It might seem impossible to select the greatest pitcher of each decade from the 1950s-1990s. But that shouldn't prevent one from doing it because it really is quite simple.
A problem is that the best seasons of some of the great pitchers began near the middle of a decade and ended in the middle of the following decade.
Based upon ERA, ERA+, WHIP, winning percentage and opinions based on the observations of those who saw them pitch, one pitcher from each decade will be selected as the greatest of his decade.
Starting with the 1950s, Warren Spahn is the choice. Robin Roberts, Early Wynn and Whitey Ford challenge, but Spahn was clearly the best of the 1950s.
Spahn won 202 games, had a 2.92 ERA, a 126 ERA+, a 1.195 WHIP and a .607 winning percentage. He won at least 20 games eight times during the 1950s.
Many consider Spahn to have been the greatest left-hander of all time. The choice here would be Lefty Grove.
A mature Sandy Koufax
The 1960s saw Sandy Koufax reach the potential predicted for him, Juan Marichal become the greatest pitcher in history to never win a Cy Young Award since its inception in 1956, Bob Gibson produce one of the greatest seasons in history in 1968 and the start of the careers of Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter and Ferguson Jenkins.
Among those mentioned above, only Gibson pitched the entire decade, but the choice is Sandy Koufax, based upon his seasons from 1962-66.
During those five seasons, he had an incredible 1.95 ERA, a 167 ERA+, a 0.926 WHIP and a .766 winning percentage. He won at least 20 games three times pitching for an offensively challenged team. Koufax won the Cy Young Award from 1963-66.
An out of shape Tom Seaver
The 1970s saw Steve Carlton have the greatest seasons of his career, Jim Palmer emerge into an all-time great, Catfish Hunter become a dominant force, Ferguson Jenkins win at least 20 games four times, Gaylord Perry drive teams wild with accusations of cheating and two pitchers that New York's most beloved team, the New York Mets, traded—Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver—dominate hitters.
It is a contest between Carlton, Ryan and Seaver. The biased view here is Seaver, which the numbers bear out.
Seaver won 178 games, as did Carlton. Seaver had a 2.61 ERA, while both Carlton and Ryan had ERAs above three.
Tom Terrific had a 138 ERA+ compared to Carlton's 118 and Ryan's 113. Seaver's WHIP was 1.073 and he had a winning percentage of .638.
Dwight Gooden in 1998 as a Cleveland Indian
The pitchers of the 1980s were not nearly as great as those of the 1950s, 1960 or 1970s despite the fact that Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens made their major league debuts during the decade. It is unlikely that either will be voted into the Hall of Fame, but not for the same reasons.
Gooden might have become the greatest pitcher of all time. Until it was alleged that Clemens helped his effectiveness with performance-enhancing substances, he was a certain Hall of Famer.
A case could be made that Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980s, but both Gooden and Clemens were better, despite the fact that neither was around until 1984.
Gooden's ERA during the 1980s was 2.64 compared to Clemens' 3.06. His ERA+ was 132 compared to Clemens' 139.
Gooden had a better WHIP (1.109 to 1.136). Gooden was 100-36 for a .719 winning percentage compared to Clemens' 95-45 for .679 percentage.
Despite his substance abuse problems, Gooden was the best pitcher of the 1980s.
Greg Maddux with the Chicago Cubs
Great pitchers of the 1990s included Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, David Cone and the top pitcher of the decade, Greg Maddux.
Pedro and Johnson rank among the greatest of all time, but they pitched during the Greg Maddux era.
Maddux had a 2.54 ERA, a 162 ERA+, a WHIP of 1.055 and a .742 winning percentage. He pitched in an era of great turmoil which included a strike that shortened both the 1994 and 1995 seasons and the allegations that many players were using performance-enhancing substances.
As great as Johnson, Pedro and Clemens were, Maddux was better.