Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top Ten Pitchers of All Time

Top ten lists are never perfect. Do you judge a player based on their entire career? What about a five year stretch of dominance a la Sandy Koufax? That has to be worth something. Some say the best player is simply the one that you would select over any other to start game seven of the World Series. However you define the best player, one thing is certain: the game of baseball was played a little differently in 1890 than it is now. Comparing Cy Young to Roger Clemens is essentially apples and oranges, but it’s still fun to do.

For easy reference, each player's first name will be a link to his Wikipedia page and each player's last name will be a link to his career statistics. Each pitcher will be given a brief assessment, including their career statistics, how the league hit during his era to use for comparison, a highlight of their most impressive season, and a quote that I think describes them very well. There are many players on this list that I only know as a name or a line of numbers, so the quotes should give you a better illustration of each pitcher.

10. Tom Seaver

Career Stats: 20 Seasons (1967-1986), 2.86 ERA, 231 CG, 61 SHO, 3640 K, 1.12 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .256 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.76

Tom Seaver has the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in the history of baseball, meaning that only five grumpy voters did not think he was good enough to be elected in his first year. He won the Rookie of the Year Award, won the Cy Young Award three times, led the league in ERA three times, shutouts two times, wins three times, and strikeouts five times. Seaver pitched a no hitter and won a World Series with the Mets in 1969.

Most impressive season: 1971 (somehow he did not win the Cy Young this year)

20-10 Record, 1.76 ERA, 35 GS, 21 CG, 4 SHO, 286.1 IP, 289 K, 61 BB, 0.95 WHIP, 0.6 HR/9, 1.9 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9, 4.74 SO/BB

“My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work.” – Sparky Anderson

9. Cy Young

Career Stats: 22 Seasons (1890-1910), 511-316 Record, 2.63 ERA, 749 CG (MLB Record), 76 SHO, 17 SV, 2803 K, 1.13 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .261 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.18

Cy Young is the name that is on every pitcher’s mind come baseball season. This man also has a record that will NEVER be broken. He won an astounding 511 games in his career. Let’s put that into context…if a pitcher wins 20 games per year for 20 consecutive years, he is still 111 wins short of Cy Young’s record. So why isn’t he the best pitcher ever? Cy Young played during the dead ball era, which means that the hitters he faced were worse than the defenders that Wayne Gretzky schooled every night. There are over five times as many home runs hit per game today than there were during Cy Young’s career. Also, keep in mind that Cy Young holds the MLB record for most career losses, hits allowed, and earned runs allowed. Cy Young won a triple crown, led the league in ERA two times, shutouts seven times, wins five times, and strikeouts two times. He pitched two no hitters and a perfect game during his career. Cy Young also won a World Series with the Boston Americans in 1903.

Most impressive season: 1901

33-10 Record, 1.62 ERA, 41 GS, 38 CG, 5 SHO, 371.1 IP, 158 K, 37 BB, 0.97 WHIP, 0.1 HR/9, 0.9 BB/9, 3.8 SO/9, 4.27 SO/BB

“I can’t understand these modern fellas. I just pitched every third day. Twarn’t othing’ to it.” – Cy Young

8. Nolan Ryan

Career Stats: 27 Seasons (1966-1993), 325-292 Record, 3.19 ERA, 222 CG, 61 SHO, 5714 K (MLB Record), 1.25 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .256 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.78

There are two reasons that Nolan Ryan made this list: his seven no hitters and his insane amount of strikeouts. He pitched out of the bullpen during his only championship, never won a Cy Young Award, led the league in walks eight times, and never led the league in wins. That being said, he pitched for some pretty bad teams. Twelve times in his career he played for a team that had a losing record and six times his team was only a few games over .500. It’s actually pretty amazing that he managed to win 20 games twice with the Angels. Nolan led the league in ERA two times, shutouts three times, and strikeouts eleven times. He won the World Series with the Mets in 1969. His seven no hitters will probably never be seen again. To put that in perspective, there are only four players that have three or more no hitters since 1900: Cy Young (3), Bob Feller (3), Sandy Koufax (4), and Nolan Ryan (7).

