The White Sox have always been known for their starting pitching. This dates back to the beginning of the franchise. The Hitless Wonders beat the powerful Cubs in the 1906 World Series because of their great starting pitching. Ed Walsh, Eddie Cicotte, Red Faber and Ted Lyons all occupy a big piece of White Sox history. For this exercise though, I only went back to 1959.
Here are my top five White Sox starting staffs since 1959:
Early Wynn: 22-10, 3.17 ERA. 255⅔ IP, 179 K, 1.25 WHIP
Bob Shaw: 18-6, 2.69 ERA, 230⅔ IP, 89 K, 1.17 WHIP
Billy Pierce: 14-15, 3.62 ERA, 224 IP, 114 K, 1.24 WHIP
Dick Donovan: 9-10, 3.66, 179⅔ IP, 71 K, 1.27 WHIP
The 1959 White Sox finished first in the American League. Wynn won the Cy Young award. The "Go-Go Sox" were known for Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox playing small ball, taking an early lead and letting the pitching staff and defense do the rest of the work. It wasn't one of the better years for White Sox legend Billy Pierce. His strikeout total dropped from previous years and he had just come off of leading the league in complete games for three seasons. The veteran Early Wynn, who was 39 years old, led the staff all season long as he racked up 22 wins. It was his last season on top, as he fell to 13-12 in 1960. He won Game 1 of the World Series. 11-0, throwing seven innings. Unfortunately, he only lasted 2⅔ in the Game 4 loss. He was brought back on short rest to pitch Game 6 and only lasted 3⅓ as the Dodgers ended the series with a 9-3 win.
Al Lopez chose to not start Billy Pierce in the series, which didn't sit well with fans, Pierce and his teammates. Billy would find playoff success three seasons later with the 1962 Giants. He won Game 1 in a best-of-three playoff series with the Los Angeles Dodgers to see who advanced to the World Series. Billy shutout the Dodgers, beating Sandy Koufax 8-0. After the Dodgers took Game 2, Los Angeles held a 4-2 lead in the ninth in Game 3 when San Francisco exploded for four runs. Pierce was brought in to close and was successful as the Giants advanced to the World Series. Pierce would lose Game 3 of the World Series, 3-2, as he gave up a key two-run single to Roger Maris in the seventh inning of a 0-0 game. He would win Game 6 though, throwing a complete game in the Giants' 5-2 victory. The Yankees would win Game 7.
1959 was Bob Shaw's first season as a full-time starter. He had pitched mostly out of the bullpen for the Sox in 1958 before jumping to the starting rotation and finding success in '59. He struggled in 1960 and was traded during the 1961 to Kansas City. He would find some success again in 1962 with the Milwaukee Braves, and again in 1965 with the San Francisco Giants, but 1959 was his career year. In Game 5 of the World Series, he threw 7⅓ innings and picked up the win in a 1-0 victory against Koufax.
Donovan had won at least 15 games in three of the previous four seasons, but fell off in 1959. He was still serviceable, but wasn't the workhorse he was earlier in his career. He pitched at least 220 innings the previous three seasons, but only threw 179⅔ in '59. Donovan started Game 3 of the World Series and was defeated by Don Drysdale, 3-1. He did earn the save in Game 5. Donovan would win 20 games in 1962 as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Gary Peters: 16-11, 2.28 ERA, 260 IP, 215 K, 1.06 WHIP
Joe Horlen: 19-7, 2.06 ERA, 258 IP, 103 K, 0.95 WHIP
Tommy John: 10-13, 2.47 ERA, 178 ⅓ IP, 110 K, 1.06 WHIP
Bruce Howard: 3-10, 3.43 ERA, 112 ⅔ IP, 76 K, 1.36 WHIP
The 1967 White Sox were in a four-team race to the pennant all the way down to the final week of the season. They were one game back in the race until the 10th place Kansas City A's and the 6th place Washington Senators beat the Sox in the last five games of the season. Carl Yastrzemski and the Red Sox took the American League pennant.
