History Unblurred: The 10 Best Starting Pitchers from the 1990s

Michael WCorrespondent IIDecember 5, 2009

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 13:  Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens (R) explains why he recently met with his former nanny as his attorneys  Rusty Hardin (L) and Lanny Bruer stand behind him during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about allegations of steroid use by professional ball players on Capitol Hill February 13, 2008 in Washington, DC. The 'Mitchell Report' named several former and current major league baseball players, including Clemens, who are accused of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

I recently wrote an article on the 10 best Starting Pitchers from the first decade of the 2000s. I thought it would be a good idea to write the same type of article on the 10 best from the last decade of the 1900s.

A minimum of 200 games is required to be considered for this list.

There were 84 starting pitchers from the 1990s that reached at least 200 games. That is more than any other decade in the history of Major League Baseball, other than the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s.

If a player does not appear on this list of 84, then they either didn’t reach 200 games or I consider them a starting pitcher from the 1980s or 2000s. The 1980s will be covered in a separate article and I just wrote my 2000s article, not long ago. Starting pitchers will only be in one decade. For example, Roger Clemens will appear in my 1990s article.

So, he did not appear in my 2000s article and he will NOT appear in my 1980s article, which I will write later.

                                 

An Explanation of the Stats

The statistics that I include will be Games Pitched, Games Started, Innings Pitched, ERA, ERA+, W%+, H/9 (OBA), WHIP (OOB%), SHO/40 (per 40 Games Started) 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 Greg Maddux for example. Maddux 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 Maddux, I’d exclude his last six 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 how good the pitcher was at his best.

Note: W%+ is a statistic that I have invented. It takes the teams W% into account. It is very complicated as different weights go more or less on seasons depending on how many Games and Innings Pitched a Pitcher Pitched during a single season. Having said that, here’s the simple version.

If a starting pitcher has a career .500 W% during the 2000s and that pitcher pitched for the Yankees. Well, .500 is not good. But, if that pitcher pitched for the Royals, then .500 is good. This is the reasoning behind W%+. It is to W% what ERA is to ERA+. It’s not full proof, but either is ERA+, just another piece of the puzzle and far, far more important than raw W%. OK.

 

The 84 Starting Pitchers

Here are the 84 Starting Pitchers from the 1990s that reached at least 200 games (listed in alphabetical order): Jim Abbott, Wilson Alvarez, Brian Anderson, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Pedro Astacio, Steve Avery, Tim Belcher, Andy Benes, Jason Bere, Mike Bielecki, Brian Bohanon, Chris Bosio, Shawn Boskie, Kevin Brown, Tom Browning, John Burkett, Tom Candiotti, Frank Castillo, Mark Clark, Roger Clemens, David Cone, Jim Deshaies, Kelly Downs, Doug Drabek, Cal Eldred, Scott Erickson, Alex Fernandez, Sid Fernandez, Chuck Finley, Mark Gardner, Tom Glavine, Doc Gooden, Mark Gubicza, Kevin Gross, Juan Guzman, Joey Hamilton, Erik Hanson, Pete Harnisch, Pat Hentgen, Orel Hershiser, Teddy Higuera, Ken Hill, Sterling Hitchcock, Danny Jackson, Bobby Jones, Scott Kamieniecki, Jimmy Key, Darryl Kile, Mark Langston, Al Leiter, Greg Maddux, Ramon Martinez, Kirk McCaskill, Ben McDonald, Jack McDowell, Dave Mlicki, Charles Nagy, Jamie Navarro, Denny Neagle, Omar Olivares, Melido Perez, Robert Person, Mark Portugal, Pat Rapp, Rick Reed, Shane Reynolds, Jose Rijo, Kenny Rogers, Kirk Rueter, Bret Saberhagen, Curt Schilling, Pete Schourek, John Smiley, Pete Smith, Zane Smith, Todd Stottlemyre, Bill Swift, Kevin Tapani, Bob Tewksbury, Allen Watson, Bill Wegman, David Wells and Bobby Witt.

 

The Honorable Mentions

Here are the 10 Starting Pitchers that just missed the top 10 for various reasons. I will list them in alphabetical order: Kevin Appier, Tom Candiotti, Doug Drabek, Sid Fernandez, Chuck Finley, Doc Gooden, Jimmy Key, Mark Langston, Al Leiter and David Wells.

