Three BR Historians Give Voted Consensus: 10 Best Starting Pitchers of the 1980s
About the Authors and the Voting Process
Section written by Jonathan Stilwell and Michael W
This is a collaboration piece that was really written by three different Bleacher Report members.
The three BR historians that voted on and wrote this article are Oystein Dahl, Jonathan Stilwell and Michael W.
Jonathan Stilwell is a correspondent on the BR team and is the most decorated of the three authors, collecting 7 awards thus far from the BR staff. He joined over one year ago and is already in the top 1,000 in Article Likes, Comments Received, Comments Written, Comment Likes and Fans.
Michael W is also a correspondent on the BR team that joined over one year ago. Michael has collected a couple of awards thus far from the BR staff and is in the top 1,000 in Article Likes and Comments Written.
Oystein Dahl is a contributor on the BR team and joined a couple of months ago. He’s a newer member, but has been all over the site posting brilliant comments and showing he is as good with the numbers as anyone you’ll run into on this site.
The article is going under Michael W's name because it has to go under one of the three. The article was written by Jonathan Stilwell and Michael W. It was voted on by Jonathan Stilwell, Michael W and Oystein Dahl.
Recently, Michael W has been posting articles ranking the top pitchers from each decade. He’s already published articles covering the best starting pitchers from the 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, 1990s and 2000s on the BR site. He was stumped and asked for help in putting together his next installment on the 1980s. He solicited the help of his respected BR historians and friends, Jonathan Stilwell and Oystein Dahl. They were happy to oblige and the process was started.
First, when given a list of some 93 starting pitchers to evaluate from the 1980s, we were put to work stringently with the amount itself. Every starting pitcher with 200 games was on this list to be considered from the 1980s.
We looked up each pitcher at BaseballReference.com and other sources. The goal was to come up with a top 20, so many were easy to eliminate. Jonathan found 36 pitchers he thought had a chance to make the top 20, and ranked these with a formula he developed.
Michael W and Oystein Dahl used similar methods with different formulas they developed to narrow the 93 starting pitchers from the 1980s down to the 20 best.
The three of us ranked a different top 20, and the numerical value of each pitcher’s placement on each list were added together. What you find here is the combination of three lists. The lowest combined score is the top ranking, 1-20.
For example, Dave Stieb came in our top 20 lists in fourth, sixth and fifth. So, his combined score was 15. Dennis Martinez came in our top 20 lists in eighth, ninth and 12th. So, his combined score was 29. All 93 pitchers were added and the top 20 in combined scores made our list. The top 10 are written about and 11-20 made our Honorable Mentions list.
About the Decade of the 1980s
Section written by Jonathan Stilwell and Michael W
Each of the top three pitchers on this list had many good years in the 1970s. In fact, they could have been included in that decade. I think this points out a mild regression in pitching quality and dominance during the 1980s.
Probably the fallout from the Vietnam War on the available youth, and the rise in popularity of the NFL.
Getting top notched Latin pitching prospects developed was a slower process than finding elite position players.
The 1980s tended to be an era of promise undelivered.
In the scope of baseball history, it probably fits right in the middle among all decades, probably close in quality to the 1950s and just ahead of the 1940s.
There were 93 starting pitchers from the 1980s that pitched in at least 200 games. That is the highest number of any decade in the history of Major League Baseball, other than now (the 2000s).
If a player does not appear on this list of 93, then they either didn’t reach 200 games or we consider them a pitcher from the 1970s or 1990s. The 1970s will be covered in a separate article and Michael W just wrote an article on 1990s starting pitchers.
Pitchers will only be in one decade. For example, Nolan Ryan will appear in this article. So, he will not appear in the 1970s article, which will be written at a later date; and, of course, he did not appear in the 1990s article.
An Explanation of the Stats
The statistics that we include will be Games Pitched, Games Started, Innings Pitched, ERA, ERA+, W, W%+, H/9 (OBA), WHIP (OOB%), SHO, SHO/40 (per 40 Games Started), K and K/BB (ratio). We will also letter grade their length of career.
First, we will include their raw career numbers. These are simply their career numbers.
