There were 60 starting pitchers from the 1950s who pitched in at least 200 games.
If a player does not appear on the list of the 60 eligible players list, then they either didn’t reach 200 games or I consider them a pitcher from the 1940s or the 1960s.
The 1940s will be covered in a separate article, and I just wrote an article on the 10 best starting pitchers from the 1960s.
Pitchers will only be in one decade. For example, Robin Roberts will appear in this article. So, he will not appear in my 1940s article, which I will write at a later date; and, of course, he did not appear in my 1960s article.
An Explanation of the Stats
The statistics used 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). I will also letter-grade their length of career.
First, I will include their raw career numbers. These are simply their career numbers.
Second, I will include their adjusted career numbers, if they had a long career (which most have).
Adjusted career is this: Let’s take Warren Spahn, for example. Spahn is a starting pitcher from the 1950s that had a long career. So in order to find his real numbers, I 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 Spahn, I’d exclude his 1960, 1964 and 1965 seasons. That is his adjusted career. Again, this can only be done with long career players. If I 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, I will include peak career numbers. Many like short peaks, not me. I 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 I have invented. It takes the team's winning percentage into account. It is very complicated as different weights are applied to seasons depending on how many games and innings pitched a pitcher accumulated during a single season. Having said that, here’s the simple version.
This is the reasoning behind W%+. It is to W% what ERA is to ERA+. It’s not foolproof, but neither is ERA+, just another piece of the puzzle and far, far more important than raw W%.
The 60 Starting Pitchers
Here are the 60 starting pitchers from the 1950s who reached at least 200 games (listed in alphabetical order): Johnny Antonelli, Ralph Branca, Tom Brewer, Hal Brown, Lew Burdette, Tommy Byrne, Gene Conley, Murry Dickson, Art Ditmar, Dick Donovan, Carl Erskine, Whitey Ford, Paul Foytack, Bob Friend, Mike Garcia, Ned Garver, Ted Gray, Warren Hacker, Harvey Haddix, Jack Harshman, Jim Hearn, Ray Herbert, Art Houtteman, Larry Jansen, Joey Jay, Sam Jones, Alex Kellner, Monte Kennedy, Johnny Kucks, Frank Lary, Vern Law, Bob Lemon, Ed Lopat, Sal Maglie, Mickey McDermott, Cal McLish, Russ Meyer, Paul Minner, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Red Munger, Don Newcombe, Willard Nixon, Joe Nuxhall, Mel Parnell, Billy Pierce, Bob Porterfield, Vic Raschi, Robin Roberts, Bob Rush, Curt Simmons, Warren Spahn, Chuck Stobbs, Frank Sullivan, Max Surkont, Virgil Trucks, Bob Turley, Herm Wehmeier, Bill Wight, Jim Wilson and Early Wynn.
The Honorable Mentions
Here are the 10 starting pitchers that just missed the top 10 for various reasons (listed in alphabetical order): Johnny Antonelli, Lew Burdette, Murry Dickson, Mike Garcia, Ned Garver, Harvey Haddix, Frank Lary, Ed Lopat, Don Newcombe and Bob Rush.
The Top 10
10. Bob Friend (1951-1966) Career Length Grade: A
Raw Career: 602 G, 497 GS, 3,611 IP, 3.58 ERA, 107 ERA+, 197 W, 102 W%+, 9.4 H/9, 1.29 WHIP, 36 SHO, 2.9 SHO/40, 1,734 K and 1.9 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 568 G, 477 GS, 3,480.1 IP, 3.55 ERA, 108 ERA+, 191 W, 103 W%+, 9.3 H/9, 1.29 WHIP, 35 SHO, 2.9 SHO/40, 1,682 K and 1.9 K/BB (exclude his last season)
Peak Career: 200 G, 169 GS, 1,283.1 IP, 2.93 ERA, 128 ERA+, 81 W, 110 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.17 WHIP, 18 SHO, 4.3 SHO/40, 712 K and 2.8 K/BB (include his 1955, 1957, 1960, 1962 and 1963 seasons)
His Pittsburgh team won the World Series during the 1960 season, but it was very unusual because they were almost always terrible during most of his other seasons. They would usually have somewhere between a .440-465 W%, not good.
