A bit of a no-brainer.
Walter Johnson 1907-1927
P Walter Johnson 5-9 1.88 ERA 1.09 WHIP 0.5 PW 4 WS
In only 12 starts, the 19-year-old made an impact, and was the one bright spot on an otherwise horrible pitching staff.
P Walter Johnson 14-14 1.65 ERA 0.96 WHIP 2.1 PW 20 WS
Though the win total was low, Johnson was 20 years old and already turned in the best season a Washington pitcher has ever had. He finished 5th in AL ERA (1.65), 3rd in K/9 IP (5.62), 4th in H/9 IP (6.81), and 3rd in shutouts (6).
P Walter Johnson 13-25 2.22 ERA 1.12 WHIP 0.1 PW 12 WS
Exhibit “A” as to how bad of a team this was, and a great example of how win-loss record is a meaningless stat when it comes to evaluating a pitcher. Johnson’s 2.22 ERA, while not as outstanding as he would see in future years, was better than average in a deadball American League. Despite the astronomical loss total, Johnson was second in AL strikeouts and third in innings pitched.
P Walter Johnson 25-17 1.36 ERA 0.91 WHIP 5.5 PW 36 WS
1910 may be the year that Johnson made the jump from a very good pitcher to a dominant pitcher. In 1910, he led the AL in games pitched (45), complete games (38) innings pitched (370), strikeouts (313), and strikeouts per nine innings (7.61). His adjusted ERA+ was 183, a great number to be sure, but one Johnson will surpass many times before his career is over. On July 8 against the Browns, Johnson struck out the first seven men he faced. On September 25, Johnson tosses a near-perfect game, allowing the Browns only a single.
P Walter Johnson 25-13 1.90 ERA 1.12 WHIP 5.4 PW 31 WS 10.0 WARP3
Johnson, now a superstar, actually held out for a contract at the beginning of the 1911 season. It didn’t last long, as he signed a 3-year deal worth $7,000 a year around opening day. The hold out did mean that Johnson missed the opening day start for Washington. The next time that would happen isn’t until 1922. Other notable events in 1911 include Johnson’s first career over-the-fence home run surrendered on April 28, an appearance in for the AL All-Stars in a benefit game for Addie Joss’s family, and a 14 strikeout performance in a All-Star exhibition against the Lincoln Giants from the Negro Leagues. Johnson finished 2nd in AL ERA, and led the league in complete games (36) and shutouts (6); including an 11 inning gem over the White Sox on August 4.
P Walter Johnson 33-12 1.39 ERA 0.91 WHIP 10.6 PW 47 WS 16.3 WARP3
The list of accomplishments for Johnson in 1912 is a long one. He led the AL in ERA, WHIP, K (303), K/9 (7.39), and ERA+ (240). After allowing 8 home runs in 1911, he cut the number back down to only two in 1912. Johnson’s bat emerged in 1912 as well, with a .264/.298/.403 line and two home runs (the same number he allowed). The scariest part is that this wasn’t even his best season on the mound.
P Walter Johnson 36-7 1.14 ERA 0.78 WHIP 10.9 PW 54 WS 18.1 WARP3
Walter Johnson’s best season in some historical context:
Single Season PW (1901-present)
1. Walter Johnson 1913 10.9
2. Walter Johnson 1912 10.6
3. Christy Mathewson 1905 8.5
4. Pedro Martinez 2000 8.4
Single Season Win Shares among Pitchers (1901-present)
1. Walter Johnson 1913 54
2. Jack Chesbro 1904 53
3. Ed Walsh 1908 47
3. Walter Johnson 1912 47
Single Season Total Win Shares (1901-present)
1. Honus Wagner 1908 59
2 .Babe Ruth 1923 55
3 .Walter Johnson 1913 54
3. Barry Bonds 2001 54
Single Season WHIP (1901-present)
1. Pedro Martinez 2000 0.74
2. Walter Johnson 1913 0.78
3. Addie Joss 1908 0.81
4. Greg Maddux 1995 0.81
Single Season WARP3 (All Time)
1. Walter Johnson 1913 18.1
2. Babe Ruth 1923 18.0
3. Amos Rusie 1894 17.6
4. Cal Ripken 1991 17.0
At the very least, Walter Johnson’s 1913 season is in the conversation for greatest pitching season ever, and perhaps greatest baseball season ever.
SP Walter Johnson 28-18 1.72 ERA 0.97 WHIP 7.2 PW 38 WS 14.6 WARP3
On opening day, Johnson shuts out the Boston Red Sox 3-0, and really doesn’t look back, having another great season for Washington. During the off season following 1914, Johnson will flirt with the Federal League, but ultimately will return to Washington. Johnson hit a grand slam against Detroit on June 21.
