Thursday, October 3, 2013

ERA League Leaders: Back of the Playoff Rotation

Clayton Kershaw and Anibal Sanchez, the ERA leaders of their respective leagues, will both pitch in this postseason. It's actually the first time in ten years that both A.L. and N.L. front-runners will see October baseball.

Kershaw is currently the best pitcher on the planet and will get the ball in the NLDS opener in Atlanta tonight. But I'm going to focus more on Sanchez, who despite a 2.57 ERA will not pitch until Monday's ALDS Game Three.

Detroit has a loaded rotation that also features Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Doug Fister that makes them one of the favorites to win the World Series. Sanchez getting bumped to third-starter status makes him an oddity among the 80 ERA leaders that reached the playoffs.

The chart below is all 80, and listed with each pitcher is the first-round game that they started. For most that means the World Series, but for the more recent ones it means the LCS or LDS.

Pitcher Year Team ERA Game Result Top of the Rotation
Clayton Kershaw 2013 Dodgers 1.83 1
Anibal Sanchez 2013 Tigers 2.57 3 Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander 2011 Tigers 2.4 1 L ALCS
Chris Carpenter 2009 Cardinals 2.24 1 L NLDS
John Lackey 2007 Angels 3.01 1 L ALDS
Johan Santana 2006 Twins 2.77 1 L ALDS
Roger Clemens 2005 Astros 1.87 2 L WS
Johan Santana 2004 Twins 2.61 1 L ALDS
Jason Schmidt 2003 Giants 2.34 1 L NLDS
Pedro Martinez 2003 Red Sox 2.22 1 L ALCS
Randy Johnson 2002 Diamondbacks 2.32 1 L NLDS
Randy Johnson 2001 Diamondbacks 2.49 2 WS Champ
Freddy Garcia 2001 Mariners 3.05 1 L ALCS
Randy Johnson 1999 Diamondbacks 2.48 1 L NLDS
Pedro Martinez 1999 Red Sox 2.07 1 L ALCS
Greg Maddux 1998 Braves 2.22 3 L NLCS John Smoltz, Tom Glavine
Greg Maddux 1995 Braves 1.63 1 WS Champ
Randy Johnson 1995 Mariners 2.48 3 L ALCS Chris Bosio, Andy Benes
Greg Maddux 1993 Braves 2.36 2 L NLCS
Roger Clemens 1990 Red Sox 1.93 1 L ALCS
Scott Garrelts 1989 Giants 2.28 1 L WS
Mike Scott 1986 Astros 2.22 1 L NLCS
Roger Clemens 1986 Red Sox 2.48 1 L WS
Dave Stieb 1985 Blue Jays 2.48 1 L ALCS
Nolan Ryan 1981 Astros 1.69 1 L NLDS
Rudy May 1980 Yankees 2.46 2 L ALCS
Ron Guidry 1978 Yankees 1.74 4 WS Champ Jim Beattie,  Ed Figueroa, Catfish Hunter
Catfish Hunter 1974 Athletics 2.49 1 WS Champ
Tom Seaver 1973 Mets 2.08 1 L WS
Jim Palmer 1973 Orioles 2.4 1 L ALCS
Vida Blue 1971 Athletics 1.82 1 L ALCS
Bob Gibson 1968 Cardinals 1.12 1 L WS
Sandy Koufax 1966 Dodgers 1.73 2 L WS
Sandy Koufax 1965 Dodgers 2.04 2 WS Champ
Sandy Koufax 1963 Dodgers 1.88 1 WS Champ
Whitey Ford 1958 Yankees 2.01 1 WS Champ
Bobby Shantz 1957 Yankees 2.45 2 L WS
Whitey Ford 1956 Yankees 2.47 1 WS Champ
Johnny Antonelli 1954 Giants 2.3 2 WS Champ
Mike Garcia 1954 Indians 2.64 3 L WS Bob Lemon, Early Wynn
Eddie Lopat 1953 Yankees 2.42 2 WS Champ
Allie Reynolds 1952 Yankees 2.06 1 WS Champ
Gene Bearden 1948 Indians 2.43 3 WS Champ Bob Feller, Bob Lemon
Howie Pollet 1946 Cardinals 2.1 1 WS Champ
Ray Prim 1945 Cubs 2.4 4 L WS Hank Borowy, Hank Wyse, Claude Passeau
Hal Newhouser 1945 Tigers 1.81 1 WS Champ
Max Lanier 1943 Cardinals 1.9 1 L WS
Spud Chandler 1943 Yankees 1.64 1 WS Champ
Mort Cooper 1942 Cardinals 1.78 1 WS Champ
Bucky Walters 1940 Reds 2.48 2 WS Champ
Bucky Walters
Bill Lee
Lefty Gomez 1937 Yankees 2.33 1 WS Champ
Carl Hubbell 1936 Giants 2.31 1 L WS
Carl Hubbell 1933 Giants 1.66 1 WS Champ
Lon Warneke 1932 Cubs 2.37 2 L WS
Lefty Grove 1931 Athletics 2.06 1 L WS
Lefty Grove 1930 Athletics 2.54 1 WS Champ
Lefty Grove 1929 Athletics 2.81 RP WS Champ Howard Ehmke, George Earnshaw, Jack Quinn
Ray Kremer 1927 Pirates 2.47 1 L WS
Wilcy Moore 1927 Yankees 2.28 RP/4 WS Champ Waite Hoyt, George Pipgras, Herb Pennock
Stan Coveleski 1925 Senators 2.84 2 L WS
Walter Johnson 1924 Senators 2.72 1 WS Champ
Phil Douglas 1922 Giants 2.63 DNP WS Champ
Hippo Vaughn 1918 Cubs 1.74 1 L WS
Fred Anderson 1917 Giants 1.44 RP L WS Slim Sallee, Ferdie Schupp, Rube Benton
Eddie Cicotte 1917 White Sox 1.53 1 WS Champ
Babe Ruth 1916 Red Sox 1.75 2 WS Champ
Pete Alexander 1915 Phillies 1.22 1 L WS
Smoky Joe Wood 1915 Red Sox 1.49 DNP WS Champ
Christy Mathewson 1913 Giants 2.06 2 L WS
Jeff Tesreau 1912 Giants 1.96 1 L WS
Christy Mathewson 1911 Giants 1.99 1 L WS
King Cole 1910 Cubs 1.8 4 L WS Orval Overall, Mordecai Brown, Ed Reulbach
Jack Pfiester 1907 Cubs 1.15 2 WS Champ
Mordecai Brown 1906 Cubs 1.04 1 L WS
Doc White 1906 White Sox 1.52 2 WS Champ
Christy Mathewson 1905 Giants 1.28 1 WS Champ
Rube Waddell 1905 Athletics 1.48 DNP L WS
Sam Leever 1903 Pirates 2.06 2 L WS

