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The Greatest Pitching Careers Of The Modern Era

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The Greatest Pitching Careers Of The Modern Era

This is part two of this continued article.  Here is a link to part one -

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/239223-ranking-the-top-pitching-careers-of-the-modern-era

Although not every pitcher on this list is equal, they are the 36 greatest starting pitchers of the modern era. 

With this column I hope to appreciate and admire each of these pitchers for their accomplishments and unique contributions to pitching greatness.

Awards and accolades such as Cy Young awards, TSN Pitcher of the Year awards, MVP awards, All-Star appearances, and HOF inductions were excluded from consideration and not a factor in the assessments and rankings.

I do believe there is a natural cutoff here.  The level of dominance, endurance, and quality displayed by these top pitchers puts them ahead of their competition.

I found many of these rankings to be very close.  I also found groups of pitchers for each section of the chart.  Adjusting a ranking or two within a grouping would certainly be understandable.

Rather than discuss these pitchers from the beginning, I focus on the salient details of their career that helped them accomplish this ranking. 

 

Nos.36-29

The 3000K, 300 wins, and 49 shutouts club!  Each pitcher in this group has one or more of these accomplishments to hang their hat on.

 

36) Luis Tiant

(1964-1982)–(229W – 172L; 3.30 ERA; ERA+ 114; 187 CG/ 49 SHO; 3486 IP/ 3075 H/ 7.9 H/9; 2416 K/ 1104 BB/ 2.19 ratio; 1.199 WHIP); (postseason – 3W – 0L; 2.86 ERA; 34 IP/ 29H; 20 K/ 11 BB; 1.154 WHIP)

Luis Tiant left his home and family in Cuba to play baseball in the USA.  He is the second great Latin pitcher in the major leagues. 

After several good years for Cleveland, Tiant worked through an injury in the ’70-’71 seasons to re-emerge as an ace for the Red Sox for the remainder of the 70s.  He became known as a big game pitcher.

His 49 shutouts are a borderline automatic HOF stat.  He should probably be in the HOF.

 

35) Early Wynn

(1939-1963)–(300W – 244L; 3.54 ERA; ERA+ 107; 290 CG/ 49 SHO; 4564 IP/ 4291 H/ 8.5 H/9; 2334 K/ 1775 BB; 1.31 ratio; 1.329 WHIP); (postseason – 1 – 2; 4.95 ERA; 20 IP/ 23 H; 15 K/ 6 BB; 1.450 WHIP)

Early Wynn was a battler on the mound.  He won 300 games using extraordinary skills.  He helped lead both the ’54 Indians and the ’59 White Sox to the World Series. 

He was a product of his era, doing whatever it took to win.  He often won with guts and guile more than sheer domination of his opponent.  He led pitchers in the 50s in strikeouts with 1,544.

 

34) Curt Schilling

(1988-2007) – (216W – 146L; 3.46 ERA; ERA+127; 83 CG/ 20 SHO; 3261 IP/ 2998 H/ 8.3 H/9; 3116 K/ 711 BB/ 4.38 ratio; 1.137 WHIP); (postseason – 11W – 2L; 2.23 ERA; 133 IP/ 104 H; 125 K/ 25 BB; 0.968 WHIP)

Curt Schilling was a power pitcher who was also very stingy with walks.  His K/BB ratio of 4.38 is the highest of the modern era.  His career arc is somewhat unusual, having had his best years in his 30s (1997–2004).  

He helped both the Diamondbacks (2001) and the Red Sox (2004) to World Series victories.

 

33) John Smoltz

(1988-2009, current) – (212W – 151L; 3.30 ERA; ERA+ 126; 53 CG/ 16 SHO; 3431 IP/ 3029 H/ 7.9 H/9; 3041 K/ 997 BB; 3.05 ratio; 1.173 WHIP); (15-4; 2.65 ERA; 207 IP/ 168 H; 194 K/ 67 BB; 1.135 WHIP)

John Smoltz established himself as a dominating power pitcher in the 90s.  Along with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, he made up one of the great starting pitching rotations in the history of the game. 

