton won four Cy Young Awards, but only one came during his best five-year WAR peak.
Steve Carlton, 1969-1973: 27.9
Maybe the most inconsistent great pitcher ever, this period includes Carlton's all-timer season in 1972 when he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a Phillies team that won only 59 games. No other pitcher won more than seven games, and he was a reliever. But Carlton followed that up with a 13-20, 3.90 year in 1973 and had some less-than-stellar years. His best stretch of consistent excellence actually came later in his career from 1980-1983, but his 11.7 WAR in '72 helps make this his best five-year stretch.

Don Drysdale, 1960-1964: 28.0
Dodger Stadium: 65-43, 2.19 ERA
L.A. Coliseum: 36-25, 3.14 ERA
Road games: 95-92, 3.41 ERA

Cliff Lee, 2008-2012: 28.9
Sort of the anti-Nolan Ryan. Whereas Ryan would never give in to a hitter, preferring to walk a batter rather than just throw something over the middle of the plate, Lee never wants to give up a free pass. Over this five-year stretch he has walked 165 batters; Ryan walked that many in a season three times.

Bret Saberhagen, 1985-1989: 29.1
Includes his Cy Young seasons in 1985 (6.9 WAR) and 1989 (9.2 WAR), but he couldn't stay healthy after that. Remember when Dave Stewart whined about not winning the Cy Young in 1989? Yeah, let's not get into that.

Jim Palmer, 1975-1979: 29.2
Palmer won 20 games eight times in nine seasons, but went 7-12 in 1974 right in the middle of that stretch to drag down his five-year peak (we ended up using a mediocre 10-6, 3.30 partial season in 1979 to round out our five years).

Frank Tanana, 1974-1978: 29.3
One of the best young pitchers ever, but hurt his arm in 1978. Returned as a finesse guy to have a long career.

David Cone, 1993-1997: 29.4
Only averaged 184 innings per season over this span thanks to the two strike-shortened seasons and an injury in 1996 that limited him to 11 starts, but went 64-35 with a 3.17 ERA during a high-scoring era and won the Cy Young Award in 1994.

CC Sabathia, 2007-2011: 29.7
Finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting all five seasons.

Rick Reuschel, 1976-1980: 29.8
A favorite of sabermetricians because of a career WAR of 64.6 that ranks 32nd all time among pitchers -- just ahead of Palmer, Sutton and Smoltz. Hmm. Reuschel's career record of 214-191 with a 3.37 ERA doesn't blow you away, but he spent his best years with mediocre Cubs teams in a hitter's park with bad defenses behind him. In these five years, he went 77-62 with a 3.33 ERA, topped by a 1977 season (20-10, 2.79 ERA) in which Baseball-Reference rates him not only as the best pitcher in the National League (9.2 WAR), but as the most valuable player. In comparing to Palmer, Baseball-Reference estimates Palmer's defense saved him 0.33 runs per nine innings over his career but cost Reuschel 0.18 runs per nine innings (a difference of about 14 runs over 250 innings). Maybe Reuschel would have won three Cy Young Awards if he had Mark Belanger and Paul Blair behind him.

Jim Bunning, 1963-1967: 30.2
After going 12-13 with a 3.88 ERA in 1963, the Tigers traded Bunning to the Phillies (for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton), figuring at 32 he was past his prime. He wasn't. Instead, Bunning reeled off four magnificent seasons with the Phillies, going 74-46 with a 2.48 ERA while averaging 298 innings per season.

Kevin Appier, 1992-1996: 30.9
Surprise! Went 69-43 with a 3.22 ERA, including a spectacular 9.0-WAR 1993 when he led the AL with a 2.56 ERA and allowed only eight home runs. Should have won the Cy Young Award that year.

Warren Spahn, 1949-1953: 32.2
This stretch includes four of his five highest WAR seasons, the other being his best one -- 9.1 in 1947. Two awesome Spahn stats: (1) From 1947 to 1963, the fewest innings he pitched was 245.2; (2) Led the NL in complete games seven consecutive seasons, from ages 36 to 42. Here's a third one: Led or tied for the NL lead in wins eight times.

[+] EnlargeDave Stieb
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesToronto ace Dave Stieb should have won a Cy Young Award or two in the early '80s.
Dave Stieb, 1981-1985: 32.4
Underrated in his own time, Baseball-Reference rates Stieb as the first- or second-best pitcher in the AL all five seasons in this stretch, but he never finished higher than fourth in the Cy Young voting because they were giving the awards to guys like Pete Vuckovich and LaMarr Hoyt.

Roy Halladay, 2007-2011: 32.5
Went 93-44 with a 2.80 ERA.

Bert Blyleven, 1971-1975: 33.5
Blyleven's run came from ages 20 to 24 and included a 325-inning season in 1973 when he was 22. Somehow his ligaments and tendons remained attached and didn't turn into soba noodles. You'll notice that Blyleven is the third pitcher with the exact same five-year dates; to a large extent this is because innings totals increased during this period. With more innings comes a higher WAR. In the 1960s, for example, there were 25 300-inning seasons; in the first five years of the '70s, there were 27. Or, really, innings started ramping up in the late '60s, when offense declined, leading to the lowering of the mound after 1968 and the advent of the designated hitter in the American League. To put a more dramatic spin on the increase in workload, from 1955 to 1964, there were seven 300-inning seasons (three by Drysdale); in the next 10 years, there 47 300-inning seasons.

Johan Santana, 2004-2008: 34.2
Won three ERA titles and two Cy Young Awards (and probably should have won a third) in this period.

Ferguson Jenkins, 1968-1972: 34.9
Went 107-71 with a 3.02 ERA, averaging 309 innings and winning the 1971 Cy Young Award. The Cubs were still pretty good in this era, finishing over .500 all five years, so this wasn't just a pitcher excelling despite a bad team behind him.

Curt Schilling, 2000-2004: 35.0
This run includes half a season in Philly, three and a half in Arizona and his first year in Boston, a year that culminated with a bloody sock and the lifting of a curse. Five-year totals: 85-40, 3.24, three Cy Young runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons, a 300-strikeout season (he had two more in 1997 and 1998) and two World Series championships. Schilling pounded the strike zone -- he averaged only 1.5 walks per nine innings -- and had a remarkable 316/33 strikeout/walk ratio in 2002.

Kevin Brown, 1996-2000: 35.4
Deserved to hang out on the Hall of Fame ballot longer than one year and have his case at least discussed. For a time, Brown was impressive as any pitcher of his generation, throwing that hard, mid-90s sinker. In this stretch he went 82-41 with a 2.51 ERA in the heart of the steroids era, averaging 242 innings, twice leading in ERA and pitching in two World Series. His seasonal WAR totals: 7.7, 6.7, 8.3, 5.9, 6.8.

Juan Marichal, 1962-1966: 35.4
Starting in 1963, he went 25-8, 21-8, 22-13, 25-6, 14-10, 26-9 and 21-11. You know how many Cy Young votes he received those seasons? None. His best five-year peak would be better if not for that 1967 season where he missed some time and made 26 starts. As is, he went 107-45 with a 2.37 ERA.

Wilbur Wood, 1970-1974: 36.7
Another early '70s guy, Wood's knuckleball allowed him to post some of the more freakishly awesome seasons in modern history, including 1971 when he had a 1.91 ERA in 334 innings, and 1972 when he started 49 games and pitched 376.2 innings. Those two seasons were worth 11.5 and 10.3 WAR. (He slacked off in 1973 and started only 48 games and threw 359.1 innings.)

