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Pitchers Who Pitched Better in the NL vs. the AL
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Pitchers Who Pitched Better in the NL vs. the AL
by Asher B. Chancey,
November 4, 2009

For the sake of documentation, here is a list - not quite exhaustive - of players who have pitched better in the NL than they did in the AL.

In the two seasons before he switched from the Marlins to the Blue Jays, A.J. Burnett had a 3.53 ERA. In the two seasons after switching leagues, his ERA went up to 3.83.

John Smoltz had an ERA in the low threes with the Braves the two seasons before he joined the Red Sox and got water-boarded to the tune of an 8.32 ERA in his eight starts in Boston. Smoltz then proceeded to improve to a 4.26 ERA in seven starts with the Cardinals.

Smoltz’s Red Sox mate Brad Penny posted a career 4.06 ERA in the NL over nine seasons before joining the AL in 2009 and putting up a 5.61 ERA before returning to the NL and managing a 2.59 ERA in a half dozen starts.

Who can forget Rick Sutcliffe in 1984? After posting a dismal 5.15 ERA to start the season with the Indians, Sutcliffe was traded to the Cubs, with whom he went 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA the rest of the way to win the NL Cy Young Award. For his career, Sutcliffe had a 3.92 ERA in the NL over 14 years and a 4.37 ERA in five AL seasons.

C.C. Sabathia had a 3.83 ERA with the Cleveland Indians in 18 starts in 2008 before jumping to the Brewers and posting a 1.65 ERA. Back with the Yankees in 2009, his ERA was 3.37.

In three seasons before joining the NL in 1978, Gaylord Perry had a 3.28 ERA. In two seasons spent with San Diego from 1978 to 1979, his ERA dropped to 2.88. Jumping back to the AL the following year, his ERA went up to 3.68.

Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens jumped from the Yankees to the Astros in 2004. In the three years prior to the jump, Pettitte’s ERA with the Yankees was 3.82. In three years with the Astros, his ERA was 3.38. Back with the Yankees these last three years, his ERA has been 4.26.

Clemens had a 3.90 ERA with the Yankees before joining the Astros, but posted a 2.40 ERA with the ‘Stros after the jump. In his final year with the Yankees, after having pitched in Houston, his ERA ballooned to 4.18.

Javier Vazquez had a 3.52 ERA in his last three seasons with Montreal. Moving to the Yankees in 2004, his ERA jumped to 4.91. It went back down to 4.42 in one year with the Diamondbacks, then settled in at 4.40 in three seasons with the White Sox. In his first year with the Braves since leaving Chicago, it went way down to a career-low 2.87.

Dan Haren’s ERA in three seasons with Oakland was 3.64. In two seasons with Arizona since leaving Oakland, it has been 3.06.

Randy Johnson spent 12 seasons in the AL with the Mariners and Yankees, and 12 seasons in the NL with the Expos, Astros, Diamondbacks and Giants. In his 12 AL years, he has a 3.60 ERA. In 12 NL years, he has a 2.60 ERA.

Curt Schilling spent 13 seasons in the NL with Houston, Philadelphia, and Arizona, plus seven seasons in the AL with Baltimore and Boston. This comes with a caveat, as the meat of his career was spent in the NL, and his time in the AL came before and after his prime, but his NL ERA was 3.30, and his AL ERA was 4.00.

In seven seasons in the National League, David Cone posted a 3.13 ERA. In 12 American League seasons, his ERA was 3.70.

Kevin Brown pitched the first nine seasons of his career in the AL, amassing a 3.78 ERA. He spent the next eight years in the NL, putting together a 2.60 ERA. In his final two years in baseball with the Yankees, on the heels of a season in which he pitched 211 innings with a 2.39 ERA for the Dodgers, Brown amassed a 4.95 ERA and retired.

In 14 NL seasons, Chan Ho Park has a 3.99 ERA. In four AL seasons, albeit with the Rangers, Park had a 5.79 ERA.

In 8 seasons in the AL, Derek Lowe put together a 3.88 ERA. In 5 seasons in the NL, his ERA has been 3.73.

Doug Drabek is misleading, because his years in the AL came at the beginning and end of his career, but in 1986, as a rookie, Drabek posted a 4.10 ERA in 27 games with the Yankees. He was then traded to the Pirates and posted a 3.08 ERA over the next four years. His NL ERA of 3.37 is over two runs better than his 5.62 AL ERA.

