Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Why 1.12 is the Most Impressive Number in Baseball History
About 10 days ago, I wrote a post about Luis Tiant and his emotional return to his native Cuba. In the post, I mentioned that in 1968, Tiant had a 1.60 ERA, which was the 4th lowest in the past 90 years. Of course before making this claim, I did some research to make sure it was true. But while crunching the numbers, I noticed something rather odd and extremely interesting.
I noticed, how monumental the year 1920 was in the evolution of baseball. First of all, 1920 was Babe Ruth's first year with the New York Yankees. That year he officially made the transition from pitcher to hitter. As we all know, the Babe was primarily a pitcher when he was with the Boston Red Sox. In short, 1920 was the year when the era of the big-boppers began.
Logically this could only mean one thing--pitcher's ERAs would go up. And did they ever. So much so, that it's strikingly noticeable.
Let's put it in perspective:
In the history of the game, there have been 245 (sub-2.00 ERA) seasons. 205 were before 1920 and only 40 were after 1920.
It's only been done twice so far this decade-- Pedro Martinez (1.74 in 2000) and Roger Clemens (1.87 in 2005)
Crunching it down even further--there have been only 36 (sub-1.50 ERA) seasons in history. 35 were before 1920 and 1, yes 1, was after 1920.
That lone season belongs to St Louis Cardinals legend, Bob Gibson. In 1968, Gibson had an astonishing 1.12 ERA. Even amongst all the "dead-ball era" ERAs, it's still the 4th lowest in major league history-- only behind Tim Keefe (0.86 in 1880); Dutch Leonard (0.96 in 1914) and Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown (1.03 in 1906).
It's mind-boggling how Gibson (a modern guy) stands out on a list that only features guys who pitched around 100 years ago.
I know Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak and Ted Williams .401 batting average get most of the attention, but quite frankly, I think those are more likely reachable than Gibson's 1.12. I mean, even breaking the 1.50 barrier has been impossible to do since 1920--so imagine reaching 1.12.
The closest anyone has come in the modern era to joining Gibson (in the sub-1.50 club) has been Dwight Gooden (1.53 in 1985), Greg Maddux (1.56 in 1994) and the aforementioned, Luis Tiant (1.60 in 1968).
For now, Gibson is all alone--and I can see him staying that way for a long time.
Bob Gibson's photo courtesy of SI.com
Mordecai Brown's photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com