Kicking off the series when it comes to pitchers, there were really only two guys that stood out to me as being in contention here. And then I realized one of the seasons was from prior to 2010, making Tony Cingrani and his 2012 season an easy choice for season of the last decade among pitchers.
After being drafted in the 3rd round in 2011, Cingrani went to Billings and just embarrassed the hitters in the Pioneer League, posting a 1.75 ERA in 51.1 innings with 35 hits, just one home run allowed, six walks, and he struck out 80 batters. The league ERA that season was 5.06 – and if not for the fact that he only threw 51.1 innings, this season would certainly be a contender for the season of the decade.
It was the next year, 2012, that would see the left-handed starter go on to put together what was the best season of the decade between 2010-2019. The season began for Tony Cingrani in Bakersfield – one of the more hitter friendly ballparks in the most hitter friendly league in all of Minor League Baseball. The first start saw him allow one hit and one walk in 6.0 innings with five strikeouts. It was just a taste of what was to come. He would make a total of 10 starts for Bakersfield over the next seven weeks, including a 12 strikeout performance on May 24th against San Jose. After his start against Inland Empire on May 29th, the Reds promoted Cingrani to Double-A Pensacola. Behind him was 56.2 innings of 1.11 ERA baseball with 13 walks and 71 strikeouts. For perspective, the California League ERA in 2012 was 4.73.
The jump to Double-A got out to a solid start. Over his first four starts, Cingrani allowed seven runs in 21.1 innings – good for a 2.95 ERA. Then came his start on June 27th at home against Jackson. The lefty threw 8.0 shutout innings with just three hits, a walk, and he struck out a career best 15 hitters. That kicked off a stretch run of 12 starts through September 1st where he would post a 1.85 ERA in 68.0 innings. A week later he’d find himself in the Major Leagues with Cincinnati where he’d make three relief appearances. His time in Pensacola led to a 2.12 ERA, where the league average ERA was 3.84.
Overall on the season, not including his 5.0 innings with Cincinnati in September, he posted a 1.73 ERA across his 146.0 innings while allowing just 98 hits, nine home runs, walking 52 batters, and striking out 172 hitters.
Stacking up with the contenders
As was noted at the top of the article, there really wasn’t much of a competition as to which season would get the nod here. That’s far more about just how good the season was for Tony Cingrani than it was that others didn’t have outstanding seasons. It’s worth highlighting those seasons.
When it comes to ERA+ there’s no real contest between Tony Cingrani and the others. But, as I said from the very start – there really wasn’t much debate as to who would get the nod. Tyler Mahle showing up on the list twice is very impressive – he had a rather dominant career in the Minor Leagues (as did Cingrani – who never posted an ERA over 1.82 in any season in the minor leagues where he threw 20.0 innings). I had forgotten about the Greg Reynolds season in preparation for the article, but the memory came flooding back once I came across it in the database.
Here are the other winners for Season of the Decade:
|2010’s||Devin Mesoraco||Tony Cingrani||Donnie Joseph|
|2000’s||Adam Dunn||Travis Wood||Robert Manuel|
|1990’s||Jason LaRue||Curt Lyons||Victor Garcia|
|1980’s||Danny Tartabull||Mike Dowless||Clem Freeman|
|1970’s||Gary Redus||Keefe Cato|
Cingrani’s rise was both a success and a failure. A success in that, yes, getting a third rounder to the bigs is an accomplishment worth lauding. A failure in that he never was forced to take a slower path to develop a third pitch. He had a nice run his first year starting in the majors, but the league figured out in year 2 he was just a fastball/slider guy. The second year splits are pronounced and his future as a LOOGY was set.
I’d also be curious as to how much his hardheadedness contributed.
I am not sure any prospect (any team) who pitched at least 200 innings has ever been a dominant as Cingrani (1.68 ERA) was in his 200+ minor league innings. I think you could probably lower it to 100+ innings and Cingrani would still be #1
From what I looked up Brendan McKay was the closest to what I saw with his minor league ERA to date at 1.77. Chris Paddack had a 1.82 ERA in 177.2 innings. Strasburg and Gullett were the only other pitchers to have an ERA < 2 and neither of them threw 100 innings. Plus their minor league ERA was still 120% of Cingrani's so Cingrani was still better.
Mariano Rivera was absolutely dominant in his first year of Pro Ball. ERA of 0.17 (1 ER in 52 IP).
Off topic (different era) but Jim O’Toole had a dandy season at Nashville (AA) in his only MiLB season. 20-8 with 2.44 ERA and 21 complete games in 33 starts.
Struggled as Reds rookie in 1959 but very good SP most years 1960 to 1966. Hurt his arm and was traded to White Sox. One good season as relief pitcher there in 1967 but then arm injuries prompted his retirement.