The 5 best seasons by a Guardians pitcher

December 1st, 2021

CLEVELAND -- Over the last few years, Cleveland has had a seemingly endless supply of elite starting pitching, from Corey Kluber to Trevor Bauer to Mike Clevinger to Shane Bieber to Zach Plesac to, most recently, Triston McKenzie. But this trend isn’t a new development.

The franchise has had a long list of incredible starting pitchers toe the rubber in a Cleveland uniform. The biggest names are always remembered by the impressions their careers left on the organization. But who had some of the best single-season performances?

Let’s take a look at the top five individual seasons by a Cleveland pitcher:

1. , 1946
When pitching is the topic of discussion for Cleveland, it’s hard to not lead the conversation -- whatever it may be -- with Feller. Arguably the best pitcher to go through the Cleveland organization, Feller rightfully earned the title of best season in franchise history with his impressive showing in 1946. He led all pitchers in wins (26), games (48), starts (42), complete games (36), shutouts (10), innings (371 1/3) and strikeouts (348). He also tossed a no-hitter against the Yankees on April 30 of that season. His 36 complete games and 348 strikeouts are the most by any Cleveland hurler in a single season.

2. , 2017
Kluber had a stellar year in 2014 to win his first Cy Young Award, but he put up even better numbers in his second Cy Young season in ’17. The then-31-year-old led the Majors in wins (18), ERA (2.25), complete games (five), shutouts (three), ERA+ (202) and WHIP (0.869). That dominance didn’t quite carry into the postseason, as he posted a 12.79 ERA in 6 1/3 innings in two starts in the American League Division Series against the Yankees. But that didn’t take away from his outstanding performance in the regular season that allowed him to become the first Cleveland pitcher to win two Cy Young Awards.

3. Addie Joss, 1908
It may have happened over a century ago, but Joss’ 1908 season continues to live on in the history books. Of all the Cleveland hurlers who logged at least 65 innings in a single season, no one has posted a lower ERA than Joss’ 1.16 ERA. It’s an impressive feat no matter how many innings he logged, but Joss pitched the ninth-most frames by a Cleveland hurler in a single season (325) and still held hitters to just 42 earned runs. Joss also led the Majors in ERA+ (204), WHIP (0.806) and walks per nine innings (0.8). He went 24-11 that year with 29 complete games, nine shutouts, two saves, 30 walks and 130 strikeouts.

4. , 1965
Feller posted the number to beat with 348 strikeouts in 1946, and although McDowell gave his best effort to pass him, he couldn’t quite reach it. McDowell owns the franchise's next four highest single-season strikeout totals: 325, 304, 283 and 279. His ’65 season got him the closest to Feller’s mark with 325. “Sudden Sam” led the AL in ERA (2.18), strikeouts (325), ERA+ (161), FIP (2.08), home runs per nine innings (0.3) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.7). In 273 innings, McDowell gave up just nine long balls in his first All-Star season.

5. , 1968
Behind Joss’ ridiculous ERAs from 1908 and '04 (1.16 and 1.59, respectively), Tiant’s ’68 season places him as the third-best ERA (1.60) by a Cleveland starting pitcher in a single year. He led the AL in bWAR (8.5), shutouts (nine), ERA (1.60) and FIP (2.04). He finished the season with 21 wins and a 0.871 WHIP to earn fifth place in MVP Award voting.

Honorable mentions

Jose Mesa, 1995: Top pitching performances often get associated with starters, however, Mesa’s 1995 season was too impressive to ignore. Of any pitcher with at least 60 innings in a single season, Mesa’s 1.12 ERA is the lowest. The closer converted 46 of 48 save opportunities (and his first 38 straight), which stands as the most in a single season in franchise history.

Gaylord Perry, 1972: Perry brought home the Cy Young Award in 1972 after leading the AL in wins (24) and complete games (29), while boasting a 1.92 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 0.978 WHIP and 0.4 home runs per nine innings.

Shane Bieber, 2020: It will forever be difficult to find a way to compare Bieber’s spectacular 2020 season to any other since his was under such unprecedented circumstances. But the 25-year-old won his first Cy Young Award and became the first to earn the pitching Triple Crown since Johan Santana in 2006.

Cliff Lee, 2008: Lee took home his Cy Young Award after leading the AL in wins (22), ERA (2.54), ERA+ (167), FIP (2.83), home runs per nine innings (0.5) and walks per nine innings (1.4) in his last full season with Cleveland.

CC Sabathia, 2007: Just like Lee, Sabathia made the most of his final full season in Cleveland. Sabathia led the Majors with 241 innings and paced the AL with 34 starts, while posting a 3.21 ERA with 209 strikeouts and 0.7 homers per nine innings to earn him his lone Cy Young Award.