The History of the Arizona Diamondbacks' Good Pitching

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In their brief existence, the Diamondbacks have been extremely fortunate to have such a rich pitching history (most recent seasons notwithstanding). This history includes Hall of Fame caliber pitchers, five Cy Young Awards, and many seasons befitting an "ace". It is easy for fans to have a short memory, and fall into the "What have you done for me lately"? trap that is exacerbated by the instant-gratification-world that we live in. But lest we forget that we have been privileged to see some of the best pitching that the universe has to offer. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane, and find some literary symmetry in the process!

Our inaugural season was not a raging success, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some shining moments. Leading the way for the ’98 Dbacks were the likes of Omar Daal and Andy Benes with 4.2 and 3.1 bWAR, respectively. Both Brian Anderson and Andy Benes pitched more than 200 innings that year, with the latter exceeding 230. The total bWAR of the pitching staff that year was a mere 4.9, but that was due in large part to no fewer than fifteen pitchers posting negative bWAR totals. Overall, 1998 was a nice building block year that allowed the Dbacks to set the stage for a long stretch of winning seasons. But who cares!!! We had baseball in the desert!

One of the things that is taught early on in education is to always be aware of who your audience is. With that being said, I highly doubt that I have to tell you what happened next. But for anecdotal purposes, I will tell you anyways. Randy Johnson became an Arizona Diamondback, and began a string of unrivaled dominance. Over his first four seasons as a member of the Dbacks he posted the following stat lines:

















That is four seasons of averaging: 20-7 257.5 innings 354 K 9.55 bWAR. Needless to say, that is the epitome of an ace, and it’s no surprise that he won four straight Cy Young Awards.

During the 2000 season, management decided that he needed a partner to dominate with. So then the team made one of the greatest trades in franchise history by bringing Curt Schilling to the desert. Now, in almost any other environment, and under almost any other circumstances, Schilling would probably have at least one Cy Young to his name. But the "Big Unit" cast an awfully big shadow, that kept Schilling from winning an award of his own. In 2001 and 2002, Schilling posted a total of 17.5 bWAR while averaging 258 innings and 305 strikeouts per year. During these two years, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling would become arguably the best 1-2 punch that baseball has ever seen. For comparisons sake, here are a couple of other elite, pitching tandems and their best 2 year stretches combined:


Combined bWAR

Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling – 2001/02


Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale – 1963/64


Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke – 2014/15


Greg Maddux and John Smoltz – 1995/96


Doc Gooden and Ron Darling – 1985/86


Early Wynn and Bob Lemon – 1955/56


Now, this is not a comprehensive list, but rather just a quick comparison of some of the greatest pitchers of all time. The fact that Schilling and Johnson’s peaks coincided at the same time is what made them such a great duo.

Just as the era of Johnson and Schilling was coming to a close, another ace was cutting his teeth at the major league level. His name was Brandon Webb. In 2003, Webby posted 180 innings, a 2.84 ERA, and 6.2 bWAR and that was just the beginning. He would blossom over the next several years into a Bona Fide ace, all while refining his sinker. Speaking of his sinker, it was basically a baseball for the first half of its flight to home plate, and a bowling ball for the second half. A pitch that was so good, that you could pretty easily include it in a list of the greatest pitches of all time.

Over the course of Webb’s six year career, he compiled 87 wins, a 3.27 ERA, and 33.3 bWAR. He won the Cy Young Award in 2006, and was runner-up in 2007 and 2008. Prior to the 2008 season, the Dbacks swung a trade for another potential ace in Dan Haren. With Webb entering his prime, and Haren coming to town, many people envisioned Johnson and Schilling version 2.0. However, after just one year Brandon Webb succumbed to an injury that would wind up being career ending. It’s not too farfetched to imagine a world in which Webb is still pitching for the Dbacks, and we could all be discussing whether or not he is Hall of Fame worthy.

2009 was a great year for Haren, but it was all for naught because the rest of the team was not that great. A year later, and the torch would be passed from Haren to Ian Kennedy. Ian was brought to Arizona in three way trade that saw us lose another future ace in Max Scherzer. Not long after, the Dbacks would trade for another solid arm in Daniel Hudson. In 2011 Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson would go on to lead the Diamondbacks to the NL West crown, and memorable season. Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA, and Hudson went 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA. However, Kennedy’s brilliant season was mostly a flash in the pan. He would struggle mightily the next few years, while Daniel Hudson went on the have back-to-back Tommy John Surgeries.

The string of brilliant pitchers guiding Arizona through the battlefield that is Major League Baseball would reach a snag after the 2011 season. A mixture of poor trades, Tommy John Surgeries, and a youthful staff meant that the Dbacks and their fans would be left wanting. The fifteen-year-or-so long stretch of ace-level pitching had become so commonplace to us, that we don’t know how to feel without it. However, despite our recent woes there are many signs that our pitching dry spell could be ending soon. But before we cover that, let’s take a look at exactly what I mean by "ace-level" pitching.

I decided to take a look at every team over the last eighteen seasons, and see how many ace-level seasons existed. I decided to set an arbitrary parameter of ace-level is greater than or equal to 6.0 bWAR. The results were a little more surprising than I imagined they would be, with Arizona leading the way by a somewhat large margin. The graph below shows a list of all the teams in the league, and how many 6.0+ bWAR individual seasons each of them have had since 1998.


# of 6.0+ bWAR seasons

Arizona Diamondbacks


Boston Red Sox


Los Angeles Dodgers


Philadelphia Phillies


Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays


San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees


Miami Marlins, Oakland A’s, Cleveland Indians


Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim


San Diego Padres


Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays


Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles


This graph really paints a picture of how fortunate we have been in our brief existence to have such outstanding pitching. What is even more amazing is that we have not had a 6.0+ bWAR season since Dan Haren did so in 2009. Ian Kennedy came close in 2011, but still wound up about 1 bWAR short. Regardless, there is a lot to take from this graph.

Who might be the next 6.0+ bWAR starter for our dear Dbacks? Well, Zack Greinke has a very rough beginning to his Diamondack career to say the least, but he is certainly one of the more logical choices. Archie Bradley has had mixed results over his brief major league career, but it is easy to forget that he is still just 23 years old. He has turned things around recently and appears to have made huge strides towards becoming the ace that we all thought he could be. Patrick Corbin could perhaps put together a very good season in the future, and if he does put it all together he has the potential to be a 6.0+ bWAR pitcher as well. Other candidates obviously include Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa, Shelby Miller, and Braden Shipley… And I know, the inclusion of Shelby Miller is rather comical at the moment. But history says that it might be possible.

Overall, we must remember that we have been blessed by the baseball gods with a history of terrific pitching. Although it has been a while since we have seen it on a consistent basis, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that the dry spell might be ending soon. Who do you think will be Arizona’s next 6.0+ bWAR pitcher?