After becoming the 19th member of the 3,000-strikeout club and the third pitcher to throw three immaculate innings earlier this month, Dodgers right-hander Max Scherzer could soon join Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers to win four Cy Young Awards. But that’s not the only bit of history Scherzer is still chasing in 2021.
Entering his scheduled start against the Rockies on Thursday at Coors Field, Scherzer holds the Major League lead with a 2.08 ERA. In the NL, he leads the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes by less than one-third of a run. If Scherzer can hold on, he’d not only earn his first career ERA title but also would become just the 12th pitcher (16th occurrence overall) to win an AL or NL ERA crown in his age-36 season or older since earned runs became an official stat in 1913.
Eight of the 11 pitchers on this list are in the Hall of Fame, and one would be a shoo-in if not for PED reasons. Here are the 15 times a pitcher in his age-36 season or older won an AL or NL ERA title, starting with the oldest.
Roger Clemens, 2005 Astros (age 42)
After previously announcing his plans to retire at the end of the 2003 season, Clemens shocked the baseball world when he followed former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte to Houston. The right-hander went on to win his record seventh Cy Young Award after posting a 2.98 ERA over 214 1/3 innings in 2004. Clemens re-signed with the Astros the following offseason and in many ways was even better in 2005, becoming the oldest ERA champion in AL/NL history with an MLB-leading 1.87 mark in 211 1/3 innings.
Ted Lyons, 1942 White Sox (age 41)
In his final season before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps and serving in World War II, Lyons made only 20 starts but completed all of them and finished with a career-best 2.10 ERA over 180 1/3 innings. It was good enough to lead the AL, giving the righty the only ERA title of his big league tenure. Lyons returned from military service to register a 2.32 ERA over five starts (all complete games) as a 45-year-old in 1946 before retiring and taking over as the White Sox manager. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.
Warren Spahn, 1961 Milwaukee Braves (age 40)
One of baseball’s all-time winningest pitchers, Spahn earned his only Cy Young Award at age 36 and remained effective into his 40s. In 1961, a 40-year-old Spahn edged the Reds’ Jim O’Toole and the Cardinals’ Curt Simmons for his third career NL ERA crown with a 3.02 ERA -- the second-highest league-leading figure in the NL during the modern era (since 1900). Spahn went on to record a 3.04 ERA in 1962 and a 2.60 ERA in ‘63, but those marks placed him eighth and seventh, respectively, on the NL leaderboard.
Nolan Ryan, 1987 Astros (age 40)
Ryan pitched for 27 seasons and led his league in strikeouts 11 times en route to the all-time K record, but he only won two league ERA titles. The first came during the strike-shortened 1981 season, when Ryan had an MLB-best 1.69 ERA in 149 innings for the Astros. Six years later, in his age-40 season, Ryan did it again, this time recording an NL-leading 2.76 ERA across 211 2/3 frames.
Dazzy Vance, 1930 Brooklyn Robins (age 39)
After throwing all of 33 innings in the Majors through the age of 30, Vance found a home with Brooklyn and led the NL in strikeouts in seven straight years from 1922-28, winning two league ERA titles and an NL MVP Award in that stretch. Vance led the NL in ERA again in 1930, recording a 2.61 ERA over 258 2/3 innings. The right-hander blew away the field. Carl Hubbell, who finished in second place, had a 3.87 ERA.
Lefty Grove, 1939 Red Sox (age 39)
Grove won nine league ERA titles in his career, the most in AL/NL history. His ninth and final win came in 1939, when he posted a 2.54 ERA over 191 innings for the Red Sox.
Lefty Grove, 1938 Red Sox (age 38)
Grove also won with a 3.08 ERA in 1938, throwing barely enough innings to qualify (163 2/3) and edging out the Yankees’ Red Ruffing, who registered a 3.31 ERA across 247 1/3 frames.
Ray Prim, 1945 Cubs (age 38)
Easily the most unlikely winner on this list, Prim appeared in 39 big league games across 1933-35, then made 29 MLB appearances (all in ‘43) from ‘36-44 combined. Prim got another chance to pitch in the Majors for the Cubs in 1945 and turned in the finest season of his MLB career, tossing a career-high 165 1/3 innings over 34 appearances (19 starts) and winning the NL ERA crown with a 2.40 mark. Nearly 50% of Prim’s MLB innings came in that season. The left-hander spent most of his professional baseball career pitching in the Pacific Coast League and was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame in 2005.
Randy Johnson, 2002 D-backs (age 38)
After winning the NL Cy Young Award in each of his first three seasons with the D-backs, Johnson delivered another dominant campaign in 2002, earning the pitching Triple Crown with 24 wins, a 2.32 ERA and 334 strikeouts over 260 innings. It was the last of four career ERA titles for the Hall of Fame left-hander, who also won his fifth and final Cy Young Award.
Dazzy Vance, 1928 Brooklyn Robins (age 37)
This was a closer race than Vance’s win two years later, but the Brooklyn righty still earned the ERA crown comfortably with a mark of 2.09, edging Sheriff Blake (2.47).
Dennis Martinez, 1991 Montreal Expos (age 37)
El Presidente had a magical 1991 season, throwing a perfect game at Dodger Stadium in July and completing the year with a career-best 2.39 ERA, which gave the veteran right-hander the title over the Reds’ Jose Rijo (2.51). It was part of a late-career resurgence for Martinez, who won 97 games and recorded a 2.96 ERA for the Expos from 1987-93.
Randy Johnson, 2001 D-backs (age 37)
The Big Unit won his fourth career ERA title in 2001 (2.49 ERA), the same year he finished with a personal-best 372 K’s and led the D-backs to a World Series championship.
Walter Johnson, 1924 Washington Senators (age 36)
Johnson won four ERA titles, all with sub-1.50 marks, during the dead ball era, but went the first four years of the live ball era (beginning in 1920) without one until ‘24 rolled around. At the age of 36, the Big Train led the AL in wins (23), ERA (2.72) and K’s (158) and had a chance to pitch in the postseason for the first time after the Senators won the pennant. Washington then defeated the Giants in the World Series, with Johnson coming out of the bullpen to toss four scoreless innings and earn the win in extra innings in Game 7.
Lefty Grove, 1936 Red Sox (age 36)
Grove was the only qualifying AL pitcher to record a sub-3.00 ERA in 1936. With a 2.81 ERA, Grove won his seventh ERA crown handily over Cleveland’s Johnny Allen (3.44).
Hoyt Wilhelm, 1959 Orioles (age 36)
Seven years after winning an ERA title as a 29-year-old rookie for the Giants, Wilhelm did it again for the O’s, although his second was quite different than the first. In 1952, the knuckleballer made all 71 of his appearances out of the bullpen, but in ‘59, he started a career-high 27 games and reached the 200-inning plateau for the only time in his Hall of Fame career while notching a 2.19 ERA.