I’m bringing this up because Friend posted just over a .460 W% during his career and many underrate him because of this. But his .460 W% was better than expected for his team. It’s why he has a 102 W%+.
A 102 W%+ isn’t great either and he’s certainly a much better overall starting pitcher than that, but his 102 W%+ looks way better than his .460 W%. He’s one of the type of players that I had in mind when I invented W%+.
Let me put it this way, if he had pitched for the Yankees with that 102 W%+, he would have posted a career .611 W%.
Would historians look at him differently if he had posted a .611 W% instead of a .461 W%?
I think we all know the answer to that; of course they would. It’s why W%+ is much more important than raw W%.
It’s why his .461 W% should really be all but discarded and his 102 W%+ should be looked at. On the flip side, if he had played for the Yankees, his .611 W% should have been all but discarded and his 102 W%+ should have been looked at, too.
By the way, Whitey Ford carried a 115 W%+ for the Yankees and a .690 raw W%. He had great numbers in both, but the 115 W%+ is what really needs to be looked at and the .690 W% is not as important. Ford is in the two spot on this list, by the way.
But again, Friend’s teams were generally horrid and actually had losing seasons during 13 of the 16 seasons during his career.
Friend still pitched very well, even on his bad teams. In fact, he led the League in ERA during the 1955 season and it was the first time in the history of Major League Baseball that a pitcher had ever led the League in ERA while pitching for a last place team.
Pitching good on a bad team got to be a habit for Friend. In fact, at one time or another during his career, he also led the League in wins, SHO, ERA+ and K/BB. By the time he was through he recorded over 35 SHO.
He had a good arsenal of pitches that helped him find success. He threw a two-seam fastball and two or three different types of curveballs; some of his curves were fast and some were slow. Just a nice arsenal of different pitches he possessed.
There are certainly some pitchers on the Honorable Mentions list that have decent arguments to take this 10th and final spot from Friend.
Truthfully, there are some shorter career pitchers on that HM list that may have been higher caliber pitchers than Friend.
But the caliber difference isn’t as great as some may lead you to believe, and Friend’s long career gives him this spot over any of the pitchers on the HM list with shorter careers for that reason, mainly.
9. Curt Simmons (1947-1967) Career Length Grade: A-
Raw Career: 569 G, 462 GS, 3,348.1 IP, 3.54 ERA, 111 ERA+, 193 W, 101 W%+, 8.9 H/9, 1.31 WHIP, 36 SHO, 3.1 SHO/40, 1,697 K and 1.6 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 475 G, 397 GS, 2,918 IP, 3.45 ERA, 115 ERA+, 174 W, 104 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.29 WHIP, 34 SHO, 3.4 SHO/40, 1,519 K and 1.6 K/BB (exclude his last three seasons)
Peak Career: 215 G, 194 GS, 1,439.2 IP, 2.96 ERA, 136 ERA+, 86 W, 106 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.24 WHIP, 26 SHO, 5.3 SHO/40, 780 K and 1.8 K/BB (include his 1947, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963 seasons)
He was kind of a child prodigy. There were some scouts for Major League Baseball that had been watching Simmons pitch since he was in early High-School and by the time he was in late High-School, he was highly regarded by the scouts.
There were some scouts that were telling people that, not only was he a MLB-caliber pitcher in High-School, but he was destined to be a HOF pitcher in MLB.
That’s how highly scouted he was. He didn’t end up being a HOF caliber starting pitcher, but he did end up being an extremely good starting pitcher. Who could live up to those expectations?
Not many. He was extremely good, but it’s why some actually look at him as a disappointment.
