MLB Power Rankings: The Modern Era's 25 Best Pitching Workhorses
Can you feel that?
After months of waiting through the cold winter months and listening to nothing but trade rumors and free agent signings, the regular season is finally upon us. With some of today's greatest starting pitchers taking the mound for the first game of their respective team's season on Opening Day, you hear some impressive stats surrounding some of these guys.
Roy Halladay, for example, is set to make his 11th consecutive Opening Day start. The guy is more than arguably the game's best pitcher—he's also a workhorse.
What is a "workhorse," you ask? Well that's simple. It's one of those baseball terms that get tossed around loosely and has come to mean many things over the years. Generally, when a person talks about a "workhorse," they're talking about a durable starting pitcher with a rubber arm and the ability to rack up innings like it's nobody's business.
With that in mind, I wanted to come up with a list of some of the greatest "workhorses" to ever play the game, but with any list covering a broad term and a bevy of stats, creating this type of list isn't simple. For example, the word "workhorse" has described relievers that can make back-to-back appearances with frequency, but ranking them among the game's elite starting pitchers just isn't fair.
In composing the list, I had to debate a few slots and positions with myself. When you rank the greatest workhorses of all time, is it more important that these pitchers accumulated innings or had above-average success? In the end, I put a lot of emphasis on innings pitched—in both a single season and over the course of a career—and used success as more of a "tie-breaker."
Now, let's set up some parameters for a pitcher's eligibility in this ranking. In the title, you'll noticed that I've limited the pitchers to the "modern era." That means that I used the year 1900 as a sharp cut-off date for the ranking. If a pitcher threw innings before 1900, he wasn't eligible. In order to provide a sense of accomplishment for those on the list, I also cut off eligibility at 3,000 career innings pitched.
Of course, that leaves us with history's elite pitchers. It's hard to consider this list a "ranking," per se, as all of these men have reserved their spot in baseball history. With that in mind, consider these 25 men as the greatest "innings eaters" to have ever played the game.
25.) Don Drysdale
Career Innings Pitched: 3,432
What better way to kick things off than with one of the greatest starting pitchers ever, Don Drysdale?
From 1956-1959, Drysdale was among the most used pitchers in baseball, with ease. Over the course of his career, he completed 12 seasons in which he threw more than 200 innings, including four seasons where he pushed himself to his absolute limits, throwing more than 300 innings.
By the time he was finished in 1959, Drysdale had collected 209 wins and finished fifth in the National League's MVP voting twice. In what was probably one of the best single-season pitching performances in the history of the Dodgers' organization, Drysdale also took home the NL Cy Young award in 1962, after going 25-9.
24.) Bert Blyleven
Career Innings Pitched: 4,970
Following Drysdale is a man who was finally given his due in 2011, when he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his final year of eligibility. That man was, of course, one of the greatest athletes to ever represent the Netherlands, Bert Blyleven.
In all honesty, I was kind of surprised to see Blyleven's name come up so often in the searches I made, and even more surprised that he was able to outlast some of baseball's greatest pitchers on my list. At the same time, it isn't hard to imagine why it took so long for baseball writers to induct him into the Hall of Fame, but I'm glad they got it right.
Blyleven, who spent his career with the Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and California Angels, was one of the best under the radar pitchers of his day. En route to collecting an impressive 287 wins, he threw an incredible 15 seasons with more than 200 innings pitched, including one with more than 300. From 1974 to his last game in 1992, he generated 82.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs.com.
23.) John Smoltz
Career Innings Pitched: 3,473
At No. 23, I think now is a good time to introduce the first of several of the Atlanta Braves' pitching staff throughout the 1990's. While the other two may have accomplished more over the course of their careers, John Smoltz was certainly no slouch in his day.
Despite bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, Smoltz made his name as a starting pitcher. In 10 different seasons he logged more than 200 innings, and over the course of his career, he supplied 82.5 WAR and completed 53 games.