48 of them pitched the postseason opener and 18 more drew the Game Two start. Of the remaining 14, three did not pitch in the World Series and three more pitched out of the bullpen. Let's take a closer look at these guys.

Sanchez is the fourth ERA leader of the expansion era to reach the postseason but not pitch until Game Three or Four. Greg Maddux was in a similar spot in 1998, as he was third in line among a group of aces like Smoltz and Glavine. Put those three future Hall of Famers in any order you want, they steamrolled the Cubs with a 1.66 ERA in an NLDS sweep.

Randy Johnson and Ron Guidry had historic seasons, but their teams needed them in a one-game playoff just to reach the postseason. Johnson's 1995 Mariners trailed the Angels by 10.5 games with 33 to play, but rallied to tie California on the season's last day. Johnson struck out 12 in a complete-game three-hitter that clinched the A.L. West. With the ALDS starting in New York the next night, he couldn't pitch until Game Three.

Guidry's 1978 Yankees also pulled off a miraculous comeback. His 25-3, 1.74 ERA season led the way as New York made up 14 games on the Red Sox and forced a winner-take-all game for the division. At Fenway Park, he worked six and one-third innings and allowed two runs, picking up the win on Bucky Dent's famous homer. They had to go to Kansas City for the ALCS opener the next day, so Guidry did not pitch until the Game Four pennant-clincher.

Another note on the two one-game playoffs: They were both on October 2nd, 18 and 35 years ago yesterday (as well as my birthday).

The next two on the list were Game Three starters behind a pair of Cleveland Hall of Famers. Mike Garcia worked the third game of the 1954 World Series after Bob Lemon and Early Wynn put the Tribe in an 0-2 hole. Garcia lost as well and the Giants pulled off a shocking sweep. Gene Bearden won a one-game playoff for the A.L. pennant in 1948, and he slotted in behind Bob Feller and Lemon in the World Series rotation.

As we go back to 1945, we some a few guys like Ray Prim, who was more of a starter/reliever swingman that just got over the innings qualifier. Wilcy Moore (1927) and Fred Anderson (1917) also fall under this designation.

In 1929, Lefty Grove was in the middle of a dominant stretch in which he lead the circuit in ERA four years in a row and won seven straight strikeout titles. But when their World Series opponent was a Cubs team loaded with righties, A's skipper Connie Mack elected to put the ace and third-starter Rube Walberg in the bullpen. It worked like a charm as Howard Ehmke came out of nowhere with 13-K gem in Game One before Grove earned a save in the second game with four and one-third shutout innings. Lefty also worked a six-out save in the Game Five clincher.

King Cole had a great 1910 season, but in a crowded Cubs rotation he didn't get into the Fall Classic until the A's had already taken a 3-0 lead. He pitched well in a no decision as Chicago staved off elimination for one more day before Philly won it all. Sadly for Cole, he died of tuberculosis just five years later at age 29.

There were three ERA leaders who didn't participate in the World Series with their teams. Rube Waddell (1905) and Smoky Joe Wood (1915) were simply injured but the story of Phil Douglas (1922) is quite interesting.

A big right-hander Douglas was having a standout year for the Giants in '22, but alcoholism and a feud with manager John McGraw kept him off the field from July 30 onward. Read about his downfall and eventual ban from baseball in this sad and fascinating SABR bio.

In the last 34 seasons, only two World Series champions had an ERA leader on their squad. Kershaw's Dodgers and Sanchez's Tigers hope to join the 1995 Braves and 2001 Diamondbacks, and who knows...we could have an L.A.-Detroit showdown in the Fall Classic, which would be the first time both ERA leaders won the pennant since 1954.

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