The only reason the White Sox were around was because of their outstanding pitching, led by Peters and Horlen. The White Sox' leading hitters that year were Ken Berry and Don Buford, who each checked in with a .241 average. Pete Ward was the only player to crack a .700 OPS (.726). Tommie Agee, who won the Rookie of the Year award the season before, fell on tough times as his batting average and OPS dropped 40 and 101 points, respectively, and his homer total decreased from 22 to 14. In 1968, he was on the Mets. In 1969, he played a large part in their World Series run.
Peters had a five-year stretch where he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. From 1963-1967 he was 77-49. He led the league in ERA twice during that stretch (2.33 in '63 and 1.98 in '66). He ended his White Sox career 91-78 with a 2.92 ERA.
Horlen was masterful in '67 and finished second to Boston's Jim Lonborg in the Cy Young award voting. Between Sept. 2 and Sept. 23, Horlen started six times: five wins, zero losses, five complete games, three shutouts. One of them was a no-hitter against the Tigers on Sept. 10. Three of those five victories came against Boston, Detroit and Minnesota, who were the other three teams involved in the playoff race. If that wasn't clutch pitching, there never was such a thing.
John led the league in shutouts that year with six. He only gave up more than three earned runs three times the entire season, yet only came away with 10 victories. He literally wasn't winning unless he threw a shutout. John was 82-80 for the White Sox before being traded to the Dodgers for Dick Allen. John would pitch all the way through 1989 as he accumulated 288 career victories. Yet the thing he is most known for is the surgery which is named after him. Tommy John surgery has saved many careers through the years, including his, when he had the procedure done in 1974.
Howard started 17 games for the Sox in 1967 and appeared in 13 more as a reliever. He went 18-13 over his previous two seasons, but put up the 3-10 record in '67. He had a pretty solid April before the wheels fell off in May. After getting battered around in August, he only appeared in one September game. The Sox opted to start Cisco Carlos down the stretch. Cisco finished 2-0.
LaMarr Hoyt: 24-10, 3.66 ERA, 260 ⅔ IP, 148 K, 1.02 WHIP
Richard Dotson: 22-7, 3.23 ERA, 240 IP, 137 K, 1.31 WHIP
Floyd Bannister: 16-10, 3.35 ERA, 217 ⅓ IP, 193 K, 1.20 WHIP
Britt Burns: 10-11, 3.58 ERA, 173 ⅔ IP, 115 K, 1.26 WHIP
I wrote a piece on Hoyt last week. He was the Cy Young award winner in 1983. He led the American League for the second consecutive season with 24. He was incredible down the stretch as he went 13-0 in his last 14 regular season starts of 1983. He also won Game 1 of the ALCS by going the distance in a 2-1 victory. Hoyt was slated to start Game 5 of the ALCS, but it never got to him because the offense died.
Not to be outdone, Richard Dotson won 22 games in '83. He actually had a lower ERA than Hoyt did, even though he led the league in walks with 106. Dotson was nearly as remarkable as Hoyt was down the stretch as he won his last 10 starts of the season. He also went nine innings in seven of his final 11 starts. Unfortunately, Dotson couldn't match Hoyt's success in the playoffs. The Orioles rocked him in Game 3, touching him up for six runs (including a three-run shot by Eddie Murray) en route to an 11-0 victory. Dotson never again found the success that he had in 1983, and was out of the game in 1990 at the age of 31 after numerous arm injuries. He had a career record of 111-113.
Floyd Bannister was the Javier Vazquez of his time. He had unbelievable stuff and struck out a lot of hitters, but the results always fell a bit short. He came to the Sox in 1983 as a free agent following a 12-13 season in Seattle where he led the league with 209 strikeouts. He registered his best season in '83. Bannister had a streak where he won nine straight starts and was 13-1 in his last 14 decisions. Floyd would lose Game 2 of the ALCS 4-0, giving up all four runs (three earned). Bannister would go 50-50 over the next four seasons with the White Sox before being traded after the 1987 season to the Royals for Melido Perez and Greg Hibbard.