Second, we will include their adjusted career numbers, if they had a long career (which most have). Take Bert Blyleven for example. Blyleven had a long career. So in order to find his real numbers, we have to exclude some late seasons during his career to find the numbers that he really carried during his career, since he pitched past his prime.
With Blyleven, we excluded his 1982, 1988, 1990 and 1992 seasons. That is his adjusted career. Again, this can only be done with long career players. If we don’t list an adjusted career under a player’s raw career numbers, then it means they didn’t play long enough to adjust for their long career or it means they didn’t have any bad seasons.
Third, we will include peak career numbers. Many like short peaks, but not us. We include the best seasons equaling at least 200 games for a peak. It takes away the possibility of a pitcher having one or two lucky seasons. The 200-game peak will let us know how good the pitcher was at his best.
Note: W%+ is a statistic that one of the authors, Michael W, invented. It takes the teams W% into account. It is very complicated as different weights go more or less on seasons depending on how many Games and Innings Pitched a Pitcher Pitched during a single season. Having said that, here’s the simple version.
If a starting pitcher has a career .500 W% during the 2000s and that Pitcher Pitched for the Yankees. Well, .500 is not good. But, if that pitcher pitched for the Royals, then .500 is good. This is the reasoning behind W%+. It is to W% what ERA is to ERA+. It’s not full proof, but either is ERA+, just another piece of the puzzle and far, far more important than raw W%.
The 93 Starting Pitchers
There is certainly an overabundant amount of starting pitchers from the decade of the 1980s to choose from. Here are the 93 starting pitchers from the 1980s that reached at least 200 games (listed in alphabetical order): Doyle Alexander, Jauquin Andujar, Floyd Bannister, Len Barker, Jim Beattie, Bud Black, Bert Blyleven, Mike Boddicker, Oil Can Boyd, Ray Burris, John Candelaria, John Cerutti, Jim Clancy, Danny Cox, Ron Darling, Danny Darwin, Storm Davis, Jose DeLeon, John Denny, Richard Dotson, Dave Dravecky, Pete Falcone, Mike Flanagan, Bob Forsch, Ron Guidry, Bill Gullickson, Moose Haas, Atlee Hammaker, Andy Hawkins, Neal Heaton, Charlie Hough, LaMarr Hoyt, Charles Hudson, Bruce Hurst, Tommy John, Matt Keough, Eric King, Bob Knepper, Bill Krueger, Mike Krukow, Mike LaCoss, Rick Langford, Dave LaPoint, Tim Leary, Charlie Leibrandt, Dennis Leonard, Randy Lerch, Rick Mahler, Dennis Martinez, Steve McCatty, Scott McGregor, Larry McWilliams, John Montefusco, Mike Moore, Mike Morgan, Jack Morris, Mike Norris, Bob Ojeda, David Palmer, Frank Pastore, Pascual Perez, Dan Petry, Dennis Rasmussen, Rick Reuschel, Jerry Reuss, Rick Rhoden, Dave Rozema, Vern Ruhle, Dick Ruthven, Nolan Ryan, Scott Sanderson, Mike Scott, Eric Show, Bryn Smith, Mike Smithson, Lary Sorenson, Mario Soto, Dave Stewart, Dave Stieb, Rick Sutcliffe, Frank Tanana, Walt Terrell, Steve Trout, John Tudor, Fernando Valenzuela, Frank Viola, Pete Vukovich, Bob Walk, Bob Welch, Ed Whitson, Mike Witt, Curt Young and Pat Zachry.
The Honorable Mentions
Here are the 10 starting pitchers that just missed the top 10 after the 93 starting pitchers were all voted on and tallied (listed in alphabetical order): John Candelaria, Danny Darwin, Charlie Hough, Dennis Leonard, Jerry Reuss, Mike Scott, Mario Soto, John Tudor, Fernando Valenzuela and Frank Viola.
