Monday, February 13, 2012

Little known Pitcher is Tigers All-time Seasonal ERA+ Leader


Ed Siever had one of the best seasons ever for a Tigers pitcher in 1902 (Photo credit: TheBaseballPage.com)

Today, I am going to continue with the ERA+ theme by looking at the best individual seasons in Detroit Tigers history.  The Tigers have seen some outstanding pitching seasons over the years - Justin Verlander earning the Cy Young and MVP last season, Hal Newhouser gaining back-to-back MVPs in 1945-1946 and Denny McLain winning 31 games in 1968 to name a few.  However, The best season of all time according to the ERA+ metric may surprise fans who do not follow Tigers history that closely.

Table 1 below lists the top seasons by ERA for pitchers with 162 or more innings pitched.  The ERA+ and % columns are explained in an earlier post.  In 1902, the second season in the franchise's existence, southpaw Ed Siever posted an ERA+ of 197 in 188 innings of work.  That means his ERA was 49% lower than league average.  Siever remains the Tigers single-season ERA+ leader 110 years later. 

Table 1: Top Tigers Pitching Seasons by ERA+, 1901-2011

Player
Year
IP
ERA
ERA+
%
Ed Siever
1902
188
1.91
197
49
Hal Newhouser
1945
313
1.81
195
49
Hal Newhouser
1946
292
1.94
190
47
Hank Aguirre
1962
216
2.21
184
46
Al Benton
1945
191
2.02
175
43
Justin Verlander
2011
251
2.40
170
41
Bobo Newsom
1940
264
2.83
168
40
Dizzy Trout
1944
352
2.12
167
40
Hal Newhouser
1942
183
2.45
162
38
Hal Newhouser
1944
312
2.22
159
37
Mark Fidrych
1976
250
2.34
159
37
Dizzy Trout
1946
276
2.34
157
36
Denny McLain
1968
336
1.96
154
35
Justin Thompson
1997
223
3.02
152
34
Virgil Trucks
1949
275
2.81
148
32

Data source: Baseball-Reference.com 

The second and third spots belong to Newhouser  - a 195 ERA+ in 1945 and 190 in 1946.  Prince Hal appears two more times on the list for his 1942 and 1944 seasons.  Some historians have downplayed Newhouser's great seasons during the period because rosters were depleted by World War II from 1943-1945.  However, the rosters were at close to full strength for his outstanding 1942 and 1946 seasons.

Newhouser was not the only pitcher to have elite seasons in the 1940s.  In fact, nine of the top 15 seasons came during that decade.  That includes Dizzy Trout in 1944 and 1946, Bobo Newsome in 1940, Al Benton in 1945 and Virgil Trucks in 1949.

While the 1940s decade dominates the list, there have also been some remarkable seasons more recently.  Still very fresh on our minds is Verlander's amazing 2011 season where he compiled a 170 ERA+.  In an era where the Tigers had terrible teams and even worse pitching, Justin Thompson posted an impressive 152 ERA+ in 1997.  Mark Fidrych's 159 ERA+ in 1976 showed that he was much more than just a colorful character.

Some may be surprised that Denny McLain's 1968 season is ranked as low as #13.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  First, his 31 wins that year were partly a product of strong offensive support and his 1.86 ERA was only fourth best in the league.  Also, as mentioned in yesterday's post, ERA+ only measures the quality of a pitcher's season and does not give McLain credit for his 336 innings pitched.  Later, we'll discuss a metric which gives a pitcher credit for both quality and quantity. 

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