It has long been conjectured that those who prefer the analytical approach to baseball do not possess the capability of feeling actual human emotion. Or, at best, they experience basic emotions like joy and sorrow only upon viewing advanced metrics. Today I hope to prove that this simply isn't so; that someone who stopped looking at batting averages and runs batted in 20 years ago can still get excited about an old-school counting stat. Just like a regular human. We are not complete robots, after all; I, for one, am composed of just 32 percent cybernetic materials.
Although I've been dismissive of pitcher's won-loss records since before a young go-getter named George H.W. Bush was in the White House, when they get really extreme -- Max Scherzer's in 2013, for instance -- I'll be the first to admit they are fun to look at. And it's no small coincidence that great pitchers have registered some of the best ever.
The truth is, I am pulling very hard for Scherzer to become the first pitcher to win 20 games while losing fewer than three. When his teammates got him off the hook Thursday after he fell behind the A's 6-0, I was thrilled. I actually emitted sounds from my throat that closely resembled the cheers made by real fans. Escaping his second loss made it that much easier for Scherzer to go 22-1, 23-1 or 22-2. And how cool would that be, aesthetically? Very, in my opinion. Is it uncool to think this would be cool? Is it uncool to still be using "cool" at all?
In fact, Scherzer has a decent enough shot at posting the best winning percentage ever and he might -- with further assistance from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, et al. -- wind up at the top of the list for the coolest won-loss record ever.
What list is that? The one below, which I just made up. To qualify for this list, a pitcher has to have won at least 20 games (apologies to Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Roy Face). He must also have the fewest losses for his win total. In other words, as a made-up example, the guy with the second-most losses at 22 wins is not on the list, even though his winning percentage might be better than the guy with the fewest losses at 26 wins. Once a pitcher qualifies on those grounds, his ranking is subjective ... but with some bias toward winning percentage.
#10: 30-7 - Dizzy Dean, 1934 St. Louis Cardinals
Dizzy Dean had a very modern complement of 33 starts in 1934. But unlike the lazy starting pitchers of today, he also made 17 relief appearances, including both games of a doubleheader on September 23, helping the Cardinals stay ahead of the Giants in the pennant race. He then closed out the season with three starts in five days, surrendering a total of two runs, to win his 28th, 29th, and 30th games. He also pitched more than 300 innings. In all, Dean had seven retroactively awarded saves and a 3-2 relief record. That sounds like a hard way to make a living.
#9: 27-6 - Bob Welch, 1990 Oakland A's
This is the benchmark season in the Great War Against Won-Loss Records, in that Bob Welch managed to pull this off in spite of not making the American League top 20 in pitching WAR. His count of 3.0 was less than a third of Roger Clemens that year, and was also lower than Dennis Eckersley, who saved 19 of Welch's victories. As a further testament to the vagaries of run and bullpen support, Welch's fellow Oakland starter Dave Stewart pitched better and for longer, but came away with a 22-11 record. Still, though, there it is: the third-highest win total since the Great Depression, as 27-6 just leaps off the page ... and that's why it's here.
#8: 26-5 - Lefty Gomez, 1934 New York Yankees
In direct contrast to Welch, Lefty Gomez led the league in ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and hits per nine. He also threw the most innings, completed the most games and threw the most shutouts. Yes, the Yankees got him 5.6 runs per start in a league where 5.1 was the average, but Schoolboy Rowe got even better support from the Tigers and went 24-8. It's too bad nobody had thought of the Cy Young Award yet. Not only because Gomez deserved it, but because Cy Young himself could have presented it.
#7: 36-7 - Walter Johnson, 1913 Washington Senators
A case could be made that this should be higher because, you know, the man finished 29 games over .500 on the season all by himself. The rest of the Senators were just under .500 (we're looking at you Tom Hughes and your 4-12 record) and they finished in second, six games behind the A's. Of the 25 top single-season WARs, 21 of them happened in the 19th Century when men threw every day, often facing well over 2,000 batters in a season. Johnson's 1913 is the highest 20th-century season to appear on the WAR leader board. The second is his 1912. Cy Young's 1901 is 23rd and then, in 25th, is Dwight Gooden's 1985 (see below).