Most impressive season: 1972

19-16 Record, 2.28 ERA, 39 GS, 20 CG, 9 SHO, 284 IP, 329 K, 1.14 WHIP, 0.4 HR/9, 5.0 BB/9, 10.4 SO/9, 2.1 BB/9

“Ryan’s the only guy who put fear in me.” – Reggie Jackson

7. Greg Maddux

Career Stats: 23 Seasons (1986-2008), 355-227 Record, 3.16 ERA, 109 CG, 35 SHO, 3371 K, 1.14 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .264 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.99

Maddux didn’t have the fireball to compete with Clemens and Johnson, but he had pinpoint control. Maddux won four Cy Young Awards (all four were won consecutively from 1992-1995), eighteen Gold Gloves (thirteen consecutively from 1990-2002), led the league in ERA four times, shutouts five times, and wins three times. Question…was Mike Hampton really that good in 2003 that he had to mess with the annual Greg Maddux Gold Glove Award? Oh well, in my mind its nineteen straight for the Mad Dog. Maddux also won a World Series with the Braves in 1995.

Most impressive season: 1995

19-2 Record, 1.63 ERA, 28 GS, 10 CG, 209.2 IP, 181 K, 23 BB, 0.81 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9, 1.0 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9, 7.87 SO/BB

“He’s like a meticulous surgeon out there...he puts the ball where he wants to. You see a pitch inside and wonder, ‘Is it the fastball or the cutter?’ That’s where he’s got you.” – Tony Gwynn

6. Randy Johnson

Career Stats: 22 Seasons (1988-2009), 303-166 Record, 3.29 ERA, 100 CG, 37 SHO, 4875 K, 1.17 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .264 … League home runs per game during his career: 1.00

Who would you want pitching for you in game seven of the World Series? I think Randy Johnson would be near the top of my list. Johnson was a five time Cy Young Award winner (including four consecutively from 1999-2002), won a triple crown, led the league in ERA four times, shutouts two times, wins once, and strikeouts nine times. He had a no-hitter on June 2, 1990 and a perfect game on May 18, 2004. Randy won a World Series MVP in 2001 with the Diamondbacks.

Most impressive season: 2002

24-5 Record, 2.32 ERA, 35 GS, 8 CG, 260 IP, 334 K, 71 BB, 1.03 WHIP, 0.9 HR/9, 2.5 BB/9, 11.6 SO/9, 4.7 SO/BB

“It sounds crazy, but he’s become a control pitcher. He throws 98 miles per hour right where he wants to. When you think about that, it’s scary.” – Former teammate Todd Stottlemyre

5. Sandy Koufax

Career Stats: 12 Seasons (1955-1966), 165-87 Record, 2.76 ERA, 137 CG, 40 SHO, 9 SV, 2396 K, 1.11 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .254 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.88

Sandy Koufax retired at the age of 30, but he only did that because his arm was about to fall off. According to Koufax’s biography, “His elbow was as big as his knee. The only difference was his knee bent.” It is also well documented in George Will’s book, Men at Work, that Sandy’s left index finger was basically rotting while he was pitching in 1962, “The finger became numb, then white and lifeless, then a deep reddish-blue, and swelled like a grape, with gangrene about to set in.” Nevertheless, Koufax went on to throw a no hitter that year and finish the season with a league leading 2.54 ERA. Later that season in the middle of an inning, “…the finger split wide open. No blood. Just a deep cleave in the dead meat.” At that point Koufax was finally done for the season, but he was about to begin four years of dominance while battling arthritis. In his career Koufax won an MVP, three Cy Young Awards, three triple crowns, led the league in ERA five times, shutouts three times, wins three times, and strikeouts four times. Koufax threw three no hitters and one perfect game in his career. The four seasons he put together at the end of his career were simply remarkable. From 1963-1966 he had a 97-27 Record, 1.86 ERA, 1192.2 IP, 150 GS, 89 CG, 31 SHO, 1228 K, 259 BB, 0.91 WHIP. Think about that for a second…more than twenty percent of the games that he started over a four year period were complete game shutouts. Koufax is a four time World Series champion (1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers…1959, 1963, and 1965, with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and won the World Series MVP in 1963 and 1965.

