10 Modern Era Single Season Pitching Records That Will Never Be Broken

Ten Post-1901 Pitching Records That Will Never Be Broken

Jack Chesbro with the Boston Red Sox in 1909.

They say, “never say never.”

Records are meant to be broken.

But there are some pitching records that will probably never be broken and others that certainly will never be broken. We’re looking at records from the modern era only – post 1901.

Here they are:

10. Johnny Vander Meer 2 consecutive complete game no-hitters (1938)

Johnny Vander Meer had the good fortune to be the only pitcher to ever throw back to back no-hitters on June 11 and June 15, 1938 for the Cincinnati Reds.

It is now rare for a pitcher to throw a shutout, or even a complete game. In an era of relief specialization, analytics and match-ups, no-hitter’s are becoming a thing of the past. As of May 2018 there have been 297 no-hitters thrown in the past 117 years. 10 of those no-hitters were a team effort, thrown by two or more pitchers in the game. In 2015 there were seven no-hitters thrown. In 2016 and 2017 a total of just two no-hitters were thrown.

The notion that anyone will ever again throw two no-hitters in a row is a longshot. Three no-hitters in a row? No way.

9. Rube Marquard 19 consecutive wins (1912)

New York Giants starting pitcher Rube Marquard strung together 19 straight wins to begin the 1912 season. Long winning streaks by starting pitchers are uncommon nowadays. They’re yanked from games earlier than ever and no longer control the outcome in close games because they’ve hit their pitch count limits.  Can a modern day pitcher win 20 games in a row? If it were to happen, it would be a miracle.

8. Roy Face .947 Winning Percentage (1959)

How do you get a .947 winning percentage? You lose only one game and win 18. Pirates pitcher Roy Face achieved that lofty winning percentage all in relief. Face did not start one game. It is conceivable a pitcher could have a better winning percentage. It is also conceivable we will one day have world peace.

7. Nolan Ryan 383 strikeouts (1973)

Nolan Ryan was a strikeout machine. In 27 big league seasons Ryan mowed down 5,714 hitters primarily using his blazing speed.  If a pitcher struck out more than 383 batters in a season as Ryan did for the 1973 California Angels, it would mean striking out an average of about 1.5 batters per inning based on a 256 inning season.

In 2017 only ten pitchers threw 200 or more innings. Boston’s Chris Sale led all major leaguers with only 214.1 innings pitched.  Sale also struck out a stupendous 308 batters.

Since starting pitchers are pitching less innings than ever before, it seems highly improbable that any pitcher will ever strike out more than 383 batters in a season.

6. Ed Walsh 467 innings pitched (1908)

Talking about innings thrown this number is just insane, but White Sox Hall-of Famer Ed Walsh threw 467 innings in 1908. You read that right four hundred sixty seven. It’s probably a good thing they did not have pitch counts in 1908. This record is definitely safe.

5. Jack Chesbro 51 games started (1904)

This is one of three single season pitching records that Jack Chesbro of the New York Highlanders set in 1904 and will never be broken.

Pitchers don’t even start 35 games in a season anymore. With six man rotations coming into existence, it seems likely that we’re heading towards pitchers starting no more than 30 games per season. The last pitcher to come close to breaking Chesbro’s record was Chicago White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood who started 49 games in 1972.

4. Jack Chesbro 41 victories (1904)

Few pitchers nowadays get 41 victories over two seasons. The last pitcher to achieve more than 30 wins was the Tigers Denny McLain who had 31 in 1968. Chesbro’s dominance with 41 wins has a strange sidenote – the Highlanders didn’t even win the pennant!

3. Jack Chesbro 48 complete games (1904)

Chesbro completed 48 games in his powerhouse 1904 season. In 2017, Corey Kluber and Ervin Santana, the co-leaders in complete games, threw just five. The last time a pitcher threw 30 complete games was 1975 when Jim “Catfish” Hunter led the majors. This 114 year-old record will remain on the books forever.

2. Vic Willis 29 losses (1905)

On the opposite end of victory is defeat. The Boston Beaneaters Vic Willis has the ignominious record of 29 losses in one season.

Willis (1898-1910) was actually a very good pitcher. He won 20 or more games eight times in a season and had a career record of 249- 205.

It was the Beaneaters who were absolutely terrible in 1905 with a 51-103 record, finishing two games ahead of last place Brooklyn in the National League. All four starting Beaneaters pitchers lost 20 or more games that year.

Obviously no one will lose 29 games in a season ever again.

1. Grover Cleveland Alexander 16 shutouts (1916)

“Pete” Alexander was one of the greatest pitchers in major league history with 373 career wins. But what he did between 1915 and 1917 with the Philadelphia Phillies is incredible. Alexander’s wins, losses and ERA were: 31-10, 1.22, 33-12,1.55 and 30 -13, 1.83. And in 1916 Alexander set a record with 16 shutouts.

Bob Gibson had 13 shutouts in 1968 and no one has come close to Alexander again. Since no one completes more than a few games per year anymore, this record will never fall.

Honorable Mention – Walter Johnson .433 batting average (1925)

This is not necessarily a “pitching” record but it is remarkable, so we’ll include it.

With 417 career victories Walter Johnson is the second winningest pitcher of all-time behind Cy Young. While Walter Johnson was not known for his hitting ability, he did post a respectable .235 lifetime batting average. Not bad for a pitcher. So Johnson’s 1925 season should be considered a huge anomaly, when at age 37 he posted the all-time highest batting average for a pitcher, hitting .433.

Walter Johnson had 42 hits in 97 at bats, hitting 2 home runs and driving in 20 runs while striking out just 6 times and drawing 3 walks. By the way, Johnson went 20-7 with a 3.07 ERA leading the Senators to the 1925 World Series, where they lost to the Pirates in 7 games.

Pitchers don’t hit .300 let alone .400. If they did, they would not be pitchers for long, but converted to a full-time hitter. If another pitcher comes close to batting over .433 his name will probably be Shohei Ohtani. But none of Ohtani’s hits are coming as a pitcher. Maybe one day the Angels will let pitcher Ohtani bat regularly.

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