Several elbow injuries led his team to request he work as the Braves’ closer.  He closed in dominating fashion for over three years, saving 154 games. He then returned to the starting position and brought high quality work. 

He holds the record for postseason wins with 15.  Whether starting or closing, Smoltz brought his devastating slider and fearless demeanor to every outing.

 

32) Vic Willis

(1898-1910) – (249W – 205L; 2.63 ERA; ERA+ 118; 388 CG/ 50 SHO; 3996 IP/ 3621 H/ 8.2 H/9; 1651 K/ 1212 BB/ 1.36 ratio; 1.209 WHIP); (postseason - 0 – 1; 4.76 ERA; 11 IP/ 10 H; 3 K/ 8 BB)

Willis’ accomplishments are often overlooked.  He pitched for the Boston Beaneaters and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League.

He won 20 games eight times. His 50 shutouts are his biggest HOF calling card.

 

31) Tom Glavine

(1987-2009) – (305W – 203L; 3.54 ERA; ERA+ 118; 56 CG/ 25 SHO; 4413 IP/ 4298 H/ 8.8 H/9; 2607 K/ 1500 BB/ 1.74 ratio; 1.314 WHIP); (postseason – 14-16; 3.42 ERA; 218 IP/ 191 H; 143 K/ 87 BB; 1.273 WHIP)

Tom Glavine was a tough-minded competitor who worked with pitch location and change of speed more than pitch movement to get batters out.  Glavine is a 300-game winner, and one of the all-time ten best left-handed starters. His 25 SHO are third from his era.

 

30) Phil Neikro

(1964-1987) – (318W – 274L; 3.35 ERA; ERA+ 115; 245 CG/ 45 SHO; 5404 IP/ 5044 H/ 8.4 H/9; 3342 K/ 1809 BB/ 1.85 ratio; 1.268 WHIP); (postseason- 0 – 1; 3.86 ERA; 14 IP/15 H; 9 K/ 8 BB; 1.643 WHIP)

Phil Neikro pitched the first 20 years of his career for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.   

His 5,404 IP are fourth all-time and the most in the live ball era since 1921.

He is also third all-time with 1,809 BB and 5th with 274 losses.  The losses can be explained by the many losing teams he pitched for, twice losing 20 games.  The unpredictability of the knuckleball could help explain the walks.

 

29) Don Sutton

(1966-1988) – (324W – 256L; 3.26 ERA; ERA+ 108; 178 CG/ 58 SHO; 5282 IP/ 4692 H/ 8.0 H/9; 3574 K/ 1343 BB; 2.66 ratio; 1.142 WHIP); (6 – 4; 3.68 ERA; 100 IP/ 92 H; 61 K/ 16 BB; 1.076 WHIP)

Don Sutton broke in at the end of the Dodgers’ heyday in 1966. He carried on the tradition of fine pitching for the team through the 1980 season. Sutton continued pitching effectively until his very last year.

Not only did Sutton win 324 games, he also struck out over 3,500 batters and tossed 58 shutouts.  He would fit nicely with the “great endurance pitchers of the second half of the century” group at No. 16-20 if it weren’t for his lagging ERA+ of 108.

 

Nos. 28-21

This next group represents the top pitchers with shorter careers (less than 3000 IP).  These pitchers showed dominance in one or more areas of pitching.

 

28) Dazzy Vance

(1915, 1918, 1922-1935) – 197W – 140L; 3.24 ERA; ERA+ 125; 216 CG; 29 SHO; 2966 IP/ 2809 H/ 8.5 H/9; 2045 K/ 840 BB/ 2.43 ratio; 1.230 WHIP); (0 – 0; 0.00; 1 IP/2 H; 3 K/ 1 BB)

Dazzy Vance was the most dominant pitcher of the 1920s.  He won the NL strikeout title seven years in a row after he broke in as a rookie at age 31! 

His K/BB ratio of 2.43 leads the entire live-ball era (1921-1945).  His fiery personality was the face of the Brooklyn “Bums” for over a decade.

