The 10 Best Power-Finesse Combo Pitchers Ever

Collin BerglundCorrespondent IIIJanuary 25, 2011

The 10 Best Power-Finesse Combo Pitchers Ever

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    Good pitchers can throw a baseball through the bats of even the greatest hitters.  Great pitchers have the ability to paint corners at any speed with any pitch.  Not every pitcher is like Nolan Ryan and can walk 150 batters per season and get away with it.  Pitchers who can compile lofty strikeout totals while still limiting free passes have power and finesse.  These ten pitchers are the greatest power/finesse pitchers in the history of the game:

#10: Bret Saberhagen

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    Although the end of his career was marred by injuries, Saberhagen was the ace of the 1985 World Champion Kansas City Royals, winning the World Series MVP.  People forget Saberhagen's greatness after numerous stints on the DL, but Saberhagen had something of a last hurrah in the strike-shortened 1994 season—he set a ridiculous mark of 11 K/BB.  That stands as the all-time record for BB/K in a season.

#9: Cliff Lee

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    Lee does not have the body of work of other pitchers on this list, but gets by based on his 2010 season alone.  Lee struck out more than ten batters for each one he walked.  With the exception of Saberhagen’s shortened 1994 season, Lee has the highest single season K/BB ratio.  These two seasons are made even more remarkable because old-timers like “Grasshopper” Jim Whitney played in an era when the ball count to get a walk was often higher than four, and even then, he had a ratio of “only” 10 BB/K.

#8: Juan Marichal

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    Despite the high number of hit batsmen that could result from Marichal’s fiery temper, he actually had very good control for a pitcher who routinely struck out 200 batters per year. He had the fewest BB/9 in the league four times in his career while routinely ending up among the top-10 in strikeouts.  One would think Marichal’s high leg kick and full-bodied windup  would make it difficult to have his pinpoint control, but he managed to have one of the all-time great power-finesse careers.

#7: Dennis Eckersley

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    Relievers were not included on this list, despite having some of the best K/BB ratios of any pitchers, because they did not have enough innings to be comparable.  “Eck,” however, proved as a starting pitcher that his combination of control and power was unmatched through the league.  He led the league in K/BB three times in his career as a starter and never walked more than 90 batters in a season.

#6: Johan Santana

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    Santana became one of the best pitchers in the league in spite of a fastball that rarely hit the mid-90s.  He did it with a Bugs Bunny change-up and unbelievable location.  Like many young pitchers, Santana struggled with his control early in his career.  In 2002, he led the league in wild pitches before his dominant 2004-2008 stretch where he struck out more than 200 batters each year while never walking more than 63.

#5: Randy Johnson

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    Johnson’s early-career control problems were legendary.  The Big Unit led the league in walks each season between 1990 and 1992 walking up to 152 batters in a single season.  From 1993 on, however, Johnson began his run of dominance leading the league in strikeouts eight more times, never again walking more than 100 hitters.  Early in Johnson’s career, hitters were scared because he was so wild and could hit them on any given pitch.  In the prime of his career, hitters were afraid of Johnson’s frightening accuracy brushing them back.

#4: Curt Schilling

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    The co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series are both among the top-five power/finesse combo pitchers in the history of the game.  Schilling gets the edge because of his consistency throughout his career and his modern era career record K/BB ratio of 4.38.  Schilling won three World Series during his career and was even a closer for a brief part.

#3: Greg Maddux

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    Maddux anchored one of the greatest rotations in the game alongside Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz.  The list of Maddux’s records is enormous, including the most Gold Gloves and second-most wins of the live-ball era.  Maddux relied almost entirely on his ability to paint any corner.  He had low 90s velocity on his good days and a frustratingly accurate arm even on his bad days. 

#2: Christy Mathewson

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    One of the first five members of the Hall of Fame, “Big Six” demonstrated absolute command of a blazing fastball and sharp screwball.  Mathewson led the league in strikeouts five times in the early 1900s and walked only 844 hitters in nearly 5000 innings of work.  Mathewson’s life was cut short during an accidental gassing in a training exercise during World War I, but his legacy would dominate the early pages of baseball lore. 

#1: Pedro Martinez

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    Martinez’s stretch between 1997 and 2003 was the single greatest run of any pitcher in history.  Pitching against steroid-aided hitters, Martinez led the league in ERA five times, twice breaking 2.00.  While Pedro could light up a radar gun, it was his change-up that made him the most feared pitcher of the league.  Following up a 98 mph fastball in on the hands with an 86 mph changeup barely painting the outside corner allows a pitcher to strike out 313 while only walking 37.  Martinez is not only the best power/finesse pitcher of all time, but separate arguments can be made that Martinez was the best power pitcher and best finesse pitcher—ever.