The 10 Best Left-Handed Pitchers of All Time
Who's the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time? Ask that question and you'll get a variety of answers.
Warren Spahn has the most wins, Randy Johnson the most strikeouts, and Lefty Grove the most ERA titles. Oh yeah, Sandy Koufax was pretty good too.
In my opinion, there's a clear-cut answer. All the pitchers on this list were very good. All are or should be in the Hall of Fame. But one guy stands alone as the greatest lefty, and possibly the greatest pitcher, who ever lived.
10. Whitey Ford (1950-67)
The Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford was a small left-hander who dispatched of batters with businesslike efficiency.
The best pitcher on the best team in baseball during the 1950s, he led the Yankees to six World Series titles over his career.
Like most of the pitchers on this list, Ford got off to a slow start. After a fantastic rookie season, he missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons in the army. His career was also essentially over by his mid-30s. But for the decade in between, he was one of baseball's greatest pitchers.
During the 1950s, no pitcher posted a lower ERA than Whitey Ford's 2.66 mark. While he won just 236 games over his career, he lost just 106, giving him the fourth highest winning percentage in Major League history. His 133 ERA+ is among the best in Major League history.
9. Hal Newhouser (1939-1955)
The best pitcher in baseball during the 1940s, Newhouser won the MVP award in 1944 and 1945 and finished second in 1946.
Often overlooked because his two MVP awards came when the majority of the league was off at war, Newhouser doesn't get the credit he deserves.
What most choose to ignore is that Hal's best season may have been 1946, a year after the war ended. He went 26-9 with a 1.94 ERA, leading the league in both categories and finishing second in the MVP voting to Ted Williams.
While he went just 17-17 in 1947, he led the league in complete games and finished fifth in ERA. He finished fourth in ERA in 1948 and for the fourth time led the league in wins, finishing ninth in MVP voting.
Had the Cy Young Award been around in the '40s, Newhouser most certainly would have won three, maybe four of the awards.
Newhouser wasn't elected into the Hall of Fame until 1992, 37 years after his final game. While his stats were certainly helped out by the lack of talent during the war, and his win total wasn't exactly stellar, it's impossible to deny that Newhouser is among the best left-handed pitchers in baseball history.
8. Rube Waddell (1897-1910)
Rube Waddell was a lot of things. He was an alcoholic who was easily distracted, likely suffered from mental disability, and, by his own account, lost track of how many women he'd married.
Of course, he also was one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League History.
Waddell's fastball was one of the best in baseball during the early 20th century. While he reached the Major Leagues at 20, he didn't establish himself for a few years.
In 1900, despite spending much of the season in semi-pro baseball due to conflicts with management, Waddell led the league in ERA at just 23 years old.
For the 1902 season, he signed with the Philadelphia A's. Starting that year, Waddell led the AL in strikeouts six years in a row. He won 20 games his first four seasons as an Athletic, and 1904 he set an American League record for strikeouts by a left-hander that still stands: 349.
The following season, Waddell won 27 games, struck out 287 batters, and posted a 1.48 ERA. All led the league, giving him baseball's Triple Crown.
Illness cut his career, and later his life, short in his early 30s. He finished with fewer than 200 wins but an ERA+ of 135.
7. Eddie Plank (1901-1917)
Waddell's teammate in Philadelphia, Plank didn't make the Majors until the age of 25 but still pitched 17 seasons in Major League ball.
While he was not the dominant force Waddell was, Plank was consistently among the best pitchers in the game.
Seven times Plank finished in the top 10 in the league in ERA. He won 20 or more games eight times and 18 or 19 games another three.
His career totals are very impressive. In just 17 years, Plank won 326 games, averaging 19 a season. He posted a career ERA of 2.25, 22nd best all-time, and was worth 290 adjusted pitching runs over his career, the 29th best total ever.
6. Carl Hubbell (1928-1943)
Despite pitching almost his entire career during the 1930s, Carl Hubbell finished with a career ERA under 3.00, something even the great Lefty Grove did not accomplish.
During the 1930s, Hubbell was to the NL what Grove was to the AL. As a member of the Giants, Hubbell led the league in ERA three times, wins three times, and WHIP six times.