 

27) Addie Joss

(1902-1910) – (160W – 97L; 1.89 ERA; ERA+ 142; 234 CG; 45 SHO; 2327 IP; 1888 H/ 7.3 H/9; 920 K/ 364 BB/ 2.53 ratio; 0.968 WHIP)

Albeit over a shorter career, Joss’ career ERA of 1.89 is second all-time to Ed Walsh, and his 0.968 WHIP is the lowest ratio on record.  He pitched for the Cleveland Naps of the American League.

He died tragically in 1911 of tubercular meningitis at age 31.

Many of the game's greats played in the “first all-star game” to raise money for his family in spite of threats of banishment from the AL president, Ban Johnson!

 

26) Rube Waddell

(1897-1910) – (193W – 143L; 2.16 ERA; ERA+ 135; 261 CG; 50 SHO; 2961 IP/ 2460 H/ 7.5 H/9; 2316 K/ 803 BB/ 2.88 ratio; 1.102 WHIP)

Waddell was a strapping farm kid with a childlike nature.  He was easily distracted, but when he was on the mound, he was dynamite!  Fans flocked to the stadium to see him pitch.

His fastball was one of the fastest to date, and he threw a devastating curve as well.  After joining Mack’s Athletics in 1902, he began breaking strikeout records. In 1903, he posted 302K for the season. In 1904 he set the single season mark of 349, which wasn’t broken for 61 years!

No one else threw two 300K seasons until Sandy Koufax in ’65 and ’66. His K/BB ratio of 2.88 is second in his era.

 

25) Sandy Koufax

(1955-1966) – (165W – 82L; 2.76 ERA; ERA+ 131; 137 CG/ 40 SHO; 2324 IP/ 1754 H/ 6.8 H/9; 2396 K/ 817 BB/ 2.93 ratio; 1.106 WHIP); (post-season – 4 – 3; 0.95 ERA; 57 IP/36 H; 61 K/ 11 BB; 0.857 WHIP)

The legend of Sandy Koufax’ career really begins during spring training of ’61, when his bullpen catcher urged him to relax on the mound. Sandy parlayed this advice into better control and game management and produced two above average years in '61 and '62. 

In '63 when the mound was raised and the strike zone made larger, his career took off!  He led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts in both '63 and '65.  He broke the long-standing single season strikeout record of 349 in ’65 with a total of 382!

His pitching in the World Series in '63 and '65 was heroic.  He brought his already dominating game to a new level.

However, painful arthritis forced him to retire after the '66 season.

The next two pitchers are really an extension of the quality pitchers with mid-length careers (Nos. 12-15). (Ford almost fits with the shorter career pitchers with 3170 innings.)  However, I felt they best fit in here.  They are both unique pitchers to their era and baseball history.

 

24) Whitey Ford

(1950-1967) – (236W – 106L; 2.75 ERA; ERA+ 133; 156 CG/ 45 SHO; 3170 IP; 2766 H; 7.9 H/9; 1956 K/ 1086 BB/ 1.80 ratio; 1.215 WHIP); (post-season – 10 – 8; 2.71; 146 IP/ 132 H; 94 K/ 34 BB; 1.137 WHIP)

Whitey Ford was the ace of the Yankee championship teams from ’53-’64.  Ford was often held back for important series during the season.  His career ERA of 2.75 is the lowest of the live-ball era.

His 156 CG total is low for his era. His K/BB ratio is within an acceptable range, but not close to the era-leading mark of 2.61 set by Robin Roberts.

Ford later admitted to doctoring baseballs with the help of his catcher, Elston Howard.

 

23) Bob Feller

(1936-1956) – (266W – 162L; 3.25 ERA; ERA+ 122; 279 CG; 44 SHO; 3827 IP/ 3271 H/ 7.7 H/9; 2581 K/ 1764 BB/ 1.46 ratio; 1.316 WHIP); postseason – 0 – 2; 5.02 ERA; 14 IP/ 10H; 7 K/ 5 BB; 1.047 WHIP)

“Rapid Robert” and his blazing fastball splashed onto the scene in the late 30's. By the time he went to serve our country, he had already established himself as the best young pitcher in the game. When he came back from the war, he returned to pitch for the Cleveland Indians.