10. Gaylord Perry, 1972-1976: 37.0
OK, we're into the top 10, so we'll start numbering the countdown. If you're getting the idea that the early '70s were to pitching what the late '90s and early aughts were to hitting, then give yourself a gold star. Perry's 1972 with Cleveland was an amazing season: 24-16, 1.92 ERA, 29 complete games, 342 innings, worth 10.4 WAR. From May 6 to Aug. 5 he started 22 games and completed 19, posting a 1.55 ERA. Here's the kicker: He averaged more than nine innings per start in that stretch (one of his non-complete games was a 13-inning scoreless effort).

Five-year totals: 97-79, 2.83 ERA, 313 innings per season.

9. Tom Seaver, 1969-1973: 37.4
Went 103-51 with a 2.35 ERA. Followed this up with another five-year stretch valued at 30.2 WAR.

8. Bob Gibson, 1966-1970: 38.0
This period includes his memorable 1968 season when he went 22-8 with a 1.12 ERA, a year that included a 47-inning scoreless streak and one period where he allowed two earned runs in 92 innings. No wonder baseball lowered the height of the mound from 15 to 10 inches for 1969. That season was worth 11.1 WAR, and he followed that up with two more pretty good ones: 10.3 WAR in 1969 and 8.4 in 1970, when he won another Cy Young Award. If not for a broken leg that forced him to miss two months in 1967, he'd be even higher on the list. (Or if we included hitting; he accumulated 3.3 WAR at the plate as well, and had 19 RBIs in 1970.) Five-year totals: 99-48, 2.30, 27 shutouts.

7. Phil Niekro, 1974-1978: 38.6
This is never mentioned as a great peak since Niekro's record was just 87-77 (pitching for bad Braves teams in the post-Aaron era) and his ERA was 3.16. He even led the league in losses in 1977 and 1978 (and would do so again in 1979 and 1980, joining Pedro Ramos as the only pitchers to do that four consecutive years). His ERA+ of 127, for example, was much lower than Gibson' five-year mark of 153. What Niekro did was throw a lot of innings -- 302.1, 275.2, 270.2, 330.1 and 334.1 -- and that workload led to WAR totals of 7.5, 6.5, 6.4, 8.6 and 9.6.

6. Sandy Koufax, 1962-1966: 39.1
Only sixth? For a pitcher who went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA, won the NL ERA crown all five years and had seasons of 25-5, 26-8 and 27-9? He won an MVP Award and finished second in the voting two other years, while winning three Cy Young Awards (when they gave it to just one pitcher in all of baseball). So why only sixth? Well, there's no doubting Koufax's domination -- he, Gibson and Wood are the only two pitchers with two seasons of 10+ WAR during their peak runs. But a couple of things: (1) Dodger Stadium was a huge pitcher's park in those days, with a notoriously high mound (Koufax had a 1.37 ERA at home and 2.57 on the road, not that there's anything wrong with 2.57), so his numbers are knocked down a bit to adjust for that; (2) He missed time in 1962 (184 innings) and 1964 (223 innings), so that cuts into his value, at least compared to the other three seasons.

5. Greg Maddux, 1992-1996: 39.2
This is when he won his four consecutive Cy Young Awards. Five-year math: 90-40, 2.13 ERA, 191 ERA+, single-season WAR of 8.9, 5.5, 8.3, 9.5, 7.0 (followed by seasons of 7.6 and 6.3). And remember, his value was held down by the shortened seasons of 1994 and '95, when he had ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63.

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesThe young Roger Clemens wasn't too shabby.
4. Roger Clemens, 1986-1990: 40.1
The numbers: 100-42, 2.71 ERA, 156 ERA+, 256 innings per season, 57 complete games, 23 shutouts, two Cy Young Awards (and was robbed in 1990). Also had 33.7 WAR from 1996 to 2000 and six other seasons of 5+ WAR not included in either of those two stretches.

3. Robin Roberts, 1950-1954: 40.5
Now this is what you call a peak: 115-64, 2.87 ERA, 138 ERA+, 135 complete games, 327 innings per season, seasons of 7.0, 7.6, 7.9, 9.4 and 8.6 WAR. By the 1950s, innings pitched totals had to started to decline, especially compared to the dead-ball guys, but not for Roberts. There were 10 300-inning seasons in the decade and Roberts had six of them. From his autobiography (tip of the cap to the "Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers"): "I was mainly a one-pitch pitcher, although sometimes I mixed in a curveball when I was ahead in the count. I could put my fastball where I wanted it, but I was sometimes criticized for not pitching inside more. ... I just went after people with my best stuff and let the batters hit it if they could."

Roberts threw very hard -- Bill James says he threw about as hard or possibly harder than Bob Feller or Bob Gibson or any of those big guys. Because his control was so good, he relied primarily on that one pitch. (He did give up a lot of home runs.) Outside of this stretch, Roberts had only one more season rated above 5.0 WAR, and one other above 4.0.

2. Pedro Martinez, 1997-2001: 41.4
Let's take these seasons one-by-one:

--1997: 17-8, 1.90 ERA, 8.7 WAR, 241.1 IP, 158 H, 305 SO, won Cy Young Award. Led NL in ERA and complete games (13).
--1998: 19-7, 2.89 ERA, 6.9 WAR, second in Cy Young voting in first year with Red Sox, struck out 251 in 233.2 innings.
--1999: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 9.5 WAR, won Cy Young, second in MVP voting, 313 SO in 213.1 innings (13.2 per nine).
--2000: 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 11.4 WAR, won Cy Young, somehow only fifth in MVP voting, 284 SO in 217 IP, opponents hit .167 off him -- .167! This isn't a closer we're talking about here. .167.
--2001: 7-3, 2.39 ERA. Injured, made only 18 starts.

It's too bad we couldn't sub in his 2002 (20-4, 2.26) or 2003 (14-4, 2.22). Great fastball, the best changeup of all time, command, varied his arm angles, mixed in a cut fastball, slider and curveball, and wasn't afraid to deliver some chin music every now and then. Only thing he lacked was the durability to rack up a lot of innings.

Five-year totals: 84-28, 2.18 ERA, 215 ERA+, 1,316 SO in 1,022 innings.

1. Randy Johnson, 1998-2002: 42.2
As awesome as Pedro was, the Unit rates even higher, which tells us something about how good he was. Five-year totals: 100-38, 2.63 ERA, 174 ERA+, four Cy Young Awards, three ERA titles, 41 complete games, 17 shutouts, five 300-strikeout seasons, 1,746 SO in 1,274 innings.


Which pitcher had the best five-year peak?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,858)

Individual seasons: 5.4, 8.8, 7.8, 9.8, 10.4. In fact, his five-year peak could have been higher had he not sulked his way through the first half of 1998 with the Mariners before finally getting traded to the Astros (where he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts).

On a rate basis, Pedro was a little better, as reflected in his better ERA+. He also had to face DH lineups for four of his five seasons. But Johnson was dominant and durable -- he pitched 252 more innings than Pedro in his five-year peak and that puts him at No. 1.

* * * *

Of course, you don't have to rely on WAR for your own personal rankings. My top five would probably go Johnson, Martinez, Koufax, Maddux, Clemens, with apologies to Bob Gibson.

In the poll, we can only include five names. I apologize to Robin Roberts fans for leaving him out despite his No. 3 ranking above. Like Phil Niekro, his value comes as much from a huge workload as being a great pitcher. But he wasn't dominant in the same sense as some of these other pitchers -- he never led his league in ERA, for example, and his ERA+ during his five-year peak was 138, well below the others. So he got the boot from the poll.

Who do you have?

The best days of pitching in history

June, 22, 2012
A week ago, Matt Cain threw his perfect game. R.A. Dickey tossed the first of his back-to-back one-hitters. And Lance Lynn struck out nearly half of the 26 batters he faced. It might have been the best day of pitching in baseball history.