From 1932 to 1936 he was incredible. His 2.40 ERA was 54 percent better than the league average. He won two MVP awards and made the first four All-Star teams in Major League history.
5. Steve Carlton (1965-1988)
I'm of the opinion that Steve Carlton is a little overrated.
He pitched a really long time, pitched a lot of innings, and won a lot of games. He had some great seasons and won five Cy Young awards. But there is a clear drop-off from No. 4 on my list to No. 5.
Carlton led the league in wins four times but also twice in losses. He led the league in ERA once, ERA+ twice, and strikeouts four times, but hung around toward the end of his career as a mediocre pitcher in order to win 300 games.
At his best, though, Steve Carlton was great. In his best season, 1972, he led the league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts to win the pitching Triple Crown. He also led the league in innings, complete games, and K/BB rate.
4. Sandy Koufax (1955-1966)
Koufax is considered by some the greatest pitcher who ever lived. It's tough to look at what he did during the mid-'60s and argue, but I will.
Koufax was far and away the best pitcher in baseball from 1962 to 1966, but his level of dominance is somewhat exaggerated. He played during the 1960s, and he played at Dodgers Stadium during the 1960s, so his strikeout and ERA numbers are inflated.
Still, once Koufax, who came up as a hard-throwing lefty with no control, "figured it out," he was unhittable. He led the league in ERA the last five years of his career and set a modern Major League record with 382 strikeouts.
He did all this pitching through excruciating pain, pain that would end his career after a 1966 season in which he won the Cy Young award and was just 30 years old. All in all, he won three Cy Youngs, an MVP, and three Triple Crowns.
3. Warren Spahn (1942-1965)
The best pitcher of the 1950s, Warren Spahn won a lot of games: 363 to be exact. Some think this makes him the greatest lefty in baseball history; I obviously disagree.
What you have to realize is that Spahn played for the Braves during the 1950s, a team that included Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, two of the five or 10 best players in baseball at the time. He also pitched for 21 seasons and started 665 games.
That's not to diminish how great he truly was. Spahn led the league in ERA three times, strikeouts four times, and won 20 games 13 times, leading the league on eight occasions.
The Cy Young award didn't come around until his late 30s, yet he managed to win one, finish second three times, and finish third once. Pretty incredible.
2. Randy Johnson (1988-2009)
The Big Unit probably had the best prime of any left-handed pitcher, and that includes Sandy Koufax. He might have had the greatest prime of all time.
Incredibly, this prime occurred in his late 30s, during one of the great offensive eras in baseballs.
Like Koufax, Randy lacked control early in his career and didn't really hit his stride until he had already been in the big leagues a few seasons. He made his first All-Star team in 1990 at 26 years old and his next in 1993 at 29. He won his first Cy Young award a couple of seasons later at 31.
As great as he was in Seattle, he reached another level in Arizona. After signing there in 1999, he proceeded to strike out over 300 batters four straight years, winning the Cy Young each season, and leading the league in ERA+ all four years.
At the end of the 2002 season, in which he won his fourth straight Cy Young, fifth overall, Johnson was 39 years old. He was arguably the best pitcher in baseball again two seasons later, finishing second in Cy Young voting to fellow 40-year-old Roger Clemens.
He finished his career last season with 303 wins, an incredible feat for a pitcher who didn't win 20 until he was 33 years old.
1. Lefty Grove (1925-1941)
In my mind, there should be no question as to who the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time was. The only question that really matters is, was Lefty Grove better than Walter Johnson? That's debatable.
In 17 seasons, Grove led the AL in ERA nine times, an inconceivable number. Nine times he was likely the best pitcher in baseball over a full season.
Grove wasn't pitching in any old decade either. He was pitching in the 1930s, the greatest offensive decade ever.
His career ERA+ of 148 is second only to Pedro Martinez. While he "only" won 300 games, compared to Spahn's 356, he lost just 140, and his .680 winning percentage ranks eighth all-time.
Grove also led the league in wins four times, WHIP five times, strikeouts the first seven years of his career, and K/BB rate eight times.