In 1946 he completed one of the great peaks in baseball history, striking out 348 batters with 10 shutouts. However, that was his last dominant strikeout year. He found other ways to keep winning, but he was a different pitcher after 1946.

Bob Feller is the highest ranked pitcher with a WHIP over 1.300.

 

22) Pedro Martinez

(1992–present) – (215W-99L; 2.92 ERA; ERA+154; 46 CG/ 17 SHO; 2787 IP/ 2180 H/ 7.0 H/9; 3122 K/ 753 BB/ 4.14 K/BB; 1.052 WHIP); (postseason – 6-2; 3.40 ERA; 79 IP/ 63 H; 80 K/ 26 BB; 1.12 WHIP)

Pedro Martinez fits right in with these pitchers with shorter careers, but terrific quality stats. He had one of the most dominant peaks of quality from ’98–00 and ‘02.  Since his peak, he has really had only three after-glow years.

Pedro Martinez's greatest stats are his ERA+ of 154, his K/BB ratio of 4.14, his career WHIP of 1.052, and his 3,122 strikeouts. These are remarkable, short career or not! 

Missing are the endurance stats to really round out his career accomplishments.

 

21) Ed Walsh

(1904-1917) – (195W – 126L; 1.82 ERA; ERA+ 146; 250 CG/ 57 SHO; 2964 IP/ 2346 H/ 7.1 H/9; 1736 K/ 617 BB/ 2.81 ratio; 1.000 WHIP); (postseason – 2-0; 0.60 ERA; 15 IP/ 7 H; 17 K/ 6 BB; 0.857 WHIP)

Ed Walsh really packed his impact into seven incredible seasons, 1906-1912. After helping design Comiskey Park, which was to be his home stadium, he established the lowest career ERA on record. 

Everything about his numbers indicates incredible quality. His K/BB ratio was third in his era. His ERA+ of 146 was earned in a high pitching era. His WHIP is one of the best in history. His 57 shutouts are fifth in his era, 11th all-time.

Yet his arm was thrown out after the '12 season, and his efforts to resume his career failed. He didn’t make it to 200 wins.

 

Nos.20-16

This next group of pitchers is the incredible endurance pitchers of the second half of the 20th century. There hadn’t been an epic career since Grover Alexander retired in 1930. These pitchers proved it was possible to pound out a long career with excellence in the live-ball era.

 

20) Robin Roberts

(1948-1966) – (286W – 245L; 3.41 ERA; ERA+ 113; 305 CG/ 45 SHO; 4688 IP/ 4582 H/ 8.8 H/9; 2357 K/ 902 BB/ 2.61 ratio; 1.170 WHIP); (post-season – 0-1; 1.64 ERA; 11 IP/ 11 H; 5 K/ 3 BB; 1.273 WHIP)

Robin Roberts was the epitome of the endurance pitcher! 

During his peak, 1952-55, he led the league in wins, games started, complete games, innings pitched, and batters faced each year. 

In addition, he also led the league in WHIP once, strikeouts twice, and K/BB ratio three times during the same four year span!

He won 20 games or more six consecutive years.  At one point, he completed 27 games in a row! Since Robin Roberts retired in ’66, only Gaylord Perry has reached 300 complete games! His career K/BB ratio of 2.61 is the highest of his era.

 

19) Ferguson Jenkins

(1965-1983) – (284W – 226L; 3.34 ERA; ERA+ 115; 267 CG/ 49 SHO; 4500 IP/ 4142 H/ 8.3 H/9; 3192 K/ 997 BB/ 3.10 ratio; 1.142 WHIP)

Ferguson Jenkins was a pitcher with tremendous control and a large body of work. His 3.10 K/BB ratio is one of the highest marks ever posted. Outside of the raised mound and current steroid eras, it is the highest! 

Jenkins won 20 games seven of eight seasons from ’67-’74.  He also had several good after-glow years filling out his career. He is one of 16 pitchers with 3000 strikeouts.  His 49 shutouts, tied for 21st, are HOF material as well.