Burns started 26 games for the Sox in '83. He had gone 38-24 over his previous three seasons, but he had chronic hip pains that limited his work and eventually ended his career. Like the rest of the starters, Burns started to throw really well down the stretch, and he completed four of his last six games, including two shutouts. He is best known for pitching a wonderful Game 4 of the ALCS. With the Orioles leading the series 2-1 in a best-of-five series, Burns was tasked with getting the ball to Hoyt for the decisive Game 5. Burns shut down the Orioles through nine innings, but the offense couldn't score. Manager Tony LaRussa sent the lefty out for the 10th and with one out, Tito Landrum burned him with a home run. The Sox would lose the series and Hoyt wouldn't get the chance to send the White Sox to the World Series. Burns would win 18 games in 1985. He was then traded to the Yankees, but because of his hip problems, never pitched another major-league game after that.
With Hoyt, Dotson and Bannister shutting down the opponents, the White Sox went 59-26 in the second half, on their way to 99 victories.
Jack McDowell: 22-10, 3.37 ERA, 256 ⅔ IP, 158 K, 1.28 WHIP
Alex Fernandez: 18-9, 3.13 ERA, 247 ⅓ IP, 169 K, 1.16 WHIP
Wilson Alvarez: 15-8, 2.95 ERA, 207 ⅔ IP, 155 K, 1.39 WHIP
Jason Bere: 12-5, 3.47 ERA, 142 ⅔ IP, 129 K, 1.33 WHIP
The 1993 White Sox were one of the most balanced teams I've seen on the South Side. With speed like Tim Raines and Lance Johnson and power like Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura, you had a team that could score a lot of runs. Not that the runs were needed all that much. The pitchers were also pretty remarkable, especially considering this was in the heavy-offense era of the 1990s.
Leading the way was Cy Young-winner Black Jack McDowell. McDowell led the league in victories with 22, his second straight season with 20 wins. Black Jack, being the ultimate battler, got a decision in 32 in 34 starts. He went at least six innings in every start but one. Jack was one of the guys that would pitch better when his team wasn't scoring. If the Sox exploded for a bunch of runs, chances are Jack was going to give up some. In a close game, though, McDowell would turn things up a notch. Jack was 7-1 after his first eight starts and never looked back from there. Unfortunately, Jack couldn't carry the success into the postseason as he was defeated twice by Juan Guzman and the Blue Jays. He pitched poorly in both starts.
Alex Fernandez had the best season of his career in 1993. The first-round pick in 1990 started a streak of five seasons with at least 10 wins and an ERA under 4.00, and he went at least five innings in every start of the season. Like McDowell though, Fernandez came up empty in the postseason as he lost his two starts. Alex pitched well, giving up six runs (three earned) in 15 innings. Unfortunately, Dave Stewart was better, shutting down the Sox in Games 2 and 6 as the Blue Jays went on to win the World Series. Fernandez pitched well for the White Sox through 1996, when he signed a deal with the Marlins. The White Sox opted to go for Jamie Navarro instead. Oops.
Wilson Alvarez came to the White Sox in the trade that sent Harold Baines to the Texas Rangers for Alvarez, Sammy Sosa and Scott Fletcher in 1989. When he made his first White Sox start in 1991, Wilson threw a no-hitter against the Orioles. Alvarez would pull a 1983-type season out of his hat, when down the stretch he won his last seven decisions, including the AL West clincher against Seattle on Sept. 27. He finished the season with an ERA under 3.00, even though he walked a League Leading 122 batters. Alvarez got the victory in his lone playoff start, a 6-1 complete-game win over Pat Hentgen in the SkyDome. Wilson pitched well in '94 and '96 before getting traded in the infamous White Flag trade in 1997. He pitched through 2005 and accumulated a record of 102-92.
