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The 10 Most Dominant Pitching Seasons of the Past 15 Years

Pitchers
Doug Pensinger/Jed Jacobsohn/Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

In one of the most surprising stories of the first half of the baseball season, New York Mets knuckleball-throwing journeyman R.A. Dickey is dominating hitters, having hurled back-to-back one-hitters.

The 37-year-old Dickey is now 11-1 and nursing a streak of 42-and-two-thirds consecutive scoreless innings. He’s being touted as a possible All-Star game starter and just enjoying the ride, leading the National League in ERA (2.00) and strikeouts (103). If Dickey can somehow maintain this pace for the rest of the season, he’ll join a group of elite pitchers who have put together outstanding seasons in recent years. Here’s a look at 10 of the best recent full-season pitching performances:

PEDRO MARTINEZ – 2000

During an era largely defined by home runs and other explosive offensive stats, Pedro somehow walked away with one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history in 2000. He took home the Cy Young Award that year, and many believed he should have finished higher than fifth in MVP voting. Although his 18-6 record didn’t stand out, Pedro’s 1.74 ERA was the league’s lowest for a pitcher in over two decades. One of his losses was in a 1–0 complete game when he tallied 17 strikeouts and one walk. That’s what you call dominant.

RANDY JOHNSON – 2002

This season marked the last of his last of five Cy Young Awards, and arguably his most memorable. In 2002, Johnson captured the pitching Triple Crown, topping all NL pitchers in wins, ERA and strikeouts. His 24-5 record came during a time when very few pitchers were hitting the 20-win mark at all. Johnson finally slowed down the following year when he spent most of the season on the DL. It marked the first time in a long time that “The Big Unit” seemed human.

ROY HALLADAY – 2011

It might be hard to remember how feared Halladay was last year considering he didn’t even take home the Cy Young Award (it went to Clayton Kershaw), but his 19-6 record and 2.35 ERA proved that the veteran could still get it done. And, most importantly, he had the Phillies back in the NLDS. If Kershaw is a sign of the times to come, Halladay showed that he still had some gas left in the tank. All that strain on his body may have left a mark — he’s recovering now from a muscle strain behind his right shoulder. Could 2011 have been the last of Halladay’s dominance?

ROGER CLEMENS – 1997

It’s easy to forget that the man nicknamed The Rocket had an amazing resume long before allegations of performance-enhancing drugs came to light. He had so many amazing seasons that it’s hard to pick just one. But 1997 marked a new era for Clemens, his first year in Toronto with something to prove. After struggling somewhat in his final years with Boston, Clemens was ready for a new start. In 1997, he earned the American League Triple Crown with 21 wins, a 2.05 ERA and 292 strikeouts. Toronto finished last in the division that year, a testament to how much Clemens carried them. He’d go on to win another three Cy Young Awards after that season.

JUSTIN VERLANDER – 2011

Very quietly, Verlander has risen up to become the best pitcher in the American League. Last year, he turned many fans’ heads when he won the Triple Crown with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA, and 250 strikeouts. But don’t stop there: Verlander also led the league in innings pitched. It was good enough for the AL MVP Award, too, the first starting pitcher to snatch that honor since Clemens did in 1986.

CURT SCHILLING – 2001

Probably best remembered as a Red Sox star, Schilling actually put up his best years with Arizona around the turn of the century. In 2001, he went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA. More impressively, though, he went 4–0 with a 1.12 ERA in the playoffs, leading the Diamondbacks to an improbable World Series win. He shared World Series MVP honors with teammate Randy Johnson as the duo obliterated the competition. Schilling came out just as strong in 2002, posting a 23-7 record with a 3.23 ERA.

JOHAN SANTANA – 2004

If the Mets’ Dickey is enjoying an oustanding early-season run, it was Santana’s time to shine in the second half of the 2004 season when he played for the Twins. He cruised to a 13–0 record down the stretch and finished 20-6 overall. He set a Minnesota record for strikeouts with 265 and quieted hitters with a 2.61 ERA. Santana got himself his first of two Cy Young Awards that year and he’s largely considered one of the great pitchers of our time.

ZACK GREINKE – 2009

He was dominant out of the gate in 2009 when he didn’t allow a run in his first 24 innings. As a whole, his season would be more admired if not for the decent, but not great, 16-8 record he totaled with the Royals. Look at his ERA, though — 2.16 — and you get the impression that Greinke was doing something special. Thankfully, the league recognized his accomplishments and gave him his first Cy Young Award. Now a Brewer, Greinke is considered one of the premiere young pitchers in the Majors.

TIM LINCECUM – 2008

A young star arrived for the Giants in 2008 when Lincecum broke the team’s single-season strikeout record by tallying 265. His 18-5 record helped him capture the Cy Young Award that year. He followed up that success with another run in 2009 that netted him a second consecutive award. But that performance couldn’t compare to his 2008 numbers when he was the talk of the league, keeping opponents to a .221 batting average. His 2.62 ERA was the NL’s second best that year.

mark prior – 2003

How soon we forget how much promise a rising star can have before a disappointing end sets in. The height of Prior’s possibility came in 2003 when he posted an 18-6 record and finished third in the Cy Young voting.  He and Kerry Wood were supposed to usher in a new era of winning for the Chicago Cubs. Prior and others were critical of manager Dusty Baker’s reliance on high pitch counts from his young starters, which could have contributed to the shortness of Prior’s career, but for that year Prior was the man. He drove the Cubs’ deep into the postseason. It all faded away very shortly afterward.

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