Teams With Three 20-Game Winners

This article was written by Tim Connaughton

This article was published in 2005 Baseball Research Journal

In the baseball season just concluded, Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins, Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals, Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and Bartolo Colon of the Los Angeles Angels were baseball’s only 20 game winners. In 2004, Curt Schilling won 21 games for the Boston Red Sox, Johan Santana won 20 for the Minnesota Twins, and Roy Oswalt won 20 for the Houston Astros. No other pitcher won as many as 20 games in Major League Baseball. In a climate where wins are spread thin among pitching staffs populated by five starters, swingmen, middle relievers, setup men, and closers, a pitcher who wins 20 games during a single season has become a rarity.

Even more unusual is a team that fields multiple 20-game winners, In 2002, Red Sox Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe were both 20-game winners, as were Diamondbacks Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. There have been no such duos since.

Will we ever again see a staff with three 20-game winners during the same season? It has never been commonplace, but ii is certainly not unprecedented. Since 1901, 23 teams have field­ed staffs with at least three 20-game winners in a single season, eight from the NL, 14 from the Al, and one from the short-lived Federal League. It has not happened, however, since the 1973 Oakland Athletics garnered 21 wins each from Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman, and 20 from Vida Blue. Between 1901 and 1920, 15 teams had three pitchers notch at least 20 wins in the same season. Since then only eight have done so, and none have done so in over 30 years.

Although the A’s with their three aces won the 1973 World Series over the New York Mets, fielding three 20-game winners is not a guarantee for a championship. In fact, of the 24 teams that have accomplished the feat since 1901, only 13 have won pennants, and of the 19 that played during a season in which there was a World Series, only five won the title. Two teams have had four 20-game winners on the roster, but neither won the World Series, and in fact, the 1920 White Sox did not even win the pennant, finishing two games behind the Indians. The 1971 Baltimore Orioles, with Dave McNally winning 21 and Pat Dobson, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer victorious in 20 each, lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had no 20-game winners. Of course, as expected, it’s difficult to post a losing record with three 20-game winners on a staff, and no such team has ever finished worse than third.

The best winning percentage for a team with three 20-game winners in the 20th century was .741, posted by the 1902 Pirates, who were 103-36, and not only had three 20-game winners, but five pitchers with at least 15 wins to their credit. The worst win­ning percentage was .558, by the 1920 New York Giants, who fin­ished in second place, seven games behind Brooklyn. The most successful franchise in history, the New York Yankees, has never finished a regular season with three 20-game winners, while the long-suffering fans of the Indians may be surprised to learn that Cleveland has had three 20-game winners in a single season five times, more than any other franchise.

Only two pitchers have been members of a staff with two other 20-game winners on the roster in three separate seasons. Christy Mathewson won at least 20 for the 1904, 1905, and 1913 New York Giants, and Early Wynn did the same for the Indians in 1951, 1952, and 1956. All of those teams fielded two additional 20-game winners.

The 23 teams since 1901 with at least three 20-game winners are listed below, with some noteworthy information on each.

1901 Philadelphia Phillies: 83-57 (.593), Second place

The first team of the 20th century to do it, but just barely. The Phillies’ Al Orth, Red Donahue, and Bill Duggleby each won exact­ly 20 games in 1901. Orth and Duggleby lost 12 apiece, while Donahue dropped 13.

1902 Pittsburgh Pirates: 103-36 (.741), First place

The Pirates lapped the field in the National League in 1902. The newly founded American League had a detrimental impact on many NL clubs, luring quality players to the new league. The Pirates, however, remained unaffected, keeping their players almost without exception. The previous season’s closest competi­tion, the Phillies noted above, lost key offensive players in Elmer Flick and Ed Delahanty, as well as two of their three 20-game winners, Al Orth and Red Donahue, to the AL. Their third 20-game winner, Duggleby, jumped to the A’s but returned to the Phillies in May. The Pirates’ Jack Chesbro led the team, and the National League, with 28 wins, while Jesse Tannehill and Deacon Phillippe notched 20 each. The rotation had unusual depth for the time peri­od. While many teams relied very heavily on their top two or three pitchers, the Pirates, in addition to their three workhorses, also had Ed Doheny and Sam Leever with 16 and 15 wins respectively, while losing only four and seven respectively.

