Monday, February 11, 2013

Best Pitching Season of the 1940s

Bob Feller 1946 (9.4 bWAR)

After serving in the U.S. Navy for four years, Rapid Robert picked up where he left off in his first full season back from World War II. At the age of 27, he reclaimed his status as the sport's premier flamethrower and most electrifying pitchers. With the ink still drying on his freshly signed $50,000 contract, Feller won two-thirds of the pitching Triple Crown by leading both leagues with 26 wins and 348 strikeouts. In most years his 2.18 ERA would have been good enough to lead the league as well, but in '46 it placed him third behind Hal Newhouser and Spud Chandler among American League hurlers.

At Yankee Stadium on April 30th, Feller twirled the second no-hitter of his career to get the best of Bill Bevens in a 1-0 pitcher's duel. Though he walked five, Feller fanned eleven Yankees and stymied a loaded lineup featuring future Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, and Phil Rizzuto. Bullet Bob retired Tommy Henrich, Joltin' Joe and Charlie Keller in the bottom of the ninth to clinch his no-no. He went on to throw a pair of one-hitters later in the summer, narrowly becoming the first and only pitcher to have a trio of no-hitters in the same season.

Feller was selected to his fifth All-Star team and started the Midsummer Classic (as did Ken Keltner and Feller's batterymate, Frank Hayes) and delivered three shutout innings, earning the win as the American League cruised to a 12-0 rout. Feller allowed just two hits (both singles) and fanned three. Shortly thereafter, Feller embarked on a stretch in which he permitted just two earned runs in 69 innings from July 20th through August 17th.

Aside from Allie Reynolds, player-manager Lou Boudreau didn't have much of a rotation that year, so he leaned heavily on his ace. As a result, Feller pitched every fourth day, regardless of rainouts and off days. Feller went on to lead the majors with 48 appearances, 42 starts, 36 complete games, 10 shutouts and 371 and a third innings pitched, almost 80 more than the next closest pitcher (Newhouser). He even saved four games, enough to rank him fifth in the American League.

Though his Cleveland Indians finished the year 18 games below .500, Feller still managed to finish sixth in the MVP race that year (which was won by Ted Williams, one of the few batters to consistently frustrate Feller).

Here are some more interesting facts from Feller's record-setting year:
  • Limited opponents to a .208/.291/.225 batting line
  • Average GameScore was a 68
  • The Tribe were 30-18 (.625) when Feller pitched, 38-68 (.358) when he didn't
  • Went beyond nine innings three times, including eleven in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia A's on June 16th
  • Bookmarked his season with complete game efforts
  • His K total set a new American League record, breaking Rube Waddell's 1904 mark of 344, that stood until Nolan Ryan punched out 383 batters 27 years later. Feller shattered Waddell's record in his final start of the season, a complete game victory over the Detroit Tigers in which he whiffed five to move past Waddell in the record books
  • Had a dozen starts in which he struck out at least ten batters, though ten of those performances came before the All-Star Game
  • Incredibly, Feller surrounded just 11 home runs all year long (good for a 0.3 HR/9 rate) and just three in his 23 home starts (where his ERA was 1.40). He did not allow a single long ball in April or August, and had just one game all year--July 11th at the House that Ruth Built--in which he served up multiple gopher balls (both to the immortal Aaron Robinson)
  • Had 30 starts in which he allowed two earned runs or less. Check out his earned run breakdown:
         0 runs--12 starts
         1 run--9 starts
         2 runs--9 starts
         3 runs--6 starts
         4+ runs--6 starts

Best offensive season of the 1940s--Ted Williams (1941)

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