Jason Bere came up at the end of May and proceeded to go 12-5. Like Alvarez, Bere got hot towards the end of the year, winning his last seven starts of the season. He started Game 4 of the ALCS, but was removed after going 2⅓ innings and giving up three runs. Tim Belcher replaced him and earned the 7-4 victory as the Sox tied the series up at 2. Bere pitched well in 1994 before experiencing injury and control problems and going from "the next big thing" to obscurity.
With the pitching staff in tact for 1994, a playoff series under their belt and an even more explosive offense with the addition of Julio Franco, the White Sox were serious contenders. Then the strike happened. We'll never know if this staff had what it takes to seal the deal.
Mark Buehrle: 16-8, 3.12 ERA, 236 ⅔ IP, 149 K, 1.18 WHIP
Freddy Garcia: 14-8, 3.87 ERA, 228 IP, 146 K, 1.25 WHIP
Jon Garland: 18-10, 3.50 ERA, 221 IP, 115 K, 1.17 WHIP
Jose Contreras: 15-7, 3.61 ERA, 204 ⅔ IP, 154 K, 1.23 WHIP
The world champions were led by their pitching (both starting and bullpen) and timely home runs. Buehrle, the league leader in innings pitched, started the season by going 10-1. He threw at least six innings in every start except for two. Home plate umpire Brian Gorman was responsible for the first, ejecting Buehrle after 5⅔ for plunking B.J. Surhoff (with no warning), ending his six-inning start streak at 49. He also left early in his last start of the season as the Sox were prepping for the playoffs. In the playoffs, he won a game in the ALDS, he won Game 2 of the ALCS and started a streak of four straight complete games by the starting pitchers to close down the Angels. In the World Series, he struggled in his start (Game 2) against the Astros, but the Sox picked him up with Scott Podsednik's walk-off blast. He came back to get the last out and the save in the 14th inning of Game 3. Buehrle is the definition of consistency, with 10 wins and 200 innings for 12 straight seasons. He's taking his talents from South Beach to Canada to pitch for the Blue Jays in 2013.
Garcia came to the Sox in the middle of the 2004 season from Seattle for Miguel Olivo and Michael Morse. The move paid off as Freddy was an anchor of the 2005 rotation. Garcia was on the mound for the White Sox's clincher in Detroit on Sept, 29th. He gave up two runs in seven innings and Bobby Jenks closed it down to send the White Sox to the playoffs. Garcia pitched well there, too. He was the winner in the ALDS clincher, threw the third complete game in the ALCS, an 8-2 win, and was the winning pitcher in the World Series winning Game 4 victory, where he threw seven shutout innings. Big Game Freddy indeed.
Garland was a .500 pitcher until 2005. He thrived under Ozzie Guillen's leadership and became a new man. Garland started out the year on fire as he went 8-0. He upped that to 15-4 before going 3-6 down the stretch. In the ALCS though, Garland pitched well. It had been a long layoff in between starts and it rejuvenated Garland, who threw the second complete game of the series with a 5-2 victory. He went seven innings in Game 3 of the World Series and gave up four runs (two earned). He was long gone by the time Geoff Blum gave the Sox the lead for good.
My personal MVP of the 2005 White Sox, Jose Contreras, was also acquired in the middle of the 2004 season. He started '05 out slow. He didn't get his first decision until May 5. He pitched well in some games and struggled in others, resulting in a representative 6-6 record and 4.41 ERA on Aug. 4. Then, when the rest of the rotation struggled and the Indians crept closer and closer, the only pitcher the team could count on was Contreras. When the smoke cleared, he went 9-1 in his last 10 starts, including eight in a row to close the year. The Bronze Titan was the winner in the Sox's playoff-opening 14-2 shellacking of the Red Sox. He lost the only game the Sox lost in the playoffs, a 3-2 defeat in Game 1of the ALCS, but made up for it later. He threw the fourth complete game victory of the series, sending the Sox to the World Series for the first time since 1959. He then won the opener over Roger Clemens, 5-3.
There you have it. The best five starting staffs since 1959. My apologies to the 1963 and 1972 starters. They were both very good.