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Best Seasons in San Francisco Giants History, Part Two

Brian Wilson was worth 2.7 wins above replacement last season. The grackle that lives in his beard was worth 1.2 seeds over replacement value.
Brian Wilson was worth 2.7 wins above replacement last season. The grackle that lives in his beard was worth 1.2 seeds over replacement value.

More ground rules:

  • Five rotation spots, five different pitchers. There's no sense in filling them with three Juan Marichal seasons and two seasons from Tim Lincecum or Gaylord Perry
  • For the bullpen, I wanted to fill it out with players who actually held the role in question. So instead of a bullpen of Robb Nen, Rod Beck, Brian Wilson, et cetera, I wanted to fill it out with actual lefty specialists and a long man.
  • Kirk Rueter is not on this list, but he deserves some sort of I-like-this-guy recognition in every Giants pitching retrospective. His 1997 would make a list of the most unappreciated pitching seasons, for sure. Estes was the fan favorite, but Rueter was just as good.

SP - Juan Marichal, 1969

It's hard to pick just one Marichal season. Half of the top ten seasons by Baseball-Reference's WAR are his, including the top three. I guess when you pitch 300 innings with an ERA between 2.10 and 2.30 for three seasons, that's kind of valuable.

The '69 seasons wins out, though, because a) he had 27 complete games out of 36 starts, which was the highest ratio of the three seasons in contention, and b) he allowed the fewest home runs by far, which will satisfy the FIP contingent. He faced 1176 batters and gave up only 43 extra-base hits, or about one every seven innings. That's ridiculous.

He never won a Cy Young, partially because two of his best seasons ('65 and '66) came in the same seasons that Sandy Koufax had two of the greatest seasons of all-time. Tom Seaver won in 1969, mostly because of the WINZ. That was the year Marichal should have won.

SP - Gaylord Perry, 1969

Yep. Same year as Marichal’s (arguably) best year. Same year as the McCovey season detailed in the last post. The 1969 season saw some of the greatest performances in the careers of three Hall-of-Famers, and the Giants didn’t even make the playoffs. Three teams in the 12-team National League were terrible -- the Expos and Padres lost 110 games, and the Phillies lost 99 -- but every other team was .500 or above. What a weird dynamic. Must have been the salary cap creating all that parity.

And then a kid just a couple years out of high school found some velocity he left in an old coat pocket, and that’s the Giants team that won the World Series. Not the 1969 club, which was just a mish-mash of names like Marichal, Mays, McCovey, and Perry. When a team comes out of nowhere like the 2003 Marlins, it takes everyone aback a little, but there's something about the rich history of the Giants that makes 2010 even more surprising. Every time I dig into the history of the franchise, especially the '60s, it's almost impossible to believe they weren't able to back into at least one championship.

SP - Tim Lincecum, 2009

Flip a coin for 2008 or 2009, but in the latter Cy Young season, his walks and runs allowed both went down. By WAR, his 2009 is only the 12th-best season (2008 was 7th) in San Francisco history, but that's almost exclusively because he didn't pitch as many innings as did Marichal or Perry. How much should he be penalized for that? No one pitches 300 innings these days, so is it fair to compare him on a WAR basis to pitchers from the '60s? Probably not, just as it wouldn't be fair to compare Marichal to Christy Mathewson.

If you want a chuckle, read this from the start of the 2009 season. Oh, early-season panics. You nourish us.

SP - Jason Schmidt, 2003

Of all the starting pitching performances in franchise history, from Hall-of-Famers and Cy Young winners alike, this season was the one with the highest ERA+. Lincecum's changeup might be the best pitch in baseball right now, but it might only the second-best we've seen from a Giant in the past ten years. Well, Lincecum probably still has the edge, but it's close.

And while it's ridiculous that he lost the Cy Young to a reliever, at least it was legitimately one of the most dominant relief seasons of all-time. Wait, actually, that doesn't make me feel better.

SP - John Montefusco, 1975

Before the World Series win, if I would get too complacent about the young pitching -- "Gee, if they don't do it this year, at least they're all young and under contract!" -- I'd force myself to think about Montefusco, who had two great seasons that were followed by a lot of arm troubles. His '75 and '76 were almost identical, but the former came with a shiny Rookie of the Year plaque, so that broke the tie.

