Perhaps more than batting, pitching is something that’s very fleeting. Seemingly out of nowhere, a pitcher comes through and dominates for a year and then can fade into obscurity or completely burn out of the league. A big part of this is due to injuries sustained by pitchers. If even so much as a fingernail is just a nanometer too short or long, it can seemingly affect a pitcher.
There were some dominant years that took place in the 2010s for pitchers. Some of them really stood out as being all-time performances, too. Let’s take a look at the best individual seasons for pitchers during one of baseball’s most exciting decades.
Throughout the 2010s, no pitcher was as dominant overall as Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Of the top 11 pitching seasons of the decade, four of those belonged to Kershaw. Two seasons sit at the top as the best of his career, with 2014 and 2015 taking the fourth and third spots overall, respectively. In those two seasons combined, Kershaw finished with a record of 37-10 and a combined 16.5 wins above replacement.
Speaking of Kershaw’s 2015 season, he surprisingly didn’t win the National League Cy Young Award that year. That honor belonged to Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, who surprisingly had the 14th-best season of the decade. Those who watched Arrieta that season know that he had one of the most dominating second halves in MLB history. Arrieta finished 22-6 that year with an astonishing 1.77 earned run average.
Having the highest WAR total doesn’t always translate into a Cy Young. In addition to Kershaw, there were several other pitchers that led the league in that category without winning the Cy Young. In the National League, this includes Roy Halladay in 2011, Matt Harvey in 2013, and Max Scherzer in 2018. As for the American League, Chris Sale (2017) Gerrit Cole (2019), Cliff Lee (2010), and Justin Verlander (2012) were some of the Cy Young snubs.
There were a total of 11 pitchers that had seasons where they struck out at least 12 batters for every nine innings pitched. Max Scherzer accomplished this three times. Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray, and Justin Verlander did it twice while Jose Fernandez (2016) and Chris Sale (2017) did it once each. Justin Verlander (2019) and Max Schezer (2018) were perhaps the most impressive as they were the only two pitchers to accomplish this feat in 220 or more innings.
The Two Best Seasons
While the assumption is that the best single-season performance of the 2010s probably belongs to Clayton Kershaw, his top season actually registered third overall on Fangraphs. The number two spot belongs to the late Roy Halladay when he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Halladay didn’t blow anyone away in terms of strikeouts but also didn’t let batters get good contact or take walks.
Halladay helped get the Phillies to 100 wins on the season thanks to his 19-6 record with an earned run average of 2.35. Kershaw would end up winning the Cy Young Award that season in what was considered the eighth-best individual season of the decade by Fangraphs.
The top season of the 2010s belonged to a pitcher entering his prime and surprisingly only finished with a record of 10-9. That, of course, is Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom, and the record certainly doesn’t indicate just how good he was in 2018. deGrom had the lowest ERA for any qualifying pitcher at 1.70 and a strikeout rate of 11.16 per nine innings. For deGrom, it was the first of back-to-back Cy Young wins, with his 2019 campaign ranked as the 15th best of the 2010s.