Brian writes about baseball history. He is a lifelong baseball fan and has been rooting for the New York Mets since their 1962 debut.
One of the greatest accomplishments for Major League pitchers is winning the pitching Triple Crown. A pitcher wins the Triple Crown (an unofficial honor for which no award is actually given) by leading his league in three major pitching categories in the same season: wins, earned run average (ERA), and strikeouts. Although more precise statistics have been developed for measuring a pitcher's skill and value, leading the league in these three pitching statistics is clearly the mark of an exceptional and dominant season on the mound.
Only 16 NL Pitchers Have Won the Triple Crown
Since the National League came into existence in 1876, only 16 pitchers have won the NL pitching Triple Crown. Two players, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Sandy Koufax, won it three times each, and Christy Mathewson won it twice, resulting in a grand total of only 21 Triple Crown seasons in 145 years of National League baseball.
NL Triple Crown Winners - Pitching
Boston Red Caps
Old Hoss Radbourn
New York Giants
New York Giants
New York Giants
New York Giants
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers
Of course, it is even rarer to win the pitching Triple Crown for all of Major League Baseball—to be the best in all three of these pitching categories in both leagues. Although a number of the Triple Crown winners led the majors in one or two of the three categories, only four National Leaguers have been the best in all three in the same season, with Sandy Koufax accomplishing the feat three times in the 1960s. The others, as the table shows, were Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915, Dazzy Vance in 1924, and Dwight Gooden in 1985. (When Tommy Bond won in 1877 and Amos Rusie took the crown in 1894, the National League was the only recognized Major League.)
Ten NL Triple Crown Pitchers in the Hall of Fame
The 16 pitchers who won the Triple Crown all had (or are having) solid careers, and most of their names appear in various lists of the best players in baseball history. Among them, they won multiple Cy Young Awards and MVP awards and were selected to numerous All-Star teams. Ten of the 16 winners have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, with Randy Johnson joining the Hall in 2015, his first year of eligibility.
Here's a chronological guide to the members of the National League’s pitching Triple Crown fraternity.
Tommy Bond: 1877
Right-hander Tommy Bond of the Boston Red Caps was the first pitcher to win the Triple Crown, with 40 wins, a 2.11 ERA, and 170 strikeouts in 1877. He also led the league in shutouts, fewest hits per 9 innings, fewest walks per 9 innings, and the best strikeout to walk ratio. In this era of “iron-horse” pitchers, Bond pitched 521 innings. The Red Caps finished first in the National League with a record of 42-18, with Bond getting the win in all but two of the team’s games.
In 1878 Bond again led the league in wins and strikeouts, as well as shutouts, and he led in ERA and shutouts in 1879. He played nine seasons in the National League, from 1874 to 1882, and added another major league season in 1884, when he split his time between the Boston Reds of the Union Association and the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the American Association. He finished his career with 234 wins, 932 strikeouts, and a lifetime ERA of 2.14, currently good for 10th place among all major league pitchers. To date, Bond has not been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Old Hoss Radbourn: 1884
Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn of the Providence Grays won the Triple Crown in 1884 with 59 wins—the winningest season in major league history.* He posted an ERA of 1.38 and an amazing 441 strikeouts to go along with the victories. He pitched 678-2/3 innings and notched 73 complete games in leading the Grays to the pennant. He also pitched complete-game victories against the New York Metropolitans of the American Association in all three games of the 1884 “World’s Series,” the first recognized interleague championship series.
Radbourn had Triple Crown competition in 1884, as Guy Hecker of the Louisville Eclipse won the crown in the rival American Association. Hecker’s numbers were just a notch short of Radbourn’s, with 52 wins, a 1.80 ERA, and 385 strikeouts. But in a year in which there were three recognized major leagues, even Radbourn’s 441 strikeouts weren’t best: Hugh Daily had 483 strikeouts in the Union Association to top the majors.
Radbourn had also led the league in wins in 1883 with 48 and finished second in both ERA and strikeouts that year. In a career of just 11 seasons (1881-1891), he totaled 309 victories, winning 20 or more games nine times and pitching 488 complete games. He finished with a 2.68 ERA and 1,830 strikeouts. Radbourn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1939.