Frank Viola finished with a 3.82 AL ERA and a 3.38 NL ERA, though his last two full years with the Twins in 1987 and 1988 were better (2.77) than his first two full years with the Mets 1989 and 1990 (3.29).

In three years before leaving to join the Red Sox, Josh Beckett posted a 3.41 ERA with the Marlins. In four years with the Red Sox, Beckett’s ERA is 4.01.

Livan Hernandez has a 4.43 ERA in over 2500 career innings. In his one partial season with the Twins, he posted a 5.48 ERA. Of course, he has been terrible in plenty of National League innings as well since his time with the Twins.

John Denny finished with a 3.59 ERA over 13 seasons in the majors. After six seasons with the Cardinals, he spent two and a half years in Cleveland, during which time his ERA was 4.15. He returned to the NL and won the Cy Young with a 2.37 ERA in his first year back.

Steve Avery posted a disappointing 4.47 ERA for the Braves in 1996. He went to the Red Sox the following year and found out how bad he really was, as his ERA ballooned to 6.42.

In ten seasons from 1984 to 1993, Mark Langston was in his prime and posted a 3.69 ERA in over 2300 innings pitched. He spent exactly 176 innings in the NL during that period, with the Expos in 1989, and posted a 2.39 ERA.

In the first 16 years of his career, Chuck Finley posted a 3.83 ERA pitching exclusively in the AL. In 2002, Finley got off to a 4-11 start with the Indians, with a 4.44 ERA, and was traded to the Cardinals. He posted a 3.80 ERA in the only 85.1 innings he would pitch in the NL, and then retired.

Kevin Millwood has a 3.89 ERA in the NL and a 4.24 ERA in the American League.

David Wells enjoyed some funny flirtations with the NL in what was predominantly an AL career. From 1990 to 1994, he had a 3.98 ERA in the AL. In half of 1995 spent with the Reds, his ERA was 3.59. Moving back to the AL, his ERA was 4.36 over the next five years. He posted a 4.14 ERA with the Yankees in 2003, then watched it drop to 3.73 with the Padres in 2004, and then watched it jump back up to 4.45 with Boston in 2005.

Kevin Appier’s 3.57 ERA in his one NL season with the New York Mets was lower than his 3.74 career ERA, and was also the lowest ERA he posted between 1998 and 2004.

In 10 NL seasons, John Burkett had a 3.91 ERA. In six AL seasons, his ERA was 5.01.

In four NL seasons, albeit with the Dodgers, Jeff Weaver has a career 4.22 ERA. In seven seasons spent in the NL, his ERA is 4.91.

In eight years in the NL, again mostly with the Dodgers, Hideo Nomo posted a 3.90 ERA. In four years in the AL, his ERA was 5.28 (though to be fair, two of those seasons were in the washed up final two years of his career).

Bartolo Colon pitched half of the 2002 season in the NL, and posted a 3.31 ERA, which is lower than his career ERA of 4.14. This is misleading, however, because his ERA was actually 2.55 with the Indians before he was traded to the Expos.

From 1993 to 2006, Steve Trachsel pitched in the NL every season but one, 2000. In 2000, his ERA was 4.80 for the Blue Jays and Devil Rays. During the rest of that period, his ERA was 4.28.

Tim Wakefield’s first two seasons were spent in the NL amassing a 4.17 ERA. In 15 years of AL ball since, he has posted a 4.32 ERA.

In 2008, Jon Garland posted a 4.90 with the Angels in a pitcher’s park. In 2009, Garland has a 4.48 ERA with the Diamondbacks in a hitter’s park.

Brett Tomko has a 4.58 ERA in 10 NL seasons, and a 5.25 ERA in four AL seasons.

Sidney Ponson pitched in the NL in parts of two seasons, and put up a 4.48 ERA to go with his 5.07 ERA in his 12 AL seasons. In each of his partial NL seasons, he was better than he had been/would be in the AL that same season.

Here’s one that kind of surprised me: after dominating the AL for four years with a 2.89 ERA with the Twins, Johan Santana has put up a 2.78 ERA in his two years with the Mets.