There’s a good quote from his teammate, Robin Roberts, that I think helps explain what I’m trying to talk about. Of course, Robin Roberts ended up being a HOF starting pitcher and he’s in the three spot on this list. Here’s the quote:
“Curt Simmons certainly did not disappoint, throwing harder and with more movement on the ball than anyone I had ever seen.”---Robin Roberts, HOF starting pitcher and teammate of Curt Simmons
Simmons started pitching in MLB when he was 18 years old, right after High-School. He was so highly scouted that it was pretty much, “take that graduation cap off of your head and put this baseball cap on; you’re ready.”
At one time or another during his career, he led the League in ERA+ and SHO and posted over 35 SHO by the time he was through.
A disappointment if you were expecting a HOF pitcher; but a pleasant surprise if you were just expecting an OK pitcher.
8. Sal Maglie (1945-1958) Career Length Grade: D
Raw Career: 303 G, 232 GS, 1,723 IP, 3.15 ERA, 127 ERA+, 119 W, 116 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.25 WHIP, 25 SHO, 4.3 SHO/40, 862 K and 1.5 K/BB
Peak Career: 226 G, 172 GS, 1,346 IP, 2.88 ERA, 138 ERA+, 99 W, 122 W%+, 8.0 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 22 SHO, 5.1 SHO/40, 672 K and 1.6 K/BB (exclude his 1953, 1955 and 1958 seasons)
As a rookie in 1945, he posted a 2.35 ERA, 167 ERA+, 7.7 H/9 and 1.12 WHIP. He was on his way to a great career, and likely a long one, too. The great part came true, but the long part didn’t.
Here’s what happened, the quick condensed story: There were a couple of filthy rich brothers that started a League in Mexico that was trying to compete with Major League Baseball.
It was called the Mexican League. The newly formed Mexican League made lucrative offers to try to lure many MLB players to the new League; and many went to play over there.
The commissioner of MLB made it clear that anyone who jumped to that League would be banned from MLB. Over 20 players that jumped to that League were indeed banned. Maglie was one of them.
So after an incredible rookie season, he played his second season in the Mexican League and was banned from MLB along with over 20 other players. He pitched two seasons over in the Mexican League (winning 20 games both seasons, by the way) and his ban by MLB was finally reversed in 1949.
Of course, he returned to MLB during the 1950 season; five years after his rookie season; and the Mexican League stats are not included in his career stats.
This is the main reason for his short career, five years between his rookie season and his second season in MLB.
That’s the quick condensed story of his banishment (and lifted banishment).
In MLB, though much of his peak is missing, he still pitched great. He had over a .555 W% during eight of his 10 seasons in MLB.
He also led the League in H/9 twice and ERA+ three times during his MLB career.
He finished his career with a 127 ERA+. There are five HOF starting pitchers from the 1950s in this top 10 and Maglie’s 127 ERA+ is better than four of those five HOFers. His dominant numbers put him in this top 10, even with a slightly short career.
But his short career is why he’s only in the eight spot, even with the second best ERA+ of the decade.
What an amazing pitcher he was.
7. Virgil Trucks (1941-1958) Career Length Grade: C+
Raw Career: 517 G, 328 GS, 2,682.1 IP, 3.39 ERA, 116 ERA+, 177 W, 111 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.31 WHIP, 33 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 1,534 K and 1.4 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 476 G, 328 GS, 2,620.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 117 ERA+, 175 W, 112 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.30 WHIP, 33 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 1,493 K and 1.4 K/BB (exclude his last season)
Peak Career: 205 G, 133 GS, 1,141.1 IP, 2.87 ERA, 139 ERA+, 84 W, 126 W%+, 7.7 H/9, 1.27 WHIP, 19 SHO, 5.8 SHO/40, 628 K and 1.3 K/BB (include his 1942, 1945, 1949, 1950, 1953, 1954 and 1957 seasons)
He had a large assortment of pitches that he threw, including one of the hardest and highest velocity fastballs in the League.