Most impressive season: 1963

25-5 Record, 1.88 ERA, 20 CG, 11 SHO, 311 IP, 306 K, 58 BB, 0.88 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, 1.7 BB/9, 8.9 SO/9, 5.28 SO/BB

“He threw what I call radio balls – you could hear them but you couldn’t see them.” – Jim Palmer

“Trying to hit Koufax was like trying to drink coffee with a fork.” – Willie Stargell

“A foul ball was a moral victory.” – Don Sutton

4. Lefty Grove

Career Stats: 17 Seasons (1925-1941), 300-141 Record, 3.06 ERA, 298 CG, 35 SHO, 55 SV, 2266K, 1.28 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .279 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.52

Lefty Grove is the reason that I indicated the league batting average during each player’s career. For various reasons the league batting average and slugging percentage has ranged from approximately .240 to .280 throughout the history of baseball. As I write this the MLB batting average is .260, almost twenty points lower than it was during Lefty Grove’s era. This makes his 3.06 ERA look even better. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Lefty Grove is that he began his career in an independent league with Baltimore, where he pitched for five years. Lefty was forced to remain in the minor leagues because the Orioles owner did not have a major league affiliation at the time. During this time he led the league in strikeouts four times and amassed a record of 109-36. If baseball players were given more freedom in that era, Lefty Grove surely would have even more wins and ERA titles in his career. Grove won an MVP, two triple crowns, led the league in ERA nine times (MLB Record), shutouts three times, wins four times, and strikeouts seven times. He is a two time World Series champion (1929 and 1930, both with the Philadelphia Athletics).

Most impressive season: 1931

31-4 Record, 2.06 ERA, 27 CG, 4 SHO, 5 SV, 288.2 IP, 175 K, 62 BB, 1.08 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9, 1.9 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 2.82 SO/BB

“All things considered, Grove is the best lefthander that ever walked on a pitcher’s slab. He surpasses everybody I have ever seen. He has more speed than any other lefthander in the game.” – Connie Mack

3. Satchel Paige

Career Stats (keep in mind that his MLB career started when he was 41 and ended when he was 59): 5 Seasons (1948-1949, 1951-1953, 1965), 28-31 Record, 3.29 ERA, 26 GS, 7 CG, 4 SHO, 288 K, 1.28 WHIP

Career Negro League Stats (keep in mind that these statistics are very incomplete as the Negro Leagues did not keep accurate statistics): 19 Seasons (1927-1937, 1940-1947), 103-61 Record, 2.02 ERA, 263 GS, 110 CG, 1231 K, 0.95 WHIP

Ah, the legend of Satchel Paige. His own mother claimed that he was two years older than his birth certificate indicated because she wrote it down in her Bible. Combine his unknown age with the lack of statistics kept in the Negro Leagues and you have one of the biggest mysteries ever in sports. I think long time Negro League player Buck O’Neil said it best, “Of course the stories about Satchel are legendary and some of them are even true.” Here is an indication of some of Satchel’s biggest accomplishments from his website.

  • Pitched 64 consecutive scoreless innings, a stretch of 21 straight wins, and a 31-4 record in 1933.
  • Satchel claims that he won 104 of the 105 games he pitched in 1934.
  • Started 29 games in one month in Bismarck, North Dakota. (Okay this is getting ridiculous. Next you’re going to say that it was February and it was a leap year, right Satch?)

This legendary story is a great indicator on Satchel’s talent and capabilities (at the age of 41).

“The Cleveland Indians were in need of extra pitching for the pennant race. Legendary Bill Veeck tested Paige’s accuracy before offering him a big league contract. As the story is told, Veeck placed a cigarette on the ground to be used as a home plate. Paige took aim at his virtually nonexistent target. He fired five fastballs, all but one sailing directly over the cigarette. Veeck was indeed pleased, and Paige helped the Indians win the pennant.”

Satchel didn’t pitch in the majors for very long but he still managed to win a World Series with Cleveland in 1948 and be named to the All Star team twice (at the ages of 46 and 47). What would Satchel have done in the Majors if he was given a chance? We can only wonder. Dizzy Dean can give you a good idea though, “If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we would clinch the pennant by July fourth and go fishing until World Series time.”

