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Best pitching staffs in the MLB since 1980

Best pitching staffs in the MLB since 1980
1/Rick Stewart // Getty Images

Best pitching staffs in the MLB since 1980

Baseball is known as America's favorite past time. When baseball was first played in 1845 in Hoboken, N.J., it was incredibly popular and drew a lot of attention from around the country. Over the decades, this sport has grown and changed into what it is today and has maintained as one of the country's favorite ways to spend time, either playing or watching it.

Home runs and strikeouts are some of the best parts of baseball, along with steals, fast pitchers, quick runs, and amazing catches. Pitchers specifically play an exciting role in a team. Whether they are starters or closers, pitchers are essential to setting up the team for success, as well as maintaining that level of success. The Major League Baseball association was founded in 1869 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The MLB is one of the oldest major professional sports league in the United States. There are a total of 30 Major League Baseball Teams across the American League and the National League.

Stacker has analyzed the best pitching staffs in the Major League Baseball since 1980. Teams are ranked by lowest ERA (earned run average) and ties were broken by lowest WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). Data was collected from the Baseball Reference from the 1980-2018 seasons. All teams averaged a 4.16 ERA since 1980. Seven teams have pitched under a 3.0 ERA for a full season since 1980, but only one team since 1989. Some of these teams went on to win the World Series during the season, while others faced defeat in postseason play or did not even make it that far.

Read on to learn about the best pitching staffs in the MLB, their ERAs, starting pitchers, and closers, and how some of these players led their teams to success.

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#25. 1986 Houston Astros
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#25. 1986 Houston Astros

- ERA: 3.15
- WHIP: 1.185
- Record: 96 - 66
- Strikeouts per nine: 7.2
- Walks per nine: 3.2
- Top starting pitchers: Mike Scott (2.22 ERA, 18-10), Bob Knepper (3.14 ERA, 17-12), Jim Deshaies (3.25 ERA, 12-5)
- Closer: Dave Smith (2.73 ERA, 33 saves, 4-7)

In September 1986, Mike Scott threw a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants, which helped the Houston Astros win the National League West. Scott was one of the highest-paid players on the team that year, with his low ERA earning him one of the top starting pitchers positions.

#24. 2016 Chicago Cubs
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#24. 2016 Chicago Cubs

- ERA: 3.15
- WHIP: 1.110
- Record: 103 - 58
- Strikeouts per nine: 8.9
- Walks per nine: 3.1
- Top starting pitchers: Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA, 16-8), Jon Lester (2.44 ERA, 19-5), Jake Arrieta (3.10 ERA, 18-8)
- Closer: Hector Rondon (3.53 ERA, 18 saves, 2-3)

The Chicago Cubs finished first in the National League Central in 2016 with a record of 103-58. Kyle Hendricks led the MLB in earned run average during the 2016 season with a 2.13 ERA.

#23. 1992 Atlanta Braves
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#23. 1992 Atlanta Braves

- ERA: 3.14
- WHIP: 1.240
- Record: 98 - 64
- Strikeouts per nine: 5.8
- Walks per nine: 3.0
- Top starting pitchers: Pete Smith (2.05 ERA, 7-0), Mike Bielecki (2.57 ERA, 2-4), Tom Glavine (2.76 ERA, 20-8)
- Closer: Alejandro Pena (4.07 ERA, 15 saves, 1-6)

The Atlanta Braves lost the World Series 4-2 in 1992 to the Toronto Blue Jays, which was the first year a non-American team won the World Series. Tom Glavine won Pitcher of the Month in July of that season, played in the 1992 MLB All-Star League, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

#22. 1993 Atlanta Braves
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#22. 1993 Atlanta Braves

- ERA: 3.14
- WHIP: 1.221
- Record: 104 - 58
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.4
- Walks per nine: 3.0
- Top starting pitchers: Greg Maddux (2.36 ERA, 20-10), Steve Avery (2.94 ERA, 18-6), Tom Glavine (3.20 ERA, 22-6)
- Closer: Mike Stanton (4.67 ERA, 27 saves, 4-6)

Greg Maddux holds the record for most Golden Gloves awarded with 18 and is the only pitcher in MLB history to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons. The Atlanta Braves lost in the National League Championship Series 4-2 against the Philadelphia Phillies.

#21. 2002 Atlanta Braves
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#21. 2002 Atlanta Braves

- ERA: 3.13
- WHIP: 1.265
- Record: 101 - 59
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.5
- Walks per nine: 3.4
- Top starting pitchers: Greg Maddux (2.62 ERA, 16-6), Tom Glavine (2.96 ERA, 18-11), Kevin Millwood (3.24 ERA, 18-8)
- Closer: John Smoltz (3.25 ERA, 55 saves, 3-2)

The Atlanta Braves lost in the National League Division series 3-2 to San Francisco Giants in 2002. Greg Maddux was awarded the Golden Glove award and John Smoltz was named the National League Relief Man of the Year for his performance leading the league with 55 saves.

