MLB's Smokin' Aces: The Best No. 1 Pitcher in Each Team's History
Who is the best starting pitcher in each franchise's history?
Is the player from 80 years ago, or is he pitching today?
Is there a clear choice, or is there a choice to make between two or three pitchers?
The only rules I have as criteria are:
1. The pitcher must have pitched in a minimum of four seasons for the team (unless there wasn't a very good choice, then any pitcher qualifies).
2. Any starting pitcher in the franchise's history can be considered, from any city the team played in (for example, any pitcher that was on the Washington Senators that became the Minnesota Twins will be eligible for the Twins).
3. Only stats for that team can be considered, and
4. Any pitcher with ties to PEDs cannot be considered.
We'll tackle each franchise in alphabetical order.
Please feel free to suggest a different option. State your case well enough, and I just might change my mind!
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Randy Johnson's time in the desert is among the most dominant stretch any pitcher has ever had in history.
In his eight seasons for Arizona, Johnson won four consecutive Cy Young awards, finished second one other time and won the NL Pitching Triple Crown once.
During the four-year stretch of Cy Young awards, Johnson had strikeout totals of 364, 347, 373 and 334. His WHIPs were 1.020, 1.118, 1.009 and 1.031. His ERAs in those four years were 2.48, 2.64, 2.49 and 2.32.
His career stats for the Diamondbacks: 118-62, ERA of 2.83, WHIP of 1.068, ERA+ of 165, 4.99 K/BB ratio and 11.5 K/9. He also had 38 complete games and 14 shutouts.
While a case can be made for Curt Schilling or Brandon Webb, it wouldn't be close.
Randy's seasons in Arizona are basically why I ranked him as the fifth-greatest starting pitcher ever.
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The choice for Atlanta Braves best starting pitcher came down to Warren Spahn and Greg Maddux. In a close decision, I went with Greg Maddux.
Spahn's totals in wins, etc., for the Braves are more than Maddux's, but Maddux was a much more dominant pitcher for the Braves.
For the Braves, Maddux won three consecutive Cy Young Awards (actually, four in a row if you count his last year on the Cubs), finished in the Top Five for Cy Young voting four other times and won 10 Gold Gloves. He also finished in the Top Five for MVP voting twice.
Maddux' stats in 11 years for the Braves: 194-88, an ERA of 2.63, WHIP of 1.051, ERA+ of 163, 61 complete games and 21 shutouts.
Maddux also had one of the single-greatest seasons in baseball history in 1995 when he was 19-2 with an ERA of 1.63, a WHIP of 0.811 and an ERA+ of 262. His season in 1994 was just as good.
Maddux's time in Atlanta is why I ranked him as the third-greatest starting pitcher ever.
The decision came down to Jim Palmer or Mike Mussina, but it wasn't very close.
Palmer was one of the best pitchers in the 1970s. In the 70s, he won three Cy Youngs (two back-to-back) and finished in the Top Five in the voting four times (and once in the 80s). He also finished second and sixth in the MVP voting. He also won over 20 games eight times during the 1970s.
Palmer spent his entire 19-year career in Baltimore and finished with a record of 168-152, an ERA of 2.86, an ERA+ of 126 and a WHIP of 1.180 with 211 complete games and 53 shutouts.
Jim Palmer is easily the 15th-greatest starting pitcher of all time.
Boston Red Sox
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The decision came down to Cy Young or Pedro Martinez. Cy Young may have pitched longer for Boston and ended up with greater career totals in wins, strikeouts, etc., but Pedro's time in Boston is what earned him the ranking as the greatest starting pitcher ever.
In seven seasons in Boston, Pedro won two Cy Young awards (should have been three), finished second twice, third once and fourth once. He also finished second and fifth in MVP voting.
In 2000, Pedro had what is arguably the greatest single season ever for a pitcher. He had a record of 18-6, an ERA of 1.74, an ERA+ of 291 (greatest ever), a WHIP of 0.737, 284 strikeouts, an 8.88 K/BB ratio, 11.9 K/9, seven complete games and four shutouts.
Over his seven seasons in Boston, Pedro finished with a record of 117-37, an ERA of 2.52, an ERA+ of 191 and a WHIP of 0.978.
Chicago White Sox
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The decision came down to Mark Buerhle or Billy Pierce. Mark Buerhle may one day surpass Pierce, but for right now, he's just behind him in all stats except winning percentage.
In 13 seasons for the White Sox, Pierce finished with a record of 186-152, an ERA of 3.19, an ERA+ of 123, a WHIP of 1.261, 183 complete games and 35 shutouts. He also finished in the Top 10 for MVP voting twice (once in the Top Five) and finished third in the Cy Young voting once (the award didn't exist for majority of his career).
