Astros’ All-Time Best Seasons: Starting Pitchers

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1979: Joe Niekro

May 4, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of a baseball on the pitching mound before a game between the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The 1979 Houston Astros featured a strong starting rotation mixed with a speedy lineup. The lineup included the likes of Enos Cabell, Jose Cruz, and Cesar Cedeño, while the starting rotation included Ken Forsch, J.R. Richard, and Joe Niekro. Unfortunately, the Astros did not reach the playoffs, finishing second in the NL West with a record of 89-73.

Despite the talented pitching staff, the hitting didn’t quite have enough power to reach the postseason. The problem was not pitching. In fact, pitching kept Houston in the hunt. A major piece of the starting rotation that year was Joe Niekro. Here are his stats from that season:

  • 21 Wins (T-1st in NL)
  • 3.00 ERA (5th in NL)
  • .228 Batting Average Against (4th in NL)
  • 263.2 Innings Pitched (3rd in NL)
  • 11 Complete Games (6th in NL)
  • 5 Shutouts (1st in NL)
  • 119 Strikeouts (17th in NL)
  • 1.24 WHIP (18th in NL)
  • Houston Astros MVP
  • National League All Star

Joe Niekro was an absolute workhorse for the Houston Astros in 1979, grinding out 342.0 innings and starting in 38 games. Part of this was due to his great health, but he also took no starts off. Not only did he provide the Astros with an unprecedented amount of innings pitched, but he also gave quality starts, pitching complete games, strikeouts, and most importantly, getting wins for his team. To give ourselves a sense of how amazing it is that Niekro pitched 342 innings in 1979, he would have been the leader in IP by 98.1 innings in 2014 (Johnny Cueto piled up 243.2 IP for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014).

If it wasn’t for Joe Niekro’s grit and determination in 1979, the Houston Astros probably would have been out of the playoff picture entirely. With an average lineup and bullpen, it was up to Joe Niekro to become the star of the show, and he did just that, putting together one of the best pitching seasons in Astros history.

Next: 1979: J.R. Richard