During his career, he led the League in SHO twice and in a career that saw him start less than 330 games, he posted over 30 SHO.
He also led the League in Ks during his career.
He’s not on the tongues of most casual fans, but he’s highly rated and regarded by most historians because of his impressive numbers. No argument here.
Side note: He’s the uncle of Butch Trucks; Butch Trucks is one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band. The Allman Brothers Band are in the Hall of Fame...The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. They still perform today.
6. Bob Lemon (1946-1958) Career Length Grade: B-
Raw Career: 460 G, 350 GS, 2,850 IP, 3.23 ERA, 119 ERA+, 207 W, 108 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.34 WHIP, 31 SHO, 3.5 SHO/40, 1,277 K and 1.0 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 428 G, 332 GS, 2,707.1 IP, 3.15 ERA, 122 ERA+, 201 W, 108 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.32 WHIP, 31 SHO, 3.7 SHO/40, 1,224 K and 1.1 K/BB (exclude his last two seasons)
Peak Career: 229 G, 179 GS, 1,490.2 IP, 2.78 ERA, 137 ERA+, 111 W, 109 W%+, 7.3 H/9, 1.23 WHIP, 21 SHO, 4.7 SHO/40, 659 K and 1.1 K/BB (include his 1946, 1948, 1949, 1952, 1954 and 1956 seasons)
He led the League in wins three times during his Hall of Fame career and ended his career with almost 210 wins.
In fact, he won at least 20 games during seven of the nine seasons from 1948-1956; incredible.
At one time or another during his career, he also led the League in SHO, Ks, WHIP and H/9.
He had a good assortment of pitches in his arsenal that included a curveball, slider, and fastball.
His fastball had great movement to it and was a naturally sinking fastball. And there are still some historians that will argue that it is Lemon who had the best slider that the game has ever seen.
“Bob Lemon, who may be the first man to have pitched his way into the Hall of Fame with a slider.”—Roger Angell, respected baseball historian, about 20 years after Lemon retired
5. Early Wynn (1939-1963) Career Length Grade: A+
Raw Career: 691 G, 612 GS, 4,564 IP, 3.54 ERA, 107 ERA+, 300 W, 103 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.33 WHIP, 49 SHO, 3.2 SHO/40, 2,334 K and 1.3 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 584 G, 515 GS, 3,893.2 IP, 3.41 ERA, 111 ERA+, 265 W, 106 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.32 WHIP, 41 SHO, 3.2 SHO/40, 1,880 K and 1.2 K/BB (exclude his 1957, 1958 and 1962 seasons)
Peak Career: 204 G, 174 GS, 1,361.2 IP, 2.82 ERA, 141 ERA+, 102 W, 109 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 18 SHO, 4.1 SHO/40, 755 K and 1.6 K/BB (include his 1941, 1950, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1963 seasons)
He’s a Hall of Fame starting pitcher that captured the Cy Young Award in 1959 and started pitching in Major League Baseball as a teenager during the 1939 season.
Many will argue that he might have won the Cy Young Award several more times, but the award didn’t start until 1956, well into Wynn’s career.
Here’s the point, he won the award in 1959 and it’s true that 1959 was his third best season in wins. But it was his 10th-best season for ERA, his 10th-best season for WHIP and his eighth best season for ERA+. It’s why some say, his only Cy Young award, but his eighth of ninth best season. Wow.
Wynn reminds me of Bob Gibson in this regard: Hitters generally feared him like they feared Bob Gibson in the 1960s.
Wynn led the League in Ks for two consecutive seasons in 1957 and 1958; and recorded over 2,300 Ks by the time his career was through.
He also led the League in wins twice during his career and posted 300 wins during his career. He won at least 20 games during four of the six seasons from 1951-1956.
What can I say, he’s part of the elite 300 win club, a great pitcher with a long career.
