Best Tigers Pitching Seasons

We’ll wrap up our look at best and worst Tigers seasons of all time with the best Tigers pitching seasons. The methodology is quite simple, and if you’ve read the other parts of the series will look quite familiar.

Using data from Baseball Reference PI I looked at the best seasons in terms of ERA+ with at least 20 starts. I then calculated an awesome index as:


Now of course this discriminates against relief pitchers. Willie Hernandez in 1984 should certainly be part of any discussion. However, ERA isn’t really a great measure for relief pitchers, and ERA+ is of course derived from ERA. That and I wanted to keep this pretty simple. So really, this should be titled Best Tigers Starting Pitching Seasons.

The top 10 seasons are below.

The full spreadsheet is available

Before looking at the list I would have guessed that Denny McClain’s 1968 31 win season would be very near the top. While McClain showed up at number 7, it didn’t come close to trumping Prince Hal Newhouser.

Newhouser’s MVP season in 1945 ranked first, narrowly edging out his MVP runner up season in 1946. Newhouser also won the MVP award in 1944 compiling what has to be one of the most dominant 3 year stretches in baseball history.

If you look at number 3 on the list you’ll see that Dizzy Trout’s 1944 season was also quite amazing. He finished only 4 points behind Newhouser in the MVP voting, and actually garnered 3 more first place votes. The two pitchers combined for 664 IP, 74 starts, 13 shutouts, and a 56-23 record. The two also turned in matching spectacular seasons in 1946 forming quite the formidable 1-2 punch. Trout also hit 271/317/409 with 5 homers that season. He was only behind Dick Wakerfield on a weak hitting Tigers team in terms of AB/HR.

If you’re looking for Mark Fydrich, you’ll have to check the full spreadsheet. He just missed the front page by coming in 11th.

Okay, here’s a test for you. Only one season from 1980 on made the top 50. Who was it?

If you guessed Jack Morris, or anyone besides Justin Thompson you’re wrong. That’s right, Thompson’s 1997 3.02 ERA (158 ERA+) placed him 13th on the list. He threw 223 innings that year, 222 innings the following year, and has spent the rest of his career trying to get off the disabled list.

In terms of frequency, while Newhouser dominated the top of the list and appeared 6 times in the top 50, it was Tommy Bridges who was most frequently on the list with 8 appearances. Bridges was the model of consistent excellence with 8 seasons posting an ERA+ between 134 and 147. Trout made the list 4 times, and McClain 3 times.

Ah, the data

At this point I have to highlight Baseball Reference PI. Many of you are probably familiar with the wealth of information available at BR. Well Sean Forman has made the data very query-able. I wouldn’t have even pursued this without this wonderful resource. And until February 26th you can try it for free.

The rest of the series

Worst Offensive Seasons
Best Offensive Seasons
Worst Pitching Seasons


  1. Slashpyne

    February 19, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    I question the weight of the various statistics. How much weight does complete games and games started count? These stats would favor the pitchers from 1900-~1970 when four man rotations were the norm and the bullpen was used much differently then the last 20-30 years.

  2. Dave

    February 19, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    Of course, in the 1944 seasons, the major leagues were missing a lot of players; the war had taken quite a few. In 1945, players began to trickle back. So, Newhouser’s 1944 season and Trout’s 1944 season loom so large in part because a good chunk of the majors weren’t really true major leaguers.

  3. billfer

    February 20, 2007 at 5:21 am

    Slashpyne –

    I didn’t actually use CGs or Games Started to rank the seasons. I just said that a pitcher had to have started at least 20 games as a filter. Which really just means that he had significant playing time.

    The only criteria is ERA+ (which adjusts for the era) and IP. The IP is influenced by the way the game has changed. However, if you look at the full spreadsheet it becomes clear that the very top seasons all had pitchers throwing significant innings.

    This isn’t meant to be definitive in any way – it really can’t be looking at only 2 statistics. It’s just more of a fun exercise.

  4. Slashpyne

    February 21, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Sorry, I looked at the full spreadsheet and assumed there was a vast and complex formula weighing all the variables.

    A little closer reading of the article on my part would have been helpful….

    Thanks for the response1

  5. billfer

    February 22, 2007 at 8:33 am

    No problem. I just presented the rest of the data to give more information on each season. I just used a real simple methodology to filter and rank the results.