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These are the 9 weirdest pitching seasons ever

September 8, 2018

Mets ace Jacob deGrom will go into Sunday's start against the Phillies at Citi Field looking to pad his record streak of 25 straight starts allowing three or fewer runs. He'll attempt to maintain or even lower an ERA (1.68) that is nearly 30 points better than his next-closest competition.

Mets ace Jacob deGrom will go into Sunday's start against the Phillies at Citi Field looking to pad his record streak of 25 straight starts allowing three or fewer runs. He'll attempt to maintain or even lower an ERA (1.68) that is nearly 30 points better than his next-closest competition. Heck, he might even find himself on a late-season charge toward Dwight Gooden's record for lowest ERA (1.53) since the mound was lowered to its current position in 1969.
Oh, and maybe, with a little help from his friends, deGrom will actually pick up his ninth win while he's at it.
In 2018, deGrom, owner of an 8-8 record, has become an unwitting facilitator in the "Kill the Win" movement. He is having what can only be described as one of the most preposterous pitching seasons of our time. Consider:
• His ERA in 16 games the Mets have lost (1.98) would still be just one point shy of Chris Sale's 1.97 mark for lowest in the Majors
• His ERA in games in which he has been charged with the loss (2.73) would be the leading ERA on 23 of MLB's 30 teams
• He could become the first pitcher in history to notch a single-digit win total despite pitching 200 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA
• He's already tied the record for most quality starts (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer) that resulted in a loss or no-decision (17)
• He's received 75 runs of support (in innings in which he's pitched) and been personally responsible for driving in five of those runs.
That's all pretty unusual. And it got us thinking about some other particularly peculiar pitching seasons.
Joe Magrane, 1988 Cardinals
The oddity: Led the Majors with a 2.18 ERA … and only five wins
Only one qualified pitcher in 1988 had a lower win total, and that was Montreal's John Dopson (who was also pretty unlucky with a 3-11 record and a 3.04 ERA). That gives Magrane the dubious distinction of having the lowest win total ever for an ERA leader in a non-strike season. He threw three shutouts that season, including a one-hitter. He had a 2.20 ERA in 10 no-decisions.
Magrane's problem is that opposing pitchers facing his Cards teammates often pitched like, well, Joe Magrane. He got just 2.61 runs of support, on average. It was probably enough to give Magrane a migraine, but, alas, not a Cy Young. He didn't even garner a down-ballot vote.
For the record, there have only five times in the last 100 years has a league's ERA leader had a single-digit win total, most recently Kevin Millwood with the 2005 Indians (2.86 ERA, nine wins).
Ed Walsh, 1910 White Sox
The oddity: Led the AL with a 1.27 ERA … and led the AL with 20 losses
Well, yes, you could spend all day rehashing Deadball Era oddities, because the numbers from that time are rather ridiculous. But Walsh deserves a shoutout here, because, in addition to being the all-time ERA leader (with a 1.82 mark), he's the only pitcher in the so-called Modern Era (since 1901) to lead his league in these two categories in a single season.
Walsh had a 1.27 ERA and an 18-20 record (that's 38 decisions in 45 appearances … I told you things were ridiculous then). Of course, it didn't help that the 1910 White Sox hit .211 as a team -- the lowest-ever batting average for a ballclub (making the 2018 Mets look like the '27 Yankees).
Nolan Ryan, 1987 Astros
The oddity: Led the NL with a 2.76 ERA … and went 8-16
We need to include Ryan here because, basically, 1987 is a lot more relatable to today's game than 1910. Ryan is the modern-day Walsh because no pitcher in the last 80 years has lost this many games while leading his league in ERA (Ryan also led in strikeouts, hits per nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio).
Ryan's Astros teammates were shut out six times and scored only one run eight times on days he was pitching. His bullpen also blew five leads he left behind.
By the way, Ryan also had two seasons (1974 and '77) in which he struck out north of 300 batters and walked north of 200. What do you want to bet we never see that again?
Joe Borowski, 2007 Indians
The oddity: Saved an AL-high 45 games … with a 5.07 ERA
Nobody else in history has saved 40 or more games with an ERA beginning with a five. Borowski led the AL in saves that year despite a 1.43 WHIP. (Though, amazingly, four other guys have saved 40 or more games with higher WHIPs, with 1993 Mitch Williams and his 1.61 WHIP leading the list.)
In save situations, Borowski had a 3.73 ERA and a .707 opponent OPS over 50 2/3 innings. But he lent verification to the notion of "closer mentality" with his ragged performance in non-save situations -- a 9.60 ERA and a .949 opponent OPS over 15 innings. Borowski allowed nine runs in his first six innings that season, but the Indians stuck with him and rode him all the way into the AL Championship Series.
Roger Craig, 1963 Mets
The oddity: Took the loss in six games in which he allowed just one run
That's the live ball-era record for a starting pitcher, folks. There's just something about pitching for the Mets, I guess …
Ray Kremer, 1930 Pirates
The oddity: Got the win in nine games in which he allowed five-plus runs
The anti-deGrom. Kremer won an NL-best 20 games that season despite a 5.02 ERA in 276 innings. Lucky dog.
Randy Jones, 1976 Padres
The oddity: Won the NL Cy Young… with just 93 strikeouts and 274 hits allowed
Jones was the "Junkman," slinging 73-mph slop and making it work. In 1976, he had one of the more amazing Cy Young seasons of all time. His paltry strikeout total came despite pitching 315 1/3 innings! He averaged just 2.7 strikeouts per nine. For those of you scoring at home, the lowest K/9 rate for a qualified starter this season belongs to none other than Bartolo Colon, at 5.05.
In fact, Jones threw so many innings that he had the NL's lowest WHIP (1.027) despite allowing more hits than anybody. The only other pitchers who could make that unusual claim (had they actually been citing WHIP at the time) were Robin Roberts in 1954, Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1916 and Christy Mathewson in 1908.
Roger Clemens, 1996 Red Sox
The oddity: Had the highest-ever WAR (7.7) for a pitcher with 10 or fewer wins
With an 8.2 WAR (and we're citing Baseball-Reference's tallies here), deGrom could unseat the Rocket in this crazy category.
You could actually say Clemens' 1996 season has historical significance. It wasn't his most spectacular season by any means, but it would have been evaluated much differently today than it was back then. In the ensuing offseason, general manager Dan Duquette suggested that the Rocket was "in the twilight of his career," and Clemens left town offended.
Had the more modern metrics been available back then -- not just WAR but stuff like ERA+ (Clemens was 39 percent better than league average) or Bill James' "deserved wins" calculation (James estimates that Clemens should have been 19-9 that year) -- maybe Clemens' free agency would have gone differently and he would have continued his career in Boston. We'll never know.
Felix Hernandez, 2010 Mariners
The oddity: Won the AL Cy Young … with a 13-12 record
King Felix has to be included here by default, because he, of course, owns the record for fewest wins by a Cy winner. (The most losses by a Cy Young winner, by the way, was 16 by Gaylord Perry in 1972 … but Perry also won 24 games that year.)
Hernandez ranked 18th in the AL in wins but first in ERA (2.27) and innings (249 2/3). Carsten Sabathia won 21 games that year and finished third in the voting.
For now, this stands as an oddity. But deGrom is on the path to replacing Hernandez in the fewest wins for a Cy winner count. And anyway, as we get better at evaluating pitcher performance and graduate from our collective devotion to the win stat, this one probably won't hold up as all that odd in the long run.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.