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These are D-backs' top 5 pitching seasons

@SteveGilbertMLB
December 14, 2020

PHOENIX -- Let’s get this out of the way right now: This is not a fair list. When you have to pick the top 5 individual pitching seasons for the Arizona Diamondbacks, it almost comes down to how you want to rank Hall of Famer Randy Johnson’s best five years.

PHOENIX -- Let’s get this out of the way right now: This is not a fair list.

When you have to pick the top 5 individual pitching seasons for the Arizona Diamondbacks, it almost comes down to how you want to rank Hall of Famer Randy Johnson’s best five years.

And the unfairness is that means that Curt Schilling and Brandon Webb, who had some amazing seasons, get left out for the most part. This is nothing new for Schilling, given that in his best two seasons in Arizona -- 2001 and '02 -- he finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting to ... Johnson.

Here’s a look at my choices:

1) Randy Johnson, 2002
I was still a young beat reporter in the spring of 2002 when Johnson held his annual first media availability of Spring Training. Johnson was coming off a year in which he won his third straight Cy Young and was co-MVP of the World Series and he started out his session by saying that he thought he could still find a way to be better in '02.

I thought he was crazy. Turns out he wasn’t as he captured pitching’s Triple Crown in 2002. Johnson led the Majors in wins (24), complete games (eight), innings (260) and strikeouts (334) and led the NL in ERA (2.32) and ERA+ (195).

You can make the case for at least four of his seasons as being the best, but this one, coming off what he had done in 2001, is the most impressive to me.

2) Randy Johnson, 2001
Johnson struck out a career-high 372 batters in 249 2/3 innings, while also leading the Majors in ERA (2.49) and WHIP (1.009). It was also the year in which he struck out 20 Reds batters in a May 8 home game.

Johnson, though, will most be remembered for the D-backs' run to the World Series. The Big Unit allowed two runs in 16 innings against the Braves in the NL Championship Series and then two runs over 17 1/3 innings against the Yankees in the World Series.

After throwing 104 pitches over seven innings in Game 6 of the World Series, Johnson pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief the next night to earn the Game 7 win.

3) Randy Johnson, 1999
When the D-backs signed Johnson to a four-year, $52 million contract in December 1998, eyebrows went up across the baseball world. Why would an expansion team coming off 97 losses in its inaugural season commit that much money to a pitcher? And why would Johnson want to pitch for a non-contender?

Johnson said at the news conference announcing the deal that he thought the D-backs could contend in 1999, and with him at the top of the rotation, they posted the best record (100-62) by a second-year team ever.

For his part, Johnson tossed a career-high (and MLB-leading) 271 2/3 innings while also topping the NL in ERA (2.48), complete games (12), strikeouts (364) and ERA+ (184). He also recorded the third-best bWAR of his career (behind 2002 and '01) at 9.1.

4) Randy Johnson, 2004
There was not much from '04 for D-backs fans to remember fondly. The team lost 111 games, World Series-winning manager Bob Brenly was dismissed, and managing general partner Jerry Colangelo was ousted in favor of former agent Jeff Moorad.

But there was Johnson, who despite pitching for a lousy team with very little run support, found a way to put together what should have been another Cy Young Award-winning season. This was before advanced metrics had fully taken hold in the voting, so with a 16-14 record, Johnson finished second to Roger Clemens and his 18-4 mark for the Astros.

Johnson, though, had a better bWAR than Clemens (8.4 to 5.4) and ERA+ (176-145).

“Because I'm pitching for a team that's lost 100 games, I think the year that I'm having is being overshadowed,” Johnson said toward the end of that season, which included a 13-strikeout perfect game in Atlanta. “Wins are out of my control. The other people that are in line for the Cy Young, I'd like to see what their record would be here. Take their ERA and their opponent's batting average and put them here. I'm not [complaining]. I'm doing the best I can. Everything that's within my control, I'm pleased with.”

5) Curt Schilling, 2001
The D-backs acquired Schilling from the Phillies in July 2000, and after the right-hander put up so-so numbers as the team fell out of contention over the final two months, he showed up to Spring Training in 2001 ready to show what he could really do.

Schilling led the Majors in wins, going 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA while throwing an NL-high six complete games. Over an MLB-best 256 2/3 innings, he walked just 39 to record the top strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.51.

As he did throughout his career, Schilling turned things up a notch in the postseason. He won two games in the best-of-five NL Division Series against St. Louis, allowing one run while pitching complete games both times.

In his NLCS start, Schilling allowed one run and struck out 12 in a complete-game effort, and he made three starts during the World Series to earn co-MVP honors with Johnson.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.