That all depends, of course, on how one defines it. First, let’s review how it all happened.

Dickey began by baffling the Rays at Tropicana Field with his signature knuckleball. Only a handful of misplays on defense -- David Wright’s throwing error and Mike Nickeas' two (understandable) passed balls -- marred the line score. If not for an infield hit that hopped to Wright slower than a Dickey knuckler, the Mets hurler would have had a no-hitter.

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, the Cardinals’ Lynn was busy striking out 12 of the 26 batters he faced. That’s not bad for a pitcher about whose stuff general manager John Mozeliak once said "doesn’t necessarily overwhelm you" and who was summoned to join the team’s rotation this year only because of Chris Carpenter’s injury. But like Dickey, the right-hander’s outing wasn’t a fluke: Lynn has been among the league’s best pitchers as Dickey, Cain and Lynn rank seventh, eighth and 10th, respectively, in the majors in Fielding-Independent Pitching.

But Cain saved the best for last. Just about the time that Lynn departed the Cardinals-White Sox game, Cain was warming up to take the hill at AT&T Park for the Giants’ game against the Astros. When he had finished dispatching his 27th batter, Houston’s Jason Castro, for the final out, he had thrown the season’s second perfect game.

As an aside, although some observers have remarked on the fate of pitchers in their outings following their perfect games, what’s interesting about both Lynn and Cain is how they performed immediately prior to their outstanding games. Dickey spun -- perhaps that’s not the right word, given his repertoire -- a four-hit shutout over seven-plus innings, striking out eight. In his previous start, Lynn established a career high in strikeouts with 11. Six days later, he broke it with his 12-K night. Similarly, Cain was ramping up for his perfecto with nine strikeouts and only one walk over seven shutout innings.

So back to the claim: Was this triumvirate of pitched games the best ever?

In terms of stinginess, Cain and Dickey’s one hit allowed between them was not unique. Baseball has had pitchers toss a no-no and a complete-game one-hitter in the same day before:

In probably the most brilliantly pitched single game (in 1995, members of the Society for American Baseball Research voted it as the greatest game ever pitched) the Cubs’ Bob Hendley would’ve made headlines on Sept. 9, 1965 for his one-hitter had it not been for the fact that his opposite number, Sandy Koufax, was perfect. Although Pascual Perez’s no-hitter was a rain-shortened five-inning affair, not one but two pitchers -- Mark Langston and Dave Stieb -- joined him on Sept. 24, 1988 with one-hitters.

And of course baseball has actually had two no-hitters in the same day. So for a two-pitcher performance in a single day, it’s hard to beat Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Stewart back on June 29, 1990.

If it’s strikeouts you like, three pitchers with at least 12 strikeouts each, while impressive, isn’t a first, either. Dennys Reyes (yes, that Dennys Reyes), Darryl Kile and Curt Schilling were the last ones to do it, on Aug. 20, 1998.

The estimable Dave Cameron at FanGraphs.com used Game Score, a Bill James invention, to find some of the best recent pitching combinations on a single night and found that the dual performances of Cain and Dickey ranked among the best since 1992.

Another way to assess pitching performances is through fielding-independent pitching statistics, such as Defense-Independent Pitching (DIPS) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). Fielding-Independent Game Score (FIGS), like Game Score, attempts to quantify the success of a pitcher’s start. It differs from Game Score in that its formula is comprised mainly of fielding-independent statistics, like strikeouts, walks and home runs.

The game has changed over the years, and with it pitching (and hitting) styles, so that fielding-independent approaches might not be as valid historically. But going back to 1973 -- the year in which the designated hitter came into being -- the Cain-Dickey games rank as the top. My method for determining best pairs is to take the highest minimum of the two scores in the pair. So for example, when Cain and Dickey had scores of 88 and 82, respectively, their pair score is 82.

The thing about the June 13 games was that adding Lynn’s as the third game makes the combined low score for the three pitchers a still-amazing 77. Since 1973, the closest trio in terms of FIGS was Rich Harden (78), A.J. Burnett (77) and Ricky Nolasco (76) on Aug. 19, 2008.

Was June 13, 2012 the best day of pitching in major-league history? As with any legendary baseball argument, it comes down to the stats to which you give the most credence. For those who prefer fielding-independent pitching stats, like me, who claim June 13, 2012 as best, you’ve got a pretty strong case.

Matt Philip writes for Fungoes, a blog about the Cardinals.
Barry Bonds, Randy JohnsonAP Photo/Eric RisbergBarry Bonds hit three home runs in 49 at-bats against left-handed power thrower Randy Johnson.
The other night I tweeted something like, "Would love to see Aroldis Chapman face 2001 Barry Bonds." On the Baseball Today podcast, we had a reader ask us about best pitcher-hitter matchups to watch for over the next few years.

With that prompt, I'd thought it would be fun to list 10 of my all-time favorite matchups I would have wanted to see ... although a few of them are recent enough that some of us did see them. With help from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org, we can even find results of the matchups.

Ty Cobb versus Walter Johnson (.366, 1 HR)
According to researcher Terry Cullen, Cobb hit .366 in his career off Johnson (120-for-328) -- pretty amazing considering Cobb's average against all pitchers was ... .366. While Cobb reportedly said Johnson's fastball "looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed," he certainly didn't have issues hitting it. Cobb knew Johnson was too nice to pitch inside, so he'd crowd the plate. "I saw him wince when he fired one close to somebody's head, and he used to tell me that he was afraid someday that he would kill a man with that fireball," Cobb once said. "So I used to cheat. I'd crowd that plate so far that I was actually sticking my toes on it when I was facing Johnson. I knew he was timid about hitting a batter, and when he saw me crowding the plate he'd steer his pitches a little bit wide. Then with two balls and no strikes, he'd ease up a bit to get it over. That's the Johnson pitch I hit. I was depending on him to be scared of hitting me." Now, that's what Cobb said; seems a little too simple though, doesn't it? Why didn't every hitter do that? There's no doubt the approach helped Cobb, but unlike most hitters, he could hit Johnson's fastball. (By the way, his only home run off Johnson was an inside-the-parker.)

Babe Ruth versus Lefty Grove (incomplete)
Some say Grove was the best pitcher of all time -- 300 wins with a .680 winning percentage, nine ERA titles, seven consecutive strikeout titles. Wouldn't you love to see Ruth taking a big cut against Grove's legendary fastball? I couldn't find Ruth career's numbers against Grove, but he did hit nine home runs off him, tied with Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg for the most against Grove. In the data Retrosheet has available, Ruth hit .300/.349/.438 with three home runs in 80 at-bats, six walks and 27 K's.

Ted Williams versus Bob Feller (.347/.467/.677, 9 HR in 124 ABs)
Those numbers are from Retrosheet, but are incomplete. From 1948 to 1956, Williams crushed Feller -- .389/.511/.833, with eight home runs in 72 at-bats. So, at least initially, Feller fared better before Williams started dominating. Williams did call Feller the best pitcher he ever faced.

Willie Mays versus Bob Gibson (.196/.315/.304, 3 HR in 92 ABs)
With his fastball/slider combo, you might expect that Gibson was tough on right-handed batters and you'd be correct: right-handers hit .204 against him, left-handers .257. Basically, he owned Mays, who struck out 30 times in 108 plate appearances and had just four extra-base hits. In James Hirsch's biography of Mays he tells the story of Gibson once visiting Mays' home wearing glasses. Gibson didn't wear them when he pitched. "You wear glasses? Man, you're going to kill somebody one of those days," Mays said. Hirsch writes that later in his career Mays started conveniently scheduling off days against hard-throwers like Gibson and Tom Seaver, and that he always preferred off-speed pitches to fastballs.