*Some sources, including the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia and the Sporting News Baseball Record Book, as well as the website of the Baseball Hall of Fame, credit Radbourn with 60 wins, but the correct total under modern scoring methods appears to be 59. See the Wikipedia article on Radbourn for details.
Tim Keefe: 1888
Right-hander Tim Keefe led the New York Giants to the National League pennant in 1888 with 35 wins, a 1.74 ERA, and a major league-leading 335 strikeouts. His victories included one stretch of 19 consecutive wins, a record that held up for more than two decades. He added four more wins in a postseason series against the St. Louis Browns of the American Association.
Keefe had several other dominant seasons besides 1888. He won over 40 games in both 1883 and 1886, led the National League in ERA in as a rookie in 1880 (with 0.86, still the single-season record) and again 1885, and was the first pitcher to strike out more than 300 batters in three separate seasons. Keefe posted 342 wins in his 14-year career, 10th on the all-time list, with a 2.63 ERA. His 2,564 career strikeouts were a record until being eclipsed by Cy Young in 1908. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1964.
John Clarkson: 1889
Boston Beaneaters pitcher John Clarkson won the Triple Crown in 1889 with a major league-leading 49 wins along with a 2.73 ERA and 284 strikeouts. He also led the majors with 68 complete games and eight shutouts. He accomplished these feats on a pitching staff that also included 1884 Triple Crown winner Old Hoss Radbourn.
Clarkson had come close to a major league Triple Crown with the Chicago White Stockings in 1885, when he had 53 wins and 308 strikeouts to lead the majors but fell short with a 1.85 ERA, finishing third in the NL behind Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch. Clarkson also led the league in wins and strikeouts in 1887. In a career of 12 major league seasons, he won 30 or more games six times and finished with 328 wins, a 2.81 ERA, and 1,978 strikeouts. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1963.
Amos Rusie: 1894
Amos Rusie of the New York Giants won the Triple Crown in 1894 with 36 wins, an ERA of 2.78, and 195 strikeouts. His ERA was especially noteworthy in a season in which the National League average ERA was 5.32. Known for the velocity of his fastball, the “Hoosier Thunderbolt” remained effective after the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate was increased in 1893 from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches—a change prompted by Rusie hitting future Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings with a pitch and putting him in a coma for four days.
Although 1894 marked the only year in which Rusie led the league in wins, he did win 30 or more games in four consecutive seasons. He led the league in strikeouts five times, but he led the league in walks for an equal number of seasons, including a record 289 walks allowed in 1890. In 10 seasons, Rusie won 246 games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1977.
Christy Mathewson: 1905 and 1908
New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson was the first National Leaguer to win two Triple Crowns. In 1905, he posted 31 wins with a sparkling 1.28 ERA and 206 strikeouts; he also recorded the second no-hitter of his career. He then led the Giants to victory in the World Series, pitching three complete-game shutouts over the Philadelphia Athletics in six days. He won his second Triple Crown in 1908 with 37 wins—still the modern National League record—a 1.43 ERA, and 259 strikeouts. In both 1905 and 1908, he also led the league in shutouts.
Mathewson’s career spanned 17 seasons (1900 − 1916) and 636 games, all but one with the Giants. His 373 career wins put him first in the National League, tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander. He won 22 or more games in 12 consecutive seasons beginning in 1903, winning at least 30 games four times. He led the league in strikeouts five times and struck out 2,507 batters in his career. His 79 career shutouts rank third in major league history.
Mathewson served in World War I after his playing career ended. He developed tuberculosis after being accidentally gassed during a training exercise, and he died in 1925 at age 45. He was one of the “First Five” players inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936, the only one inducted posthumously.
Grover Cleveland Alexander: 1915, 1916, and 1920
Grover Cleveland Alexander, sometimes known as “Pete” or “Old Pete,” was the first of two National League pitchers to win the Triple Crown three times and the only pitcher in either league to win it with two different teams.
In 1915, Alexander won the crown with the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 31 games, striking out 241 batters, and recording a 1.22 ERA. In 1918 he won his second Triple Crown as a Phillie, recording 33 wins with a 1.55 ERA and 167 strikeouts. In 1920 Alexander won his third crown, this time as a member of the Chicago Cubs, with 27 wins, a 1.91 ERA, and 173 strikeouts.