The decision came down to Mordecai Brown or Grover Alexander. In a close decision, I went with Mordecai Brown (Alexander's best seasons were in Philadelphia).
In 10 seasons for Chicago, Brown had a record of 188-86 with an ERA of 1.80, an ERA+ of 153, a WHIP of 0.998, 206 complete games and 48 shutouts.
The Cubs have had some of the all-time great pitchers in baseball history play for them (Maddux and Alexander), but they all had better years playing for other teams. Solely for the Cubs, no one was better than Three-Finger Brown.
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It was between Tom Seaver or Jose Rijo. Seaver's best years were behind him for the Mets, so I went with Rijo.
In 10 seasons for Cincinnati, Rijo had a record of 97-61 with an ERA of 2.83, an ERA+ of 139, a WHIP of 1.187 and finished in the Top Five for Cy Young voting twice.
One of today's young pitchers for the Reds may one day surpass Rijo as that franchise's greatest starting pitcher ever.
There was only once choice: Bob Feller.
Feller spent his entire career split between the Indians and serving in the Navy.
Feller has what I consider one of the best accomplishments ever for a starting pitcher. In Feller's first complete season back after serving in the Navy for four years or so, he struck out 348 batters. He took four years off and still managed to maintain his fastball and baffle major league hitters and had his highest-ever strikeout total for a single season.
In 18 seasons for the Indians, Feller had a record of 266-162 with an ERA of 3.25, an ERA+ of 122, a WHIP of 1.316, 279 complete games, 44 shutouts and 2,581 strikeouts.
I believe Feller is the 16th-greatest starting pitcher ever.
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Colorado has been death to pitchers, so it was not a surprise that it was hard to find a great starting pitcher from their past. Instead, I had to go with Ubaldo Jimenez, who has seemed to accomplish what no other Rockies starting pitcher could: success.
In his first five seasons, Jimenez has a record of 50-36, with an ERA of 3.52, an ERA+ of 133 and a WHIP of 1.269.
In 2010, Jimenez had the greatest single season for a Rockies starting pitcher. He went 19-8 with an ERA of 2.88, an ERA+ of 161 and a WHIP of 1.155. He finished third in Cy Young voting and came within one batter of a perfect game.
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When people think of Jack Morris, they think of his time spent in Minnesota and his World Series heroics there. However, he only played for the Twins for one season and he spent 14 years on the Tigers. Also, his one season in Minnesota wasn't his best individual season, that was in 1986 for the Tigers.
For the Tigers, Morris had a record of 198-150 with an ERA of 3.73, an ERA+ of 108, a WHIP of 1.266, 154 complete games and 24 shutouts. He also finished in the Top Five for the Cy Young award three times.
Justin Verlander may one day become the Tigers' greatest starting pitcher, but for now, that title belongs to Jack Morris.
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The Marlins' fire sales have caused their best pitchers to be traded away or lost in free agency. Pitchers like Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano were lost after just a couple of seasons. Dontrelle Willis' career started great, but faltered.
In just six seasons for the Marlins, Josh Johnson has a record of 45-22, an ERA of 3.10, an ERA+ of 138 and a WHIP of 1.242.
In 2010, Johnson finished third in the Cy Young voting with an ERA of 2.30, an ERA+ of 182 and a WHIP of 1.105.
Johnson is one of the best young pitchers in the game today and should be in the discussion for the Cy Young award more often than not for the rest of his career.
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It came down to Nolan Ryan or Roy Oswalt for the Astros. Ryan's best years were for other teams, while Oswalt was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball during his time in Houston.
In 10 seasons for the Astros, Oswalt had a record of 143-82, with an ERA of 3.24, an ERA+ of 133 and a WHIP of 1.196. He also finished in the Top Five for Cy Young voting five times.
Oswalt was the anchor of every single Astros pitching staff during his time spent there.
Kansas City Royals
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Zach Greinke may have had the greatest single season for a pitcher in Royals history in 2009, but Bret Saberhagen had the best pitching career for the Royals.
In eight seasons for the Royals, he had a record of 110-78 with an ERA of 3.21, an ERA+ of 128 and a WHIP of 1.134. He also won two Cy Young awards.
When you thought of the Royals of the 1980s, you thought of three players: George Brett, Dan Quisenberry and Bret Saberhagen.
Los Angeles Angels
I initially thought this was going to be Nolan Ryan. However, after looking deeper into Angels pitchers, I came across Dean Chance.
Even though Ryan pitched for two more seasons with the Angels than Chance, Chance was a better overall pitcher.
In six seasons for the Angels, he had a record of 74-66 with an ERA of 2.83, an ERA+ of 122 and a WHIP of 1.226.