Hank Aaron versus Bob Gibson (.215/.278/.423, 8 HR in 163 ABs)
Aaron had a little more success than Mays. So who did hit well against Gibson? Billy Williams hit .259 but with 10 home runs in 174 at-bats and 24 walks against 14 strikeouts. Richie Hebner had a 1.127 OPS against Gibson in 74 PAs, batting .387. Darrell Evans, facing mostly the late-career Gibson, never struck out against him in 35 PAs, drawing 11 walks and and hitting three home runs.

Willie Mays versus Sandy Koufax (.278/.426/.536, 5 HR in 97 ABs)
Of course, Mays faced the young Koufax, and then the unhittable Koufax. During Koufax's 1962-1966 run, when he led the National League each season in ERA, Mays still hit a respectable .242/.373/.484, with more walks than strikeouts.

Hank Aaron versus Sandy Koufax (.362/.431/.647, 7 HR in 116 ABs)
Of 73 players with at least 40 career plate appearances against Koufax, only five hit .300. Most of that damage was against pre-'62 Koufax, as Aaron hit .259 from '62 to '66.

Mike Schmidt versus Nolan Ryan (.179/.405/.482, 5 HR in 56 ABs)
Ryan came over to the Astros in 1980, the year Schmidt won the first of his three MVP trophies. In the ultimate battle of power hitter versus power pitcher, the results were perhaps what you would expect: Schmidt hit for a low average, but got on base and popped home runs at a pretty good ratio.

Barry Bonds versus Greg Maddux (.265/.376/.508, 9 HR in 132 ABs)
The two came up in 1986, so it's not surprising that Maddux faced Bonds more than any hitter in his career. How good was Bonds? Even the pitcher with pinpoint control walked him 24 times in 157 PAs with just 16 strikeouts. Bonds' nine home runs off Maddux are the most he hit off one pitcher, tied with John Smoltz. Bonds had an .883 OPS against Maddux, but 1.138 against Smoltz and .992 against Tom Glavine. Who did own Bonds? He went 3-for-33 off Chuck McElroy, with just one walk (although two home runs).

Barry Bonds versus Randy Johnson (.306/.452/.551, 3 HR in 49 ABs)
Johnson had 37 intentional walks in his career; 34 were to right-handed batters. Two were to Barry Bonds. The other? Jeremy Hermida. Go figure. The first walk to Bonds came in 2003, runner on second, no outs, sixth inning, Diamondbacks down 2-0. The second one came in 2004 and is more interesting: 2004, game tied in the fifth, runners on first and second. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a fly ball to deep left-center that Luis Gonzalez dropped; Steve Finley was then credited with an error on the throw in as all three runners scored. The walk to Hermida came in 2008, in a game Hermida was batting eighth. Maybe that's when Johnson knew he was nearing the end.

What are some of your favorite matchups?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

Verlander's third no-no near-miss

May, 19, 2012
Justin Verlander very nearly pulled off a no-hitter against the Pirates, which would have been his third career no-hitter. Two outs shy of the feat, the Pirates’ Josh Harrison waved his bat in time to flick a soft liner up the middle, thwarting the top gun’s bid for history.

If Verlander had pulled it off, he would have joined a very short list of people with more than two career no-nos, a select group populated by just five other men in baseball history: Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four), and Cy Young, Bob Feller and Larry Corcoran with three apiece.

On a visceral level, it’s a group he belongs to, but it’s also one that might really become just a list of two men before Verlander’s done with it. Not because Verlander’s a 100 percent lock to throw another no-no (although these days, would you bet against him?). Rather, as a matter of his ability in the face of a time when -- even if you consider this “Year of the Pitcher 3,” even while strikeouts are at all-time highs -- it still isn’t that easy to dominate, not like this. But before all is said and done, it shouldn’t surprise anybody if the top of this list might be just Nolan Ryan and Justin Verlander before Verlander is done with it.

That isn’t meant to take anything from the other men on this list. However, as a matter of simple fact, they were competing at different times, confronting very different challenges in very different competitive environments. Corcoran was throwing from 10 feet closer to home plate, back under the old pre-60-feet-6-inches rules in the 19th century, and in all-white leagues. Cy Young was pitching during the dead ball era, when he was throwing something dark, lumpy, and vaguely baseball-ish. Feller threw two of his no-hitters before integration -- a cause that he bravely championed before it was an accomplished fact -- was at long last achieved. Koufax had the high mound of the 1960s going for him, and that plus the Dodgers’ move to pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium helped him as he mastered his incredible talents for overpowering people.

Pitching in today’s game, Verlander doesn’t have any of those things going for him, any more than Ryan did during his remarkable career. Take it from somebody stupefied as a youngster that Mike Warren had no-hit the White Sox back in 1983: You can’t predict no-hitters from anyone. But if Verlander was to add one, let alone two no-hitters on his career, wouldn’t that seem like a matter of his talent delivering its due?

On the other hand, Verlander is pitching at a time when there are other advantages and disadvantages. Interleague play gives you a shot at pitching to opponents who might only know you from spring-training scrimmages and "Baseball Tonight" highlights. Only four Pirates in Friday night’s lineup had ever faced Verlander in a game that counted: Andrew McCutchen, Casey McGehee, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones.

Also, it probably didn’t hurt Verlander any that this was an interleague game. The extent to which some teams are less ready than others for interleague play might be best reflected in their lineup choices. Going up against Verlander, who was the Pirates' designated hitter? None other than Harrison, who came into the game with a .256/.275/.436 line on the year. In an increasingly desperate yet fruitless pursuit of runs, the Bucs have sat Opening Day left fielder Alex Presley, on the off-chance that getting journeymen McGehee and Jones into the lineup simultaneously will help matters. You can’t really blame Verlander for mowing the Pirates down; pitting Pittsburgh against one of baseball’s best starters has “historic result” potential any written all over it.

But even saying that takes nothing away from Verlander. The Pirates are a big league team, and it isn’t like anyone in their lineup clearly doesn’t belong in the major leagues. McGehee had homered off Verlander before; McCutchen had ripped a couple of doubles.

Those four Pirates who had faced Verlander before were a combined 5-for-14 against him coming in -- and fat lot of good that did them, because he was on. Even in an age armed with advanced scouting and video-enhanced batting cages for virtual at-bats, when a guy this good is on, let’s face it, you’re off. And knowing all that we do about how hard it is to no-hit anybody even once, that's as beautiful a thing as the diamond can give us, on this or any night.

Kerry Wood and SonJerry Lai/US PresswireOn his very last day at the office, Kerry Wood took his son to work.

In the 1963 World Series, Sandy Koufax destroyed the Yankees in two starts, striking out 15 hitters in Game 1 and then winning 2-1 in Game 4. The Yankees, winners of 104 games, lost in four straight, prompting Yogi Berra to say about Koufax, "I can understand how he won 25. What I can't understand is how he lost five."

That's sort of how I feel whenever I watch Roy Halladay pitch. He's a completely different breed of pitcher than Koufax, who combined a blazing fastball with a big curveball. Koufax had that classic 1950s style windup where he reared back and came straight over the top with a big stride. Whereas he basically relied on two pitches, Halladay has an apparently endless arsenal of pitches, from two-seam and four-seam fastballs, to a cutter, curveball, splitter, kitchen sink, garbage disposal and weed whacker. Dizzy Dean used to name his pitches; maybe Halladay should do the same. Halladay is more scrunched up in his delivery and lands on a stiffer front leg and doesn't match Koufax's raw power, but somehow throws his pitches with exacting precision even though they move and dart all over the place.