 

The Top 10

10. Kenny Rogers (1989-2008) Career Length Grade: A

Raw Career: 762 G, 474 GS, 3,302.2 IP, 4.27 ERA, 108 ERA+, 114 W%+, 9.4 H/9, 1.40 WHIP, 0.8 SHO/40 and 1.7 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 681 G, 402 GS, 2,863.1 IP, 4.04 ERA, 114 ERA+, 118 W%+, 9.2 H/9, 1.37 WHIP, 0.9 SHO/40 and 1.8 K/BB (exclude his 1997, 2001 and 2008 seasons)

Peak Career: 237 G, 98 GS, 813.1 IP, 3.26 ERA, 138 ERA+, 130 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.29 WHIP, 1.2 SHO/40 and 1.8 K/BB (include his 1989, 1990, 1995, 1998 and 2005 seasons)

Rogers had a large arsenal of pitches. He threw three or four different types of fastballs which all had very good movement. Sinking fastballs, cutters, two seam fastballs, etc...his fastball arsenal was impressive by itself. But he also threw an extremely good curveball and change-up. 

The 10th spot was tough to choose because there are some on the HM list that were really higher caliber pitchers than Rogers, but the difference is merely academic. Rogers gets the nod over these pitchers, in large part, because of his long career. He was extremely good and he pitched forever.

9. Jose Rijo (1984-2002) Career Length Grade: D

Raw Career: 376 G, 269 GS, 1,880 IP, 3.24 ERA, 121 ERA+, 112 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 0.6 SHO/40 and 2.4 K/BB

Peak Career: 216 G, 173 GS, 1,221 IP, 2.60 ERA, 150 ERA+, 125 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.15 WHIP, 0.7 SHO/40 and 2.9 K/BB (include his 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 2001 seasons)

Rijo has the shortest career of any pitcher in my top 10, as he’s a “D” in the length of career category. He was basically injured from the time he fell out of the nest and played injured until the end of his career. The injuries were the main reason his career was shorter than it should have been.

I can only begin to imagine the numbers he would have put up if he had been healthy. The fact is, he put up incredibly good numbers, hurt. Some don’t, but many forget, that Rijo was arguably the best starting pitcher in Major League Baseball during the first five seasons of the 1990s...period.  

He started pitching in MLB as a high-school aged 18 year old in 1984. He pitched OK, but really learned how to pitch during his first three or four seasons in the league.

In 1988, he was traded to Cincinnati and pitched the rest of his career for the Reds. He was a dominant pitcher by the time he reached the Reds and really remained so for the rest of his career, injury plagued as it was.

His numbers are great, his peak career and raw career. It’s why he’s in the top 10, even with his “D” length of career.

 

8. Orel Hershiser (1983-2000) Career Length Grade: C+

Raw Career: 510 G, 466 GS, 3,130.1 IP, 3.48 ERA, 112 ERA+, 108 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 2.1 SHO/40 and 2.0 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 434 G, 394 GS, 2,724.2 IP, 3.25 ERA, 118 ERA+, 113 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.23 WHIP, 2.5 SHO/40 and 2.2 K/BB (exclude his last 3 seasons)

Peak Career: 214 G, 182 GS, 1,385 IP, 2.63 ERA, 140 ERA+, 118 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.13 WHIP, 5.0 SHO/40 and 2.5 K/BB (include his 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1995 seasons)

Hershiser was a dominant pitcher during the first half of his career and a good pitcher during the second half of his career. Check out his peak, a 2.63 ERA and 5.0 SHO/40. Those are dominant numbers.

I enjoy watching Hershiser commentate games. He brings fun and intelligence to the booth, just like he brought those things to the pitching mound when he played. I’ve always thought there was a parallel to Hershiser and Buddy Holly, as Holly brought some intelligence and intellect to 1950s music. Hershiser was a thinking pitcher and made it a habit to outthink his opponents. He was the real deal.

He’s arguably one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of MLB that is not in the HOF.

7. Bret Saberhagen (1984-2001) Career Length Grade: C-

Raw Career: 399 G, 371 GS, 2,562.2 IP, 3.34 ERA, 126 ERA+, 116 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.14 WHIP, 1.7 SHO/40 and 3.6 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 396 G, 368 GS, 2,547.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 126 ERA+, 117 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.14 WHIP, 1.7 SHO/40 and 3.6 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 225 G, 224 GS, 1,561.2 IP, 3.01 ERA, 143 ERA+, 132 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.08 WHIP, 2.1 SHO/40 and 4.3 K/BB (include his 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999 seasons)

Saberhagen started pitching as a teenager for the Kansas City Royals in 1984, and he actually pitched well during his first season. He basically never let up, had a great career.

He was plagued by injuries during his career, but not before he won the Cy Young award two times. He was a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher with a “C-“ length of career, largely due to those injuries.

