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MLB ERA Leaders By Year—1980s

Updated on May 8, 2008

Bret Saberhagen

Nolan Ryan

Dwight Gooden


The 80's featured a mixed bag of great pitching performances in major league baseball. The only pitcher who led the league in earned run average twice in the decade was Houston's Nolan Ryan, who did it in both 1981 and in 1987 (tie with Jimmy Key). Here is a complete list of those ERA leaders from that decade:

1989-Bret Saberhagen, Kansas City Royals (2.16)

Bret Saberhagen was dominant in his early days with the Royals. In 1989, he won the AL Cy Young Award, posting a league-best 2.16 ERA. That season, Saberhagen went 23-6 with 193 strikeouts to just 43 walks in 209 innings of work. He also had 12 complete games and four shutouts.

1988-Joe Magrane, St. Louis Cardinals (2.18)

Lefty Joe Magrane seemed to battle injuries for most of his career, and in his second big league season, 1988, Magrane only started 24 games. Even though his record was only 5-9, Magrane led the majors with a 2.18 ERA. He struck out 100 and walked 51 in 165 innings pitched.

1987-Nolan Ryan, Houston Astros and Jimmy Key, Toronto Blue Jays (2.76)

I could go on and on about how great flamethrower Nolan Ryan was, pitching 27 seasons and racking up a major league best 5714 strikeouts. In 1987 at the age of 40, Ryan tied Toronto's Jimmy Key with a major league leading 2.76 ERA. Ryan went 8-16 but struck out 270 batters in 211 innings. Key, meanwhile, went 17-8 with 161 strikeouts to 66 walks in 261 innings with 8 complete games.

1986-Mike Scott, Houston Astros (2.22)

If you're a Mets fan like me, the name Mike Scott makes your skin crawl. Scott almost single-handedly beat the Mets in the 1986 NLCS, and even though the Mets won the series 4-2, Scott was so dominant in those two Mets losses that he took home the series MVP. Anyway, that 1986 season was amazing for Scott, as he won the NL Cy Young Award, going 18-10 with a league best 2.22 ERA, and career high 306 strikeouts to just 72 walks in 275 innings pitched.

1985-Dwight Gooden, New York Mets (1.53)

Dwight Gooden was practically unhittable in his early years with the Mets. In his second season, 1985, Gooden won the NL Cy Young Award, posting a major league low 1.53 earned run average. Gooden also went 24-4 that year, with 268 strikeouts to 69 walks in 276 innings pitched, posting 16 complete games and 8 shutouts-all at the age of 20.

1984-Alejandro Pena, Los Angeles Dodgers (2.48)

Though he became a relief pitcher later in his career, the Dodgers' Alejandro Pena was a starter with the Dodgers in 1984. That season, Pena led the majors with a 2.48 ERA, going 12-6 with 135 strikeouts and 46 walks in 199 innings of work.

1983-Atlee Hammaker, San Francisco Giants (2.25)

Lefty Atlee Hammaker only won 10 games against 9 losses in 1983, but that season Hammaker led the majors with a 2.25 earned run average. Hammaker struck out 127 and walked 32 in 172 innings pitched.

1982-Steve Rogers, Montreal Expos (2.40)

Steve Rogers pitched his entire career in Montreal, which some called the baseball version of purgatory. Still, Rogers was widely recognized as one of the great hurlers in the game. In 1982, he led the majors with a 2.40 ERA, going 19-8 with 179 strikeouts to 65 walks in 277 innings of work.

1981-Nolan Ryan, Houston Astros (1.69)

The strike-shortened 1981 season was Ryan's second with the Astros after spending eight seasons with California. Ryan finished that season with a league best 1.69 ERA, going 11-5 in 21 starts, with 140 strikeouts in 149 innings of work.

1980-Don Sutton, Los Angeles Dodgers (2.20)

Don Sutton had a nice 23-year career, winning a total of 324 games. Sutton had the best ERA in baseball in 1980 at the age of 35, with a 2.20 mark. He went 13-5 that season with 128 strikeouts to 47 walks in 212 innings pitched.


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