He's really something to watch, but I suspect you know that already. From 1962 to 1966, when he won five straight NL ERA titles, Koufax had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.57. Halladay has topped that in six different seasons and will likely make it seven this year considering he's walked just one batter in his first two starts. And keep this in mind: While offense levels have certainly dropped in recent seasons, they're still not quite as low as they were in the 1960s when Koufax was at his peak. From '62 to '66 the National League hit .253 and homered every 42 at-bats. Last year, the NL hit .253 and homered every 38 at-bats. But that was the worst offensive output during Halladay's career; it's been higher in other seasons. Koufax also had the advantage of pitching in Dodger Stadium, arguably the best pitcher's park in the league back then with its infamous high mound. Koufax's curveball must have seemed that it was dropping straight down from the top of Sulfir Canyon.

Halladay is on the mound Monday night to face Tim Lincecum, the first matchup of two-time Cy Young winners since Johan Santana and Randy Johnson in 2009. Lincecum, although right-handed, modeled his own delivery on Koufax's. While he's listed at just 5-foot-11, Lincecum makes up for it with a long stride. As Tom Verducci wrote in Sports Illustrated in 2008, the average pitcher's stride is 77 to 87 percent of his height; Lincecum's is 129 percent. He learned that mechanical marvel from his father, who taught his son by studying videos of Koufax.

While Halladay has allowed one run over his first two starts, Lincecum has struggled, giving up 11 runs in 7.2 innings and he's coming off the shortest outing his career.

"Eliminating all doubts in myself, that's the biggest thing I can do,” he told the local media. “Just go out there and have confidence in my stuff. … Whether it's 85 or 95 (mph), you've got to have commitment in it, and I think that's the biggest difference in having that mental edge."

It seems weird to say a mid-April start by a two-time Cy Young winner is an important game, but it feels like it. Giants fans are worried about his velocity and fastball command; maybe it's just early season panic, maybe the worry is legitimate. Maybe it will just take a start against the great Halladay to turn his season around.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
CardinalsSteve Mitchell/US PresswireThe St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their 11th World Series title, beating the Texas Rangers in Game 7.

ST. LOUIS -- You fight through the monotony of fielding practice in spring training. The sore elbows, the back pain, the starts when you leave your fastball in the bullpen, and maybe a surgery or two at some point in your career.

Chris Carpenter missed an entire season with shoulder surgery. He missed another season after injuring his elbow on Opening Day and undergoing Tommy John surgery. When the St. Louis Cardinals reached the World Series in 2004, he couldn’t pitch due to nerve problem in his right biceps.

A couple days ago, Tony La Russa wasn’t sure if Carpenter would be able to pitch Game 7. For one thing, the Cardinals had to win Game 6. La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan didn’t officially decide to go with Carpenter until Friday, going with their staff ace on three days’ rest.

There was a time, of course, when that wouldn’t have been a big deal. Christy Mathewson once tossed three shutouts in the World Series over a six-day span. Sandy Koufax pitched a three-hit shutout in 1965 on two days’ rest. Jack Morris’ famous 10-inning shutout in 1991 came on three days’ rest.

[+] EnlargeChris Carpenter
Jeff Curry/US PresswireOn short rest, Chris Carpenter gave up two runs on six hits in six innings to win the clincher.
But Carpenter had only done that once before in his career -- three weeks ago, in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. He lasted three innings. It wasn’t pretty. He said he’d learned a few things from that experience. La Russa made the call: Go with the big guy, the 6-foot-6, 36-year-old veteran from New Hampshire with a scruffy growth of beard, and on this day, in the biggest game of his career, a toolbox full of pitches.

The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers 6-2 in a Game 7 of the World Series that couldn’t match the impossible drama and excitement of Game 6. The Rangers played hard, but their pitching staff simply ran out of gas, exemplified by the Cardinals’ fifth inning, when they scored two runs without getting the ball out of the infield -- without even getting a hit. Rangers pitchers walked three batters and hit two more, turning a 3-2 game into a 5-2 deficit. Critics will put a lot of blame on manager Ron Washington for the Rangers’ defeat, and deservedly so, but in the end the Rangers simply couldn’t throw enough strikes and couldn’t get the final out they needed in Game 6.

On this night, however, the Cardinals made the big plays: David Freese with another clutch hit, a two-out stinging double into the gap in left-center to score two runs in the first (giving the World Series MVP a postseason record 21 RBIs); Allen Craig with a go-ahead home run in the third, fighting back from a 1-2 count to hit a 3-2 Matt Harrison fastball into the St. Louis bullpen in right-center; Craig later robbing Nelson Cruz of a home run.

But the key was Carpenter. "Dave had a real heart-to-heart with him to gauge just how ready he was to pitch just physically, not mentally, but physically," La Russa said before the game. He then added, "The last thing is ... what he means to our club. I think our guys feel better about him starting than anybody."

Carpenter pitched into the seventh and became the first pitcher to win two do-or-die games in one postseason, after also winning Game 5 of the division series. No, it won't quite go down alongside Mathewson and Koufax and Morris, but it was a terrific effort, especially since he almost didn’t get out of the first inning. The first four batters all reached base as Carpenter fell behind each hitter. But Ian Kinsler slipped while taking an aggressive secondary lead and Yadier Molina picked him off. The play proved enormously costly when Elvis Andrus walked and Josh Hamilton and Michael Young doubled to right field. Carpenter struck out Adrian Beltre and got Cruz to ground, maybe the two key at-bats of the game.

From there, the St. Louis' bullpen mowed down the Rangers, Busch Stadium getting louder and louder with each out, erupting when Arthur Rhodes retired Yorvit Torrealba and Octavio Dotel struck out Kinsler, raising the decibel level when Lance Lynn fanned Beltre to end the eighth, the anticipation building into a loud chant of "Let's Go Cards!" in the ninth and the crowd releasing into a deafening explosion of joy as Jason Motte recorded the final out on a fly ball to left field.

Maybe Game 7 was over as soon Freese hit his home run onto the grass in Game 6. Many people said it was. I didn't think that was the case; I thought the Rangers had a chance. You make your own breaks, but the Rangers sure didn't catch any: Craig steps in for the injured Matt Holliday and has a great game; that 3-2 pitch to Molina with the bases loaded in the fifth could have been called a strike and changed the momentum of the game.

But give credit to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that could have given up in early September. A team that made the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, that needed to beat Roy Halladay just to reach the National League Championship Series, that was down to its final strike twice in Game 6, and figured out how to win the World Series. A worthy champion and one to be remembered.

* * * *

Of course, this World Series will also be remembered for the many questionable decisions by Washington, moves that led to the Rangers suffering one of the most painful defeats in World Series history. Before we get to that, keep this in mind: Rangers pitchers walked 41 batters, a World Series record worst. They walked six more in Game 7. Too many walks, too many walks.

  • Washington didn't help matters by issuing another ill-timed intentional walk. I said it all series long: the intentional walks were going to come back to haunt the Rangers. A free pass to Lance Berkman hurt the Rangers in Game 6. In Game 7, Washington walked Freese with runners on second and third, which was followed by Scott Feldman's walk to Molina and then C.J. Wilson hitting Rafael Furcal to force in another run.
  • I didn't necessarily have a problem with using Feldman to start the fifth. The best option might have been Mike Adams, but Washington hasn't shown a lot of confidence in Adams' ability to go more than three outs. He was hoping Feldman could get him a couple innings. (Needless to say, using Alexi Ogando would have been a likely disaster).
  • Washington's decision to have Andrus bunt in the top of the fifth after Kinsler's leadoff single was odd. Down by one on the road, top of the order, giving up an out? Play for one, get none. Carpenter got Hamilton to pop out to third on a 3-1 fastball -- Freese made a nice catch as he leaned over the dugout railing and stumbled to the ground -- and struck out Young on a 1-2 cut fastball.
  • In the bottom of the fourth, St. Louis up 3-2, Molina and Furcal singled with one out, bringing up Skip Schumaker and Carpenter. Washington had Feldman warming up, but it made sense to leave in Harrison at that point since Schumaker is a career .210 hitter against left-handers. Schumaker grounded out to first to move up the runners, leaving La Russa with a choice: Hit for Carpenter? There were calls on Twitter to do so. At that point he’d thrown 63 pitches, 34 for strikes, but had retired 11 of the previous 14 Rangers hitters. I thought it was too early remove Carpenter, who had settled down, and especially considering La Russa's own bullpen didn't have a lot of pitches left in it.
  • In the seventh inning, Albert Pujols came up for maybe the final at-bat of his Cardinals career. Oddly, there was no chant, no standing ovation, just a bunch of flashes going off as he struck out. The crowd did stand and applaud as he walked back to the dugout after striking out.