The Top 10
10. Jack Morris (1977-1994) Career Length Grade: A-
Raw Career: 549 G, 527 GS, 3,824IP, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 254 W, 106 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.30 WHIP, 28 SHO, 2.1 SHO/40, 2,478 K and 1.8 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 463 G, 441 GS, 3,280.1 IP, 3.67 ERA, 110 ERA+, 222 W, 110 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 24 SHO, 2.2 SHO/40, 2,113 K and 1.8 K/BB (exclude his 1990, 1993 and 1994 seasons)
Peak Career: 228 G, 228 GS, 1,726 IP, 3.31 ERA, 124 ERA+, 124 W, 115 W%+, 7.7 H/9, 1.21 WHIP, 15 SHO, 2.6 SHO/40, 1,227 K and 2.1 K/BB (include his 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1991 seasons)
Jack Morris write-up by Jonathan Stilwell:
Morris was a power pitcher. He won consistently throughout the 1980s, winning 15 or more games 12 of 13 years.
He was also a workhorse, posting 10 or more complete games 12 of 13 years as well.
Morris could also be a little wild, leading the league in wild pitches six separate seasons, and walking 80 or more batters eleven times.
He was one of the main bridges between the greats of the 70s (Seaver, Carlton), and the greats of the 90s (Maddux, Clemens).
He was part of the 1984 Tigers WS title, the Twins world championship in 1991 and the Blue Jays pennant in 1992.
It was late in his career when he left a legacy performance to his record. In the seventh game of the 1991 series, he faced down John Smoltz and shut down the Atlanta Braves through 10 innings.
It was one of the great World Series pitching performances of all-time, and Morris demonstrated his grit and determination to win.
His 254 wins and 2,478 Ks are easily HOF worthy.
9. Bob Welch (1978-1994) Career Length Grade: B+
Raw Career: 506 G, 462 GS, 3,092 IP, 3.47 ERA, 106 ERA+, 211 W, 109 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.27 WHIP, 28 SHO, 2.4 SHO/40, 1,969 K and 1.9 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 416 G, 391 GS, 2,636.2 IP, 3.16 ERA, 115 ERA+, 187 W, 111 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.23 WHIP, 27 SHO, 2.8 SHO/40, 1,761 K and 2.1 K/BB (exclude his 1991, 1993 and 1994 seasons)
Peak Career: 200 G, 190 GS, 1,305.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 131 ERA+, 106 W, 118 W%+, 7.7 H/9, 1.18 WHIP, 15 SHO, 3.1 SHO/40, 825 K and 2.0 K/BB (include his 1978, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1992 seasons)
Bob Welch write-up by Michael W:
He’s the only pitcher in MLB of the last 35 years to win over 25 games in a season, winning 27 games during his 1990 season.
He won the Cy Young award during that 1990 season while leading the League in wins and W%. He also posted a 2.95 ERA, 2 SHO, 127 Ks and a 126 ERA+. He helped lead that 1990 team to the World Series.
Some will argue that it was a great season (it was his fourth or fifth best), but his only Cy Young award.
Among the years some will bring up as better than his 1990 Cy Young award season is his magical rookie season in 1978, when he posted a .636 W%, 2.02 ERA, 3 SHO, 174 ERA+, 1.06 WHIP, 7.4 H/9 and 2.5 K/BB.
Being a rookie, he only pitched in 23 games that season and that is why he wasn’t really considered for the award; he was a rookie and he pitched in only 23 games.
During that rookie season in 1978, his Dodger team made the World Series and Welch went down in folklore when he struck out Hall of Fame Right Fielder Reggie Jackson in the top of the ninth inning with two men on base and two outs during game two.
By the time his career was through, he had helped his teams to the playoffs during seven seasons, including four trips to the World Series. He had led the League in SHO, wins, W%, posted almost 30 career SHO, pitched almost 3,100 innings and recorded over 210 wins.
Welch doesn’t seem to get the notoriety that Morris in the 10 spot gets. Morris is not in the Hall of Fame either, but his name comes up a lot while Welch’s name rarely, if ever, does.
But the fact is, when it was all said and done, Welch had a better ERA, ERA+, W%+, WHIP, SHO/40 and K/BB than Morris and they ended their careers with the same H/9 and SHO. That’s eight categories that historians consider to be eight of the most important starting pitching stats to look at, and Morris wasn’t better than Welch in any of them.