#20. 1984 Pittsburgh Pirates
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#20. 1984 Pittsburgh Pirates

- ERA: 3.11
- WHIP: 1.256
- Record: 75 - 87
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.1
- Walks per nine: 3.1
- Top starting pitchers: Rick Rhoden (2.72 ERA, 14-9), John Candelaria (2.72 ERA, 12-11), Larry McWilliams (2.93 ERA, 12-11)
- Closer: Kent Tekulve (2.66 ERA, 13 saves, 3-9)

Rick Rhoden was both a professional golfer and a major league baseball pitcher. He played on numerous MLB teams during his 16-year career, and his most notable season was 1984 on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although the team finished sixth in the National League East, the Pirates' pitching staff was very strong.

#19. 1985 New York Mets
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#19. 1985 New York Mets

- ERA: 3.11
- WHIP: 1.224
- Record: 98 - 64
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.3
- Walks per nine: 3.1
- Top starting pitchers: Dwight Gooden (1.53 ERA, 24-4), Sid Fernandez (2.80 ERA, 9-9), Ron Darling (2.90 ERA, 16-6)
- Closer: Roger McDowell (2.83 ERA, 17 saves, 6-5)

The New York Mets placed second in the National League East in 1985. Dwight Gooden had the second-lowest ERA in all of live-ball era baseball with a 1.53 ERA, earning him the major leagues' pitching Triple Crown.

#18. 1986 New York Mets
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#18. 1986 New York Mets

- ERA: 3.11
- WHIP: 1.222
- Record: 108 - 54
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.6
- Walks per nine: 3.1
- Top starting pitchers: Bob Ojeda (2.57 ERA, 18-5), Ron Darling (2.81 ERA, 15-6), Dwight Gooden (2.84 ERA, 17-6)
- Closer: Roger McDowell (3.02 ERA, 22 saves, 14-9)

The New York Mets finished first in the National League East with a record of 108-54. Bob Ojeda was one of the strongest pitchers on the team that year, with a 2.57 ERA. The New York Mets went on to win the World Series 4-3 over the Boston Red Sox.

#17. 2018 Houston Astros
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#17. 2018 Houston Astros

- ERA: 3.11
- WHIP: 1.099
- Record: 103 - 59
- Strikeouts per nine: 10.4
- Walks per nine: 2.7
- Top starting pitchers: Justin Verlander (2.52 ERA, 16-9), Gerrit Cole (2.88 ERA, 15-5), Charlie Morton (3.13 ERA, 15-3)
- Closer: Hector Rondon (3.20 ERA, 15 saves, 2-5)

The Houston Astros in 2018 lost in the AL Championships to the Boston Red Sox 4-1. Their top pitcher, Justin Verlander, is a seven-time MLB All-Star and won the Pitching Triple Crown at the end of the 2011 season.

#16. 1983 Los Angeles Dodgers
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#16. 1983 Los Angeles Dodgers

- ERA: 3.10
- WHIP: 1.251
- Record: 91 - 71
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.1
- Walks per nine: 3.0
- Top starting pitchers: Bob Welch (2.65 ERA, 15-12), Alejandro Pena (2.75 ERA, 12-9), Jerry Reuss (2.94 ERA, 12-11)
- Closer: Steve Howe (1.44 ERA, 18 saves, 4-7)

The 1983 Los Angeles Dodgers team went 91-71 for the season and lost in the National League Championships series 3-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies. Alejandro Pena and Bob Welch both pitched over 30 games and 100 strikeouts during the 1983 season.

#15. 1980 Houston Astros
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#15. 1980 Houston Astros

- ERA: 3.10
- WHIP: 1.236
- Record: 93 - 70
- Strikeouts per nine: 5.6
- Walks per nine: 2.8
- Top starting pitchers: J.R. Richard (1.90 ERA, 10-4), Vern Ruhle (2.37 ERA, 12-4), Ken Forsch (3.20 ERA, 12-13)
- Closer: Joe Sambito (2.19 ERA, 17 saves, 8-4)

In 1980, the Houston Astros lost 3-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series. J.R. Richard pitched a total of 17 games, had a 1.90 ERA, and a total of 119 strikeouts during this season.