A history of World Series Game 7

October, 28, 2011
Jack MorrisAP Photo/Mark DuncanJack Morris threw all 10 innings in Minnesota's 1-0 win against Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 Series.
There have been 35 Game 7s played in the World Series. They provide many of the most indelible moments in the sport’s long history: Bill Mazeroski’s home run, Jack Morris’ shutout, Luis Gonzalez’s blooper, Joaquin Andujar going nuts.

Now we have 36, the first one since the Angels beat the Giants in 2002. As Matt Harrison prepares to face Chris Carpenter, here is an abbreviated history of Game 7s, which usually feature three primary ingredients:

1. They are close. Thirteen of the 35 games were decided by one run and another seven by two runs.

2. Good pitching. There have been nine shutouts altogether, and in the past five Game 7s, no team has scored more than four runs and the team average over those five is just 2.2 runs per game.

3. The home team does well -- at least recently. It has won the past eight Game 7s. The last road team to win was the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Best pitching performances
1. Jack Morris, Twins, 1991: Ten scoreless innings. Game score: 84.

2. Sandy Koufax, Dodgers, 1965: Pitching on two days’ rest, pitched a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts. Game score: 88.

3. Ralph Terry, Yankees, 1962: A four-hit shutout to win 1-0. Game score: 83.

4. Johnny Podres, Dodgers, 1955. Scattered eight hits, but blanked the mighty Yankees to finally deliver a title to the Bums. Game score: 73.

5. Bret Saberhagen, Royals, 1985. The youngest pitcher to start a Game 7 (21 years, 1999 days), he only struck out two, but threw just 92 pitches in limiting the Cardinals to five hits and no walks in an 11-0 victory. Game score: 79.

Best hitting performances
1. Yogi Berra, Yankees, 1956. Only five times has a player driven in four runs in a Game 7 -- Berra and teammate Bill Skowron each did it twice, and Detroit's Paul Richards did it in 1945. Only once has a player hit two home runs, and that was Berra in 1956. He hit two-run homers in the first and third innings to stake the Yankees to a 4-0 lead, added two walks and another run scored.

2. Willie Stargell, Pirates, 1979: Went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run homer in the sixth that gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead in an eventual 4-1 victory.

3. Max Carey, Pirates, 1925: Went 4-for-5 with three doubles, three runs and two RBIs in Pittsburgh's 9-7 win.

4. Ken Boyer, Cardinals, 1964: Singled and scored in the fourth, doubled and scored in the fifth, homered in the seventh.

5. Bucky Harris, Senators, 1924: Went 3-for-5 with a home run and two-run single in the eighth that tied the game.

Managerial blunders
1. Bucky Harris, Senators, 1925: Left Walter Johnson in to surrender 15 hits and nine runs -- including five over the final two innings in a 9-7 loss.

2. John McNamara, Red Sox, 1986: The game after Calvin Schiraldi helped blow Boston's 10th-inning lead, McNamara brought Schiraldi back in with the game tied in the seventh inning. He immediately gave up a home run to Ray Knight, two more hits and a wild pitch and left after recording just one out (and that was on a sacrifice bunt).

3. Dick Williams, Red Sox, 1967: He brought back ace Jim Lonborg on two days' rest and left him to give up 10 hits and seven runs in six innings.

4. Charlie Grimm, Cubs, 1945: Hank Borowy had started Game 5 and pitched four innings in relief to win Game 6, but Grimm went to the well once too often. Borowy couldn't retire a batter as the Tigers scored five runs in the top of the first.

5. Whitey Herzog, Cardinals, 1985: The Royals were already on their way to an 11-0 blowout, but Herzog never should have brought in mercurial right-hander Joaquin Andujar in relief. Andujar exploded twice at home-plate umpire Don Denkinger, leading to him and Herzog getting ejected in an embarrassing meltdown.

Managerial strokes of genius
1. Walter Alston, Dodgers, 1965: Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale? Alston chose Koufax on two days' rest over the more rested Drysdale and Koufax pitched a three-hit shutout.

2. Tom Kelly, Twins, 1991: He left Morris in for a 10th inning. It worked out.

3. Alston, Dodgers, 1955: Leading 2-0 in the sixth, he inserted Sandy Amoros into left field and moved Jim Gilliam to second base. In that inning, Amoros made a terrific running catch of Berra's fly ball with two runners on and turned it into a double play.

4. Bucky Harris, Senators, 1924: Fearful of hot-hitting Billy Terry, who platooned at first base for the Giants, Harris started right-hander Curly Ogden (putting Terry in the starting lineup), but removed Ogden after two batters for left-hander George Mogridge. Terry went 0-for-2 against Mogridge before John McGraw finally removed him for a pinch-hitter, meaning he was out of the game as the Senators later went to right-handers in a 12-inning game.

5. Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals, 1926: Pete Alexander wasn't expecting to pitch in Game 7 after throwing a complete-game win in Game 6, but Hornsby brought him in with the Cardinals leading 3-2 and the bases loaded in the seventh. He struck out Tony Lazzeri and went the rest of the way for the save.

The roll call: Ten greatest Game 7s

10. 1962: New York Yankees 1, at San Francisco Giants 0. The Giants had runners at second and third with two outs (Roger Maris had made a terrific play in right on Willie Mays’ double to hold Felipe Alou at third). Willie McCovey smoked a line drive ... but at second baseman Bobby Richardson. Ralph Terry had the shutout and Charlie Brown later screamed, "Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?"

9. 1975: Cincinnati Reds 4, at Boston Red Sox 3. Not remembered like the Game 6 classic, but a terrific game in its own right. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead in the third inning when Don Gullett walked in two runs with the bases loaded. Boston would keep getting runners on, but couldn’t increase its lead; the Sox stranded nine runners and went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Tony Perez hit a two-run homer over the Green Monster off Bill Lee’s slow curveball in the sixth, Pete Rose’s two-out single off Roger Moret in the seventh tied it and then Ken Griffey Sr. walked leading off the ninth against rookie Jim Burton and scored on Joe Morgan’s two-out blooper to center.

8. 1997: At Florida Marlins 3, Cleveland Indians 2 (11 innings). Jose Mesa was trying to close out Cleveland’s first World Series title since 1997, but the Marlins tied it on Craig Counsell’s sacrifice fly in the ninth. In the 11th, following Tony Fernandez’s error, Edgar Renteria singled in the winning run with two outs.

7. 1955: Brooklyn Dodgers 2, at New York Yankees 0. The Dodgers finally beat the Yankees and won their only World Series title in Brooklyn as Johnny Podres scattered eight hits. Gil Hodges drove in both runs for Brooklyn, but the game’s key play came in the sixth when left fielder Sandy Amoros -- who had just entered for defense -- made a running catch of Yogi Berra’ fly ball with two runners on and doubled Gil McDougald off first base.