This is why it is Bob Welch, not Jack Morris, who is very quietly one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of MLB that is not in the HOF.
8. Dennis Martinez (1976-1998) Career Length Grade: A
Raw Career: 692 G, 562 GS, 3,999.2 IP, 3.70 ERA, 106 ERA+, 245 W, 99 W%+, 8.8 H/9, 1.27 WHIP, 30 SHO, 2.1 SHO/40, 2,149 K and 1.8 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 630 G, 548 GS, 3,859.2 IP, 3.63 ERA, 108 ERA+, 240 W, 102 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.25 WHIP, 29 SHO, 2.1 SHO/40, 2,070 K and 1.9 K/BB (exclude his last 2 seasons)
Peak Career: 207 G, 205 GS, 1,445.2 IP, 2.86 ERA, 137 ERA+, 90 W, 108 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 15 SHO, 2.9 SHO/40, 839 K and 2.3 K/BB (include his 1976, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995 seasons)
Dennis Martinez write-up by Jonathan Stilwell:
Dennis Martinez was the first Nicaraguan born Major League Baseball player. He came up with the Baltimore Orioles in 1976. By 1979 he was the workhorse of the staff, leading the AL in games started with 39, complete games with 18, innings pitched with 292, and batters faced on the way to the World Series.
In 1981 he tied Jack Morris for the League lead in wins with 14.
After a couple of down years, he found himself with the Montreal Expos in 1986. There he found new life, posting seven fine seasons.
His finest year may have been in 1991 when he led the NL in ERA (2.39), nine complete games and five shutouts.
El Presidente is one of a handful of pitchers to have won 100 games in both Leagues.
He carried good quality work well into his latter years. In 1994, he joined a Cleveland team that was bound for success.
His affable smile and period appropriate moustache were easily identifiable.
Martinez amassed more wins than any Latin pitcher to date. It is a legacy that includes Juan Marichal, Luis Tiant, Mike Cuellar and Pedro Martinez. His 30 shutouts, and 2,149 Ks are fine career totals.
7. Rick Reuschel (1972-1991) Career Length Grade: A-
Raw Career: 557 G, 529 GS, 3,548.1 IP, 3.37 ERA, 114 ERA+, 214 W, 110 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.28 WHIP, 26 SHO, 2.0 SHO/40, 2,015 K and 2.2 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 503 G, 481 GS, 3,235 IP, 3.32 ERA, 116 ERA+, 202 W, 113 W%+, 9.0 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 24 SHO, 2.0 SHO/40, 1,837 K and 2.2 K/BB (exclude his 1986, 1990 and 1991 seasons)
Peak Career: 221 G, 209 GS, 1,438 IP, 2.95 ERA, 134 ERA+, 93 W, 115 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.19 WHIP, 17 SHO, 3.3 SHO/40, 856 K and 2.5 K/BB (include his 1972, 1973, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1985 and 1987 seasons)
Rick Reuschel write-up by Jonathan Stilwell:
Rick was a strapping Illinois farm boy, weighing in at 6’3", and 225 lbs. Both he and his brother made the Major Leagues as pitchers, but Rick was the star.
He provided a strong arm for the Cubs teams in the 1970s. He posted at least 237 innings eight consecutive years!
Reuschel’s success came from keeping batters off balance. He moved the ball around and changed speeds.
Later in his career he earned the nickname Big Daddy because of his large frame.
His most significant accomplishments include winning over 200 games and breaking the 2000 K plateau. His ERA+ of 114 was one of the finer marks among pitchers on this list.
He was one of the finest and most dependable inning-eaters from his era.
