The thing that I really love about the end of the year is the wealth of marathons that air on the MLB Network, especially the Prime 9 countdowns. Of course, some of these are a few years old seeing as how some of those interviewed have since passed away.
Steve Carlton‘s 1972 season was ranked as the 9th best individual pitching season. It was Carlton’s first season since being traded away from the St. Louis Cardinals. In that season, Carlton won the Pitching Triple Crown with 27 wins, 1.97 ERA, and 310 strikeouts. I’m sure many of us wonder how different things would be if Gussie Busch and Bing Devine never broke up the Cardinals teams of the 1960s as they entered the early 1970s–especially when the ace of the staff, Bob Gibson, was on the decline and edging towards retirement. Carlton would have definitely made a difference.
Coming in at #3 was Bob Gibson’s 1968 season. This was the season responsible for changes being made to the pitching mound. Gibson went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA and 268 strikeouts. He threw 13 shutouts in 28 complete games. He won both the NL Cy Young and MVP Awards.
As far as the best hitting seasons go, Rogers Hornsby‘s 1922 season was ranked #4. Hornsby’s hitting line that season was .401/.459/.722 with an OPS of 1.181. The second baseman hit 42 home runs and drove in 152 runs. He led the league with 250 hits, 46 doubles, 141 runs scored, 42 home runs, and 152 runs batted in. Hornsby won both the NL Batting Title and National League Triple Crown.
Rick Ankiel was ranked #9 for the top players whose careers were cut short. This was more so for Ankiel’s pitching career rather than his hitting career. When Ankiel came up through the Cardinals system, he was a highly touted prospect with enough potential to draw comparisons to Sandy Koufax. It was the ppstseason in 2000 in which Ankiel lost his control. It was hard to watch him pitch that postseason and still hard to see the highlights. Ankiel returned the minor leagues and was converted to a position player. We’ll never truly know what could have been.
While the nine best pitching rotations was likely aired a few years ago, in a few years, I have to think that a re-ranking would include the Cardinals trio of Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha. The depth of the rotation and their ERA+ were the main criteria for inclusion into the rankings. Former Cardinals pitcher Mark Mulder was included with the 2001 Oakland Athletics rotation of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Cory Lidle.
As far as the best relief pitching seasons, former Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter was ranked 4th for his 1977 season for his time with the Chicago Cubs. During that season, Sutter had a 1.34 ERA with 31 saves. Another former Cardinal, Dennis Eckersley, was ranked #1 for his 1990 season with the Athletics. Eckersley had a 0.61 ERA that season with 48 saves. Eck would win both the MVP and CYA for his performance in the 1992 season.