Subtract an injury-riddled 2009 from his resume and Smoltz is a lifelong Brave, and that's how fans will remember him. He finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting four times and took the award home in 1996. He was no slouch at the plate either—he won the Silver Slugger the following year.
22.) Juan Marichal
Career Innings Pitched: 3,507.1
Juan Marichal's career was filled with controversy, and that won't be the last time you'll hear me say that about a player on this list. However, I'm a firm believer (especially in this case) of the results speaking for themselves, so I won't be excluding anyone from my list based on controversy.
That said, I don't think there is any doubt that Marichal is among the greatest pitchers of all time. The former San Francisco Giant, Boston Red Sox and eventually, Los Angeles Dodger was one of the most notable "innings eaters" to ever play the game. He threw 200 innings in a single season 11 times, including three seasons in which he logged more than 300 innings.
He finished an outstanding career with an outlandish 244 complete games. Surprisingly, or not-surprisingly, he never won a major award for his accomplishments in Major League Baseball.
21.) Mike Mussina
Career Innings Pitched: 3,562.2
A few years from now, Mike Mussina's name will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, and by most standards (including three of four or Baseball Reference's Hall of Fame trackers), he'll get into Cooperstown without much of a problem. Originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, "Moose" made his name with the legendary New York Yankees' of the 2000's.
In 18 seasons with the Yanks' and O's, Mussina recorded 270 wins. 11 of those seasons were lengthy, with more than 200 innings pitched, and over the course of his career, the right-hander racked up 85.6 WAR to go along with a career 123 ERA+.
Though he never won a Cy Young award, he was among the top five vote-getters five times, and made a name for himself as one of the league's best defensive pitchers, winning seven Gold Gloves.
20.) Bob Feller
Career Innings Pitched: 3,827
During the offseason, baseball lost one of it's all-time greats, both on and off the field, in Bob Feller.
Tales of his humility have been told for years, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Feller was the first Major League Baseball player to set his playing career aside to enlist in the United States military. Truly, one of baseball's all-time greatest people.
On the field, "Rapid Robert" was among the game's elite pitchers. He featured a rubber arm to match his great personality, pitching 10 seasons with more than 200 innings, including three in which he hurled an incredible 300 innings. The lifelong Cleveland Indian finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times, despite never taking home one of the league's top awards.
Feller was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, capping off one of the game's greatest careers, in which he collected 266 wins in 18 big league seasons.
19.) Jim Palmer
Career Innings Pitched: 3,948
For a guy that pitched his last game on May 12, 1984, Jim Palmer's name has come up quite a bit this offseason thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies' signing of Cliff Lee. At first glance, one of the easiest comparisons of today's Phillies' rotation is to that of the 1971 Baltimore Orioles', the last rotation to feature four 20-game winners in a single season, of which Palmer was arguably the best.
There should be no doubt about it—during his 19-year career, Palmer was an absolute horse. The man threw more than 300 innings four times in his career, and seven more with more than 200 innings pitched. Those innings helped lead him to 266 career wins and a spot in Cooperstown.
The lifelong Oriole was always well represented in the awards voting following the season. He finished within the top five of the American League Cy Young voting eight times, taking home the award three times.
18.) Bob Gibson
Career Innings Pitched: 3,884.1
Continuing with some of the greatest pitchers to have ever played the game, let's take a look at one of the all-time greats to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Gibson.
After a few seasons of inconsistency, Gibson really turned it on following the 1961 season. During the right-hander's illustrious 17-year career, he threw more than 200 innings in a single season 12 times, including two seasons where he threw more than 300 innings.
In 1968, "Gibby" had one of the greatest single seasons in baseball, when he posted a record of 22-9 with an ERA of just 1.12 for the Cardinals, en route to a National League pennant. When all was said and done, the sure-fire Hall of Famer had racked up 251 career wins and won the National League Cy Young award twice, including that 1968 season, when he also won the MVP award.
17.) Carl Hubbell
Career Innings Pitched: 3,590.1
For some reason that I can not explain, Carl Hubbell is one of the most interesting guys to have ever played the game (in my mind).