6. Ron Guidry (1975-1988) Career Length Grade: D+
Raw Career: 368 G, 323 GS, 2,392 IP, 3.29 ERA, 119 ERA+, 170 W, 116 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.18 WHIP, 26 SHO, 3.2 SHO/40, 1,778 K and 2.8 K/BB
Peak Career: 209 G, 192 GS, 1,474.2 IP, 2.86 ERA, 137 ERA+, 118 W, 124 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.10 WHIP, 21 SHO, 4.4 SHO/40, 1,124 K and 3.0 K/BB (include his 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1987 seasons)
Ron Guidry write-up by Michael W:
Some historians argue that he had the best slider in the history of MLB; and some also argue that he had the best fastball of any starting pitcher from the 1980s. When you have two pitches of that caliber, who needs a third pitch.
Guidry has the shortest career of any starting pitcher in our top 10, as he’s the only pitcher on this list that received a below average grade in the length of career category. Every other pitcher on this list received an above average grade in that category and most of them just flat out had long careers.
Guidry started suffering from some serious arm injuries around the 1981 season. The injuries are ultimately what led to his shorter than average career. He was such a talented pitcher that he still had four or five extremely good seasons after the injuries. It was through pure talent and grace that he continued to pitch so well.
He was extremely good after the injuries; but before, during the first half of his career, he was dominant.
In 1978, he won the Cy Young award and many historians will still call his 1978 season one of the 10 best single seasons in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.
That season, he went 25-3 with an .893 W%, 1.74 ERA, 9 SHO, 248 Ks, 208 ERA+, 0.95 WHIP, 6.1 H/9 and 3.4 K/BB.
By the time his career was through, he had led the League in wins twice, W% twice, ERA twice and WHIP twice.
Some bring up the Smoky Joe Wood syndrome when they talk about Guidry. The problem with that: he had a longer career than Smoky Joe; and wasn’t as dominant, other than his 1978 season.
But along with John Tudor, he was certainly the most dominant short career pitcher from the 1980s.
His dominance is why he makes our top 10, even with a less than average length of career. What a brilliant pitcher he was.
5. Frank Tanana (1973-1993) Career Length Grade: A
Raw Career: 638 G, 616 GS, 4,188.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 106 ERA+, 240 W, 106 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.27 WHIP, 34 SHO, 2.2 SHO/40, 2,773 K and 2.2 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 508 G, 492 GS, 3,419.2 IP, 3.46 ERA, 111 ERA+, 197 W, 108 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.24 WHIP, 34 SHO, 2.8 SHO/40, 2,325 K and 2.4 K/BB (exclude his 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1993 seasons)
Peak Career: 206 G, 194 GS, 1,487.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 130 ERA+, 88 W, 122 W%+, 7.8 H/9, 1.15 WHIP, 20 SHO, 4.1 SHO/40, 1,186 K and 2.8 K/BB (include his 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1983 and 1984 seasons)
Frank Tanana write-up by Jonathan Stilwell:
Frank broke in with the California Angels in 1973. He and Nolan Ryan led the staff for the next six years.
He possessed an incredible 100+ mph fastball during his early years that helped to a League leading 269 Ks in 1975. He had some incredible years for the Angels until he hurt his arm in 1979.
He struggled mightily, trying to rework his pitching career. In 1984 he found his first moderate post-injury success, being named best pitcher on the Texas Rangers staff.
He had transformed himself into a control artist with a vast array of breaking pitches. He was known as the Enticeer.
In 1985 he moved to Detroit, and proceeded to post eight very good years for his hometown Tigers. In 1987 he pitched a shutout that clinched a postseason berth.
Frank Tanana was a power pitcher of the highest level who was forced to re-invent himself, and found success on the other side.
He pitched 143 complete games and a healthy 34 shutouts. His 2,773 Ks are one of the leading totals of the era, and place him right behind Mickey Lolich and Jim Bunning on the all-time list just short of 3,000. His fine control helped him post a K/BB ratio of 2.21 over his 4,188 inning career.
