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Legendary shadow

Comparing Koufax's six-year reign to today's best

Posted: Tuesday September 03, 2002 6:14 PM
Updated: Tuesday September 03, 2002 8:34 PM

 
Oh Sandy!
Most consecutive ERA titles won:
Pitcher  Lg  Years  No. 
Sandy Koufax  NL  1962-66 
Lefty Grove  AL  1929-32 
Greg Maddux  NL  1993-95 
Roger Clemens  AL  1990-92 
Grover Alexander  NL  1915-17 
 

By Jacob Luft, CNNSI.com

In 1966, Sandy Koufax retired on the heels of the most dominant six-year stretch of pitching anybody had ever seen.

Starting in the 1961 season, the Dodgers left-hander went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA and a staggering 115 complete games. The blinding brilliance resulted in this dizzying array of accolades: three Cy Young Awards, two World Series MVPs, one NL MVP, three triple crowns, five straight ERA titles ...

Well, you get the point. The guy was unbelievable.

Unfortunately, many of us alive today did not have opportunity to watch Koufax pitch. We do, however, have some decent pitchers going in this era that can rival and, in some ways surpass, Koufax's accomplishments.

In fact, Koufax no longer has the record for lowest ERA during a six-year period. That honor belongs to Atlanta's Greg Maddux, who posted a 2.14 ERA from 1992-97, a period in which he won four consecutive Cy Youngs.

Since the start of the 1997 season, Boston's Pedro Martinez has an ERA of 2.19, just as Koufax did. In 2000, Martinez became the first pitcher in history to have an ERA more than three runs lower than the league average. He broke his own record of 2.79 runs below the league average, set the year before. Before that, Maddux had set and reset the record as well. Even Koufax in his absolute prime never got lower than 1.88 below the league average.

Arizona's Randy Johnson has won the past three NL Cy Youngs and was named co-MVP of the World Series last season. At the rate he's going, he might end his career with the best eight-, nine- or 10-year stretch of any pitcher in history.

A young Roger Clemens won three Cy Youngs, an MVP and three ERA titles from 1986-91 with the Red Sox.

The comparisons can go on ad infinitum, so we'll let the numbers tell the story. Below is a look at the best six-year spans for Clemens, Maddux, Johnson and Martinez and how they compare to Koufax's legendary run. Neither of them can quite match Koufax's overall dominance, especially in terms of innings pitched, but it does point out that we should appreciate the Koufax-like pitchers of today while we can.

(The numbers in red represent the difference between their ERAs and the league they played in. Martinez's and Johnson's numbers are through Monday's games.)

Sandy Koufax
Year  W-L  CG  IP  BB  SO  ERA  LERA  Diff. 
1961  18-13  15  255.2  212  96  269  3.52  4.03  0.51  
1962  14-7  11  184.1  134  57  216  2.54  3.94  1.40  
1963  25-5  20  311.0  214  58  306  1.88  3.29  1.41  
1964  19-5  15  223.0  154  53  223  1.74  3.53  1.79  
1965  26-8  27  335.2  216  71  382  2.04  3.54  1.50  
1966  27-9  27  323.0  241  77  317  1.73  3.61  1.88  
Total   129-47  115  1,632.2  1,171  412  1,713  2.19  3.66  1.47  
Hardware: 3 Cy Young, 1 MVP, 2 WS MVP, 3 Pitching Triple Crowns 
 
Roger Clemens
Year  W-L  CG  IP  BB  SO  ERA  LERA  Diff. 
1986  24-4  10  254.0  179  67  238  2.48  4.18  1.70  
1987  20-9  18  281.2  248  83  256  2.97  4.46  1.49  
1988  18-12  14  264.0  217  62  291  2.93  3.97  1.04  
1989  17-11  253.1  215  93  230  3.13  3.88  0.75  
1990  21-6  228.1  193  54  209  1.93  3.91  1.98  
1991  18-10  13  271.1  219  65  241  2.62  4.09  1.47  
Total   118-51  70  1,552.2  1,271  424  1,465  2.70  4.08  1.38  
Hardware: 3 Cy Young, 1 MVP, 1 All-Star Game MVP 
 
Greg Maddux
Year  W-L  CG  IP  BB  SO  ERA  LERA  Diff. 
1992  20-11  268.0  201  70  199  2.18  3.50  1.32  
1993  20-10  267.0  228  52  197  2.36  4.04  1.68  
1994  16-6  10  202.0  150  31  156  1.56  4.21  2.65  
1995  19-2  10  209.2  147  23  181  1.63  4.18  2.55  
1996  15-11  245.0  225  28  172  2.72  4.22  1.50  
1997  19-4  232.2  200  20  177  2.20  4.21  1.01  
Total   109-44  47  1,424.1  1,151  224  1,082  2.14  4.06  1.92  
Hardware: 4 Cy Young 
 
Pedro Martinez
Year  W-L  CG  IP  BB  SO  ERA  LERA  Diff. 
1997  17-8  13  241.1  158  67  305  1.90  4.21  2.31  
1998  19-7  233.2  188  67  251  2.89  4.65  1.76  
1999  23-4  213.1  160  37  313  2.07  4.86  2.79  
2000  18-6  217.0  128  32  284  1.74  4.91  3.17  
2001  7-3  116.2  84  25  163  2.39  4.47  2.08  
2002  17-4  182.1  128  36  221  2.22  4.49  2.27  
Total   101-32  31  1,204.1  846  264  1,537  2.19  4.60  2.14  
Hardware: 3 Cy Young, 1 Pitching Triple Crown, 1 All-Star MVP 
 
Randy Johnson
Year  W-L  CG  IP  BB  SO  ERA  LERA  Diff. 
1997  20-4  213.0  147  77  291  2.28  4.57  2.29  
1998-AL  9-10  160.0  146  60  213  4.33  4.65  0.32  
1998-NL  10-1  84.1  57  26  116  1.28  4.24  2.96  
1999  17-9  12  271.2  207  70  364  2.49  4.56  2.07  
2000  19-7  248.2  202  76  347  2.64  4.63  1.99  
2001  21-6  249.2  181  71  372  2.49  4.35  1.86  
2002  19-5  219.0  173  64  285  2.63  4.11  1.48  
Total   115-42  43  1,446.1  1,113  444  1,988  2.64  4.45  1.81  
Hardware: 3 Cy Young, 1 Co-WS MVP 
 

 
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