In his 20-season career from 1911 to 1930, Alexander won 373 games, tying him with Christy Mathewson for first on the National League career leader board and third in the majors. He led the league in wins six times, ERA four times, complete games in six seasons, and shutouts in seven seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers in 1938.
Hippo Vaughn: 1918
James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn was the first left-handed pitcher to win the National League Triple Crown. In 1918, Vaughn recorded 22 wins, a 1.74 ERA, and 148 strikeouts for the first-place Chicago Cubs. He also led the majors with eight shutouts. Although Vaughn pitched three complete games in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, striking out 17 and allowing only 3 runs for a 1.00 ERA, he came away with only one win as the Cubs lost the series in six games. Game 1 was a pitcher’s duel between Vaughn and Babe Ruth, in which Ruth’s Red Sox came out on top 1-0.
Vaughn played nine of his thirteen seasons for the Cubs, for whom he notched 151 of his 178 career wins. He won 20 or more games five times and came close to a second Triple Crown in 1919, when he led the league in strikeouts but finished second in wins and ERA. He retired with a career ERA of 2.49 and 1,416 strikeouts. As of this writing, Vaughn has not been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Dazzy Vance: 1924
Brooklyn Robins left-hander Charles Arthur "Dazzy" Vance won the Triple Crown in 1924, leading the majors with 28 wins, a 2.16 ERA, and 262 strikeouts. He also led the big leagues in complete games with 30, fewest hits per 9 innings with 6.9, and a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.40. The Robins finished second, and Vance was named MVP of the National League.
Vance’s major league success was unusual in that he was 31 years old when he first became a regular in 1922, after 10 seasons in the minors and a handful of games in 1915 and 1918. In 1925 he again led the majors in wins, which included a no-hitter against the Phillies. He led the league (and the majors) in ERA again in 1928 and 1929 and in strikeouts a total of seven times. Vance finished his career with 197 wins and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.
Bucky Walters: 1939
In 1939, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Bucky Walters led the National League with 27 wins, a 2.29 ERA, and 137 strikeouts. The first two categories topped the majors. He also led the majors with 31 complete games and 319 innings pitched. He was selected to the All-Star team and was the NL MVP as the Reds won the pennant.
He had less success in the 1939 World Series, going 0-2 as the Reds lost the series to the Yankees in four games. In 1940, however, he was 2-0 in the World Series with a 1.50 ERA and a complete-game shutout in Game 6 to help the Reds beat the Detroit Tigers.
Walters played in 16 major league seasons ranging from 1931 to 1950, but he began as a third baseman and did not pitch in a major league game until 1934. He won 198 games, again leading the league in wins in 1940 and 1944. He also led the league in ERA in 1940 but finished fifth in strikeouts. Walters was a six-time All-Star but has not, to date, been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sandy Koufax: 1963, 1965, and 1966
Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Sandy Koufax won three National League Triple Crowns in four years, winning in 1963, 1965, and 1966. In each case, his NL-leading stats also led the majors. His win totals for the three years were 25, 26, and 27, respectively. He posted ERAs of 1.88, 2.04, and 1.73, completing a string of five consecutive National League ERA titles that began in 1962. Koufax struck out more than 300 batters in each of his Triple Crown seasons: 306 in 1963, 382 in 1965, and 317 in 1966. His 1965 season included a perfect game, his fourth no-hitter, against the Cubs on September 9.
In 12 seasons from 1955 to 1966, all with the Dodgers (first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles), Koufax recorded 165 wins, a 2.76 career ERA, and 2,396 strikeouts. In addition to his four no-hitters, he had 137 complete games and 40 shutouts. He won three unanimous Cy Young Awards coinciding with his three Triple Crown seasons, was the National League MVP in 1963, and was selected for seven All-Star games. In four World Series, he led the Dodgers to three championships with an ERA of 0.95. Due to an arthritic condition, Koufax retired after the 1966 season, while at his peak. In 1972, at age 36, he became the youngest player ever inducted to the Hall of Fame.