6. 1912: At Boston Red Sox 3, New York Giants 2 (10 innings). The Giants scored once in the top of the 10th but Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson couldn’t hold off the Red Sox. Center fielder Fred Snodgrass dropped a fly ball to begin the inning, Tris Speaker’s RBI single tied it and then Larry Gardner’s sac fly scored Steve Yerkes with the winning run.

5. 1946: At St. Louis Cardinals 4, Boston Red Sox 3. St. Louis led 3-1 in the eighth but Dom DiMaggio's two-run double tied it. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Harry Walker doubled to score Enos Slaughter ahead of the relay throw from shortstop Johnny Pesky (who might have hesitated slightly), the play becoming known as "Slaughter's Mad Dash."

4. 1924: At Washington Senators 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 3 (12 innings). Long the laughingstock of the American League, the Senators had finally reached the World Series in the twilight of the great Walter Johnson's career. But he had lost Games 1 and 5. The Giants led 3-1 in the eighth when Bucky Harris tied it with a two-out, two-run single. Johnson then entered in the ninth and pitched four scoreless innings. The Senators finally pushed across the winning run when Earl McNeely's grounder took a bad hop over the glove of third baseman Fred Lindstrom.

3. 2001: At Arizona Diamondbacks 3, New York Yankees 2. Curt Schilling versus Roger Clemens. Randy Johnson on in relief. And then two runs in the bottom off the ninth off the supposedly untouchable Mariano Rivera.

2. 1991: At Minnesota Twins 1, Atlanta Braves 0 (10 innings). This game featured much more than Jack Morris’ brilliant 10-inning shutout. John Smoltz dueled Morris into the eighth. The Braves loaded the bases in the eighth (with Lonnie Smith famously not scoring on a double after getting deked by Chuck Knoblauch). The Twins got the first two runners on in the ninth and failed to score. Finally, Dan Gladden doubled in the 10th, hustling into second when the ball bounded high off the Metrodome turf, and would score on Gene Larkin’s hit. A tension-filled classic to cap off maybe the most exciting World Series ever played.

1. 1960: At Pittsburgh Pirates 10, New York Yankees 9. In my book, the most exciting baseball game ever played. The Yankees led 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth, but the Pirates scored five runs. The Yankees tied in the top of the ninth. Bill Mazeroski won it with the only walk-off home run in Game 7 history. (Click here for an in-depth look at this game.)

It might be difficult for tonight's game to crack that top-10 list, but the way this World Series gone, I wouldn't bet against it.

Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for their help on this piece.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
<em>Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for their help on this piece.</em>
ESPN.com's very own Jerry Crasnick joined us on Thursday's Baseball Today . Some of the items we discussed:

1. Here come the Angels! But should the Angels start Jered Weaver on three days' rest? Jerry and I disagreed.

2. Will Alex Rodriguez's injury issues in recent years affect Albert Pujols' contract?

3. Logan Morrison is back with the Marlins ... not that any fans showed up to see him.

4. More Hall of Fame discussion. Can't get enough Hall of Fame!

5. What do Cy Young and Sandy Koufax have to do with today's pitchers?

Plus: The NL West, user emails, Kirk Gibson's influence and more, all on Thursday's Baseball Today.
Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Bob GibsonGetty ImagesWho had the best season since 1960? Pedro, Randy and Bob Gibson are in the running.
Last week on his blog, Curt Schilling wrote an interesting post on what he called Pitcher Dominance Factor -- a way to evaluate the best starting pitchers. His formula basically rates a pitcher by comparing his ERA to the league average ERA for starters, and comparing his baserunners allowed per nine innings to the league average.

In many ways the formula works perfectly -- it rewards pitchers with low ERAs and those who don't allow many baserunners. It has a couple primary flaws in assessing overall value: There are no park effects and it doesn't factor in innings pitched, so a 170-inning season can have the same "dominance factor" as a 250-inning season.

There's another flaw: All of Schilling's highest-rated seasons since 1960 came during the so-called steroid era. His top 13 seasons included five from Pedro Martinez; two apiece from Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Kevin Brown; and one each from Roger Clemens and Johan Santana. Now, maybe those are the best seasons since 1960, as those guys dominated in a high-scoring era.

Of course, there are other metrics out there as well to measure the best pitcher seasons.

Wins: I think we all agree by now that wins aren't the best way to measure a pitcher. By this method, in 1990 Bob Welch had the second-best season since 1960 with 27 wins -- despite ranking just sixth in his own league in ERA and posting a mediocre 127/77 SO/BB ratio.

ERA: Better than wins, but doesn't adjust for home ballpark, era (a 2.05 ERA in 1968, when the American League ERA was 2.98 is not as valuable as a 2.05 ERA in 1996, when the AL ERA was 5.00) or innings pitched.

ERA+: The Baseball-Reference stat adjusts a pitcher's ERA for his park and era to a scale where 100 is average. Much better than regular ERA, although it still doesn't factor in innings pitched, unearned runs, or the quality of a pitcher's defense. It actually ends up generating a list similar to Schilling's as 15 of the top 25 ERA+ seasons since 1960 occurred between 1994 and 2005. ERA+ also doesn't factor in "dominance" in the sense of what Schilling was looking for, as it's possible to post a low ERA without dominating peripherals.

WAR (wins above replacement): WAR establishes a value to a pitcher's season. FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference have different versions of WAR, and both arguably have a problem in generating a list of the best pitching seasons since 1960.

Under the Baseball-Reference formula, the more innings you pitch, the more value you accumulate. While completely logical (you're more valuable if you pitch more innings), its list ends up skewed towards the late '60s and early '70s, when starters routinely racked up 300-plus innings. Fourteen of its top 25 seasons reached 300 innings (and only four have fewer than 275), so modern pitchers struggle to make the top of the list since they don't pitch as many innings.

FanGraphs' version of WAR doesn't factor a pitcher's ERA or runs allowed. Instead, it extrapolates a pitcher's innings, strikeouts, walks allowed and home runs allowed (adjusted for park and era). It also only has pitcher WAR dating back to 1974. As it turns out, nine of its top 10 seasons occurred between 1995 and 2004, and you also end up with seasons like Schilling's 2002 in the top 10, when he had a great strikeout-to-walk ratio, but finished just 10th in the NL in ERA.

Both the B-R and FanGraphs lists are a terrific guide to greatness. I'm not knocking their lists. I'm just not sure either should be considered the definitive list of the "best" seasons. So here's my subjective 15 best since 1960, trying to account for the changing patterns of the game ... with apologies to the many great pitchers who finished 16th in my personal tally.

15. Steve Carlton, 1980 Phillies
24-9, 2.34 ERA, 304 IP, 243 H, 90 BB, 286 SO, 15 HR

The last pitcher to throw 300 innings, Carlton led the NL in wins, innings, strikeouts and SO/BB ratio. He held opponents to a .218 average -- and this despite Greg Luzinski usually behind him in left field.

14. Gaylord Perry, 1972 Indians
24-16, 1.92 ERA, 342.2 IP, 253 H, 82 BB, 234 SO, 17 HR

A great season that nobody remembers, although Perry did win the Cy Young Award. While 1972 didn't see much hitting -- there was a reason the AL instituted the DH rule for the 1973 -- Perry's workload was amazing as he had 29 complete games and averaged 8.5 innings per start. That's a lot of spit. From May 6 through Aug. 5, he started 22 games and averaged more than nine innings per start, all while compiling a 1.55 ERA.