1903 Boston Americans: 91-47 (.659), First place

Boston was led by Cy Young, who at age 36 led the league in wins (28), and winning percentage (.757). Bill Dinneen was 21-13, and Long Tom Hughes chipped in with 20 wins against only seven defeats. Boston beat Pittsburgh in the first ever American League versus National League World Series, five games to three. Young and Dinneen combined to pitch an astounding 69 of 71 World Series innings, while Hughes threw only two innings.

1903 Chicago Cubs: 82-56 (.594), Third place

The 1903 Cubs’ staff was one of only four with at least three 20-game winners without a Hall of Famer among them. Bob Wicker, who began the season with St. Louis, was 20-9. Jack Weimer fin­ished 20-8, and Jack Taylor led the staff with 21 wins, but also lost 14. Taylor, Weimer, and Wicker combined for a 61-31 record, a winning percentage of .663. By comparison, the rest of the staff won only about 45% of its decisions, for a combined record of 21-25.

1904 Boston Americans: 95-59 (.617), First place

The Americans repeated the feat in 1904, but Jesse Tannehill replaced Long Tom Hughes in the triumvirate. Tannehill finished the year with a 21-11 mark while Cy Young notched a 26-16 record and Dinneen was 23-14. Young, Dinneen and Tannehill combined for nearly 1,000 innings pitched, as only five men took the mound all season for Boston. The workload didn’t seem to wear down the staff, as the team finished with a 2.12 ERA. New York Giants’ ownership and management apparently felt that, in spite of the results of the prior year’s fall classic, the competition in the AL was far inferior and not worthy of a postseason matchup with the NL champs, who also boasted three 20-game winners.

1904 New York Giants: 106-47 (.693), First place

While their record suggests they were the superior team, we’ll never know in light of the Giants’ refusal to play Boston in the 1904 World Series. Not only did the Giants have three 20-game winners, but two of their hurlers, Joe McGinnity and Christy Mathewson, won at least 30. McGinnity led the team with 35 wins against only eight losses, and also paced the NL with 408 innings pitched and a 1.61 ERA. Mathewson recorded a typically brilliant season, with a record of 33-12, while Dummy Taylor rounded out the trio with 21 wins and 15 losses.

1905 New York Giants: 105-48 (.686), First place

The Giants beat the A’s in five games in the 1905 World Series, and did not give up a single earned run in the entire series. The lone loss came in game two, when the A’s scored three unearned runs off McGinnity. The other four contests were Giants shutouts, three of them complete-game whitewashes by Christy Mathewson, who finished the regular season 31-9 with an ERA of 1.28 and 32 complete games. McGinnity was 22-16 for the Giants, while Red Ames won 22 and lost only eight.

1906 Cleveland Naps: 89-64 (.582), Third place

The first of five Cleveland teams to have three 20-game winners on the staff, the 1906 Naps couldn’t crack the top two in the AL in spite of their hurlers. Bob Rhoades was 22-10, while Hall of Famer Addie Joss finished one of many great seasons with a record of 21-9. Otto Hess won 20, but also lost 17 for Cleveland. All three pitchers compiled ERAs less than 2.00, and the team ERA, a miniscule 2.09, led the league.

1907 Chicago White Sox: 87-64 (.576), Third place

The ’07 White Sox found themselves in a similar position as the ’06 Naps, third place. While Doc White, Ed Walsh, and Frank Smith all had fine seasons and the Sox finished 23 games over .500, Chicago had difficulty winning when anyone else toed the rubber. White (27-13). Walsh (24-18), and Smith (23-11) accounted for 74 of the team’s 87 wins, almost 84% of their total victories.

1907 Detroit Tigers: 92-58 (.613), First place

The Tigers were two Ed Siever wins away from having four 20-game winners in 1907. In spite of the depth of starting pitchers. they were swept by the Cubs in the World Series. This trio, like those of the 1901 Phillies and 1903 Cubs, was devoid of Hall of Fame pitchers. Wild Bill Donovan finished 25-4, while Ed Killian and George Mullin posted records of 25-13 and 20-20 respec­tively.