SP Walter Johnson 27-13 1.55 ERA 0.93 WHIP 7.4 PW 42 WS 14.1 WARP3
Another year, another dominant season for Johnson. At the age of 27, he once again led the league in several pitching categories, and was the backbone for yet another winning season in Washington.
On August 14, 1915 Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth squared off for the first time. Ruth led the Red Sox to a 4-3 victory over Johnson and the Nats, going 2-for-3 at the plate in the process.
SP Walter Johnson 25-20 1.90 ERA 1.01 WHIP 5.2 PW 36 WS 13.4 WARP3
Though his ERA was up slightly from his incredible run in the early part of the decade (his ERA+ was “only” 147), Johnson had yet another dominant year. At the age of 28, Johnson did not allow a single home run in and AL league-leading 369.7 innings pitched. He added 36 complete games and three shutouts to his career totals, and led the AL in strikeout to walk ratio for the fifth straight season.
As an interesting aside, Walter Johnson faced Babe Ruth head-to-head at least five times over the course of the 1916 season.
4/16 Fenway Park; Bos 5, Was 1; ended after seven innings due to rain
6/1 Fenway Park; Bos 1, Was 0; Ruth’s second straight shut out
8/15 Fenway Park; Bos 1, Was 0; 13 innings, Johnson allowed only five hits
9/9 AL Park; Bos 2, Was 1; Ruth 4-hitter
9/12 AL Park; Was 4, Bos 3; 10 innings, Johnson’s only win vs. Ruth in 1916
Final Tally: Babe Ruth 4, Walter Johnson 1
SP Walter Johnson 23-16 2.21 ERA 0.97 WHIP 3.1 PW 29 WS 10.4 WARP3
While his ERA was a little on the high side for his standards, the defense behind Johnson probably had something to do with that. The rest of his numbers, including WHIP, look pretty comparable with the rest of his career. The “problem” will be corrected next season.
1917 is the year that Ty Cobb hit his only career home run off of Johnson; an inside-the-park home run that helped the Tigers win a late-September game 4-3. Also of note, Johnson finally earned a win against Babe Ruth in October, when the Nats shut out the Red Sox 6-0.
SP Walter Johnson 23-13 1.27 ERA 0.95 WHIP 7.6 PW 38 WS 14.2 WARP3
In terms of WARP, 1918 was Walter Johnson’s fourth best season behind 1913, 1912, and 1914. During the season, Walter Johnson pitched 17+ innings twice. The first came against the White Sox, when he and Lefty Williams each pitched a shutout through 17 innings. Johnson had a scoreless 18th, while the Nats were able to push a run across in the bottom of the frame. The 18-inning shutout still stands as an ML record, though it was tied by Carl Hubbell in 1933.
SP Walter Johnson 20-14 1.49 ERA 0.99 WHIP 6.7 PW 27 WS 14.1 WARP3
On opening day, Johnson pitched a 13-inning shutout, and the Nats defeated Philadelphia 1-0. It was one of five 1-0 victories for Johnson in 1919, tying his own major league record. Johnson led the AL in ERA (1.49), WHIP (0.99), H/9 (7.28), K (147), Shutouts (7), K/W (2.88), and ERA+ (214). The 1919 season marks the end of Johnson’s dominance. He will have several more very good seasons, but will not approach the dominance he displayed from 1910-1919. Over those 10 seasons, from the age of 22 to 32, Johnson compiled an amazing 138.7 WARP3. It is probably the most dominant stretch for any player in ML history.
SP Walter Johnson 8-10 3.13 ERA 1.13 WHIP 1.3 PW 10 WS 4.1 WARP3
1920 was a season of ups and downs for the franchise player, though there was more down than up. On July 1 he pitched his first career no hitter, striking out 10 Red Sox in the process. Had it not been for a Bucky Harris error, Johnson would have pitched a perfect game. A few weeks later, Johnson was shut down for the season due to soreness in his pitching arm. His play past July would be limited to a few pinch-hitting appearances.
Though Johnson’s numbers look to be pretty bad by his standards, they aren’t as big a drop off as they might appear. His 1.49 ERA in 1919 came in a league with a total ERA of 3.01. The 3.13 ERA he posted in 1920, while a major drop for Johnson, was still well below the league’s 3.79 total mark. His ERA+ dropped from 214 in 1919 to 118 in 1920. In the context of Johnson’s career, 118 ERA+ is pretty low, and was a drop to be sure; but he was still among the best in the league.
SP Walter Johnson 17-14 3.51 ERA 1.35 WHIP 2.3 PW 23 WS 7.5 WARP3
On September 5, 1921 Walter Johnson passed Cy Young to become the all-time leader in career strikeouts with 2,287. Despite reaching another career milestone, Johnson followed his tough 1920 season with a similar 1921. Once again his numbers were good, but well below what Washington fans had come to expect from the Big Train. It may have seemed that Johnson’s career was almost over, but the 33-year old still had a few good seasons in him.
