After the Chicago White Sox gave baseball a black eye in 1919, the league must have thought that bringing more offense to the game was their best play. From 1920-1945, the live-ball era increased the batting averages, but many pitchers still thrived. Here are the five best MLB pitchers in the live-ball era.
Many say being a backup quarterback is the best gig in sports. But where does being a starting pitcher on the “Murderers’ Row” New York Yankees team land on the list of cushiest jobs? Waite Hoyt was the stalwart for the 1920s Yankees, including the legendary 1927 squad everyone compares great teams to.
Dazzy Vance didn’t get his career going until he was 31, yet he remains one of the game’s best pitchers. The Hall of Fame hurler finished third during this era in wins above replacement (WAR) while striking out 6.22 per nine innings.
If you struck out only six players per nine innings in today’s game, you’d have a one-way ticket to the Minor Leagues. But when contact was at a premium, striking out six batters per game is a great accomplishment, as was his 28-6 record with a 2.16 ERA in 1924.
Let’s add a Dizzy to our Dazzy in the rotation with Dizzy Dean. The St. Louis Cardinal legend had a shorter career than others, but he was as dominant as anyone from 1932-1937. During that span, Dean led the league in innings pitched three times, wins and games pitching twice, and strikeouts four consecutive seasons. In one of the seasons he led in wins, Dean compiled 30 of them, a feat very few have accomplished, and we haven’t seen since Denny McLain did so in 1968.
It’s unquestionable who the top two pitchers of the live-ball era are, but how would you rank them? Since it is so close, we will let the WAR stat be our guide, putting Carl Hubbell as the runner-up.
Hubbell had a fantastic career with the New York Giants, finishing his 16-year career with 253 wins to only 154 losses and a 2.98 ERA. He led the National League in wins and ERA three times, with his 1933 campaign being the best with a 1.66 ERA.
His biggest claim to fame was in the following year’s All-Star Game, the southpaw consecutively struck out five would-be Hall of Famers: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin.
Another left-handed ace, appropriately named Lefty Grove, is leading our five-man live-ball Era rotation. Grove’s Baseball-Reference page is full of black bond font, which means he led the league in several categories for multiple years. He finished his career with exactly 300 wins to go with 141 losses, which was good for a ridiculous .680 winning percentage. His best season was in 1931, where he went 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA, completing 27 of his 30 starts.
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