1913 New York Giants: 101-51 (.664), First place

Another great Giants team of the early 20th century, this squad was led by Mathewson yet again. He finished the regular season with a mark of 25-11 and led the National League with a 2.06 ERA. This would be the last time in his career that he would team with two other 20-game winners. Rube Marquard (23-10) and Jeff Tesreau (22-13) enjoyed stellar regular seasons, but couldn’t help Mathewson in the World Series, which the Giants dropped to the Athletics four games to one. While Mathewson continued his regular season brilliance in the postseason, Marquard posted an ERA of 7.00, and Tesreau an unimpressive 6.48. Neither won a game in the fall classic.

1915 St. Louis Terriers (FL): 87-67 (.566), Second place

During the second and final season of the ill-fated Federal League, the Terriers finished just behind Chicago in a pennant race in which a half game separated first place from third. Eddie Plank, nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, posted the last of his eight 20-win seasons, with a record of 21-11. Dave Davenport (22-18) and Doc Crandall (21-15) also finished as 20-game win­ners.

1920 Chicago White Sox: 96-58 (.623), Second place

The White Sox made history becoming the first 20th-century major league team to produce four 20-game winners. Two of those, Lefty Williams (22-14) and Eddie Cicotte (21-10), were removed from the team with about two weeks left in the season for their part in the previous year’s infamous “Black Sox scandal.” The others were Red Faber, who led the team in wins with 23, against 13 losses, and Dickey Kerr (21-9). The rest of the staff garnered only nine wins as Chicago lost a tight race to Cleveland.

1920 Cleveland Indians: 98-56 (.636), First place

The 1920 version was the only Cleveland team among the five noted here to win a pennant, and the club also went on to win the World Series that fall. Jim Bagby led the team with a 31-12 record, while Stan Coveleski posted a mark of 24-14 and Ray Caldwell was 20-10. Bagby, who had several solid seasons prior to 1920, played only three more years, and never won more than 14 games again. The team also had a lefty, Duster Mails, who won only seven games, but never suffered a defeat that sea­son, and posted a 1.85 ERA. His success continued in the World Series, when he threw over 15 innings without allowing an earned run, including a complete-game shutout in game six against Brooklyn.

1920 New York Giants: 86-68 (.558), Second place

All of the other Giants’ 20-win trios led teams to seasons of more than 100 victories. This team, however, recorded the lowest win­ning percentage of any team with three or more 20-game win­ners. Four seasons removed from Christy Mathewson’s departure, this trio boasted no Hall of Fame pitchers. Fred Toney and Art Nehf led the staff with 21 wins each against 11 losses for Toney and 12 for Nehf. Jesse Barnes completed the campaign at 20-15.

1923 Cincinnati Reds: 91-63 (.591), Second place

The Reds were led by a brilliant season from Dolf Luque, who paced the league in wins (27), winning percentage (.771), ERA (1.93). and shutouts (6). Pete Donahue compiled a 21-15 mark, and Eppa Rixey was 20-15.

1931 Philadelphia Athletics: 107-45 (.704), First place

This formidable Athletics team featured standout Lefty Grove as the team’s ace. Grove won 31 and lost only four. George Earnshaw was 21-7 and Rube Walberg notched 20 wins against 12 defeats. They were heavily favored to trounce the Cardinals in the World Series, but St. Louis center fielder Pepper Martin stole the show, batting .500 against the A’s vaunted staff, with 12 hits, five RBI, and a series-high five runs scored. The rest of the Cardinals hit just .205, but it was enough to take the series from Philadelphia in seven games.

1951 Cleveland Indians: 93-61 (.604), Second place

After 20 years without a major league team having three 20-game winners in the same season, Cleveland broke through with the first of what would become three such staffs in a span of six years. The Cleveland teams of the late 1940s and the 1950s were blessed with great pitching, and this squad was no exception. Imagine a roster on which Bob Lemon was the fourth best pitcher, and you have the 1951 Indians. Bob Feller was 22-8, Mike Garcia 20-13, and Early Wynn, part of three such trios in his career, 20-13 also. Cleveland’s team ERA of 3.38 led the American League. 1951 was the only season from 1948 to 1954 in which Lemon won less than 20 games, as he finished the campaign with 17 victories.

1952 Cleveland Indians: 93-61 (.604), Second place

Not much changed for the Indians in 1952. They had three 20-game winners, a record of 93-61, finished in second place, and watched an American League team from New York beat a National League team from New York in the World Series. What did change was that Bob Feller gave way to Bob Lemon when Lemon finished 22-11, while Feller dipped to a disappointing 9-13. Wynn again had a big year, going 23-12, and Mike Garcia won twice as often as he lost, with a mark of 22-11.