 

18) Gaylord Perry

(1962-1983) – (314W – 265L; 3.11 ERA; ERA+ 117; 303 CG; 53 SHO; 5350 IP/ 4938 H/ 8.3 H/9; 3534 K/ 1379 BB/ 2.56 ratio; 1.181 WHIP); (postseason – 1-1; 6.14 ERA; 14 IP/ 19 H; 11 K/ 3 BB; 1.500 WHIP)

Gaylord Perry spent the first part of his career establishing himself as a great pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. Before he was finished he had pitched for eight teams, and won 20 games four times, including 21 at age 40 for the San Diego Padres. 

Along the way, he broke Walter Johnson’s long-time career strikeout mark of 3,508 and won 300 games.  He is the last pitcher to throw 300 complete games.

He was notorious for the spit ball—applying foreign substances to the baseball.  He wrote a book about it in '73, but was not caught until the '82 season in Seattle.

 

17) Bert Blyleven

(1970-1992) – (287W – 250L; 3.31 ERA; ERA+ 118; 242 CG/ 60 SHO; 4970 IP/ 4632 H/ 8.4 H/9; 3701 K/ 1322 BB/ 2.80 ratio; 1.19 WHIP); (postseason – 5-1; 2.47 ERA; 47 IP/ 43 H; 36 K/ 8 BB; 1.077 WHIP)

In the modern era, Blyleven’s 287 wins are 19th.  His 3,701 strikeouts are fifth all-time.  His 60 shutouts are 9th. Since the advent of the live-ball era in 1921, only four pitchers have reached 60 shutouts—Spahn, Seaver, Ryan, and Blyleven.

His 2.80 K/BB ratio was established over 4,970 innings!  In fact, among the 65 longest careers in history (including the raised mound era and our current era, which is skewing ratios), he ranks fifth!

Bert Blyleven toiled in relative obscurity in Minnesota for the first part of his career.  But before he was finished, he had helped two teams to World Series victories (Pittsburgh in '79 and Minnesota in '87).  His postseason record is stellar.

His curve ball is said to be one of the best in history. It has become the curve against which others are measured.

 

16) Steve Carlton

(1965-1988) – (329W – 244L; 3.22 ERA; ERA+ 115; 255 CG/ 55 SHO; 5217 IP/ 4672 H/ 8.1 H/9; 4136 K/ 1833 BB/ 2.26 ratio; 1.247 WHIP); (postseason – 6-6; 3.26 ERA; 99 IP/ 96 H; 84 K/ 51 BB; 1.480 WHIP)

Steve Carlton was the dominant left-handed pitcher of his generation. He was a power pitcher, with a heavy fastball, and great slider. He is second among lefties in strikeouts with 4,136. 

He won 20 games six times.  His 1972 campaign is one of the great single seasons ever pitched. (27–10, 1.97 ERA, 310 K, 30 CG, 8 shutouts) 

Carlton ranks second in career walks with 1,833. Year to year he could be erratic, twice leading the league in losses. His postseason record is a mixed bag.

Nos.15-12

The next small group of pitchers is the great control and quality pitchers with mid-length careers.

 

15) Carl Hubbell

(1928-1943) – (253W – 154L; 2.98 ERA; ERA+ 130; 260 CG/ 37 SHO; 3590 IP/ 3461 H/ 8.7 H/9; 1677 K/ 725 BB/ 2.31 ratio; 1.166 WHIP); (postseason – 4-2; 1.79 ERA; 50 IP/ 40 H; 32 K/ 12 BB; 1.033 WHIP)

Carl Hubbell threw a screwball he delivered slowly. He was a control pitcher in an era when only the flame throwers were surviving. 

His 37 shutouts and 2.31 K/BB ratio are both second in his era. He pitched 20 innings of shutout baseball to help the Giants win the ’33 series. His 24-game winning streak is still the record.

He was the dominant pitcher in the NL in the 30s.