#6: 23-4 - Pedro Martinez, 1999 Boston Red Sox
As great as Martinez's '99 season was, his 2000 was even better ... except according to his win-loss record. A case could be made that, with normal support, Martinez should have gone 23-2 in 2000. Here's how that what-if works: He gets to keep all 18 wins because he allowed two or fewer runs in 17 of them, and just three in the 18th. Assigning him a no-decision in the four other games in which he allowed three runs leaves seven remaining games. Let's tag him with a loss both times he gave up four or more (one of which was an actual loss and the other a no-decision); that gives him five games in which he surrendered one or two runs and either got a no-decision or a loss. If he had gone 23-2, 22-2 or 22-3 instead of 18-6, nobody would blink if you tried to posit the theory that Pedro's 2000 season (an adjusted ERA+ of 291!) was the greatest single campaign in baseball history.
#5: 24-4 - Dwight Gooden, 1985 New York Mets
After Dwight Gooden's spectacular '85 campaign, in which he allowed just 2, 3, 3, and 2 runs in his four losses, I remember Bob Gibson opining that Gooden would never be able to have a season like that again. Being a Mets fan and convinced of Gooden's place in the eternal pantheon, I was outraged by this statement. Of course Gibby turned out to be right and I have never again been guided by fanboyishness.
#4: 22-3 - Cliff Lee, 2008 Cleveland Indians; and Preacher Roe, 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers
Lee's remarkable ascendance was the talk of baseball in 2008. He had an opportunity to become the first 20-game winner to lose fewer than three games, but suffered a no-decision in his next-to-last start and lost to the Red Sox in his final outing, snapping an 11-game winning streak. Like Lee, Preacher Roe was also 22-2 when he took his third loss. Three days later, Roe started the Dodgers' final game of the year. A loss would have handed the pennant to the rampaging Giants. Roe got blown out in the second inning by the Phillies, but the Dodgers rallied from a 6-1 deficit and bought themselves a playoff showdown with New York with a 9-8 win in the 14th.
#3: 34-5 - Smoky Joe Wood, 1912 Boston Red Sox
Wood also posted a 119 OPS+ in 141 plate appearances. He was not the best pitcher in the American League in 1912. That accolade belongs to Walter Johnson, against whom Wood had one of the greatest duels of all time, on September 6 of that year. But Johnson played for the banjo-hitting Senators, so Johnson had to settle for a 33-12 record.
#2: 31-4 - Lefty Grove, 1931 Philadelphia A's
You're probably wondering how the infamous Denny McLain's famous 31-6 in 1968 didn't make this list. It's simple: He was aced out by Grove's splendid showing. Grove led the league in everything that wasn't nailed down and posted the 20th-best ERA+ of all time. Like Dean three years later -- and many other top starters of the day -- Grove did yeoman duty out of the bullpen, relieving 11 times against 30 starts. He was 27-3 in the starting role, which is something on the other side of astounding.
#1: 25-3 - Ron Guidry, 1978 New York Yankees
Guidry also finished with seven no-decisions, but the Yankees won five of them. His average Game Score in those games was 56 and he had a Quality Start in five of them. With a few breaks, he could have gone 28-3. Of course, with a few breaks the other way, he could have also gone 24-6, but it's more fun to think about the positive what-ifs. Remember, too, that he only would have been 24-3 if the Red Sox hadn't come out of the stupor and roared back to tie the Yankees and force the 163rd game. Why is this the coolest record? Because 25 is such a fat number and 3 such a puny one. Their juxtaposition is incongruous. Silly, even.
Naturally, you are free to disagree with the rankings all you like because they are -- unlike our infallible modern metrics -- open to interpretation.