Maybe it's the name, which is likely, or maybe it's the fact that from 1931-1938, he was easily one of the game's best pitchers, but I just can't quite put my finger on it. One thing is certain though, the guy was an absolute work horse.
Though he spent just 16 seasons in the major leagues, which seems shorter than it actually is thanks to some of the other guys on this list, he made every one count. Ten of those 16 seasons were long ones—more than 200 innings pitched—and four of those were even longer, when Hubbell threw more than 300 innings.
He spent his entire career with the New York Giants, elected to the All-Star Game nine times. He also finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times, winning the award twice.
16.) Don Sutton
Career Innings Pitched: 5,282.1
From one of the greatest names in the history of the game in Carl Hubbell to one of the greatest nicknames in the history of the game. I couldn't have assembled this list without including one of the game's all-time leaders in innings pitched, Don "Black and Decker" Sutton.
While he pitched a majority of his career and will be remembered for his stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers, I always find it interesting to see the number of teams that some of these great pitchers have played for. Sutton also spent time with the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics and California Angels.
Surprisingly enough, Sutton never won a Cy Young, but he dominated the game in a different way—with consistency and longevity. His career spanned 23 seasons, an incredible 20 of which were seasons where he threw more than 200 innings pitched. When all was said and done, Sutton had joined an elite club among baseball pitchers, winning 324 games.
15.) Gaylord Perry
Career Innings Pitched: 5,350
Continuing the streak of guys with interesting names, a ton of innings pitched and an interesting list of teams played for, I give to you, Gaylord Perry.
Looking at sub-heading on this slide, it's almost crazy to imagine one of today's pitchers throwing more than 5,000 innings. Taking that a step further, it's even crazier to imagine those innings being quality innings. But Perry was a special pitcher and by the time all was said and done, he'd finished a special career.
Please brace yourself for these numbers. Perry pitched for 22 seasons in the major leagues, which was a feat in and of itself, but 17 of those seasons were seasons with more than 200 innings pitched, six of which were seasons with more than 300 innings!
In Perry's case, that massive amount of innings translated into wins. Along with Sutton, he is a member of baseball's exclusive 300-win club, having collected 314 for his career.
14.) Phil Niekro
Career Innings Pitched: 5,404
Phil Niekro was the type of pitcher that seemed like he could throw forever. His easy style and out pitch, the knuckle ball, made him practically unhittable at times. Using the pitch that earned him the name "Knucksie" to his advantage, Niekro tore through Major League Baseball. Former All-Star Bobby Murcer once said this about Niekro: "Trying to hit him is like trying to eat Jell-O with chopsticks."
Niekro pitched in the major leagues for 24 seasons, dazzling his way through a great career which would eventually lead to his induction in the Hall of Fame. He threw more than 200 innings in a single season a ridiculous 19 times—four of which were seasons with more than 300 innings pitched.
Like some of the other guys on this list, I find it amazing that a guy who was good enough to win 300 games never won a Cy Young award, but that was just the case for Niekro. He finished his career with 318 wins, and the closest he ever came to capturing the award was second, in 1969 with the Atlanta Braves.
13.) Tom Glavine
Career Innings Pitched: 4,413.1
Baseball works in funny ways.
Taking a look at Tom Glavine's career numbers, there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time, and the second starter of that great Atlanta Braves' staff of the 1990's to make this list. However, if I told you that he once led the league in losses with 17 in his sophomore season in 1988, would you believe me?
You probably wouldn't, but that's the truth and probably the only blemish on his career resume. In 22 seasons with the Braves and New York Mets, Glavine threw more than 200 innings in a season 14 times, and collected 68.5 WAR. Though chasing the milestone seemed like a struggle at times, Glavine finished his career with 305 wins.
The 10-time All Star won the National League Cy Young award twice, and even took home an impressive four Silver Slugger awards.