13. Randy Johnson 2002 Diamondbacks
24-5, 2.32 ERA, 260 IP, 197 H, 71 BB, 334 SO, 26 HR

Johnson captured his fourth straight Cy Young Award with one of his many dominant seasons. He allowed two runs or fewer in 22 of his 35 starts and struck out 15 or more four times. He also tightened up when it most counted, holding batters to a .174 average in "high-leverage" situations, with just one home run allowed in 154 at-bats.

12. Zack Greinke, 2009 Royals
16-8, 2.16 ERA, 229.1 IP, 195 H, 51 BB, 242 SO, 11 HR

Greinke hasn't been able to replicate the consistency, focus or, yes, the little bit of magic he had in 2009. He allowed one run or less in more than half of his starts -- 18 of 33 -- but due to lack of run support won just 12 of those 18 games. (Thank you, Royals teammates.) His relative lack of stamina prevents him from ranking higher as he pitched fewer than seven innings in 13 of his starts.

11. Greg Maddux, 1995 Braves
19-2, 1.63 ERA, 209.2 IP, 147 H, 23 BB, 181 SO, 8 HR

The shortened season cost Maddux a few starts, otherwise he'd rank even higher with the additional innings pitched. He allowed 39 runs (38 earned) in 28 starts and had a remarkable 0.81 WHIP. His .224 OBP allowed is the second-best since 1960 and his ERA+ is third-best (he ranked even better in 1994, although he did allow nine unearned runs that year.) Maddux allowed more than two runs just four times and more than three runs just twice. He painted the corners, got grounders, didn't give up home runs and dominated without just blowing batters away. Some say he also had a few extra innings off the plate to work with thanks to the kindness of the umpires.

10. Tom Seaver, 1971 Mets
20-10, 1.76 ERA, 286.1 IP, 210 H, 61 BB, 289 SO, 18 HR

The only season on our list not to result in a Cy Young trophy, as Seaver lost out to Fergie Jenkins, who went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA for the Cubs. The vote actually wasn't a travesty; once you adjust for Shea Stadium and Jenkins' 39 more innings pitched, the seasons are close in value. However, Seaver did outpitch Jenkins by quite a bit on the road: 1.63 ERA versus 2.70 ERA, so I rate Seaver's season as better. Seaver's 9.1 K's per nine led the league, at a time when the league average was 5.4, a ratio of +69 percent. In 2011, the NL average is 7.2 K's per nine; a rate of +69 percent would equate to 12.2 K's per nine.

9. Ron Guidry, 1978 Yankees
25-3, 1.74 ERA, 273.2 IP, 187 H, 72 BB, 248 SO, 13 HR

My buddy Bish is going to punish me for not ranking Louisiana Lightning her, but this is a tough field. Guidry, all 160 pounds of him, threw 16 complete games and tossed nine shutouts. Guidry didn't lose until July, and in September, with the Yankees battling the Red Sox for the AL East title, he went 6-1 with a 1.19 ERA. He went 3-0 in four starts against the Red Sox. Can we have a re-do on that AL MVP vote?

8. Pedro Martinez, 1999 Red Sox
23-4, 2.07 ERA, 213.1 IP, 160 H, 37 BB, 313 SO, 9 HR

Pedro's second of three Cy Young reasons resulted in an opponents' batting line of .205/.248/.288, as he allowed just nine home runs while fanning 13.2 per nine, the second-highest total ever for a starter. He fanned 15 batters four times, 16 once and 17 once. He allowed more than four runs just once, a nine-run disaster after his All-Star start that landed him on the DL. In fact, that's the only strike against this season: He made just 29 starts. Well, that and these gloves he wore during the playoffs.

7. Randy Johnson, 2001 Diamondbacks
21-6, 2.49 ERA, 249.2 IP, 181 H, 71 BB, 372 SO, 19 HR

And if you want to give him extra credit for winning three games in the World Series, please do so. Johnson struck out 10 or more in 23 starts, including a record-tying 20 on May 8 against the Reds. His 13.4 K's per nine is the best ever for a starter, left-handed batters hit one home run off him all season and you didn't dare dig him against him: he also hit 18 batters. Yes

6. Sandy Koufax, 1966 Dodgers
27-9, 1.73 ERA, 323 IP, 241 H, 77 BB, 317 SO, 19 HR

You could flip a coin between any of Koufax's three Cy Young seasons (1963, '64, '66). His strikeout and hit rates were better in 1965 than 1966, but he also allowed 14 more runs in the same number of starts. He threw 11 shutouts in 1963, but had a big home park advantage that year. In 1966, he had 1.52 ERA at home and 1.96 on the road, his most even split, so I give '66 the nod. This was his final season, as he pitched in so much pain doctors were injecting steroids directly into the elbow joint, according to Jane Leavy's "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy." Down the stretch, with the Dodgers battling for the pennant, he started seven times over the final 26 days, posting a 1.20 ERA.

5. Steve Carlton, 1972 Phillies
27-10, 1.97 ERA, 346.1 IP, 257 H, 87 BB, 310 SO, 17 HR

If you want to argue that Carlton's season was the best ever, I won't mount much of a disagreement. Carlton famously won nearly half of his team's 59 wins as he completed 30 of his 41 starts and threw eight shutouts. He held batters to a .207/.257/.291 line while making 31 starts on three days' rest. He allowed one home run to a cleanup hitter all season. And did you check the innings pitched total? The National League OPS that year was .680, not far below the .704 so far this season. Carlton's 12.2 WAR ranks No. 1 on Baseball-Reference's list since 1960.

4. Roger Clemens, 1997 Blue Jays
21-7, 2.05 ERA, 264 IP, 204 H, 68 BB, 292 SO, 9 HR

While the AL was batting .271/.340/.428 in 1997, Clemens dominated with a .213/.273/.290 line. He won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts while allowing zero runs or one run in 20 of his 33 starts. Clemens had many great seasons -- seven Cy Young Awards, seven ERA titles -- but 1997 stands out as his best. Red Sox fans just punched the wall in disgust.

3. Dwight Gooden, 1985 Mets
24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276.2 IP, 198 H, 69 BB, 268 SO, 13 HR

He allowed just a .201 average and .270 slugging percentage. Left-handed batters had a lower OPS off him than right-handers. In September, with the Mets fighting the Cardinals for a division title, he went 4-0 in six starts with a 0.34 ERA. His strikeout rate of 8.7 per nine may not appear to stand out now, but that's 58 percent better than the NL average. He even hit .226. And he did all this at 20 years of age while partying with Darryl Strawberry.

2. Bob Gibson, 1968 Cardinals
22-9, 1.12 ERA, 304.2 IP, 198 H, 62 BB, 268 SO, 11 HR

Yes, 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher, but even in a league where the league ERA was 2.99, Gibson's 1.12 ERA ranks as fourth-best ERA+ since 1968. He threw 13 shutouts (meaning he was just 9-9 if he didn't throw up a zero). You can find areas to nitpick: He allowed nine unearned runs, he averaged just 7.9 K's per nine (although that was second-best mark in the NL). But this is what stands out most to me: He pitched seven innings his first two starts of the season ... and then at least eight every start after that. The man literally didn't have a bad game all season.

1. Pedro Martinez, 2000 Red Sox
18-6, 1.74 ERA, 217 IP, 128 H, 32 BB, 284 SO, 17 HR

Can a guy who pitched 87 fewer innings than Gibson have had a better season? (Vote in the poll!) Pedro's opponent batting line is just sick: .167/.213/.259. Absolutely incredible. He was throwing 95-mph Wiffle balls that year, unhittable heaters and changeups and curveballs with precise location. The AL ERA in 2000 was 4.92, giving Pedro the best adjusted ERA since 1960. I think I answer it this way: If I wanted one of these guys pitching at his peak in a game to save the future of mankind, I'd take 2000 Pedro Martinez.

(Statistics from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com.)

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