4. Dave Stieb (1979-1998) Career Length Grade: C+
Raw Career: 443 G, 412 GS, 2,895.1 IP, 3.44 ERA, 122 ERA+, 176 W, 109 W%+, 8.0 H/9, 1.25 WHIP, 30 SHO, 2.9 SHO/40, 1,669 K and 1.6 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 399 G, 391 GS, 2,726.1 IP, 3.33 ERA, 126 ERA+, 170 W, 113 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.23 WHIP, 30 SHO, 3.1 SHO/40, 1,586 K and 1.7 K/BB (exclude his last 3 seasons)
Peak Career: 219 G, 218 GS, 1,574 IP, 2.94 ERA, 144 ERA+, 102 W, 113 W%+, 7.5 H/9, 1.16 WHIP, 19 SHO, 3.5 SHO/40, 994 K and 1.9 K/BB (include his 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1991 seasons)
Dave Stieb write-up by Michael W:
Stieb started suffering from injuries during the 1991 season. He pitched a few more seasons after the injuries began, but never pitched well again.
He still ended his career with a slightly above average length of career, but without the injuries he almost surely would have had a flat out long career.
Even with his career turning out as it did, he’s still arguably one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball that is not in the Hall of Fame.
Before the injuries started, he had already made the All-Star team seven times and had led the League in ERA+ twice and H/9 twice.
His career 122 ERA+ is the best of any of the 10 pitchers on this list, even better than Nolan Ryan, who’s in the number one spot; and in the HOF; and Stieb’s 8.0 H/9 is the second best H/9 on this list, behind only Nolan Ryan.
3. Tommy John (1963-1989) Career Length Grade: A+
Raw Career: 760 G, 700 GS, 4,710.1 IP, 3.34 ERA, 110 ERA+, 288 W, 106 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.28 WHIP, 46 SHO, 2.6 SHO/40, 2,245 K and 1.8 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 626 G, 578 GS, 3,968 IP, 3.09 ERA, 118 ERA+, 255 W, 110 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.24 WHIP, 45 SHO, 3.1 SHO/40, 2,009 K and 1.9 K/BB (exclude his 1983, 1984, 1985, 1988 and 1989 seasons)
Peak Career: 219 G, 209 GS, 1,459.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 135 ERA+, 102 W, 115 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.17 WHIP, 21 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 764 K and 2.1 K/BB (include his 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1986 seasons)
Tommy John write-up by Michael W:
His 288 wins is the most in the history of Major League Baseball by a left handed starting pitcher that is not in the Hall of Fame.
Righty or lefty, he’s arguably one of the 10 best starting pitchers that has not been inducted into the HOF.
And he still remains one of the 20 best left handed pitchers in the history of MLB.
Not only did he record almost 290 wins by the time his career was through, he had also led the League in SHO three times.
He was injured while arguably having the best season of his career in 1974. Most thought his career was done.
He needed a surgery called Ulnar Collateral Ligament Surgery. You probably haven’t heard it called that in long time, if ever. Of course, it has been known as the Tommy John Surgery ever since he had the procedure done.
After the surgery, he took the entire 1975 season off. Many thought he would never be the same or would never pitch again, but he did come back; and was just as good after the surgery.
In fact, he arguably had four or five of the best seasons of his career in the dozen following the surgery; notably his 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1986 seasons.
2. Bert Blyleven (1970-1992) Career Length Grade: A+
Raw Career: 692 G, 685 GS, 4,970 IP, 3.31 ERA, 118 ERA+, 287 W, 105 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 60 SHO, 3.5 SHO/40, 3,701 K and 2.8 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 607 G, 601 GS, 4,475.1 IP, 3.11 ERA, 125 ERA+, 259 W, 108 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.18 WHIP, 60 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 3,398 K and 2.8 K/BB (exclude his 1982, 1988, 1990 and 1992 seasons)
Peak Career: 210 G, 209 GS, 1,620.1 IP, 2.77 ERA, 144 ERA+, 104 W, 115 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 31 SHO, 6.0 SHO/40, 1,196 K and 3.0 K/BB (include his 1973, 1974, 1977, 1984, 1985 and 1989 seasons)
Bert Blyleven write-up by Jonathan Stilwell:
Bert Blyleven broke in as a wide-eyed 19 year old rookie in 1970 with the Minnesota Twins. He made an immediate impression, winning the rookie pitcher of the year award, and got his feet wet in postseason play, pitching two shutout innings against the Orioles.