#14. 1985 St. Louis Cardinals
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#14. 1985 St. Louis Cardinals

- ERA: 3.10
- WHIP: 1.227
- Record: 101 - 61
- Strikeouts per nine: 4.9
- Walks per nine: 2.8
- Top starting pitchers: John Tudor (1.93 ERA, 21-8), Danny Cox (2.88 ERA, 18-9), Joaquin Andujar (3.40 ERA, 21-12)
- Closer: Jeff Lahti (1.84 ERA, 19 saves, 5-2)

In 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals lost in the World Series 4-3 to the Kansas City Royals. John Tudor started the year in rough shape, with a 1-7 record and a 3.74 ERA. However, he finished the season with a 20-1 record and a 1.37 ERA.

#13. 1989 Oakland Athletics
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#13. 1989 Oakland Athletics

- ERA: 3.09
- WHIP: 1.241
- Record: 99 - 63
- Strikeouts per nine: 5.8
- Walks per nine: 3.2
- Top starting pitchers: Mike Moore (2.61 ERA, 19-11), Bob Welch (3.00 ERA, 17-8), Dave Stewart (3.32 ERA, 21-9)
- Closer: Dennis Eckersley (1.56 ERA, 33 saves, 4-0)

The Oakland Athletics won the World Series in 1989 with a 4-0 win over the San Francisco Giants. Dennis Eckersley gained a lot of fame as a closer during his time in the MLB and coined the term “walk-off home run.” He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.

#12. 1988 Montreal Expos
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#12. 1988 Montreal Expos

- ERA: 3.08
- WHIP: 1.205
- Record: 81 - 81
- Strikeouts per nine: 5.6
- Walks per nine: 2.9
- Top starting pitchers: Pascual Perez (2.44 ERA, 12-8), Dennis Martinez (2.72 ERA, 15-13), Bryn Smith (3.00 ERA, 12-10)
- Closer: Tim Burke (3.40 ERA, 18 saves, 3-5)

The Montreal Expos had a 81-81 record during the 1988 season and finished third in the National League East. The Expos had a fairly small pitching staff, but their small team ended up being very strong, with low ERAs and admirable records.

#11. 1991 Los Angeles Dodgers
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#11. 1991 Los Angeles Dodgers

- ERA: 3.06
- WHIP: 1.243
- Record: 93 - 69
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.3
- Walks per nine: 3.1
- Top starting pitchers: Tim Belcher (2.62 ERA, 10-9), Mike Morgan (2.78 ERA, 14-10), Bob Ojeda (3.18 ERA, 12-9)
- Closer: Jay Howell (3.18 ERA, 16 saves, 6-5)

In 1991, the Los Angeles Dodgers placed second in the National League West and finished with a season record of 93-69. Jay Howell was on the team when they won the World Series in 1988, however they weren't as successful in 1991, due to some team changes, even though the pitching staff remained strong.

#10. 2014 Washington Nationals
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#10. 2014 Washington Nationals

- ERA: 3.03
- WHIP: 1.158
- Record: 96 - 66
- Strikeouts per nine: 7.9
- Walks per nine: 2.2
- Top starting pitchers: Doug Fister (2.41 ERA, 16-6), Jordan Zimmermann (2.66 ERA, 14-5), Tanner Roark (2.85 ERA, 15-10)
- Closer: Rafael Soriano (3.19 ERA, 32 saves, 4-1)

The Washington Nationals lost the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants 3-1 in 2014. Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, and Tanner Roark had strong win-loss records and fairly low ERAs, each reporting an ERA lower than the team's average.

#9. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies
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#9. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies

- ERA: 3.02
- WHIP: 1.167
- Record: 102 - 60
- Strikeouts per nine: 7.9
- Walks per nine: 2.5
- Top starting pitchers: Roy Halladay (2.35 ERA, 19-6), Cliff Lee (2.40 ERA, 17-8), Cole Hamels (2.79 ERA, 14-9)
- Closer: Ryan Madson (2.37 ERA, 32 saves, 4-2)

In 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 in the National League Division Series. This pitching rotation received a lot of news attention, calling the four pitchers (Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Madson), a powerful foursome.

#8. 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers
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#8. 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers

- ERA: 3.01
- WHIP: 1.210
- Record: 63 - 47
- Strikeouts per nine: 5.4
- Walks per nine: 2.7
- Top starting pitchers: Burt Hooton (2.28 ERA, 11-6), Jerry Reuss (2.30 ERA, 10-4), Fernando Valenzuela (2.48 ERA, 13-7)
- Closer: Steve Howe (2.50 ERA, 8 saves, 5-3)

Fernando Valenzuela pitched a shutout on opening day of the 1981 season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That year, Valenzuela won the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards. This team went on to win the World Series 4-2 over the New York Yankees.

