The San Diego Padres have a strong history of pitching.
The organization developed one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time from a failed shortstop prospect. In the history of the Padres, four players have won the Cy Young Award. However, when diving into the top five individual seasons by a pitcher in Padres history, only one Cy Young-winning season made the cut. This means plenty of quality, even stellar, pitching seasons were left off the list.
Let’s dive into the best individual seasons by a San Diego pitcher in franchise history.
5. Randy Jones, 1975
This is not the season from Jones’ career that you might expect. Jones won the franchise’s first-ever Cy Young Award in 1976. However, his previous season, by most accounts, was far superior. He just happened to pitch in the same league as first-ballot Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who had an incredible 1975 year, preventing Jones from winning the award two years in a row. In that year, Jones led the National League in ERA at 2.24 and ERA+ at 156. In 36 starts, he tossed 285 innings and tossed 18 complete games, six of those being shutouts, while winning 20 games.
His 1975 season is statistically better than his Cy Young campaign of 1976. He had a better ERA (2.24 to 2.74), a significantly higher ERA+ (156 to 119), more strikeouts (103 to 93), and his 7.5 WAR was a career-best, almost three whole wins better than his Cy Young year (4.7). In Padres history, only Kevin Brown’s 1998 effort earned a higher WAR among pitchers than Jones’ 1975 numbers.
4. Trevor Hoffman, 1998
There was no way Hoffman was being left off of this list. While starting pitchers usually garner higher WAR, that should not be the only number considered. Hoffman’s 1998 season put him squarely on the map as one of the most dominant closers in baseball and on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He became the fourth reliever in MLB history to reach the 50-save mark and tied the National League record at the time, with 53 saves.
On top of his massive saves number, over 66 appearances, he posted a microscopic 1.48 ERA and stellar 265 ERA+, which ranks third in team history among those with at least 50 innings pitched. The Padres won 98 games on their way to the National League pennant and World Series appearance. In the Division and League Championship series, Hoffman pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing just one run and earned three saves.
Hoffman’s 1998 campaign was the best of his Hall of Fame career, and his saves mark remains the franchise record. He also posted a 6.3 WPA (Win Probability Added), which is another team record. At season’s end, he even finished second in Cy Young votes, a rarity for relievers, as well as finished seventh in MVP voting.
3. Kirby Yates, 2019
Yes, you read that right. Kirby Yates’ 2019 campaign ranks higher than any of Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman’s seasons. That year, Yates put together the greatest single-season in Padres history by a reliever. While his 41 saves are not even in the top 10 in Padres history, he led the majors that season. He turned in the second-lowest ERA of any Padres pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched, at 1.19. His 1.30 FIP ranks as the lowest by any Friar hurler with at least that amount of work.
That FIP also ranks fifth all-time in major league history among those with at least 50 innings. He posted a 15 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate, which is the highest in franchise history.
His astronomical 354 ERA+ is the highest of any Padres closer and is actually higher than any Hoffman or even unanimous first-ballot Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera had in a single season. Yates’ 2019 campaign stacks up against any season by any all-time great closer.
He ended up being named to the inaugural First Team All-MLB squad as the entire league’s best relief pitcher that season.
2. Jake Peavy, 2007
A serious argument can be made for Peavy’s 2007 season being the greatest by any Padres pitcher ever. By the time this season rolled around, the Alabama native already had established himself as a bona fide ace. Since divisional play started in 1969, only 11 pitchers have won the “Pitching Triple Crown,” leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. Peavy accomplished the feat during this historic season, with 19 wins, a stifling 2.54 ERA, and 240 strikeouts, which is the second-most in franchise history.
Peavy started out red-hot, with a 2.19 ERA and 125 strikeouts by the All-Star break, which earned him the honor of starting the All-Star Game in San Francisco on the mound for the National League. His 158 ERA+ ranks fourth among Padres starters in a single year.
He became the fourth and last Padres hurler to win the Cy Young Award and also became the 10th National League player in history to win the Cy Young Award in a unanimous vote.
1. Kevin Brown, 1998
If there was one season in Padres history that could outdo Peavy’s 2007 campaign, it’s Kevin Brown in 1998. Acquired in a trade with one year left on his deal, Brown gave the Padres the boost they needed to win the National League pennant and get to the World Series. Over 35 starts, he went 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA, 164 ERA+, and a franchise-record 257 strikeouts. He put together 8.6 WAR, the Padres’ franchise record for a pitcher, and ties Tony Gwynn’s 1987 campaign for the best single-season WAR total by any Friar, pitcher, or hitter.
What sets Brown apart is he went from nasty during the regular season to downright unfair in the playoffs. During that run to the National League pennant, Brown faced two 100-plus win teams in the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. He pitched opposite of the likes of Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine, beating both of the future Hall of Famers. His Game 2 showing in the NLCS against the Braves in Atlanta is stuff legends are made of. Opposite Glavine and the feared 90s Braves era, Brown hurled a complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts. He baffled the likes of Chipper Jones and Andres Galarraga. The Padres won 3-0 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, with both wins coming on the road in Atlanta. This unearthly effort by Brown spring-boarded the Padres to the upset of the 106-win Braves and into the World Series.
He was robbed of a Cy Young Award that season by his counterpart in that series, Glavine, despite having a lower ERA and more strikeouts. Perhaps had Trevor Hoffman, who finished second, just ahead of Brown, not taken votes from Brown, he would’ve rightfully won that award for his incredible season. Either way, Brown’s single year in San Diego is still thought of as one of the best seasons by any Padres player.
Honorable mentions: Randy Jones, 1976 (22 wins, Cy Young), Gaylord Perry, 1978 (2.73 ERA, Cy Young), Mark Davis (44 saves, 1.85 ERA, Cy Young), Jake Peavy, 2004 (171 ERA+)