The Worst of the Best, Part VI: ERA Leaders
It’s been a while since the last installment of this series, so to refresh, the purpose of this series is to identify players with the worst career numbers who once led their league in a major statistical category. This installment, we look at pitchers who led their league one or more times in ERA.
Pitcher with the Highest Career ERA to Lead League Once since 1893. Al Maul: 2.45 NL 1895; 4.43 career ERA. Needless to say, most of the pitchers on today’s list pitched during hitters’ eras. Once the pitchers’ slab was moved back to the current 60’6″ in 1893, offense in baseball exploded, at least until the late 1890’s. Maul only made 16 starts and threw only 135.2 innings in 1895, before arm problems apparently ended his season. He pitched considerably more in 1893 and 1894 but had ERAs over 5.00 both seasons.
After battling injuries for several seasons, Maul had one final hurrah, going 20-7 with a 2.10 ERA, second best in the NL behind only Clark Griffith in 1898, before more injury problems finished off his career for good.
Honorable mention. Freddie Garcia: 3.05 AL 2001; 4.18 career ERA. Freddie is still pitching, having just been called up to the Braves this month. However, it doesn’t seem likely he pitch enough in the future to significantly lower his current career ERA or win another ERA title.
Garland Braxton: 2.51 AL 1928; 4.13 career ERA. A fine relief pitcher for the Yankees in 1926 and the Washington Senators in 1927 in an era when only a few teams were using relief specialists at all, Braxton was converted to a starter in 1928 and led the Junior Circuit in ERA. Apparently his arm couldn’t take the strain of the heavier workload, because he never had an ERA below 4.85 again. Three pitchers (Frank Baumann: 2.67 AL 1960; Allan Anderson: 2.45 AL 1988; and Kevin Millwood: 2.86 AL 2005) finished with career ERAs of 4.11 after once leading their league in ERA.
Pitcher with Highest Career ERA to Lead League Twice since 1893. Ray “Wiz” Kremer: 2.61 NL 1926, 2.47 NL 1927; 3.76 career ERA. A fine pitcher who started for his home town team, the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks, for seven seasons before finally reaching the majors at age 31, Kremer had his major league career ERA uglied up from 1928 through 1930, peak seasons for hitters in a hitters’ era. In 1930, Wiz went 20-12, leading the National League in wins despite a 5.02 ERA. It was pretty much as if every pitcher in 1930 was pitching every game in Coors Field.
Pitcher with Highest Career ERA to Lead League Three or More Times since 1893. Randy Johnson: 2.48 AL 1995, 2.48 NL 1999, 2.49 NL 2001 and 2.32 NL 2002; 3.29 career ERA. Johnson had relatively high ERAs early in his career as he tried to harness his electric stuff and late in his career as he tried to reach 300 wins.
Honorable mention. Dazzy Vance: 2.16 NL 1924, 2.09 NL 1928, 2.61 NL 1930; 3.24 career ERA. The pitcher most like Randy Johnson in baseball history, Vance was the best pitcher in the National League in the 1920’s despite not establishing himself as a major league pitcher until the age of 31. In 1930, the next best ERA in the Senior Circuit after Vance was fellow Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell‘s 3.87. Definitely not an easy time to be a pitcher.
Greg Maddux: 2.36 NL 1993, 1.56 NL 1994, 1.63 NL 1995 and 2.22 NL 1998; 3.16 career ERA. The last six seasons of his career, Maddux posted ERAs between 3.96 and 4.24, which bumped up his career ERA.
Pitcher with Highest Career ERA to Lead League Five or More Times since 1893. Roger Clemens: 2.48 AL 1986, 1.93 AL 1990, 2.62 AL 1991, 2.41 AL 1992, 2.05 AL 1997, 2.65 AL 1998 and 1.87 NL 2005; 3.12 career ERA.
Pitcher with Highest Career ERA to Lead League Eight or More Times since 1893. Lefty Grove: 2.51 AL 1926, 2.81 AL 1929, 2.54 AL 1930, 2.06 AL 1931, 2.84 AL 1932, 2.70 AL 1935, 2.81 AL 1936, 3.08 AL 1938 and 2.54 AL 1939; 3.06 career ERA.
The only two pitchers to lead their league in ERA more than five times, Clemens’ and Grove’s relatively high career ERAs say much more about the extreme hitters’ eras they played in than their overall effectiveness as pitchers.