SP Walter Johnson 15-16 2.99 ERA 1.36 WHIP 2.8 PW 21 WS 7.8 WARP3
This was the star pitcher’s best season since 1919. Between June 18 and June 28, Johnson pitched three consecutive shut outs, prompting the Sporting News (7/6/22) to announce that “Walter will win nearly all his games from now on”; and if Mogridge could return to his 1921 form, “Washington may yet get somewhere.”
The third shutout in the streak came against New York on June 28. Johnson struck out nine Yankees in the 1-0 Washington win. The Sporting News noted, however, that Johnson’s nemesis still had his number:
Walter was no puzzle to Ruth, the Babe getting two ferocious singles in four times up, and pulling another to center in the ninth, which would have cleared the fence if hit toward right.
SP Walter Johnson 17-12 3.48 ERA 1.29 WHIP 1.4 PW 17 WS 7.2 WARP3
In 1923, the Big Train matched the lowest ERA+ of his career to that point (109). He was 21 years old and lost 25 games the last time it was that low in 1909. Still, his ERA was a half-run better than league average, and he won 17 games for a sub-.500 team. At 35, it seemed that Johnson passed a different career milestone on a daily basis. On May 2, Johnson earned his 100th career shutout at the first Sunday game at Yankee Stadium. On July 22 Johnson struck out his 3,000th man, and on September 17 he earned two victories in a double-header.
SP Walter Johnson 23-7 2.72 ERA 1.12 WHIP 4.9 PW 29 WS 9.5 WARP3
After several seasons that were below the legend’s standards, Walter Johnson returned to form in 1924. He led the league in almost every pitching category including wins (23), ERA (2.72), WHIP (1.12), K/9 (5.12), Shutouts (6), and K/W (2.05). About the same time that Sam Rice was in the midst of his 31-game hitting streak, Johnson had a streak of his own: 13 straight wins. The streak came late in the season and, like Rice, Johnson’s play was a key factor in the eventual pennant victory for the Nats. Johnson won the 1924 MVP award, the second of his career. While is 1924 numbers don’t approach the numbers he put up in 1913, they are almost as impressive considering the hitter-friendly era and the fact that Johnson, at age 36, was the 8th oldest player in the American League.
SP Walter Johnson 20-7 3.97 ERA 1.29 WHIP 4.6 PW 26 WS 7.9 WARP3
While the 37-year old continued to pile up the pitching numbers, 1925 was his best season at the plate. In 107 plate appearances, Johnson hit .433/.455/.577 with two home runs and 20 RBI. On at least two occasions, manager Harris called for Johnson’s bat in game-winning situations, and Johnson came through. On April 23 Johnson was called out of the shower to hit a two-run single to win the game over New York, 3-2. On May 19th, the Big Train drove a ball over the 45-foot wall at League Park in Cleveland to give his team a 4-3 win.
In the World Series, Johnson seemed to have the Pirates’ number in his first two appearances, allowing just one run in Games 1 and 5. The Pirates finally got to Johnson in the final game, however. He allowed 15 hits and nine runs, though only five of them were earned, in the 9-7 loss in Game 7.
SP Walter Johnson 15-16 3.63 ERA 1.27 WHIP 0.7 PW 15 WS 5.5 WARP3
In his final opening day start, Johnson pitched what he remembered as his greatest game. No member of the Philadelphia Athletics went further than first base in a 15-inning, six hit shutout for Johnson. Though 1926 would become a bit of a tough season for the legend, he did manage to pile on more career milestones. On April 27 he won his 400th career game.
SP Walter Johnson 5-6 5.10 ERA 1.29 WHIP -0.4 PW 5 WS 1.4 WARP3
The spring injury created a situation where Walter Johnson ended his career with a whimper rather than with a bang, but the circumstances surrounding his final season did not diminish the career of the man who remain the greatest player in franchise history 80 years later.
Johnson’s career numbers: 417-279 2.17 ERA (146 ERA+) 1.06 WHIP 89.9 PW 560 WS 203.2 WARP3
He remains baseball’s all-time leader in career shutouts with 110 and PW with 89.9. He is second only to Cy Young in wins, and is eighth on the all-time ERA list. His 1913 season still stands as one of the greatest single seasons in history. Walter Johnson is, hands down, the greatest player in the history of the franchise.
The rest of the starters…
C Muddy Ruel
1B Joe Judge
2B Buddy Myer
SS Joe Cronin
3B Buddy Lewis
LF Goose Goslin
CF Clyde Milan
RF Sam Rice