 

14) Jim Palmer

(1965-1984) – (268W – 152L; 2.86 ERA; ERA+126; 211 CG/ 53 SHO; 3948 IP/ 3349 H; 7.6 H/9; 2212 K/ 1311 BB; 1.69 ratio; 1.180 WHIP); (postseason – 8-3; 2.61 ERA; 124 IP/ 101 H; 90 K/ 50 BB; 1.214 WHIP)

Jim Palmer spearheaded one of the great pitching staffs in major league history for the Orioles.  It was a great match; he was a sinker ball pitcher and he had a great defense behind him. He was one of the most consistent pitchers of his era.

Palmer won 20 games eight of nine seasons, 1970-’78. He was an important part of the Orioles postseason success in '66 and '70. His postseason record is one to be admired.

Not being a strikeout pitcher, his K/BB is somewhat low, but his lack of hits allowed helps make up for that. Palmer excelled at preventing runs from scoring.

 

13) Juan Marichal

(1960-1975) – (243W – 142L; 2.89 ERA; ERA+ 123; 244 CG/ 52 SHO; 3507 IP/ 3153 H/ 8.1 H/9; 2303 K/ 709 BB/ 3.25 ratio; 1.101 WHIP); (postseason – 0-1; 1.50 ERA; 12 IP/ 6 H; 10 K/ 2 BB; 0.667 WHIP)

Juan Marichal was the first great Latin pitcher.  His high leg kick preceded any one of a number of pitches, all thrown with pin-point control. 

He won 20 games six of seven years in the 60s. He was consistently outstanding. His career K/BB mark of 3.25 is the highest in the modern era up through his era (until 1992). His career WHIP is remarkably low.

Unfortunately, in 1970 he was given a shot of penicillin, to which he had an allergic reaction, causing crippling arthritis. Although he forged ahead, his body didn’t always respond, bringing the end of his career all too soon.

 

12) Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown

(1903-1916) – (239W – 130L; 2.06 ERA; ERA+ 138; 271 CG/ 55 SHO; 3172 IP/ 2708 H/ 7.7 H/9; 1375 K/ 673 BB/ 2.04 ratio; 1.066 WHIP); (postseason – 5-4; 2.97 ERA; 57 IP/ 50 H; 35 K/ 13 BB; 1.09 WHIP)

Brown was a consummate control pitcher with a tremendous curve and change-up. He had lost most of his index finger in a farming accident. That coupled, with a very bent middle finger, allowed him to get unusual top-spin on the ball, causing it to sink.

Brown was exceptionally effective. He posted the third lowest career ERA–2.06.  He won 20 games six consecutive years.

At his peak, he was as good as any pitcher in baseball. His duels with Christy Mathewson were legendary. He won the pennant for his team on the final day of the 1908 season against Mathewson and the Giants. He was 13-11 head-to-head with Mathewson.

Unfortunately, it took his death in 1948 to remind baseball writers of his exploits and put him in the HOF in 1949.

 

Nos.11-8

This next group of pitchers all put their mark on baseball in a unique way.  They stood out from the texture of pitching history by what they accomplished.

 

11) Lefty Grove

(1925-1941) – (300W – 141L; 3.06 ERA; ERA+148; 298 CG/ 35 SHO; 3940 IP/ 3849 H/ 8.8 H/9; 2266 K/ 1187 BB; 1.91 ratio; 1.278 WHIP); (postseason – 4-2; 1.75 ERA; 51 IP/ 46 H; 36 K/ 6 BB; 1.013 WHIP)

Lefty Grove was the dominant pitcher of the AL in the live-ball era. His peak from 1927-32 was one of the greatest. He was a dominant pitcher in an era when pitching was struggling to keep up.

His 300 wins and 2266 strikeouts led his era. He won his league ERA title nine times. 

He led the Athletics to the World Series three times, winning in ’29 and ’30.

 

10) Nolan Ryan

(1966, ’68-’93) – (324W – 292L; 3.19 ERA; ERA+ 111; 222 CG/ 61 SHO; 5386 IP/ 3923 H/ 6.6 H/9; 5714 K/ 2795 BB/ 2.04 ratio; 1.247 WHIP); (postseason – 2-2; 3.07 ERA; 58 IP/ 39 H; 63 K/ 14 BB; 0.903 WHIP)

Nolan Ryan’s career strikeout record of 5,714 may never be approached. He also threw a record 7 no-hitters.