He also had arguably the greatest single season for an Angels starting pitcher in 1964 when he won the Cy Young award with a record of 20-9 with an ERA of 1.65, an ERA+ of 198 and a WHIP of 1.006.
Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the easiest decisions in this list was picking Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers.
Koufax's career started slow and then it exploded. Koufax had one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history from 1963-1966 when he won three Cy Youngs, one MVP and three Triple Crowns.
In 12 seasons with the Dodgers, he had a record of 165-87 with an ERA of 2.76, an ERA+ of 131 and a WHIP of 1.106.
I believe Koufax is the fourth-greatest starting pitcher in baseball history.
The Brewers have had several pitchers have great individual seasons for them (CC Sabathia) and a young pitcher that just couldn't stay healthy (Ben Sheets).
The best starting pitcher in their career for the Brewers was Teddy Higuera.
Higuera's best season was 1986 when he won 20 games and finished second in Cy Young voting.
In his nine-year career, all with the Brewers, he had a record of 94-64 with an ERA of 3.61, an ERA+ of 117 and a WHIP of 1.236.
If the Brewers will succeed in the near future, they will have to find a starting pitcher to call their "ace," and if Greinke can get back to 2009 form, they may have just done that.
If you're looking at just the Twins, the choice would be Johan Santana or Bert Blyleven. However, when you remember that the Twins started off as the Washington Senators, you then have to pick the second-greatest starting pitcher in history, Walter Johnson.
In 21 seasons for the Washington Senators, Johnson had a record of 417-279 with an ERA of 2.17, an ERA+ of 147 and a WHIP of 1.061. He also pitched in 531 complete games and had 110 shutouts (an MLB record). He also won two MVPs, finished in the Top Five twice and won three Triple Crowns.
A quick look at "The Big Train's" Baseball Reference page will show you nothing but "black" stats, meaning he led the league in multiple stats multiple times, and you'll see why he was the greatest starting pitcher until Pedro Martinez started pitching.
New York Mets
Another franchise that was easy to pick. Nolan Ryan started with the Mets, but had better years elsewhere. Dwight Gooden started off his career very strong, but faltered.
The choice was easily my 10th-greatest starting pitcher ever, Tom Seaver.
In 12 seasons with the Mets, Seaver had a record of 198-124 with an ERA of 2.57, an ERA+ of 136 and a WHIP of 1.076. He also won a Rookie of the Year and three Cy Youngs.
Seaver was the best overall pitcher of the 1970s. Ryan and Carlton may have had more strikeouts, Palmer more wins, but Seaver was simply better in every other category.
New York Yankees
The Yankees have some of the best hitters the game's ever seen, but starting pitching is where they fall short in comparison to other franchises, except for Whitey Ford. Several pitchers have come close (Guidry and Pettitte) but the easy choice was Whitey.
In 16 seasons with the Yankees, he had a record of 236-106, an ERA of 2.75, an ERA+ of 133 and a WHIP of 1.215. He also won one Cy Young award and finished third twice.
Ford was the victim of being on a team that was the first to switch to a five-man rotation while everyone else was using a four-man rotation, so his games started in comparison was low. Also, the Yankees were the first team to rely on a bullpen for routinely finishing games.
I believe Ford is the 12th-greatest starting pitcher in baseball history.
Another franchise with an easy choice. You have to go back to the Athletics' time in Philadelphia to find the choice, Lefty Grove.
In nine seasons for the Athletics, he had a record of 195-79 with an ERA of 2.88, an ERA+ of 152 and a WHIP of 1.250. He also won one MVP, two Triple Crowns and routinely led the league in wins, ERA, strikeouts, ERA+ and WHIP.
I have Lefty ranked as the sixth-greatest starting pitcher ever.
This was one of the toughest decisions to make. The choice came down to Steve Carlton or Grover Alexander. Alexander's entire career was better than Carlton's, but when you look at just their time spent on the Phillies, it's close.
So, I decided to leave it up to the readers to decide if I made the right choice.
I went with Alexander by the slimmest of margins.
Carlton's stats on the Phillies: 15 seasons, 241-161, ERA of 3.09, ERA+ of 120, WHIP of 1.211, 185 complete games and 39 shutouts
Alexander's stats on the Phillies: Eight seasons, 190-91, ERA of 2.18, ERA+ of 140, WHIP of 1.075, 219 complete games and 61 shutouts
Both Carlton and Alexander's best years came while on the Phillies. Even though Carlton pitched longer on the Phillies, I believe Alexander was a better overall pitcher for them.
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The Pirates, like the Yankees, have a franchise full of great hitters, but when you look at starting pitchers, you come up short.