Over the next six seasons, he established himself as one of the most effective pitchers in baseball. He pitched between 237 and 325 innings for nine consecutive years, striking out over 200 batters from 1971-1976. But nobody seemed to notice.
In 1973, the only year he won 20 games, he had 25 complete games, led the League with nine shutouts, an ERA+ of 158, and K/BB ratio of 3.85. He also had 258 Ks in 325 innings. He finished seventh in the Cy Young award voting.
Blyleven was blighted with historically low run support during his first eight years on the mound. He left dozens of low scoring games with the score tied or trailing after already posting a quality start. He had 83 of these games while posting an ERA of 2.19, and came away with a record of 0-53 for his efforts.
After his first nine years he had pitched 2,387 innings, had over 1,900 Ks, had an ERA+ of 132 (!), and had all of 136 wins (136-123) to show for it! In a similar length career, Ron Guidry had won 170 games, and Koufax had won 165 with very similar quality stats.
Batters said they could hear his curve ball hiss as it approached. His curve was a thing to behold, some say the best in baseball history. It has become the curve against which all others are measured.
Blyleven rose to the occasion in the post season. His work comes from his 1970, 1979 and 1987 seasons, none among his best. But his post season record stands at 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Both the 1979 Pirates and 1987 Twins won the WS with his help.
Blyleven’s greatest legacy comes from his longsuffering work ethic, and his competitive nature. He toiled in obscurity when he was one of the best. He fought back from injury to become a dominant pitcher again with Cleveland in 1984 and 1985.
In 1986, he suffered a car accident that caused him to have great pain during his delivery. It eroded his effectiveness in 1987 and 1988. But in 1989 with more to prove, he came back to lead the League in shutouts for the third time and win the Comeback player of the Year award, going 17-5.
As a byproduct of Blyleven’s epic career, he won 287 games, struck out 3,701 batters (fifth all-time), and threw 60 shutouts, while maintaining a 2.80 K/BB ratio over 4,970 innings!
Since 1921, the advent of the live ball era, only four pitchers have 60 shutouts: Warren Spahn (63), Nolan Ryan (61), Tom Seaver (61), and Bert Blyleven (60).
Ron Guidry, discussed on this list, had a fine career. Over 2,392 innings he established an ERA+ of 119, a WHIP of 1.184, and a K/BB of 2.81.
Bert Blyleven pitched more than two of Guidry’s careers with essentially the same quality stats!
1.Nolan Ryan (1966-1993) Career Length Grade: A+
Raw Career: 807 G, 773 GS, 5,386 IP, 3.19 ERA, 111 ERA+, 324 W, 104 W%+, 6.6 H/9, 1.25 WHIP, 61 SHO, 3.2 SHO/40, 5,714 K and 2.0 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 691 G, 657 GS, 4,634 IP, 3.12 ERA, 115 ERA+, 286 W, 105 W%+, 6.4 H/9, 1.24 WHIP, 58 SHO, 3.5 SHO/40, 5,031 K and 2.0 K/BB (exclude his 1980, 1985, 1988 and 1993 seasons)
Peak Career: 231 G, 229 GS, 1,682 IP, 2.69 ERA, 135 ERA+, 106 W, 112 W%+, 6.0 H/9, 1.17 WHIP, 24 SHO, 4.2 SHO/40, 1,967 K and 2.3 K/BB (include his 1972, 1973, 1977, 1981, 1987, 1989 and 1991 seasons)
Nolan Ryan write-up by Michael W:
Nolan Ryan first pitched in Major League Baseball as a teenager for the New York Mets in 1966. He was drafted in the 12th round, if memory serves.
Now, this is one of those New York Mets bad luck stories. Ryan pitched five seasons for the Mets, four of them as starting pitcher. He had a losing season during all four seasons as a starter for the Mets and had less than a 100 ERA+ during three of the four seasons.
Some members of the Mets management were starting to think, “four straight losing seasons, looks like that teenage kid we drafted in the 12th round isn’t any good”; and who could blame them for thinking this way. The kid just didn’t seem to have it (ok, this isn’t exactly what happened, but go with me on this one, it’ll be fun).
