The Cincinnati Reds selected Keefe Cato in the 2nd round of the 1979 Major League Baseball draft out of Fairfield University. The Reds then sent the right-handed pitcher to join the Billings Mustangs rotation and he announced his presence in the Pioneer League with authority.
There were only 11 starts for Keefe Cato in the Pioneer League for the Billings Mustangs in 1979, and the right-hander got a decision in all of them but one. He went 9-1 on the season and threw six complete games and 88.0 innings across those 11 starts. His ERA on the season was 1.33 and he walked just eight batters while racking up 101 strikeouts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 12.6 stood as an organizational farm system record until 2015 when Seth Varner bested it with 134 strikeouts and 11 walks during that season.
Incredibly, Keefe Cato didn’t lead the Pioneer League in ERA that year, as future big league Rich Rodas went 12-0 with a 1.12 ERA for the Dodgers organization that year. Cato did finish second that year to Rodas in ERA, but he led the league in WHIP with a 0.72 mark – best in the league by 16 points (over Rodas).
The Pioneer League in 1979 had a league average ERA of 4.75. That made Cato’s 1.33 ERA good for a 357 ERA+, which as you will see below was significantly better than anyone else that was in contention. That was a strong year for the Mustangs pitching staff as a whole, as they led the league in ERA by 74 points with a 2.99 ERA as their pitching led team went 43-26.
Stacking up with the contenders
There were more than a few contenders for the 1970’s among the starting pitchers. You could make the argument for a few seasons here to take the nod for best season among the starters in the 1970’s depending on what it was that you want to favor. Let’s see how some of the guys stacked up.
Beginning with Keefe Cato, he had the best ERA+ by a long shot, and the same can be said for both his strikeout-to-walk ratio (not listed, but you can see it easily) and WHIP. Working against him a little bit was that he was 21-years-old and in rookie-ball, while many of the others had a much better age-to-level ratio. Still, he was just incredibly dominant in the numbers the likes that no one else was. It would take a few years, but he would see action for Cincinnati in both 1983 and 1984, pitching in 12 games that spanned 19.1 innings. He would pitch in the minors in both 1985 and 1986 before his career came to an end.
Let’s now move up to the top of the list and Richard Jensen. He was the Reds 2nd round pick in 1973, and he posted the lowest ERA among qualified pitchers in the decade on the farm system with his 1.16 mark. But he also worked some sort of witch craft to do it, walking more batters than he struck out. He limited hard contact, apparently – giving up just 30 hits and just one home run in 70.0 innings. As he moved up the ladder his ERA got progressively worse and he didn’t pitch professionally after the 1976 season when he was 21-years-old.
Paul Moskau showed up on the list twice – first for his 1975 season and then for his 1976 season. The Reds 3rd rounder in the 1975 draft had a 1.54 ERA through his first two seasons in the minor leagues, working with a nearly identical ERA in the two years of 1.53 and 1.55. After dominating the minors he would go back and forth between Triple-A and the Major Leagues over the next few years with the Reds. In total he would pitch in seven different seasons in the Majors and throw 633.2 innings with a 4.22 ERA, 32 wins, and five saves in his career.
Have you ever heard of this fella named Mario Soto? Yeah, neither have I….. terrible jokes aside, his 1976 season with Tampa was a good one. He posted a 1.87 ERA that season, good for a 168 ERA+. But what really jumps out is the fact that as a 19-year-old he threw 197 innings that year and did it while keeping runs off of the board at an elite rate. His strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t all that good, though 11 of his 80 walks that season were intentional and that skews the numbers a little bit. Soto would be in the Major Leagues in parts of the next three seasons before sticking around for good. He’d make the All-Star team three straight seasons from 1982-1984 – leading the league in complete games in the latter two seasons. He was out of the game following the 1988 season, but picked up 100 wins in 297 games over a 12-year career.
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|