The best starting pitcher for the Pirates is Doug Drabek.
In six seasons for the Pirates, he had a record of 92-62, with an ERA of 3.02, an ERA+ of 118 and a WHIP of 1.148.
His best season was 1990 when he won the Cy Young award with a record of 22-6, an ERA of 2.76, ERA+ of 131 and a WHIP of 1.063.
San Diego Padres
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The Padres have had two pitchers worthy of being included in this. Kevin Brown is one, but he was only on the Padres for one season. So, my choice is Jake Peavy.
In eight seasons on the Padres, he had a record of 92-68, an ERA of 3.29, an ERA+ of 119 and a WHIP of 1.186. He also won the Cy Young award in 2007.
Injuries have since curtailed his career and he is currently pitching for the White Sox.
San Francisco Giants
One of the easiest decisions to make was picking Christy Mathewson for the Giants.
Initially drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, Mathewson was then traded for Amos Rusie in what is arguably the most one-sided trade in baseball history—Mathewson finished third all time in wins and third in shutouts.
In 17 years with the New York Giants, he had a record of 373-188, an ERA of 2.13, an ERA+ of 136 and a WHIP of 1.057. He also won two Triple Crowns.
I have Mathewson ranked as the eighth-greatest starting pitcher in history.
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The Mariners, like several other franchises already listed, are full of great hitters. However, they also have one of the best pitchers ever in Randy Johnson.
In 10 seasons for the Mariners, he had a record of 130-74 with an ERA of 3.42, an ERA+ of 128 and a WHIP of 1.250. He also won one Cy Young award and finished in the Top Three three other times.
Randy's best seasons came in Arizona, but his time in Seattle was pretty good, too. Johnson is one of only two pitchers to make this list for more than one team.
St. Louis Cardinals
One of the easiest decisions to make was picking Bob Gibson for the Cardinals.
In 17 seasons, all for the Cardinals, he had a record of 251-174, an ERA of 2.91, an ERA+ of 128 and a WHIP of 1.188.
I have Gibson ranked as the seventh-greatest starting pitcher ever. Gibson was the most intimidating pitcher ever, and if you had to chose a pitcher for a must-win World Series game, Gibson would be your choice.
In the World Series, Gibson started nine games and went 7-2 with an ERA of 1.89, a WHIP of 0.889, eight complete games and two shutouts.
Tampa Bay Rays
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In the Rays' short history, they've had one pitcher worthy of this list. That pitcher is David Price.
While Scott Kazmir was also in the discussion, he wasn't as good as Price has been.
In just three seasons so far, Price has a record of 29-13, an ERA of 3.31, an ERA+ of 124 and a WHIP of 1.239.
In 2010, Price finished second in the Cy Young voting with a 19-6 record, an ERA of 2.72, an ERA+ of 145 and a WHIP of 1.193.
If Price can continue to put up seasons like he did in 2010, he'll easily own all Rays pitching records.
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I'm sure you've been wondering when Nolan Ryan would make his appearance on this list.
Nolan's career was very long and spanned multiple teams, but in those franchises' histories, he was always out-shined by someone else (sometimes just barely).
In five seasons on the Rangers, he had a record of 51-39, an ERA of 3.23, an ERA+ of 116 and a WHIP of 1.126.
On the Rangers, he had his best ERA+ and best WHIP, which is even more impressive because it came at the end of his 27-year career.
Toronto Blue Jays
Easily the best pitcher in Jays history, Roy Halladay was a simple choice.
In 12 seasons for the Blue Jays, he had a record of 148-76, with an ERA of 3.43, an ERA+ of 134 and a WHIP of 1.198. He also won one Cy Youngs and finished in the Top Five four other times.
Halladay is the best pitcher in the game today. Last year, for the Phillies, he won the Cy Young with over 20 wins, an ERA of 2.44 and a WHIP of 1.041 and threw a perfect game in the regular season and the second ever no-hitter in the postseason.
To find the Nationals' best pitcher, you have to go back to their time in Montreal. Here you'll find where the greatest starting pitcher in history started to make his presence known to the baseball world (after spending two seasons on the Dodgers).
In only four short years in Montreal, Pedro Martinez had a record of 55-33 with an ERA of 3.06, an ERA+ of 139 and a WHIP of 1.089. He also won the first of four consecutive Cy Youngs in Montreal (the other three came while playing for Boston).
It's hard to imagine Pedro improving on the ERA, ERA+ and WHIP that he had in Montreal, but he did while in Boston, and that's why Pedro makes this list twice (one of two players) and is the greatest starting pitcher in history.
So, did I make the choices you would have made? If not, state your case in the comments and see if you can convince me to change my mind.