Picking the top seasons for a Jays hitter was so fun and went over so well I decided to repeat the same exercise with pitcher. If you’ve never done it before comparing pitchers seasons is tough. It’s even tougher when trying to compare starters and relievers.
I’m from the group of people that don’t classify wins as the most important stat in a pitcher’s line. That’s why you won’t find Jack Morris’ 1992 season in the Top 10. Big Jack’s win total must have been buoyed by the Jays’ awesome lineup because some of his other numbers aren’t that good. In case you didn’t read the Top 10 hitters (what the hell is wrong with you! Go read it now!) here are a couple rules the Top 10 must follow.
No. 1 – Only one season allowed per player. Without this rule compiling the list wouldn’t be very fair to anyone not named Clemens, Stieb or Halladay.
No. 2 Only full-seasons in Jays uniforms count. No one traded at some point during the season, or shortened seasons (ie. 1994 strike season) count. Got it? Here we go then.
Hentgen became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win the Cy Young award with a career season in 1996. He set career bests in wins, ERA and strikeouts in 1996 and in complete games after going the distance 10 times to lead the Majors in the category. Hentgen locked up the Cy with an amazing second half, going 12-4 with a 2.58 ERA and seven complete games in 16 starts after the All-Star break.
Eichhorn is the first reliever to crack the list after baffling hitters with his tricky sidearm delivery in 1986. Eichhorn finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in Cy Young voting after winning 14 games despite pitching solely out of the bullpen. He allowed only 105 hits in 157 innings for a miniscule 0.96 WHIP while allowing only 30 earned runs. Eichhorn left Toronto after the 1988 season but returned in 1992 giving the Jays a reliable left-handed reliever in the ‘pen for both World Series championship seasons.
Guzman was my favorite pitcher during the World Series year so I may be a little biased here. The intensity he showed on the mound was brilliant and he had the stuff to back it up. In 1992 he appeared in his first and only All-Star game after a torrid first half that saw him go 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA in 18 starts. He must have tired some down the stretch in only his second season, as he was 5-3 with a 3.91 ERA after the break. He showed up in the postseason though, winning game in the ALCS and the World Series, which included an 11-strikeout performance against Oakland. Despite sometime spotty control (he threw 14 wild pitches in ’92 and 26 in ’93) Guzman surrendered only six home runs in 28 starts in 1992. I think Guzman deserves more credit than he gets for helping the Jays to two World Series title, when he went a combined 30-8 in 92/93.
The Terminator was in top form in 1989. His saves total may not be that impressive, but that’s only because the Jays didn’t give him enough chances after getting off to such a poor start. Henke’s three losses all came in the month of April and after that he was almost automatic, allowing only 13 earned runs in 83 innings the rest of the season. I don’t remember Henke being such a strikeout artist, but he mowed down batters in ’89 with 116 strikeouts in 89 innings, which averages out to 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. No wonder they called him the Terminator.
6. Duane Ward 1993
Key Stats: 2-3, 45SV, 2.13 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 97K/71ip
With Henke gone in ’93 Ward inherited the closer role after being the automatic setup man in ’92. Ward owned the ninth inning in 1993 setting a new team record with 45 saves in 51 chances. Ward appeared in his only All-Star game that season and finished fifth in Cy Young voting. Ward struck out the side a staggering 10 times in ’93 while holding opposing hitters to a microscopic .193 average. Unfortunately for Ward and Jays fans 1993 was Ward’s peak as arm troubles ended his career, forcing him to retire in 1995 having never recorded another save in the Majors.
Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. Everyone remembers Ryan flaming out with an elbow injury that cost him his career and made his huge contract make Vernon Wells’ deal look somewhat reasonable. Ryan’s disappointing departure from Toronto overshadowed what was arguably the best season by a Jays’ closer in 2006. Ryan converted 38 saves in 42 chances in 2006 while dominating hitters with a sparkling 1.37 ERA and an ungodly 0.857 WHIP. Ryan had 10.70 strikeouts per nine innings and held opposing batters to a .169 average. The end of his career may not have been pretty but Ryan’s 2006 season was out of this world. Then why do I barely remember it?
After winning a combined 28 games in 1985-86 Key was considered the Jays’ ace in 1987 and started on opening day. Key didn’t disappoint setting a career-high in wins and leading the AL in ERA. He finished second in Cy Young voting behind Roger Clemens and could have finished ahead of the Rocket if he had a little more run support to boost his win total. With more run support Key could have easily surpassed the 20-win mark. In Key’s eight losses the Jays scored only eight runs and in seven of his no decisions he allowed two earned runs or less. The biggest heart breaker for Key was in Toronto’s one-game playoff with Detroit to decide first place in the AL East. Key tossed a complete-game three hitter only to take the loss in a 1-0 Toronto defeat.
Trying to pick Dave Stieb’s best season is really, really hard. His career high win total (18) came in 1990, his best ERA (2.48) came in 1985 and he pitched an unthinakable19 complete games in 1982. After crunching the numbers I settled on 1985. Stieb’s win/loss record from ’85 may not look like much, but blame his lack of solid run support and an inconsistent bull pen. Stieb was an All-Star and finished seventh in Cy Young voting after leading the AL in ERA and allowing the fewest hits per nine innings in the AL. Here’s how you explain Stieb’s league best ERA and his lackluster 14-13 record. He pitched eight complete games and lost four of them. In those four losses Toronto scored four runs. In eight of Stieb’s 13 losses the Jays scored two runs or less. Oh, and one other thing Stieb allowed 16 unearned runs that season so even the defense was against him at times.
Halladay may have won his only Cy Young while with the Jays in 2003, but statistically speaking he was better in 2008 when he finished second in Cy voting behind his now teammate Cliff Lee. Halladay won 20 games in 2008 but he likely could have won more. In three of his starts the Jays were shutout. These included a 1-0 loss to Boston, a 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh and a 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay. In five of Doc’s other losses the Jays were held to two runs or less. Halladay was as usual a machine in 2008, leading the AL in innings pitched, complete games, WHIP and he tied for the lead in shutouts. It would be really interesting to see what Halladay could have done in 2005 if he pitched the entire season. In 2005 he was 12-4 with a 2.41 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP through 19 starts before a line drive broke his leg and ended his season early in July.
I hate putting Clemens number one on this list, but you can’t argue with the stats he put up his first year in Toronto. I actually have a Clemens jersey which I bought in 1997, but I can’t remember the last time I wore it. Clemens was by far the best pitcher in baseball in 1997 easily winning the Cy Young ahead of an almost equally impressive Randy Johnson. Clemens won the pitching Triple Crown in 1997, leading the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts and he also led the league in WHIP, complete games, shutouts and he tied for the lead in innings pitched with teammate Pat Hentgen. Clemens struck out 10-plus batters 14 times in 1997, setting a new franchise record with 292 punchouts on the season. I was lucky enough to be at the game Clemens broke Dave Stieb’s old season-high strikeout record of 198. Clemens struck out 10 Indians that day, in a five-hit shutout.
As good as Clemens was in 1997 his most impressive run during his time in Toronto might be after the All-Star break in 1998. In the first half of 1998 another Cy Young for Clemens looked impossible after he went 9-6 with a 3.55 ERA. After the break Clemens was a perfect 11-0 with a 1.71 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP. Clemens may have become one of baseball’s biggest villains, but for two years he delivered two of the best seasons of pitching baseball fans have ever seen.
Doyle Alexander 1984
Todd Stottlemyre 1991
Jack Morris 1992
Paul Quantrill 1997
David Wells 2000
A.J. Burnett 2008
Ricky Romero 2011