Ryan featured a rising fastball and a looping 12–6 curveball. He was also the hardest pitcher to hit in history. The differential of 1,463 between his IP and hits allowed is remarkable.

Obviously, Ryan could be as dominant as any pitcher had ever been. On the detracting side is the huge number of BB, 2,795 is a total that may never be approached.

 

9) Bob Gibson

(1959-1975) – (251W – 174L; 2.91 ERA; ERA+ 127; 255 CG/ 56 SHO; 3884 IP/ 3279 H/ 7.6 H/9; 3117 K/ 1336 BB; 2.33 ratio; 1.188 WHIP); (postseason – 7-2; 1.89 ERA; 81 IP/ 55 H; 92 K/ 17 BB; 0.889 WHIP)

Bob Gibson was the first great black pitcher in the major leagues. His pitching feats in the '64, '67 and 68 World Series are stuff of legend. In Game One of the '68 Series against the Tigers, he struck out 17 batters.

His single season ERA of 1.12 in '68 is eye-popping. He accompanied that with 13 shutouts, and only allowed 198 hits in 304 innings!

Gibson was the second man to reach the 3,000 K plateau, long manned by Walter Johnson alone.

 

8) Eddie Plank

(1901-1917) – (326W – 194L; 2.35 ERA; ERA+122; 410 CG/ 69 SHO; 4495 IP/ 3958 H/ 7.9 H/9; 2246 K/ 1072 BB; 2.10 ratio; 1.119 WHIP); (postseason – 2-5; 1.32 ERA; 54 IP/ 37 H; 32 K/ 11 BB; 0.878 WHIP)

Eddie Plank was the first left-handed pitcher in the modern era to win 300 games.  His 69 shutouts and 410 complete games both are fourth in the modern era.

He was consistently outstanding, leading Connie Mack’s Athletics to five World Series appearances.  He finally beat his nemesis, Christy Mathewson, in the 1913 classic.

 

Nos. 7-1

The next group of pitchers is truly the cream of the crop.  They are the best of the best, lacking in no area of measurable greatness.

 

7) Randy Johnson 

(1988-2009) – (303W – 166L; 3.29 ERA; ERA+ 136; 100 CG; 37 SHO; 4131 IP/ 3339 H/ 7.3 H/9; 4869 K/ 1497 BB/ 3.25 ratio; 1.171 WHIP); (postseason – 7-9; 3.50 ERA; 121 IP/ 106 H; 132 K/ 32 BB; 1.14 WHIP)

“The Big Unit” has blazed his way onto this list with his incredible strikeout ratio, 300 wins, accompanied by a great H/9 ratio, K/BB ratio and WHIP.  His endurance is proven by his IP total, 300 wins and 37 shutouts.

 

6) Greg Maddux

(1986-2008) – (355W – 227L; 3.16 ERA; ERA+ 132; 109 CG/ 35 SHO; 5008 IP/ 4726 H/ 8.5 H/9; 3371 K/ 999 BB/ 3.37 ratio; 1.143 WHIP); (postseason – 11-14; 3.27 Era; 198 IP/ 195 H; 125 K/ 51 BB; 1.242 WHIP)

Greg Maddux had a tremendous career any way you slice it.  He led his era in wins, has over 3000 K, is second in the era in shutouts (35), and his WHIP of 1.14 is incredible for the length of his career.  He is one of the greatest control pitchers on record.

 

5) Warren Spahn 

(1942, ’46-’65) – (363W – 245L; 3.09 ERA; ERA+ 118; 382 CG/ 63 SHO; 5243 IP/ 4830 H/ 8.3 H/9; 2583 K/ 1434 BB/ 1.80 ratio; 1.195 WHIP); (postseason – 4-3; 3.06 Era; 56 IP/ 47 H; 32 K/ 13 BB; 1.07 WHIP)

Warren Spahn dominated his era.  He won 20 games 13 times.  His 363 wins and 63 shutouts are the most for any pitcher since 1921.  His 382 CG are the most since Grover Alexander retired in 1930 with 437.

