Winning the Cy Young Award is every pitcher’s dream since Little League. Winning an MVP in any sport etches you into immortality. And a World Series ring? You’re not human if you don’t want one. In 1968, 24-year-old Tigers ace Denny McLain would win all three, an achievement no player has reached since all three awards were in existence.
McLain’s off the field issues over the course of his life could fill a whole other article or two, but here we’re focusing on one of the more positive moments. Let’s take a look into the stats that created one of the greatest season performances of all time.
Denny McLain went 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 1968. What were the more in-depth numbers that became the underlying reason for his historic season?
Wins are indeed a team statistic more than individual but when we’re getting into the thirties, that’s about the highest level you can reach. That’s a third of most playoff teams’ wins and nearly half of most bad teams’ wins, especially in the modern era.
in ’68, Denny led the league in:
- Wins (31)
- Winning % (.838)
- Innings Pitched (336)
- Complete Games (28)
- Games Started (41)
- Batters Faced (1288)
- Home Runs Surrendered (31)
- Putouts as a Pitcher (36)
- Sacrifice Hits (16)
- K/BB (4.44)
The “Home Runs Surrendered” might be first glanced at as a bad thing. However, considering McLain only surrendered 73 earned runs the entire regular season along with the sheer abundance of innings pitched, it actually makes him look even better.
To simplify the absurd K/BB ratio, Denny walked 63 batters over 336 innings, translating into a miniscule 1.7 BB Per 9 innings. That number is even more impressive considering that most of his wins were complete games. That’s more than attacking the strike zone, that’s assaulting it.
McLain produced a 7.5 K Per 9 innings, but again with the vast number of innings eaten up, 280 strikeouts might not blow away people ratio wise. However, 280 strikeouts are still 280 strikeouts.
In the month of July alone, Denny won seven games.
Denny McLain would be the unanimous selection for both Cy Young and MVP awards. World Series opponent and Hall of Famer Bob Gibson also won both awards in the National League. These dominant performances influenced the league to shrink the strike zone and lower the mound height starting in the 1969 season in an attempt to provide “fairness” and balance to hitters.
McLain and Gibson would pitch against one another twice in the 1968 World Series, with Gibson winning both Game 1 and Game 4. The Tigers would call on Denny on short rest to pitch Game 6 with the season on his shoulders. McLain would go on to pitch a complete game allowing just one run in what would be the foundation of the comeback on the Cardinals.
We’ll see pitchers winning MVPs in our lifetime. Maybe there will be another 30-game winner one of these years. However, to win both, then to go on to be a major factor in winning the World Series the same year, it might take another century before we see anything like that from one pitcher again. The workload, quality, and efficiency were all off the charts. There have been wonderful individual seasons from others since then, but to compare to Denny McLain’s perfect season is a different bar entirely.