4. Billy Pierce (1945-1964) Career Length Grade: A-
Raw Career: 585 G, 432 GS, 3,306.2 IP, 3.27 ERA, 119 ERA+, 211 W, 102 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 38 SHO, 3.5 SHO/40, 1,999 K and 1.7 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 476 G, 361 GS, 2,831.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 124 ERA+, 184 W, 104 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.25 WHIP, 35 SHO, 3.9 SHO/40, 1,733 K and 1.6 K/BB (exclude his 1960, 1961 and 1963 seasons)
Peak Career: 217 G, 152 GS, 1,276.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 148 ERA+, 83 W, 106 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.16 WHIP, 21 SHO, 5.5 SHO/40, 783 K and 1.9 K/BB (include his 1945, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1958 and 1964 seasons)
He began pitching in Major League Baseball as a High-School aged 18 year old during the 1945 season.
At one time or another during his career, he led the League in wins, ERA, Ks, ERA+, WHIP, H/9 and K/BB.
In fact, he led the League in wins during two consecutive seasons in 1956 and 1957 and ended his career with over 210 wins.
He also recorded over 105 Ks during 12 consecutive seasons from 1950-1961 and ended his career with almost 2,000 Ks; amazingly, he was one shy at 1,999 career Ks.
Some will wonder how I have Pierce, who’s not in the Hall of Fame, ahead of Wynn, in the five spot on this list, who is in the HOF.
It’s a good question. First of all, they both had long careers, though Wynn’s was longer.
But here’s the fact of the matter. Pierce had a better ERA, ERA+, H/9, WHIP, SHO/40 and K/BB than Wynn.
That’s six categories that many historians consider to be six of the most important starting pitcher stats to look at, and Wynn isn’t better than Pierce in any of them. Not a one.
In short, Pierce was simply a higher caliber starting pitcher than Wynn, though it’s close. And though Wynn had a longer career than Pierce, it wasn’t by all that much.
The longer career does pretty much narrow the gap all the way between Wynn and Pierce, but it doesn’t put Wynn ahead of Pierce, not if length of career is adjusted for correctly.
It’s why Pierce still remains as one of the 20 best left-handed starting pitchers in the history of MLB.
It’s also why he easily still remains as one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of MLB that is not in the HOF, righty or lefty.
3. Robin Roberts (1948-1966) Career Length Grade: A
Raw Career: 676 G, 609 GS, 4,688.2 IP, 3.41 ERA, 113 ERA+, 286 W, 112 W%+, 8.8 H/9, 1.17 WHIP, 45 SHO, 3.0 SHO/40, 2,357 K and 2.6 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 556 G, 502 GS, 3,965 IP, 3.20 ERA, 120 ERA+, 253 W, 111 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.15 WHIP, 40 SHO, 3.2 SHO/40, 1,990 K and 2.5 K/BB (exclude his 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1966 seasons)
Peak Career: 239 G, 219 GS, 1,824 IP, 2.86 ERA, 138 ERA+, 125 W, 121 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.09 WHIP, 23 SHO, 4.2 SHO/40, 906 K and 2.6 K/BB (include his 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1962 seasons)
He led the League in wins during four consecutive seasons from 1952-1955, winning over 20 games during all four seasons during that incredible streak.
The fact is, he won at least 20 games during each of the first six seasons of the 1950s, from 1950-1955. By the time his career was through, he recorded over 285 wins.
He led the League in K/BB five times during his career and also led the League in Ks during two consecutive seasons in 1953 and 1954. He posted over 2,350 Ks by the time he was through.
He had a great career and he was almost unquestionably the best starting pitcher in the League during the first half of the 1950s, period.
He’s in the Hall of Fame, where he belongs.