Spahn brought his tremendous stamina late into his career, leading the league in wins, ERA, complete games, shutouts and WHIP in ’61 at age 40.

 

4) Tom Seaver  

(1967-1986) – (311W – 205L; 2.86 ERA; ERA+ 127; 231 CG/ 61 SHO; 4782 IP/ 3971 H/ 7.5 H/9; 3640 K/ 1390 BB/ 2.62 ratio; 1.121 WHIP); (postseason – 3-3; 2.77 ERA; 61 IP/ 51 H; 51 K/ 16 BB; 1.086 WHIP)

Tom Seaver was the best of his era.  He was dominant (ERA+127, 61 SHO), he had endurance (231 CG, 311 wins, 4782 IP), and he had great quality (2.62 K/BB ratio, 1.121 WHIP). 

 

3) Grover Alexander 

(1911-1930) – (373W – 208L; 2.56 ERA; ERA+ 135; 437 CG/ 90 SHO; 5190 IP/ 4868 H/ 8.4 H/9; 2198 K/ 951 BB/ 2.31 ratio; 1.121 WHIP); (postseason – 3-2; 3.56 Era; 43 IP/ 36 H; 29 K/ 12 BB; 1.116 WHIP)

Alexander was the premier NL pitcher of the teens.  What Walter Johnson was to the AL, he was to the NL.  His career stretched into the live-ball era as well.

His 90 shutouts are second all-time.  He is tied for second (373) in the modern era in wins.  His 437 complete games are also second.  His ERA+ 135 is astounding for the length of his career. 

His peak from ’14-’17 is the second greatest in history. 

 

2) Christy Mathewson 

(1900-1916) – (373W – 188L; 2.13 ERA; ERA+ 135; 434 CG/ 79 SHO; 4780 IP/ 4218 H/ 7.9 H/9; 2502 K/ 844 BB/ 2.96 ratio; 1.059 WHIP); (postseason – 5-5; 0.97 ERA; 101 IP/ 76 H; 48 K/ 10 BB; 0.846 WHIP)

Christy Mathewson was the premier pitcher in baseball from 1905-1912.  He was the quintessential control pitcher, establishing the highest K/BB mark (2.96) in the modern era until the 1960s.  He is tied for second in wins (373).  His 434 CG and 79 shutouts are third. 

Mathewson was the hero of the ’05 World Series, pitching three complete game shutouts.

 

1)Walter Johnson 

(1907-1927) – (417W – 279L; 2.17 ERA; ERA+ 147; 531 CG/ 110 SHO; 5914 IP/ 4913 H/ 7.5 H/9; 3509 K/ 1363 BB; 2.57 ratio; 1.061 WHIP); (postseason – 3-3; 2.16 ERA; 50 IP/ 56 H; 35 K/ 15 BB; 1.420 WHIP)

Walter Johnson is simply put, the greatest starting pitcher in the history of baseball.  It isn’t close. He has the most wins in the modern era (417), the most shutouts (110), (a record I feel is safe), the most innings pitched (5914), and the most complete games (531).

His career record of 3509 strikeouts stood for 55 years until ’82. He pitched his entire career with the Washington Senators, and didn’t make the post-season until 1924-’25, when he was 37 years old.

His ERA+ 147 is remarkable for a career that spanned 21 years and the advent of the live-ball era!

 

Conclusions

I found that the best pitchers presented themselves naturally in groups.  I felt after Walter Johnson, the following group from Nos. 2-7 is solid. The next four all have a historic uniqueness that holds them together. 

The quality pitchers with mid-length careers and the endurance pitchers make up Nos. 12-20.  I listed them within their groups, but a good historian might want to make this part of the list more fluid.

I feel quite strongly about placing the best of the short careers next at Nos. 21-28, but a blend into the next group could be possible.

I have appreciated the challenge this study has brought.  I realize that a precise ranking is an endless project, and that because it is subjective, my own perceptions could likely change in the future.

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