Honorable mention, Bob Knepper, 1978; Jim Barr, 1974; Sam Jones, 1959; Mike McCormick, 1960; Matt Cain, 2009

Closer - Robb Nen, 1998

Brian Wilson got strong consideration, but Nen's slider that year was the best pitch I think I've ever seen a Giant throw. I was going to go to the trouble of rehashing an anecdote that I know I've related before, but why do that when I can just copy and paste something from six years ago?

For me, heckling reached its nadir with Nen.  There was nothing better than to sneak down in the front rows of Candlestick for the ninth inning, and wait for Nen to get two strikes on a hitter.  Then it started.  "Don't swing at the slider!  Don't swing at it!  It's just going to end up by your feet!"  Nen would throw the slider, the slider would extend its middle finger toward the collected works of Sir Isaac Newton and end up by the hitter's feet.  Strike three, almost every time.  That was followed by, "C'mon Mondesi, I was trying to help you out," unless Nen's 99-mph fastball was the strikeout pitch. Then it was followed by an understated, "Sorry.  Sorry about that. I could have sworn it was going to be a slider. Sorry." Pure fun.

Yeah. That. It was awesome.

Honorable mention: Greg Minton, 1982; Brian Wilson, 2010; Rod Beck, 1993

Setup - Felix Rodriguez, 2001

He only had one pitch, a fastball. It wasn't some crazy, 104-MPH fastball, either. Oh, it was fast -- upper 90s if I remember correctly -- but a lot of relievers can throw a mid-to-high 90s fastball. There was something about the movement, or something deceptive with the delivery, that just ate up hitters that year. It was a such a fantastic year that the Giants figured that they didn't need a setup man upgrade at all in 2002, which led to...all of the events that ended with the Giants winning the World Series in 2010.1 At least, that's how I remember 2002 now. It's nice. Freeing.

Fun fact: Rodriguez finished between Paul Lo Duca and Phil Nevin in MVP voting that year. 

Setup - Greg Minton, 1979

He had some good years as a closer, but '79 was his best year as a middle reliever. How nasty was his mustache sinker? For a stretch of 255 innings between 1979 and 1981, Minton did not allow a home run. Not a single one. I'd also like to think that every single hit given up during that stretch was Johnny LeMaster's fault. Minton's sinker was one of the best in history. I wish I could remember it.

Setup - Sergio Romo, 2010

I needed a funky slider-thrower to fulfill a quota, and there's a little bit of favoritism here, as Steve Reed’s 1998 ranked higher by WAR. But come on. Romo. He can have his hanging slider hiccups at inappropriate times, but every bullpen should have a guy who can rack up the strikeouts without walking anyone.

Lefty - Al Holland, 1980

Don't know anything about him other than if he exist, we wouldn't know what "Grab some pine, meat" meant because he was traded for Mike Krukow three years later. Jeremy Affeldt's 2009 is a strong contender for this spot, but Holland and Gary Lavelle threw over 100 innings in their seasons. That's pretty hard to overcome.

Lefty - Gary Lavelle, 1982

Lavelle had better seasons, but they were when he was the de facto closer. He was murder on lefties, apparently. The Giants in the late '70s and early '80s had some nasty bullpens.

Long man - Stu Miller, 1961

The legend is that while Miller was on the mound at Candlestick for the '61 All-Star Game, a tornado came and carried him to a distant land, where he had all sorts of magical adventures. This was immortalized on the Croix de Candlestick pin, which famously has a picture of Miller in pigtails, hugging some kind of furry without a heart. At least, that's what I remember, and it's getting to be the end of the post, and I'm not looking it up.

This is probably a bit of a cheat to put Miller as the long man, as he was really the ace of the bullpen, but he had 35 appearances with two or more innings pitched, and 14 with three or more innings pitched.  A few of his 17 saves came because he pitched the final three innings of the game. The multi-inning relief specialist is extinct now, but it would be cool if they made a comeback one of these days. They must have been really, really nice to have. Here's hoping that they're more coelacanth than dodo.

My favorite long relief performance ever, though, was this one, in which Joe Roa cleaned up after a William VanLandingham implosion. I'd like to think it saved the season.

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