In six years with the Blue Jays, Chris Carpenter had a 4.83 ERA. In six years with the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter has a 2.94 ERA.

Tom Glavine spent his entire career in the NL with a 3.53 ERA. However, in 38 interleague games, his ERA was 3.74.

Greg Maddux also spent his entire career in the NL with a 3.16 ERA. In 43 interleague games, his ERA was 3.88.

John Smoltz has a 3.31 ERA in a career spent almost entirely in the NL. In 44 interleague games, his ERA is 4.39.

From 1991-1993, Sid Fernandez went 20-20 with a 2.81 ERA for the New York Mets. In 1994 and part of 1995, Fernandez played for the Orioles, going 6-10 with a 5.59 ERA in 27 games. He went back to the NL midway through the 1995 season and went 10-7 with a 3.40 ERA in 23 remaining games before retiring.

Not a whole lot to be determined by this one because of sample size, but Russ Ortiz has a 4.48 career ERA, while in 20 AL games his ERA is 8.48.

Kyle Lohse spent the first six years of his career in the AL putting up a 4.88 ERA. In his four years in the NL since then, his ERA has been 4.32.

Jaime Navarro began his career in the AL with the Brewers, then had his two best seasons with the Cubs, posting earned run averages of 3.28 and 3.92. He then spent his next three seasons on the South Side of Chicago and never managed an ERA under 5.79. Despite returning to the now-NL Brewers for five starts with a 12.84 ERA in 2000, Navarro has a career 3.99 NL ERA and an AL mark of 4.93, nearly a full run higher.

Ken Hill spent the first seven-and-a-half years of his career putting up a 3.65 ERA in the NL, and the last seven and a half putting up a 4.63 ERA in the AL.

From 1988 to 1990, Pete Harnisch managed a 4.49 ERA with the Baltimore Orioles. From 1991 to 1993, his ERA was 3.12 with the Astros.

Chris Young couldn’t get his career started with the Rangers, posting a 4.34 ERA in 2004 and 2005. He was then traded to the Padres and his ERA dropped to 3.30 ERA in 2006 and 2007.

Dennis Martinez spent 14 years in the AL and nine years in the NL. His AL ERA was 4.11 while his NL ERA was almost a full run better at 3.13.

Bill Swift spent the first six years of his career in the AL, couldn’t make it as a starter, and became an excellent reliever. He then moved the NL, became a starter with the Giants, and led the league in ERA. For his career, 4.33 ERA in the AL, 3.45 ERA in the NL.

This dichotomy explains what has been, to me, an almost unexplainable phenomenon – Ted Lilly has posted a 3.82 ERA in three very good years with the Cubs after putting up a 4.48 ERA in his last four seasons in the AL.

Speaking of former Oakland pitchers, Aaron Harang started his career with the A’s and a 4.97 ERA in 23 games over two seasons before joining the Reds and putting up a 4.18 ERA in seven seasons. And speaking of current Reds, Bronson Arroyo had a 4.29 ERA in his final two years with the Red Sox before joining the Reds and posting a 3.73 ERA in his first two seasons there.

Carl Pavano had a 4.21 ERA in seven NL seasons before switching to the AL, where he has had a 5.10 ERA in four years since the switch.

Remember Jaret Wright? He had a 5.50 ERA in his six-year AL career before he switched to the National League. In two seasons with the Padres and Braves, Wright posted a 4.23 ERA before signing a huge free agent contract with the Yankees. He then posted a 5.08 ERA in three seasons before disappearing for good at the age of 31.

Jesse Orosco finished with a 3.44 ERA in 12 AL seasons and a 2.94 ERA in 13 NL seasons.

Here’s a crazy stat: Dave Stewart enjoyed his best years with the Oakland A’s, but over his 16-year career, his 3.51 ERA in six NL seasons still tops his 4.00 ERA in 13 AL seasons. Not only that, but his NL ERA is only 0.31 worse than his 3.20 ERA during his four twenty win seasons from 1987 to 1990.

Speaking of those Oakland A’s, Bob Welch may have won the Cy Young with the A’s in 1990, but his ERA in his final three seasons with the Dodgers was 3.01. In his first three years with the A’s, his best years with the team, it went up to 3.21. Overall, his AL ERA in seven years was 3.94, while his NL ERA in 10 years was 3.14.

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at

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