Most impressive (documented) season: 1935

29-2 Record, 1.96 ERA, 18 CG, 229.2 IP, 321 K, 16 BB, 0.63 BB/9, 12.58 SO/9, 20.06 SO/BB

“Satch was the greatest pitcher in baseball.” – Ted Williams

“The best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.” – Joe DiMaggio

2. Roger Clemens *

Career Stats: 24 Seasons (1984-2007), 354-184 Record, 3.12 ERA, 118 CG, 46 SHO, 4672 K, 1.17 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .263 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.98

Yeah, that’s right. I used the asterisk. Let’s pretend for a second that steroids were legal (in his defense half of the batters he faced were on the same stuff). Between the training regimen that he was known for and the intensity that he displayed on the field, fewer pitchers were tougher to beat then Clemens. Roger won an MVP Award, seven Cy Young Awards (MLB record), two triple crowns, led the league in ERA seven times, shutouts six times, wins four times, and strikeouts five times. The Rocket’s most famous achievement is that he has struck out twenty batters in a game two times, an accomplishment that only Kerry Wood has been able to match. He is a two time World Series champion (1999 and 2000, both with the New York Yankees). Oh yeah, and then there’s the one he gift wrapped for Boston only to have his bullpen and Bill Buckner blow it. No wonder he left that city.

Most impressive season: 1986

24-4 Record, 2.48 ERA, 10 CG, 1 SHO, 254 IP, 238 K, 67 BB, 0.97 WHIP, 0.7 HR/9, 2.4 BB/9, 8.4 SO/9, 3.55 SO/BB

“That’s as dominating as I’ve seen a pitcher pitch (20 strikeout game on September 18, 1996). I’ve had Randy Johnson with a fastball and slider be dominant, but Roger was throwing a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a forkball and slider. He threw four pitches and moved the ball around.” – Umpire Tim McClelland

1. Walter Johnson

Career Stats: 21 Seasons (1907-1927), 417-279 Record, 2.17 ERA, 531 CG, 110 SHO (MLB Record), 34 SV, 3509 K, 1.06 WHIP

League batting average during his career: .265 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.24

Walter Johnson played for the Washington Senators for his entire career. During his twenty one seasons in Washington, the Senators had eleven seasons under .500…WITH WALTER JOHNSON ON THEIR TEAM! That being said, Johnson still managed to lead his team to two World Series, winning in 1924 over the New York Giants and losing in 1925 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Walter Johnson was a two time MVP, won three triple crowns, led the league in ERA five times, shutouts seven times, wins six times, and strikeouts twelve times (MLB Record).

Most impressive season: 1913

36-7 Record, 1.14 ERA, 29 CG, 11 SHO, 346 IP, 243 K, 38 BB, 0.78 WHIP, 0.2 HR/9, 1.0 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 6.39 SO/BB

“His fastball looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed.” - Ty Cobb

I really thought about making this a top fifteen list because in the last 120 years there have been some amazing pitchers and to leave them off this list is a shame. However, you don’t see too many top fifteen lists around, so here are your honorable mentions:

Christy Mathewson

Career Stats: 17 Seasons (1900-1916), 373-188 Record, 2.13 ERA, 435 CG, 79 SHO, 30 SV, 2507 K, 1.06 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Mathewson won two triple crowns, led the league in ERA five times, shutouts four times, wins four times, and strikeouts five times. He won a World Series in 1905 and threw two no hitters in his career. In 1905 he put on the most dominant post season performance in the history of baseball. In three starts he threw three complete game shutouts, which essentially won the World Series single handedly for the Giants.

Warren Spahn

Career Stats: 21 Seasons (1942, 1946-1965), 363-245 Record, 3.09 ERA, 382 CG, 63 SHO, 29 SV, 2583 K, 1.20 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Spahn won a Cy Young Award, led the league in ERA three times, shutouts four times, complete games nine times, wins eight times, and strikeouts four times. He is widely regarded as the greatest left handed pitcher of all time, which makes it very difficult for me to put him behind Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, and Randy Johnson. He might have his own award for the best left hander of the year, but I feel that he is only the fourth best left hander of all time.