Even with his injury plagued short career, he’s arguably one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of MLB that is not in the HOF.

6. David Cone (1986-2003) Career Length Grade: C+

Raw Career: 450 G, 419 GS, 2,898.2 IP, 3.46 ERA, 120 ERA+, 110 W%+, 7.8 H/9, 1.26 WHIP, 2.1 SHO/40 and 2.4 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 390 G, 361 GS, 2,590 IP, 3.19 ERA, 129 ERA+, 115 W%+, 7.5 H/9, 1.21 WHIP, 2.4 SHO/40 and 2.5 K/BB (exclude his last 3 seasons)

Peak Career: 228 G, 220 GS, 1,596.1 IP, 3.01 ERA, 144 ERA+, 119 W%+, 7.2 H/9, 1.21 WHIP, 2.9 SHO/40 and 2.2 K/BB (include his 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999 seasons)

Cone had a great fastball, slider and splitter. His pitch arsenal and competitive will were unbelievable.

“David Cone had one of the best repertoires I’ve ever seen a pitcher possess. He had phenomenal natural stuff. He never looked like a classic power pitcher, he wasn’t a big guy, but he had a mid-90s fastball with about 8 different arm angles. He threw a Frisbee slider that started out behind right handed hitters, yet he could paint the outside corner with it.”---Tom Candiotti, Respected Starting Pitcher from the 1990s

Cone was finally eligible for the HOF last year. It’s amazing how few votes he got. He didn’t get the respect of the voters that he deserved. The fact is, he’s easily one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of MLB that is not in the HOF. This guy was really an Ace, really had Ace numbers, but didn’t get Ace respect by the voters.

5. Tom Glavine (1987-2008) Career Length Grade: A

Raw Career: 682 G, 682 GS, 4,413.1 IP, 3.54 ERA, 118 ERA+, 111 W%+, 8.8 H/9, 1.31 WHIP, 1.5 SHO/40 and 1.7 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 603 G, 603 GS, 3,965.4 IP, 3.51 ERA, 122 ERA+, 111 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.30 WHIP, 1.6 SHO/40 and 1.8 K/BB (exclude his 2003, 2007 and 2008 seasons)

Peak Career: 201 G, 201 GS, 1,374.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 147 ERA+, 108 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.21 WHIP, 1.6 SHO/40 and 2.1 K/BB (include his 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2002 seasons)

Glavine is easily one of the 20 best Left Handed starting pitchers in the history of MLB. With his long career, he’ll get into the HOF, probably first ballot. He won the Cy Young award two times.

He helped lead his Atlanta Braves to the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons between 1991 to 2002. That’s incredible. What a rotation, he had Greg Maddux and John Smoltz as teammates for most of those seasons.

He always looked good, but not great. He often appeared that way because he wasn’t usually overpowering. He didn’t appear to be great, but he was. Didn’t appear to be great until the game was over...and you lost 4-1. That’s what Glavine did. What a pitcher. 

4. Curt Schilling (1988-2007) Career Length Grade: B+

Raw Career: 569 G, 436 GS, 3,261 IP, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+, 118 W%+, 8.3 H/9, 1.14 WHIP, 1.8 SHO/40 and 4.4 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 537 G, 425 G, 3.167.2 IP, 3.39 ERA, 130 ERA+, 120 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 1.9 SHO/40 and 4.4 K/BB (exclude his 2005 season)

Peak Career: 203 G, 152 GS, 1,176.6 IP, 2.89 ERA, 151 ERA+, 129 W%+, 7.7 H/9, 1.05 WHIP, 2.4 SHO/40 and 5.4 K/BB (include his 1990, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons)

Schilling should get into the HOF when he’s eligible in 2013. They may make him wait until the second or third ballot. They would put Glavine in right now, if they could. I don’t have a problem with Glavine getting into the HOF.

That’s why Schilling should get into the HOF when he’s eligible, he was better than Glavine, even though Glavine had a longer career.

Schilling was a competitor who would make you beat him (which usually didn’t happen). He hardly ever walked anyone. In fact, his 4.4 K/BB is first all time in the history of MLB. You weren’t going to get on base against Schilling for free. Competitive wasn’t even the word for this guy, Smoltz is the only starting pitcher that is still pitching that has nearly the competitive will of Schilling.