#7. 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
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#7. 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers

- ERA: 2.96
- WHIP: 1.205
- Record: 94 - 67
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.3
- Walks per nine: 2.9
- Top starting pitchers: Orel Hershiser (2.26 ERA, 23-8), Tim Leary (2.91 ERA, 17-11), Tim Belcher (2.91 ERA, 12-6)
- Closer: Jay Howell (2.08 ERA, 21 saves, 5-3)

The 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series 4-1 over the Oakland Athletics. Orel Hershiser was named the National League Championships Most Valuable Player and the World Series MVP during this season.

#6. 1985 Los Angeles Dodgers
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#6. 1985 Los Angeles Dodgers

- ERA: 2.96
- WHIP: 1.189
- Record: 95 - 67
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.0
- Walks per nine: 2.8
- Top starting pitchers: Orel Hershiser (2.03 ERA, 19-3), Bob Welch (2.31 ERA, 14-4), Fernando Valenzuela (2.45 ERA, 17-10)
- Closer: Tom Niedenfuer (2.71 ERA, 19 saves, 7-9)

Orel Hershiser was a three-time All-Star player and set a major league record in 1988 when he pitched 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1985, the team lost in the National League Championship Series 4-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

#5. 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers
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#5. 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers

- ERA: 2.95
- WHIP: 1.218
- Record: 77 - 83
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.5
- Walks per nine: 3.1
- Top starting pitchers: Orel Hershiser (2.31 ERA, 15-15), Tim Belcher (2.82 ERA, 15-12), Ramon Martinez (3.19 ERA, 6-4)
- Closer: Jay Howell (1.58 ERA, 28 saves, 5-3)

The 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers finished fourth in the National League West and did not make the playoffs that season. Jay Howell was named to the 1989 National League All-Star team, and he currently ranks 56th on the MLB Career Saves List with 155 saves.

#4. 2015 St. Louis Cardinals
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#4. 2015 St. Louis Cardinals

- ERA: 2.94
- WHIP: 1.254
- Record: 100 - 62
- Strikeouts per nine: 8.2
- Walks per nine: 2.9
- Top starting pitchers: Jaime Garcia (2.43 ERA, 10-6), John Lackey (2.77 ERA, 13-10), Carlos Martinez (3.01 ERA, 14-7)
- Closer: Trevor Rosenthal (2.10 ERA, 48 saves, 2-4)

Trevor Rosenthal, who now plays for the Washington Nationals, is known for his fastball pitch, which reaches over 100 mph. He was named an All-Star in 2015 for his plays on the St. Louis Cardinals team. This team lost the National League Division Series 3-1 to the Chicago Cubs.

#3. 1988 New York Mets
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#3. 1988 New York Mets

- ERA: 2.91
- WHIP: 1.151
- Record: 100 - 60
- Strikeouts per nine: 6.9
- Walks per nine: 2.5
- Top starting pitchers: David Cone (2.22 ERA, 20-3), Bob Ojeda (2.88 ERA, 10-13), Sid Fernandez (3.03 ERA, 12-10)
- Closer: Randy Myers (1.72 ERA, 26 saves, 7-3)

The New York Mets lost the National League Championships Series 4-3 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. Randy Myers is a four-time All-Star player, a two-time Rolaids Relief Man Award winner, and a three-time Saves leader during his career in the MLB.

#2. 1981 New York Yankees
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#2. 1981 New York Yankees

- ERA: 2.90
- WHIP: 1.175
- Record: 59 - 48
- Strikeouts per nine: 5.8
- Walks per nine: 2.7
- Top starting pitchers: Dave Righetti (2.05 ERA, 8-4), Tommy John (2.63 ERA, 9-8), Rick Reuschel (2.67 ERA, 4-4)
- Closer: Rich Gossage (0.77 ERA, 20 saves, 3-2)

The New York Yankees lost in the World Series 4-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1981 season. Dave Righetti won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1981 for his performance that season playing for the New York Yankees.

#1. 1981 Houston Astros
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#1. 1981 Houston Astros

- ERA: 2.66
- WHIP: 1.154
- Record: 61 - 49
- Strikeouts per nine: 5.5
- Walks per nine: 2.7
- Top starting pitchers: Nolan Ryan (1.69 ERA, 11-5), Bob Knepper (2.18 ERA, 9-5), Don Sutton (2.61 ERA, 11-9)
- Closer: Joe Sambito (1.84 ERA, 10 saves, 5-5)

In 1981, the Houston Astros lost in the National League Division Series 3-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. All four of their pitchers this season were extremely strong and had very low ERAs across the board. Both Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 and 1998, respectively.

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