12.) Steve Carlton
Career Innings Pitched: 5,217.2
Having grown up in Philadelphia as a Phillies fan, I may be a bit biased towards this man, but if you asked me who the greatest left-handed starter in the history of the game was, I'd probably answer Steve Carlton without much hesitation. But that's a debate for a different slide-show. One thing that isn't up for debate—Carlton was a work horse.
If having the nickname "Lefty" isn't proof enough that he was the greatest left-hander of all time (OK, that was the last plug, I promise), the fact that he logged more than 5,200 innings over his 24-year career with the Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins, 16 of which were seasons with more than 200 innings pitched, is.
The first ballot Hall of Famer won 329 games over the course of his career and won the Cy Young award a ridiculous four times, with two more top five finishes.
11.) Nolan Ryan
Career Innings Pitched: 5,386
I'm not sure if the New York Mets will ever finish kicking themselves over giving up on Nolan Ryan to soon.
Not only did the man go on to win 300 games over the course of an illustrious 27-season career, but he's also the all time leader in strikeouts. Of course, when everything was said and done on the field, he cruised into the Hall of Fame, and in his first season as an executive with the Texas Rangers, the team appears in it's first World Series!
Here's another one of those guys who won more than 300 games and never captured the Cy Young award, interestingly enough. All the man did was lead the league in strikeouts an incredible 11 times, throw more than 200 innings in 14 seasons, including two of which were seasons with more than 300 innings pitched, and throw a ridiculous seven career no-hitters. No respect, I tell you.
10.) Warren Spahn
Career Innings Pitched: 5,243.2
If there is any one guy that I feel guilty about ranking so "low," it's probably Warren Spahn. That said, I think it's a justified placement and there are nine incredible pitchers in front of him. So in the long run, I probably don't feel that guilty at all...To the numbers!
For his day and age, Spahn was actually a strikeout machine. He led the league in strikeouts for four consecutive seasons. More importantly for the sake of this list, there weren't many guys who could throw as many innings as Spahn could. He finished his career with an absurd 382 complete games. He spent 21 seasons in Major League Baseball. 17 of those seasons were seasons with at least 200 innings pitched, and two of those were seasons with more than 300 innings pitched.
When all was said and done, Spahn had racked up 363 wins, winning the Cy Young award once. When it came time to compose the actual rankings, however, it seemed to me as though some of Spahn's traditional baseball stats, like ERA, were deceiving. In the long run, I felt as though while he was a work horse among work horses, there were a few that were better.
9.) Eddie Plank
Career Innings Pitched: 4,495.2
When you hear people talk about the greatest pitchers of all-time and the bevy of discussions that usually follow, Eddie Plank is a a guy that often goes unmentioned, and I'm willing to bet that it's because he played for the Athletics when they were in Philadelphia and two teams from St. Louis, neither of which were the Cardinals (he played for the Terriers and Browns).
That said, he shall not go unnoticed on this list.
"Gettysburg Eddie" was the definition of a work horse. Over the course of his career, he completed a ridiculous 410 games. Over his 17-year career, he threw more than 200 innings in a single season 15 times, including five seasons in which he threw more than 300 career innings.
He never won any major awards in his career, but that's probably because they didn't exist yet. That said, he did win 326 games in his career, 13th all-time.
8.) Tom Seaver
Career Innings Pitched: 4,783
Tom Seaver is one of my favorite pitchers of all-time, personally, but it doesn't take any bias to place him this high on this type of list. In his day, he was one of those "once in a lifetime" pitchers that force you to stop and think, "Am I seeing something incredible here?" For those that were able to witness him in the flesh, I envy you. Now, on to why he's here.
"Tom Terrific" broke onto the scene in 1967 and began to impress right away, winning the Rookie of the Year award. The 19 seasons that followed would shape one of the greatest careers in the history of baseball. 16 times, Seaver would throw more than 200 innings in a single season. When all was said and done, he had registered 311 career wins.
Though he'll be remembered for his stints with the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds, he also pitched for the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox in his career, and won the Cy Young award three times.
