Anne Rogers of MLB.com recently wrote about the top five Cardinals pitching seasons of all time and it is wonderful. I do have one, tiny problem with it though. She declared a rule in deciding the top five seasons that makes sense as a writer, but as far as accuracy goes, some things get left out. Her rule is that no pitcher can appear on the list more than once. Sure, this allows to variety to write about, but this list is not truly the top five Cardinals starting pitching seasons.
So... let’s just do it. To rank!
5. Harry “The Cat” Brecheen, 1948 (7.9 fWAR, 8.7 rWAR)
Harry Brecheen played for the Cardinals from 1940 through 1952. Drew Silva once told me his nickname was “The Cat” and I have never forgotten that since. He won the World Series twice as a player, once in 1944 and again in 1946. His best season was 1948, though. He was the national league strikeout leader with 149 strikeouts. He also lead the league with the lowest ERA of 2.24 to go along with a FIP of 2.37.
4. Bob Gibson, 1968 (8.6 fWAR, 11.2 rWAR)
Gasp! 1968 is fourth? This cannot be right! WELL IT IS! Rather, it is according to Fangraphs and I am inclined to agree (at least I can talk myself into agreeing). 1968 was the year if the pitcher. It was the year Bob Gibson set the ERA record of 1.12 that stands to this day. He pitched 13 shoutouts, 28 complete games and stuck out 268 batters. Statically, it is probably his greatest season ever.
But, it was before the mound was lowered. So, we move on to....
3. Bob Gibson, 1969 (8.8 fWAR, 10.4 rWAR)
According to Fangraphs, this was actually a better season (the difference between 4-2 on the list is very small and there are arguments to be made that any season could slot into any rank). Even with a lower pitching mound, Gibson still pitched a 2.18 ERA and a 2.30 FIP. He pitched ten more innings in 1969 with 314 and struck out one more batter with 269.
2. Bob Gibson, 1970 (9.8 fWAR, 8.9 rWAR)
Probably could have just named this list the top five Bob Gibson pitching seasons. While 1970 usually gets looked over as one of Gibson’s great pitching seasons, it might have been his best. His 3.12 ERA was not nearly as shiny as the sub-2 ones, but 2.29 FIP tells you he was still bringing it. Gibson started 34 games in 1970 and he finished 23 of them, and he won 23 of them. He set his personal single season strikeout record in 1970 with 274 strikeouts and earned his second Cy Young Award.
For those counting at home, we just listed off Bob Gibson’s top three pitching seasons. So who is number one?
1. Silver King, 1888 (11.1 fWAR, 13.2 WAR)
Honestly, I have no idea if this season should count since King was playing for the Browns. I debated back and forth, but ultimately decided that if Major League Baseball recognizes this history as Cardinals history than I should too. Also, this is an incredible season and we HAVE to talk about it. Silver King, which is an amazing name, at 20 years old on a salary of $1, 800 (which is equivalent to about $46,000 today) started 64 games! pitched over 584 innings! and went 45-21!!! His ERA was 1.64 and his FIP was 2.30. I know this was a different time and baseball was quite different, but... I cannot stop looking at these stats. They are just so interesting.
So what do you think? What are your top five?