Best Bad Team Pitchers Of All-Time
The 16-28 Cubs have the worst record in the National League. They are 1-9 overall in Samardzija’s starts, having scored 20 total runs for the ace. While that is some pretty paltry support, it’s actually enough runs for Samardzija to be 6-0 if they had been distributed more evenly.
If sabermetrics has taught us anything, it’s not to judge a pitcher on his win-loss record. And we’re not going after Samardzija — clearly a hard luck case — here. But we do have to point out that some pitchers have been able to overcome the awfulness around them and post pretty great all-around pitching numbers on really bad teams. Check out the five best bad team pitchers of all-time below.
5. 23-7 Bob Gibson 1970 St. Louis Cardinals 76-86
In his nine post-season starts, Gibson was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA and 92 Ks, earning the reputation as one of the greatest big-game hurlers of all-time. But Gibson didn’t need the stakes to be high to perform on a Hall of Fame level. He racked up the most wins of his career in 1970, despite the Cardinals falling out of pennant contention early in the season. His totals of 23-7 with a 3.12 ERA and 274 netted him his second Cy Young award. But we suspect the ultra-competitive rightly still viewed the season as a failure.
4. 18-5 Tim Lincecum 2008 San Francisco Giants 72-90
Recently, Lincecum has been a pretty lousy pitcher on a really good team. But it was just the opposite for the freak earlier in his career. The little righty burst on the scene in 2008, finishing 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and league-leading 265 Ks for the last place Giants. High-profile rotation mates Matt Cain and Barry Zito weren’t so fortunate; they finished 8-14 and 10-17 respectively.
3. 20-6 R.A. Dickey 2012 New York Mets 74-88
Dickey’s journey from traditional pitcher without an ulnar collateral ligament to accidental knuckleballer is well documented. It all came together in 2012 when the-then 37-year old went 9-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 11 May and June starts. He was pretty darn good for the rest of the season as well, finishing 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and league leading 230 Ks, good enough for the National League Cy Young. His team, not so much. The 2012 New York Mets suffered from too much Jason Bay, among other aliments, and finished 74-88 despite Dickey’s best efforts.
2. 25-17 Walter Johnson 1910 Washington Senators 66-85
On Walter Johnson’s Hall of Fame plaque it reads that he pitched “for many years with a losing team.” While the Senators awfulness during Johnson’s career is part of the popular lore, it’s not quite correct; Washington finished in the top half of the standings in 11 of Johnson 21 seasons and won a couple of World Series. Now it is true that Johnson often lacked for run support, losing 65 games his team didn’t score in at all, and going 38-26 for his career in 1-0 games. Perhaps his reputation for being great pitcher on terrible teams was born in 1910, when a 22-year old Big Train went 25-17 with a 1.36 ERA and 313 Ks for a cellar dwelling Senator squad. The next year he also had 25 wins, this time for a team that only won 64 games.
1. 27-10 Steve Carlton 1972 Philadelphia Phillies 59-97
In 1972, Carlton had the bad team pitcher season all others are compared to. It was his first year with the hapless Phillies, and he learned early on if he was going to win a game he was going to have to finish it himself. Pitching primarily on three days rest, Lefty had 30 complete games, including three extra-inning efforts. That’s 346 innings total of 1.97 ERA pitching with a league leading 310 ks. His 27 wins were almost half of his team’s 59 total victories — the highest such percentage in modern baseball history — and earned him the National League Cy Young. The next winning-est pitcher on Philadelphia’s staff had seven victories.