7.) Randy Johnson
Career Innings Pitched: 4,135.1
Thinking back, was there ever a more menacing presence on the mound than Randy Johnson? Standing at almost seven feet tall and packing a fastball that could knock your block off before you could blink, was there ever a guy hitters wanted to face less than Johnson? By the end of his career, he may not have pitched like one of the greatest of all time, but I assure you, he was.
Johnson is one of those guys who played for a surprising number of teams. He started his career with the Montreal Expos, followed by the Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, back to the D'backs and finally, the San Francisco Giants.
Over his 22-year career, Johnson hurled more than 200 innings 14 times, blowing hitters away as he did so. He threw a perfect game and a no-hitter for two of his 303 career wins. He also won the Cy Young award an astonishing five times.
6.) Greg Maddux
Career Innings Pitched: 5,008.1
This slide should give you an appreciation of just how good the Atlanta Braves were in the 1990s and early 2000s. With Tom Glavine and John Smoltz on past slides, Greg Maddux rounds out the members of that staff on this list at number six. but let's be honest. Every slide from here on out might as well be a number one.
"The Professor" spent 23 seasons in Major League Baseball with four clubs—the Braves, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. An incredible 18 of those seasons were years with more than 200 innings thrown, and over the course of his career, he compiled an impressive 120.6 WAR.
The left-handed star was easily the craftiest pitcher in the history of the game, dazzling hitters with impeccable control. He finished his career with 355 wins—eighth all time. He won the National League Cy Young award four times, finishing in the top five in the voting another five times, and he wasn't just good throwing the ball. Maddux is widely considered the best defensive pitcher in the history of the game with an astonishing 18 Gold Gloves to his name.
5.) Lefty Grove
Career Innings Pitched: 3,940.2
Ah, but did you know that Steve Carlton wasn't the only Hall of Fame pitcher to go by the nickname of "Lefty?" In fact, Robert Grove's left-handedness had become so popular in his day and age that he all but abandoned his birth name of Robert, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as "Lefty" Grove.
In a 17-year career that saw him dress for the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox, Grove was absolutely dominant. 11 of those 17 seasons were years in which he threw more than 200 innings, and he is the owner of a career 148 ERA+.
His seven wins with the Red Sox in 1941 were enough to push him to exactly 300 wins for his career, and his 1931 season (31-4, 2.06 ERA) was captivating enough to win him the MVP award. Oh, and there's the fact that about 65 percent of his career starts were complete games.
4.) Christy Mathewson
Career Innings Pitched: 4,788.2
Christy Mathewson is one of the most recognizable names in the history of baseball, and luckily enough, he just made the 1900 cut-off that I established, making his major league debut on July 17, 1900. It would have been a crime not to include Mathewson on a list like this, because of the sheer fact that he was the definition of a work horse, even in his day.
Outside of a single start for the Cincinnati Reds in 1916, "Big Six" played his entire 17-year career with the New York Giants. In 14 of those seasons, he logged more than 200 innings pitched, and an incredible 11 of those seasons were years in which he threw more than 300 innings.
He never won any major awards in his career, but that doesn't matter. Talk about a "go-to-guy," 435 of his 552 career starts were complete games.
3.) Grover Alexander
Career Innings Pitched: 5,190
For some reason, it seems like Pete Alexander (who's birth name was, of course, Grover Cleveland Alexander) never gets the respect that he deserves.
Maybe it's just me, but when I peruse lists of the greatest pitchers of all time, or the greatest this/that, Alexander seems to be out of place and forgotten. I can't imagine why, as the man is third all time in career wins, and the only two men ahead of him—Cy Young and Walter Johnson—are without a doubt, the greatest of all time.
Then again, that whole opening speech means very little, I suppose, because I'm ranking him as the third best work horse of all time.
"Old Pete" pitched 20 seasons in Major League Baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. Of those 20 seasons, 16 were years in which he threw more than 200 innings pitched, but that only tells half the story. