Where Do Randy Johnson + Curt Schilling Rank In Pitching Duos?

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, former members of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks World Series team stand for the National Anthem before the game against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

While I was reviewing the Cy Young results last week, I noted that the Arizona pair of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson were the only duo in the National League to play for the same team and come 1-2 in CY voting since 1977 - and they did it both in 2001 and 2002. That got me wondering, how do their numbers stacked up against the other great pitching tandems in baseball history? After the jump, we'll take a look at exactly that, and see where the Big Unit and the Big Mouth rank.

I went with bWAR for an objective evaluation of players. FIP, the core of fWAR for pitchers, may be a better predictor of future performance but, while reducing a pitcher's performance to K, BB and HR allowed (the only factors in FIP) may get rid of defensive factors, it would seem to throw out a great deal more. Additionally, the tools at B-R.com are a lot easier to use and the data goes back further as well - the last is an important consideration, for the later parts of this article.

The 2011 seasons

First of all, here are the combined numbers for every team's 1-2 starters in the majors last year. I used WAR as the judge of who were a side's top two, filtering out "obvious" relief pitchers. Amusingly, Doug Fister managed to be the #2 both for Seattle, with whom he started the season, and for Detroit, to where he was traded. I think it's interesting to note how, of the top six pitching duos, only two (the Phillies and Tigers) made the post-season, and neither of them made the World Series. Of course, no matter how well they may pitch, any team will still need to find starting pitchers outside their front pair for about 97 games per year.

Team #1, #2 WAR W-L ERA
PHI Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee 14.2 36-14 2.37
DET Justin Verlander, Doug Fister 11.2 32-6 2.27
BOS Josh Beckett, Jon Lester 11.0 28-16 3.18
LAD Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda 10.6 34-19 2.65
LAA Jered Weaver, Dan Haren 10.6 34-18 2.79
NYY C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova 10.4 35-12 3.29
TBR James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson 10.3 29-22 3.72
TEX C.J. Wilson, Matt Harrison 9.0 30-16 3.15
OAK Gio Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy 8.7 25-21 3.21
SFG Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain 8.3 25-25 2.81
ARI Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson 8.1 37-16 3.18
SEA Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister 7.8 17-26 3.41
ATL Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens 7.4 29-16 3.11
TOR Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow 7.3 26-22 3.72
CHW Mark Buehrle, Phillip Humber 7.0 22-18 3.67
NYM R.A. Dickey, Chris Capuano 6.6 19-25 3.88
CIN Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake 6.4 21-14 3.11
COL Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel 6.3 18-27 4.13
STL Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse 6.2 25-17 3.43
MIL Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf 6.0 26-17 3.62
CLE Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin 6.0 24-17 3.66
FLA Anibal Sanchez, Javier Vasquez 5.9 21-20 3.68
MIN Scott Baker, Carl Pavano 5.8 17-19 3.86
PIT Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm 5.6 15-23 3.52
SDP Mat Latos, Tim Stauffer 4.5 18-26 3.60
KCR Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar 4.3 23-19 4.28
BAL Jeremy Guthrie, Zach Britton 4.2 20-28 4.45
WSN Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler 4.0 12-16 3.13
HOU Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris 4.0 17-22 3.63
CHC Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster 3.8 20-24 4.07

Recent history

Now, let's start cranking up the wayback machine, and see who led the majors each season. After some thought, I didn't just opt for straight total WAR here, but went for the team whose #2 had the highest WAR i.e. the franchise with the highest floor. For example, in 2010, the top WAR would have been the Phiilies, with Halladay (7.0) and Cole Hamels (4.8) combining for 11.8. However, the heaviest 1-2 punch was the Red Sox, with Clay Buchholz (5.3) and Lester (5.0). Even though their total WAR was lower, at 10.3, Lester's 5.0 was better than Hamels 4.8, by this standard making them a tougher duo overall. But, in most years, it didn't matter.

Here are the numbers for the past 20 seasons.

Year #1, #2 (team)
WAR W-L ERA
2011 Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee (PHI)
14.2 36-14 2.37
2010 Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester (BOS) 10.3 36-16 2.83
2009 Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter (STL) 11.9 36-12 2.45
2008 Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) 10.7 34-9 3.07
2007 C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona (CLE) 13.4 38-15 3.14
2006 Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang (CIN) 10.2 30-22 3.52
2005 Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte (HOU) 13.0 30-17 2.35
2004 Johan Santana, Brad Radke (MIN) 12.9 31-14 2.97
2003 Mark Prior, Kerry Wood (CHC) 11.5 32-17 2.81
2002 Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling (ARI) 15.7 47-12 2.77
2001 Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling (ARI) 15.7 43-12 2.74
2000 Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park (LAD) 11.3 31-16 2.92
1999 Jamie Moyer, Freddie Garcia (SEA) 10.7 31-16 3.96
1998 Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine (ATL) 11.9 38-15 2.34
1997 Andy Pettitte, David Cone (NYY) 14.3 30-13 2.85
1996 Pat Hentgen, Juan Guzman (TOR) 14.9 31-18 3.09
1995 Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine (ATL) 13.5 35-9 2.34
1994 David Cone, Kevin Appier (KCR)* 10.5 23-11 3.36
1993 Kevin Appier, David Coner (KCR) 15.0 29-22 2.96
1992 Roger Clemens, Frank Viola (BOS) 14.0 31-23 2.92

I think this does give a good idea of just how dominant Randy and Curt were. They posted a combined WAR of 15.7 in consecutive seasons, while no-one else has passed fifteen in the past twenty years. The only pair to come top in back-to-back years were the Royals duo of Cone and Appier. The 1994 season, marked with a *, was shortened, Kansas City playing only 115 games, so if we scale up the WAR for a full campaign, you would get to 14.8 WAR, giving them 29.8 in total from 1993-94. That's still 1.6 short of what Johnson and Schilling did for the D-backs when they were together in the desert.

Part of that is simply their sheer stamina. In 2002, both pitched over 250 innings. It's the only time a National League team has had two hurlers reach that mark since 1988. Indeed it may never happen again, since over the nine seasons since, a mere four players in total have reached the mark: Halladay (twice), Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Livan Hernandez. The same goes for the win-loss record - CS and RJ went 90-24 over two seasons, which we may never see in future. No team has had two 20-game winners on the staff for even a single year since, and the last to do it in consecutive years like Arizona did, were the 1975-76 Baltimore Orioles.

Okay. So there are few who can match them in recent history. What about deeper in baseball's past?

All-time

The further back you go, the more unfair the comparisons inherently become to Johnson and Schilling, because it was a simple fact that pitchers worked harder then. The only pitcher since 1982 to make 40 starts over a season was knuckler Charlie Hough, in 1987, but as recently as 1973, a dozen pitchers did so. Rotation guys were also expected to work deeper into games, which both result in more innings being racked up. More starts + more innings per start = more WAR.

But if we draw the line at 6.8 WAR - the number for Schilling in 2002 - we still find fewer than twenty pitching duos since the 19th century, the last before our pair being Nolan Ryan (8.3) and Frank Tanana (7.7) of the 1977 Angels. [Ryan worked 299 innings that year, reinforcing the point from the previous paragraph] No-one bar our two did it in consecutive years - the closest are the Tigers' Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout, who make the list in 1944 and 1946. And if we move the bar to Schilling's 2001 figure, of 7.3 WAR, you are down to just nine. Here are the details for those pairings, with an extra column, showing the combined number of innings worked.

Year
#1, #2 (team)
WAR W-L ERA IP
2001 Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling (ARI)
15.7 43-12 2.74 506.1
1977 Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana (CAA)
16.0
34-25
2.67
540.1
1969
Bill Hands, Fergie Jenkins (CHC)
16.4
41-29
2.88
611.1
1969
Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry (SFG)
16.3
40-25
2.30
625.0
1965
Jim Bunning, Chris Short (PHI)
15.9
37-20
2.71
588.1
1964
Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax (LAD)
16.0
37-21
2.00
544.1
1956
Herb Score, Early Wynn (CLE)
15.8
40-18
2.63
527.0
1920
Jim Bagby, Stan Coveleski (CLE)
15.1
55-26
2.69
654.2
1903
Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity (NYG)
19.4
61-33
2.35
800.1

Yep. You read that last cell correctly: over 800 innings worked by Mathewson and McGinnity in a year. Between them, they started 90 games and were only ever relieved in nine of them. Like I said: truly a different era. But otherwise, Schilling/Johnson in 2001 were right there or thereabout with the other entries, despite having pitched considerably less. Their rate works out at about one WAR every 32 innings, so if you allow for that, than their numbers work out at the best on the list, over a standard, say, 600 innings.

Of course, it's impossible to say definitively who were the best pitching due of all time - you could make a case for just about anyone on the list above. But it certainly provides evidence that Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson should be ranked among the very best, and we may never see anything quite like them again.

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