5 best seasons by a Red Sox pitcher

December 15th, 2020

When you think of Red Sox history, you often think of the thunder bats of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, David Ortiz, Jim Rice, Jimmie Foxx and many others. But the club has also been graced with some dominant pitchers, many of whom produced seasons for the ages.

Here is a look at the best single-season pitching performances in the illustrious history of the club.

1) , 2000
Key fact: ERA+ of 291 is the best of any MLB pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900)
Yes, Martinez’s 2000 season might be the most impressive of any pitcher in the last 121 years. In an era when offense was exploding, Martinez’s ERA was a miniscule 1.74. For perspective, Roger Clemens finished second in the AL that season at 3.70 – a disparity of almost two full runs! Martinez also led MLB that season in shutouts, FIP, WHIP and hits per nine innings. He led the American League in strikeouts, HR/9 and K/9.

A look at his individual game logs creates more perspective on his utter dominance. Only twice all season did Martinez allow more than three earned runs in a start. He gave up one earned run or less in 17 of his 29 starts. There were 15 double-digit strikeout performances, including 17 in a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay. The 2000 season was the pinnacle for Martinez.

2) Dutch Leonard, 1914
Key fact: ERA of 0.96 is the best in Modern Era
You probably don’t know as much about Dutch Leonard as you should, perhaps because he pitched just 11 seasons in the Major Leagues and isn’t in the Hall of Fame. But when it comes to single-season greatness, it is hard to top what this lefty did for Boston in his second MLB season of 1914. Leonard’s 279 ERA-plus is second best in club history. He also led MLB that season in FIP, WHIP, H/9 and K/9. On April 21 that season, Leonard fired 13 innings without allowing an earned run in a 1-1 tie with the Athletics. His ERA crept above 1 just once the entire season.

3) Cy Young, 1901
Key fact: 12.6 WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference is the best in a single season for a pitcher in Red Sox history
You had to figure that the man baseball’s top pitching award was named after would wind up somewhere on this list. Young was the driving force of the highly successful Red Sox teams of the early 1900s. Never was that more evident than ’01, when Young won 33 of his 43 appearances (41 starts) while leading the league in shutouts, strikeouts, ERA, FIP and ERA+. Young’s endurance was off the charts, as he logged 371 1/3 innings. The ’01 season was Young’s best in the 20th century. He had others in the 1890’s for Cleveland that were more statistically impressive.

4) , 1990
Key fact: Led Majors with 2.18 FIP
So how is it that the best season Clemens had in a Red Sox uniform was not one of the three Cy Young Award-winning seasons he had with the club? Let’s just say that voting for baseball’s most prized award was archaic compared to what it is now. Bob Welch was the Cy Young Award winner in ’90 because he won 27 games. Forget, for a minute, that he didn’t lead the league in any other category and his ERA was more than a run higher than Clemens. The Rocket, meanwhile, was dominant, notching a 1.93 ERA, the best of his Red Sox career.

His ERA+ of 211 was easily the best of his 13 seasons in Boston. Though Clemens did miss four starts in September with a right shoulder injury, he still managed to win 21 games while leading the Majors with four shutouts. The Rocket allowed just seven homers and led baseball by allowing 0.3 home runs per nine innings.

5) Smoky Joe Wood, 1912
Key fact: 34 wins, ranking sixth all-time in the Modern Era
In that 1912 season, in which the Red Sox won the World Series, Wood joined Young as the only pitchers in club history to win as many as 30 games in a season. His 10.1 Baseball Reference WAR was the fifth best in team history for a pitcher in a single season. Wood carved up the opposition with a 1.91 ERA and went the distance in 35 of his 38 starts. He also had 10 shutouts to lead the American League. The Red Sox beat the Giants 4-3-1 in the World Series, with Wood securing three of the four victories.

Honorable mentions
Much like his 2000 season, Martinez’s 1999 campaign was one for the ages. He went 23-4 with 313 strikeouts and finished second in the AL MVP race. … Clemens put himself on the map as a superstar by going 24-4 and winning the MVP in ‘86. That was also the year he set a Major League record with 20 strikeouts in a start against the Mariners. … Lefty Grove finished his Hall of Fame career in Boston, and his best season with the club was ‘36, when he led the league in ERA, shutouts, ERA+, WHIP and K/BB. … One of the most interestingly brilliant seasons by a starting pitcher in team history came from Luis Tiant in ‘72. El Tiante led the Majors with a 1.91 ERA while appearing in 43 games -- 19 of which he started. Tiant had 12 complete games for a team that lost the division title the final weekend of the season ... Jim Lonborg’s 1967 season was the second-most important component to the Impossible Dream after Yastrzemski’s all-around greatness. Lonborg went 22-9 while making 39 starts and logging 273 1/3 innings and got the win in Game No. 162, which clinched the pennant. The righty also won two of his three World Series starts, including a one-hit shutout in Game 2.