Steve Carlton: 1972
Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Steve Carlton won the National League Triple Crown in 1972 with 27 wins, a 1.97 ERA, and 310 strikeouts. He also led the major leagues with 30 complete games. Carlton’s win total was all the more impressive as the last-place Phillies won only 59 games that season, with Carlton accounting for 45.8% of the victories, an all-time record. He was the unanimous choice for the NL Cy Young Award.
Carlton pitched in the majors for 24 seasons from 1965 to 1988, including seven seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and 14 seasons with the Phillies. In that span, he earned 329 wins, with an overall 3.22 ERA and 4,136 career strikeouts. He led the league in wins four times and strikeouts five times. He was selected for 10 All-Star games, won a Gold Glove in 1981, and won a total of four Cy Young Awards, all with the Phillies. Carlton was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
Dwight Gooden: 1985
Right-hander Dwight “Doc” Gooden of the New York Mets won the National League Triple Crown in 1985, only his second big-league season. After leading the majors in strikeouts in his first season, when he was named the NL Rookie of the Year and became the youngest player ever to appear in an All-Star game, “Dr. K” led all pitchers in 1985 with 24 wins (against just 4 losses), a 1.53 ERA, and 268 strikeouts. Gooden also led the league with 16 complete games. He was selected to his second of four All-Star teams and became the youngest player to win the Cy Young Award.
Gooden pitched for the Mets for 11 seasons, but his early dominance diminished and he had his first losing season in 1991, after a second injury in two years. He was suspended for the 1995 season after a series of drug problems, ending his Mets career. He came back to baseball with the New York Yankees in 1996. Although he did not have the same level of success that he had early in his career, he pitched a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on May 14, 1996, and had an 11-7 record for the season. Pitching for the Yankees and three other teams over the next few years, he never again won more than nine games in a season. Gooden retired before the 2001 season with a total of 194 wins, over half of which had come before he was 25 years old, and 2,293 strikeouts.
Randy Johnson: 2002
Left-hander Randy Johnson won the National League Triple Crown in 2002 while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He posted 24 wins (against only 5 losses), an ERA of 2.32, and 334 strikeouts. His win and strikeouts totals led the majors, as did his eight complete games. He won his fifth Cy Young Award and was an All-Star as he led the Diamondbacks to their second consecutive NL West division title.
One of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history, Johnson played for six different teams in his 22-year career, including two separate stints with the Diamondbacks, from 1999-2004 and again in 2007-2008. He became only the seventh left-hander to join the 300-win club when he beat the Washington Nationals on June 4, 2009, and he finished with 303 career victories. Among the victories were a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners in 1990 and a perfect game for the Diamondbacks against the Atlanta Braves on May 18, 2004.
Johnson led the league in ERA a total of four times, ending with a career ERA of 3.29. But his dominance was most pronounced as a strikeout pitcher: he led the league in strikeouts nine times and had numerous double-digit strikeout games. He finished his career with 4,875 strikeouts, tops among left-handers and second overall only to Nolan Ryan. Johnson was a 10-time All-Star and is one of only five pitchers to date to win Cy Young Awards in both the American and National Leagues. He was overwhelmingly elected to the Hall of Fame with 97.3% of the vote in 2015, his first year of eligibility.
Jake Peavy: 2007
Right-hander Jake Peavy won the National League Triple Crown in 2007, his sixth big-league season as a pitcher for the San Diego Padres. Peavy recorded 19 wins to lead the NL, with his 2.54 ERA and 240 strikeouts leading the majors. He also led the majors with a 1.061 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). He was selected to his second All-Star team and was the unanimous choice for the National League Cy Young Award.
Besides winning the Triple Crown in 2007, Peavy also led the majors in ERA in 2004 and led the NL in strikeouts in 2005. In 2009 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox of the American League, and in mid-2013 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. He returned to the National League in mid-season 2014 via a trade to the San Francisco Giants. He last played in 2016. In his 15 seasons, Peavy posted 152 wins against 126 losses and 2,207 strikeouts with a career ERA of 3.63.
Clayton Kershaw: 2011
Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw won the 2011 National League Triple Crown in only his fourth season. Kershaw won the crown with 21 wins against just 5 losses, 248 strikeouts, and a major league-leading 2.28 ERA. Both his win and strikeout totals were second in the majors behind American League Triple Crown winner Justin Verlander. He also led the NL with a 0.977 WHIP and won the National League Gold Glove for his fielding performance. Kershaw was an overwhelming choice for the National League Cy Young Award and was named NL Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News.
