Since the strike in 1994, there have been 54 instances of a pitcher winning 20 games in a season. In 37 of those seasons, the pitcher received more than 5 and less than 7 runs of support per start, on average. Another 13 were between 4.5 and 5. So that leaves us with four other seasons, all of which are interesting for different reasons:
1) Curt Schilling, 2004 Red Sox. When Schilling went 21-6 for the Sox in 2004, he obviously pitched very well. (Regardless of how you feel about wins as an individual pitcher stat — because we all know they’re terrible — I think it’s safe to say that every pitcher in my lifetime who won 20 games had a pretty good season.) His 3.26 ERA seems high if you’re judging it by 1980s standards or by today’s standards (it wouldn’t have cracked the American League top 10 in 1984 or 2011), but it was actually second in the league in 2004 and good for a 150 ERA+. But what really stands out about Schilling’s season is that the Red Sox scored an average of 7.18 runs per game behind him. That is .29 runs higher than the second-highest run support on our list (Mike Hampton’s 6.89 in 1999).
2) Roy Oswalt, 2005 Astros. Oswalt managed to win 20 games despite the Astros only scoring 4.06 runs per game for him. Of course, he also lost 12 games, in which the Astros only scored 24 runs total. Only Roy Halladay last year (4.55) and Roger Clemens in 1998 (4.5) have come within .5 runs of having such anemic offense behind 20 wins. Well, that is until…
3 & 4) Ian Kennedy, 2011 Diamondbacks, and Clayton Kershaw, 2011 Dodgers. Kennedy currently sits at 20-4 with 4.29 runs of support behind him, while Kershaw is 20-5 with 4.39 runs of support. (For reference, this year’s other 20-game winner, Justin Verlander, gets an average of 4.72 runs of support.)
I don’t know what this means. Obviously, Kershaw’s run support is depressed by the fact that he has gone head-to-head with Tim Lincecum four times. It’s also depressed by the fact that the Dodgers have only a couple Major League hitters in their lineup on any given day.
I don’t have any idea about Kennedy. I don’t follow or care about the Diamondbacks — in fact, I see them less than any other team, due to MLB’s ridiculous blackout rules that put me in the territories of both the Rockies (whose local channel I get) and the D-Backs (whose channel I do not get). So I have literally seen only a couple D-Backs games this year. What I do know is that while Kershaw’s 4.39 runs of support is actually quite a bit above the overall Dodger average of 3.97 (good for 10th in the league), Kennedy’s 4.29 is pretty far below the D-Backs’ 4.45 (4th in the league).
Like I said, I don’t know what any of it means, but it’s pretty interesting to me that, barring something crazy in each guy’s last game of the season, we will have two of the three most poorly supported 20-game winners in the past 18 years in this year’s National League West.