1956 Cleveland Indians: 88-66 (.571), Second place

For the third time in six seasons the Indians could have sent three 20-game winners to the mound in the postseason. The problem was, they missed the postseason again, yielding to the Yankees for the fifth time in six seasons. Wynn, Herb Score, and Lemon all won exactly 20 games. Wynn and Score lost nine, while Lemon dropped 14.

1970 Baltimore Orioles: 108-54 (.667), First place

The 1960s came and went without a trio of 20-game winners on one team in one season. The Orioles reversed that trend in 1970 with two 24-game winners in Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally, and 20 wins from a young Jim Palmer. They made quick work of their postseason opposition, sweeping the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS and beating Cincinnati four games to one in the World Series. The trio combined for a postseason record of 5-0, and the Orioles’ staff got 60 runs of support in eight games.

1971 Baltimore Orioles: 101-57 (.639), First place

Pat Dobson joined the Orioles staff in 1971 and joined the 20-win club immediately. Along with Cuellar and Palmer, Dobson won 20, while McNally won 21, marking the fourth consecutive season in which he recorded at least 20 victories. As they had done the year before, they swept their foe in the ALCS, this time Oakland. They faced a Pittsburgh Pirates team with no 20-game winners in what certainly seemed like a mismatch, at least from a pitching standpoint. The Pirates’ game one and two starters each failed to pitch beyond the fourth inning and Baltimore led the series 2-0. But Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass and Nelson Briles combined to pitch 27 innings and allow only two earned runs, notching three victo­ries between them. The Pirates won the series in seven games as Blass finished off Baltimore with a four-hit complete game. The combination of four 20-game winners had not happened since the 1920 White Sox, and has not happened since this 1971 Orioles staff accomplished the feat. It is highly unlikely to happen again.

1973 Oakland Athletics: 94-68 (.580), First place

The 1973 Athletics were the last team to field three 20-game winners in the same season. In a pitching duel with Baltimore’s vaunted staff, Oakland held Baltimore to only nine runs in the last four games of the ALCS, winning it three games to two. They then went on to best the Mets in the World Series in seven games. Catfish Hunter was 21-5 for Oakland, while Ken Holtzman also won 21 for the A’s, losing 13 times. A young Vida Blue posted his second 20-win season, finishing 20-9. Rollie Fingers and his 22 saves and 1.92 ERA out of the bullpen assisted the trio.

During the last 30-plus years, only a few teams have even come close to fielding three 20-game winners in the same season. The 1985 Cardinals had two 20 game winners in John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar. Danny Cox managed 18 victories for St. Louis. The 1990 Athletics got 27 and 22 wins from Bob Welch and Dave Stewart respectively, while Scott Sanderson notched 17.

Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux had typical stellar seasons in 1993, each winning at least 20 for the Braves. Steve Avery garnered 18 wins for that club. Surprisingly, Glavine, Maddux and John Smoltz never finished a season as teammates with 20 victories each in spite of their great years together in Atlanta. It seems that if a trio like that could not cross the threshold, it is unlikely to hap­pen again.

This year’s 20-game winners had no teammates who equaled their accomplishment, never mind two such teammates. After Willis, the Marlins’ biggest winners were Josh Beckett with 15 and A.J. Burnett with only 12. Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan both fell four wins short of 20 for the Cardinals as the next clos­est for St. Louis.

Astros Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens were second and third on the club in wins, but totaled only 30 victo­ries (Pettitte with 17 and Clemens with 13). John Lackey followed Colon on the Angels win leaderboard with 14. Los Angeles’ Ervin Santana and Paul Byrd won 12 each.

We are unlikely to see a trio of 20-game winners on the same team, unless there are changes in the way managers handle their pitchers. The managerial style utilized this postseason by Ozzie Guillen might make the White Sox the leading candidate to have three teammates with 20 victo­ries in the same year. They have the quality pitching to do it, with Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras. If Guillen lets them stay in games like he showed a willingness to do this October, and their arms hold up, they have a chance, albeit a slim one.

TIM CONNAUGHTON is an attorney who lives in Troy, Michigan wi1h his wife and two sons. His work has also been published in The National Pastime and Motor City Sports Magazine.