To make a long story short, they sent him packing, trading him to California. It was their way of letting him know how much they appreciated the four losing seasons he pitched as a starter for them.
Anyway, here’s what happened. Ryan took a bus from New York out to California; and you know what, the strangest thing happened during that bus trip: he apparently learned how to pitch on that bus. ‘Cause by the time he stepped off the bus in California, he was the best pitcher in the league. I don’t know, must have been a Trailways bus or something. Either way, his first two seasons with California were arguably the two best of his entire career.
Mets fans got to watch for the next 25 years as that kid they let go ended up being the best pitcher from his era. Out in Mets land, they were thinking, “who’da thunk it.”
Here’s what those Mets fans got to see from that kid they traded. After a bunch of great seasons in California, he went out to Houston and pitched for the Astros. He actually ended up pitching more seasons in Houston than he did in California. Pitched a bunch of great seasons out there in Houston, too. Then he went to Texas and pitched for the Rangers. He was in his 40s by this time, but still, had a bunch of great seasons out there in Texas, too.
Mets fans were probably thinking, “this guy's in his mid 40s now and he’s pitching better out there in Texas than he did here in New York when he was in his late teens and early 20s”.
If somebody didn’t know any better they’d have thought that he had some habit of going different places and pitching a bunch of great seasons. He pitched great everywhere he went, except where he started in New York. But again, Mets fans, who’da thunk it?
Here’s what Mets fans got to watch for the next 20-25 years after he left.
He led the League in H/9 twelve times.
He led the League in Ks 11 times.
He led the League in SHO 3 times.
He led the League in WHIP twice.
He led the League in ERA twice.
He led the League in ERA+ twice.
His 6.6 H/9 was the best H/9 in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher (and still is).
His 5,714 Ks was first all time in the history of Major League Baseball (and still is).
His 7 no-hitters was first all time in the history of Major League Baseball (and still is).
Bummer. How were they to know?
Again, that’s not exactly how it went down, but something like that. Just another one of those New York Mets bad luck stories.
Nobody seemed to be able to hit Nolan Ryan. They would walk to the plate as a man with a bat in their hands; but they would walk back to the dugout as a left-handed girl with a fly swatter. He was kind of like an anti-confidence booster for hitters. Ryan was a muscle pitcher with brains that threw the heat 100 mph, give or take.
Now, on a serious note. How much better is Nolan Ryan than Bert Blyleven?
The answer: not as much as you may think.
Ryan is in the HOF and Blyleven isn’t. Ryan is not just in the HOF, but many fans would consider him a top shelf HOFer. By the way, how many shelves are out there in the HOF? If there are two shelves, then yes, he’s a top shelf HOFer.
But I don’t think there are two shelves. I think there are at least six or seven shelves out there in Cooperstown. I called out there and the fella that answered the phone wouldn’t tell me, said it was a secret. He wouldn’t say how many there were, but again, I think there are at least six or seven shelves out there; and if there are six or seven shelves, then Ryan is probably on the second or third. Either way, my point is, he’s not a bottom shelf HOFer. But not really a top shelf HOFer, either.
I got sidetracked. Here’s my point.
Blyleven and Ryan have very similar numbers. So how’s Ryan comfortably in the HOF and Blyleven not in it at all?
When we tallied our final votes, Ryan edged Blyleven out, but it was close, as it should have been.
Here’s the fact of the matter. Blyleven and Ryan were both an “A+” in the length of career category. Ryan had better numbers than Blyleven in many areas. But when their careers were through, it was Blyleven that had the better ERA+, W%+, WHIP, SHO/40 and K/BB.
Ryan had the better ERA, W, H/9, SHO and Ks. As you can see, it was close. Ryan was better in some, Blyleven in some. Blyleven isn’t just the second best starting pitcher from the 1980s, he’s this close to Ryan (I’m holding my index finger and my thumb two mm apart right now, by the way). That’s how close they were.
They were both special pitchers.
The three of us had a wonderful time putting this top 10 list together for you.
So, there you go, the 10 best starting pitchers from the 1980s.
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