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Career Stats: 20 Seasons (1911-1930), 373-208 Record, 2.56 ERA, 437 CG, 90 SHO, 32 SV, 2198 K, 1.12 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Alexander won the triple crown four times (three consecutively), led the league in ERA four times, shutouts seven times, wins six times, and strikeouts six times. He also won a World Series in 1926 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bob Gibson

Career Stats: 17 Seasons (1959-1975), 251-174 Record, 2.91 ERA, 255 CG, 56 SHO, 6 SV, 3117 K, 1.19 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Gibson won an MVP, two Cy Young Awards, led the league in ERA one time, shutouts four times, wins one time, and strikeouts one time. He also pitched a no hitter in 1971 and won two World Series MVP Awards with the St. Louis Cardinals (1964 and 1967). Gibson holds the MLB record for most strikeouts during a World Series (35), most strikeouts in a World Series game (17), and lowest ERA in a season (1.12).

Steve Carlton

Career Stats: 24 Seasons (1965-1988), 329-244 Record, 3.22 ERA, 254 CG, 55 SHO, 2 SV, 4136 K, 1.25 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Carlton won four Cy Young Awards, one Gold Glove Award, one triple crown, led the league in ERA one time, shutouts one time, wins four times, and strikeouts five times. He won two World Series (1967 with the St. Louis Cardinals and 1980 with the Philadelphia Phillies).

Bob Feller

Career Stats: 18 Seasons (1936-1941, 1945-1956), 266-162 Record, 3.25 ERA, 279 CG, 44 SHO, 21 SV, 2581 K, 1.32 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Feller won one triple crown, led the league in ERA one time, shutouts four times, wins six times, and strikeouts seven times. He also pitched three no hitters and won a World Series with Cleveland in 1948.

Jim Palmer

Career Stats: 19 Seasons (1965-1967, 1969-1984), 268-152 Record, 2.86 ERA, 211 CG, 53 SHO, 4 SV, 2212 K, 1.18 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Palmer won three Cy Young Awards, four Gold Glove Awards, led the league in two times, shutouts one time, and wins three times. He pitched a no hitter in 1969 and won three World Series with the Orioles (1966, 1970, and 1983).

Pedro Martinez

Career Stats: 18 Seasons (1992-2009), 219-100 Record, 2.93 ERA, 46 CG, 17 SHO, 3 SV, 3154 K, 1.05 WHIP

Other Accomplishments: Martinez won three Cy Young Awards, a triple crown, led the league in ERA five times, shut outs one time, wins one time, and strikeouts three times. Pedro won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2004. Martinez threw nine perfect innings in 1995, but gave up a lead-off double in the tenth inning.

Hope everyone enjoys the list. Let the arguments begin.

Mumford and Sons - Little Lion Man


  1. Impressive list. I don't think I could agree or disagree with the list because I have never seen the majority of these guys throw a pitch. How did Josh Fogg not get an honorable mention? Will most of these guys be rolling over in their graves now that they are mentioned with the likes of Fogg?

  2. Hahaha you know me too well. Since there really are no great Pirates pitchers in history I did want to add the great Josh Fogg as an honorable mention. Couldn't bring myself to do it.

  3. Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? And why is your font so damn small!?

  4. That's a tough one. He never won a Cy Young Award, but he has over 3000 strikeouts, won 216 games (very good for his era), and was a big part in each of his three World Series championships (including a World Series MVP in 2001). The fact that he's never been connected to steroids (to the best of my knowledge) is a plus. I'm kind of a push over for allowing people in the Hall of Fame, so I'd say put him in there but make him wait four or five years.

    The font is small because in size ten font this is six pages. I wanted to make sure that I didn't use the entire home page of your blog. I already feel guilty that I buried your Dez Bryant post.

  5. Don't feel guilty about that. If it was the Predators review, then feel guilty. I'm thinking I need to look into that "Read More" button so we can get more posts per page. Thoughts?

  6. I like it.

    Where's Phil Hughes?

  7. Hahaha thanks Mike. I wanted to show in this post that it's possible for me to be non-biased because I never really liked Clemens.

  8. Just messing with you. I only got to skim this, but I promise to take a good look at it when I have some time over the weekend.