3. Kevin Brown (1986-2005) Career Length Grade: B

Raw Career: 486 G, 476 GS, 3,256.1 IP, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+, 112 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.22 WHIP, 1.4 SHO/40 and 2.7 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 434 G, 431 GS, 2,987.1 IP, 3.13 ERA, 133 ERA+, 117 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 1.6 SHO/40 and 2.7 K/BB (exclude his 2002, 2004 and 2005 seasons)

Peak Career: 221 G, 219 GS, 1,536.1 IP, 2.51 ERA, 164 ERA+, 124 W%+, 7.6 H/9, 1.07 WHIP, 1.8 SHO/40 and 3.9 K/BB (include his 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003 seasons)

Brown was an interesting phenomenon as a starting pitcher. He was a good starting pitcher during the first half of his career, but not necessarily great. But the second half of his career, he was dominant and certainly and arguably the best starting pitcher in the League during the second half of his career, as he aged.

You just don’t see that much, a starting pitcher that was better as he got older. That’s what we got with Brown. He was good during the first half of his career, from 1986-1994. But from 1995-2004, those 10 seasons, the second half of his career, dominant. All of his peak is during the second half of his career, hardly ever see that.

Brown will get into the HOF. He’ll quietly go in. He wasn’t as famous as some of the greats of the era, like Schilling and Glavine, but he was better than either of them, even with the slightly longer career’s they had.

 He should be a first ballot HOFer, for sure, but they may make him wait until the second, third, or fourth ballot because of his lack of fame. But he’ll get in because of his dominant numbers.

Check out his peak, a 2.51 ERA, 164 ERA+, 124 W%+, 1.07 WHIP and 3.9 K/BB. That’s a heck of a peak and it’s, more or less, the entire second half of his career.   

2. Greg Maddux (1986-2008) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 744 G, 740 GS, 5,008.1 IP, 3.16 ERA, 132 ERA+, 110 W%+, 8.5 H/9, 1.14 WHIP, 1.9 SHO/40 and 3.4 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 539 G, 535 GS, 3,750.1 IP, 2.83 ERA, 146 ERA+, 113 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.12 WHIP, 2.5 SHO/40 and 3.3 K/BB (exclude his last 6 seasons)

Peak Career: 226 G, 226 GS, 1,675.1 IP, 2.15 ERA, 191 ERA+, 117 W%+, 7.3 H/9, 0.97 WHIP, 3.3 SHO/40 and 4.8 K/BB (include his 1992-1998 seasons)

He’s easily 1 of the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of MLB...period.

He’s a four-time Cy Young award winner.

His adjusted career numbers look like most good pitchers peak numbers and his peak numbers are off the charts. Check out his peak, a 2.15 ERA, 191 ERA+, 0.97 WHIP and 4.8 K/BB. They don’t get much better than that, and he did it during a bad decade for starting pitcher numbers, the 1990s. That makes it even more impressive.

The 1990s is the fourth worst decade of the 14 decades in the history of MLB for starting pitcher numbers. The worst, other than the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s, and 2000s. Again, putting up these numbers in a bad decade is unbelievable.

He was with the Atlanta Braves for 11 seasons, from 1993-2003. He helped lead them to the playoffs during 10 of those 11 seasons. That’s incredible. He had both Glavine and Smoltz in the rotation with him for many of those seasons, what a pitching staff.

Maddux always reminded me of a starting pitcher from the 1970s, like Tom Seaver, because the game wasn’t all about overpowering you. It was also about outthinking you, like Seaver did. Well, Maddux was like that, too.

When Maddux was at his peak, he had seasons that he’d go 19-2, 19-4. Many would watch him pitch and wonder how he lost those two games. What an amazing pitcher. Obviously, he’ll be a first ballot HOFer.

1. Roger Clemens (1984-2007) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 709 G, 707 GS, 4,916.2 IP, 3.12 ERA, 143 ERA+, 122 W%+, 7.7 H/9, 1.17 WHIP, 2.6 SHO/40 and 3.0 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 566 G, 565 GS, 4,018 IP, 2.91 ERA, 153 ERA+, 125 W%+, 7.4 H/9, 1.14 WHIP, 3.1 SHO/40 and 3.0 K/BB (exclude his 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2007 seasons)

Peak Career: 205 G, 205 GS, 1,469 IP, 2.27 ERA, 195 ERA+, 135 W%+, 6.9 H/9, 1.07 WHIP, 3.1 SHO/40 and 3.3 K/BB (include his 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2006 seasons)

Clemens is the only seven-time Cy Young award winner in the history of MLB and his numbers are great and his peak is off the charts, even better than Maddux peak.

It’s why Clemens is one of the 10 best starting pitchers in the history of MLB and it’s why he’ll be in the HOF.

The fact that he was better than Maddux doesn’t really bother me.

But the possible reasons as to why he was better...that’s what bothers me.

There you go. The 10 best starting pitchers from the 1990s.

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