2. Whitey Ford (1950-1967) Career Length Grade: B
Raw Career: 498 G, 438 GS, 3,170.1 IP, 2.75 ERA, 133 ERA+, 236 W, 115 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.22 WHIP, 45 SHO, 4.1 SHO/40, 1,956 K and 1.8 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 461 G, 402 GS, 2,926 IP, 2.70 ERA, 135 ERA+, 220 W, 115 W%+, 7.8 H/9, 1.22 WHIP, 43 SHO, 4.3 SHO/40, 1,794 K and 1.7 K/BB (exclude his 1965 season)
Peak Career: 212 G, 173 GS, 1,301.2 IP, 2.37 ERA, 156 ERA+, 92 W, 116 W%+, 7.5 H/9, 1.18 WHIP, 25 SHO, 5.8 SHO/40, 802 K and 1.8 K/BB (include his 1950, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1964, 1966 and 1967 seasons)
He’s a Hall of Fame starting pitcher that picked up the Cy Young Award during the 1961 season.
His career 133 ERA+ still remains as the 17th-best ERA+ in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.
He led the League in ERA twice during his career and by the time he was through he posted a 2.75 career ERA. His 2.75 ERA is the best from the decade.
In fact, every other starting pitcher in this top 10, including four HOFers, has higher than a 3.05 career ERA. Again, Ford posted a 2.75.
He also led the League in wins three times during his career and recorded over 235 by the time he was through.
He was just a winner, plain and simple. He led the League in W% three times during his career and he had over a .550 W% during each of his 14 seasons in the League. That’s incredible.
His career .690 W% still remains as the second best W% in the history of MLB for a starting pitcher.
Ford was his name, winning was his game (I can’t believe I just wrote that). Seriously though, he helped his Yankee teams to the World Series during 11 of his first 13 seasons with them. Wow.
They won the World Series championship during six of those 11 seasons. He posted good World Series numbers, too. In the combined 11 World Series, Ford recorded a 2.71 ERA during those World Series; just a tick better than his career regular season ERA, which was already the best on this list.
He certainly had plenty of moments of dominance during his career, leading the League in SHO twice and posting 45 SHO by the time he was through.
What a career; what a starting pitcher.
It’s why he still arguably remains one of the 10 best left-handed starting pitchers in the history of MLB.
1. Warren Spahn (1942-1965) Career Length Grade: A+
Raw Career: 750 G, 665 GS, 5,243.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 118 ERA+, 363 W, 110 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 63 SHO, 3.8 SHO/40, 2,583 K and 1.8 K/BB
Adjusted Career: 636 G, 577 GS, 4,604.2 IP, 2.94 ERA, 125 ERA+, 329 W, 112 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.18 WHIP, 58 SHO, 4.0 SHO/40, 2,261 K and 1.8 K/BB (exclude his 1960, 1964 and 1965 seasons)
Peak Career: 220 G, 204 GS, 1,636.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 140 ERA+, 126 W, 119 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.11 WHIP, 26 SHO, 5.1 SHO/40, 730 K and 1.9 K/BB (include his 1947, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1962 and 1963 seasons)
He’s in the Hall of Fame and picked up the Cy Young Award during the 1957 season.
He was just a dominant starting pitcher that led the League in wins seven times during his career, posting over 20 wins all seven times he led the League.
The fact of the matter is, he recorded at least 20 wins during 13 of the 17 seasons from 1947-1963, that’s incredible. He posted over 360 wins by the time his career was through.
Here are some other impressive League leading stats and facts:
He led the League in SHO four times during his career; and posted over 60 by the time he was through.
He led the League in Ks during four consecutive seasons from 1949-1952; and recorded almost 2,600 Ks by the time his career was through.
He led the League in WHIP four times during his career.
He led the League in ERA three times during his career.
He led the League in ERA+ twice during his career.
Easily the most impressive League leading stats of any starting pitcher on this list.
It’s why he arguably still remains as one of the 10 best left handed starting pitchers to ever grace the fields of Major League Baseball.
There you go: the 10 best starting pitchers from the 1950s.