Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 30, 2006
BASEBALL: Baseball's Best Pitching Teams
Following yesterday's look at the Tigers and how their team ERA stands head and shoulders above the American League, I thought I would take a look - as I did here and here with slugging and OBP - at the all-time great pitching teams in terms of team ERA compared to league ERA (bear in mind these figures do not include any adjustment for home park). I'm not suggesting that, before May is even over, we can project that the Tigers will end up in this group - the contrary is far more likely - but it should help give a sense of the rarefied air they are breathing right now. This list covers major league teams back to 1893, when the mound was moved to its present distance of 60'6".
Three other teams came in at 30% or better - the 1915 Chicago team in the Federal League, the Spahn-led 1953 Milwaukee Braves, and the 1998 Braves. Among the teams just missing the 30% bar were the 1927 Yankees, but they have enough distinctions. I left off the pre-1893 teams because one pitcher could have an outsize influence - George "Grin" Bradley's 1876 St. Louis Cardinals and Old Hoss Radbourn's 1884 Providence Grays both bested the league ERA by more than 80%.
Most of these teams are familiar and unsurprising, some (like the 1912 Giants and 1939 Yankees) are perhaps better known for their superior hitting, some are obscure (the 1919 Cubs had Grover Alexander and Hippo Vaughn; more on that team here, and more on the 1960s White Sox here), and some surprising, like the 1954 Giants and the 1926 A's and perhaps most of all, the 2003 Dodgers, with a rotation including Kaz Ishii, Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez and a cast of spot starters behind Kevin Brown.
Naturally, the Tinker-Evers-Chance/Three Finger Brown Cubs dominate this list, and Bobby Cox's Braves make a few entries. Interestingly, some of these teams (the 1939 Yankees and 1966 Dodgers in particular) fit a pattern - several straight years of being 15-25% above the league and then a sudden step up with largely the same personnel both in the pitching staff and the defense. Besides random chance and the ability of established staffs to fill their remaining holes, one wonders if a stable relationship between the pitchers and the fielders led to improvements over time.