Kershaw led the Major Leagues in ERA every year from 2011 to 2014. His 1.77 ERA in 2014 was the best in baseball since Pedro Martinez's 1.74 mark in 2000 and the best in the National League since former Dodger Sandy Koufax's 1.73 ERA in 1966. He came close to a second Triple Crown in 2014 as he led the league (and the majors) with 21 wins to go along with his 1.77 ERA. He also led the majors in strikeouts per 9 innings, but his raw strikeout total of 239 put him in third place in the National League, just three strikeouts behind the co-leaders. He did lead the majors in strikeouts in 2015 with 301, and his 18 wins in 2017 were also the best in the majors.
Kershaw won his second and third Cy Young Awards in 2013 and 2014, winning unanimously in 2014. In 2014 he won the National League's MVP award and was also named the Player of the Year by The Sporting News. He was named to seven consecutive All-Star teams from 2011 to 2017 and was selected again in 2019.
With 13 seasons under his belt through 2020, Kershaw continues to dominate with his impressive pitching. He ranks first among active pitchers with a won-lost percentage of .697 (175-76) and a career ERA of 2.43, to go along with his 2,526 strikeouts. His future continues to look very bright.
Who Will Be Next in the National League?
Although the pitching Triple Crown is not won frequently, the achievement is more common than the batting Triple Crown. Clayton Kershaw seems to be a perennial candidate to join the small club of multiple National League winners. Could another young pitcher come along to win the crown as Kershaw did in his fourth season or as Dwight Gooden did in his second year? Or will a veteran pitcher take the prize with a superb season? Who’s your candidate for a likely NL winner?
The Best of the Triple Crowns
Recommended Online Resources
- Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Baseball Statistics and History
Up-to-date major and minor league statistics for each player, team, and league in baseball history. Includes batting, pitching and fielding stats along with leaders, managers, links, books and award winners.
- Baseball Almanac - The Official Baseball History Site
Baseball Almanac is filled with awards, records, stats, quotes, feats, facts and a book full of baseball history.
- Baseball Hall of Fame
The official website of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Includes profiles of each member of the Hall of Fame as well as educational and historical resources.
- Society for American Baseball Research
Bringing the History of Baseball to the Web. SABR's mission is to foster the study of baseball past and present, and to provide an outlet for educational, historical and research information about the game.
- The Baseball Biography Project.
Comprehensive biographical articles about major league players and managers, compiled by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The ongoing project currently includes biographies of 14 of the 16 National League Triple Crown pitchers.
© 2011 Brian Lokker
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on February 21, 2018:
Thanks for your comment, Jeffrey. The batting average and fielding really do make that season even more impressive. You're entitled to your biased vote. Everyone has their own reasons for choosing a favorite player or performance. One of my Dad's favorite players was Bucky's teammate Johnny Vander Meer, because they were from the same hometown. Your preference is certainly legitimate! ~ Brian
Jeffrey walters on February 20, 2018:
Hi mr Lokker
As you may guess - Bucky walters is my late grandfather. Clearly biased vote. His 39 season was impressive by posting a .325 batting average and near perfect fielding - nice article
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on October 03, 2016:
No pitcher won the NL Triple Crown in 2016. Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals came closest, leading the league with 20 wins and 284 strikeouts, but his 2.96 ERA put him 8th in that category. Five pitchers finished in the top 10 in all three categories: Chicago's Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, and Florida's José Fernandez, whose life was cut short late in the season in a tragic boating accident.
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on October 23, 2014:
I've updated this Hub to include the 2014 season. Clayton Kershaw came oh-so-close to his second Triple Crown. He led the NL and the majors in wins and ERA (with his 1.77 ERA the best in the league since 1966), but fell just 3 strikeouts shy of the league strikeout crown.
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on November 16, 2011:
I just updated this Hub to add Clayton Kershaw as the 2011 NL Triple Crown winner. Quite an interesting year with a winner in each league.
Of course, in updating the poll to add Kershaw, I lost the previous votes. Sandy Koufax 1965 and Randy Johnson 2002 were tied for the lead.