The 5 All-Time Greatest MLB Pitchers
Naming the top 5 MLB pitchers in history is a debate that can, and will, go on for ages. With so many great men to have stepped on to that mound, it’s impossible to narrow it down to a definitive list.
What even determines the best pitcher in baseball?
Some will say Cy Young is the best of all time because of his 511 wins. While that number is certainly impressive, you have to take in to account that over his 22 year career Young pitched in 906 games. Randy Johnson, who also had a 22 year career, pitched in a significantly less 618 games.
Nolan Ryan is undoubtedly the strike out king with his major league record of 5,714 Ks, and his 7 career no-hitters are an amazing feat, but he also holds the number three spot on the all-time loss list with 292.
Of all the Hall of Famers pitchers, Ed Walsh has the lowest ERA of 1.82, but he also only started 315 games. There are 17 other Hall of Fame pitchers with more wins than Walsh’s career starts.
Sandy Koufax was incredibly dominant for five years, but was that long enough to consider him one of the best of all time?
My point is that there will never be one ultimate answer to the question, “Who is the greatest pitcher of all time?”
I present the five that I consider the best of the best. I took more than just their statistics into account when I made this list. Agree or disagree with my rankings, I hope your mind is at least exposed to a viewpoint that you have yet to come across.
All statistics per baseball-reference.com.
#5 Bob Feller
It boggles my mind that the name Bob Feller is not brought up more often during this debate of all time great pitchers.
Feller played his entire career with the Cleveland Indians, earning 266 wins and 2,581 strikeouts. He was an eight-time All-Star, six-time American League wins leader, seven-time AL strikeout leader and World Series Champion in 1948.
He threw three no-hitters in his career and also won the 1940 pitching triple crown, which only 10 other men have done in the history of the American League. You won't find Feller's name on the list of Cy Young award winners, but you have to keep in mind that this award didn't come about until Feller's last year in the league and at that time it was awarded to only one pitcher in all of baseball, not one in each league like it is today.
His statistics alone are enough to put Bob's name on this list, but the most important, yet forgotten, fact is that he left baseball for three years to serve in his country during World War II. He could have easily tacked on another 60 wins and 750 strikeouts.
#4 Steve Carlton
Steve "Lefty" Carlton has the second-most strikeouts and wins of any left-handed pitchers.
He was the first pitcher to win four Cy Young awards, each of which were the four seasons he won at least 23 games. His 27 wins in 1972 is the last time an NL pitcher won at least 25 games in a season.
He also had two more seasons where he won at least 20 games.
#3 Randy Johnson
Randy Johnson is the only player on this list that I can say I have seen play in person, and what an amazing experience it was to watch him pitch every time.
He was physically intimidating from the second he stepped out of the bullpen or dugout. His long, slow stride to the mound exuded confidence, which he had every right to have.
A career record of 303-166 puts him in the top 30 of all time winning percentage leaders (minimum 1,000 innings). But he's so much more than that.
Johnson is a five-time Cy Young award winner, the second all-time strikeout leader with 4,875, 10-time All-Star and a pitching Triple Crown winner.
He's also tossed both a no-hitter and a perfect game and was co-MVP of the 2001 World Series.
Also, his fastball which regularly reached and exceeded 100 mph killed a bird mid-flight.
#2 Bob Gibson
Now I have only seen photos and videos of Bob Gibson pitch and that is still enough to make me scared of this man.
His non-traditional delivery might have been slightly over the top but it was also incredibly effective and somehow managed to put him in great fielding position since he won a Gold Glove nine times.
Gibson was an All-Star nine times, the 1968 National League MVP and a two-time winner of the Cy Young Award, who also pitched a no-hitter in 1971. His 1.12 ERA in 1968 is still a Major League record today.
But where Gibby truly excelled was when it mattered, the postseason. Gibson's performances in the 1964 and 1967 World Series earned him the WSMVP award both times. He also holds the MLB records for most strikeouts during a World Series with 35 and most strikeouts during a World Series game with 17.
#1 Tom Seaver
George Thomas Seaver is known to most as "Tom Terrific" or "The Franchise" (sorry Lincecum), and those are most certainly fitting nicknames.
Seaver has 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts, three Cy Young Awards, the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year award, 12 All-Star appearances, and a no-hitter to his name.
He was incredibly dominant without being aggressive or physically intimidating. His delivery and motion to the plate were smooth and very traditional. His precision and ability to hit locations were what made him so great and at times un-hittable.
Seaver had nine consecutive seasons with 200 or more strikeouts, which is an MLB record.
It's no wonder why his 98.84% of votes received on the Hall of Fame ballot is the highest in history.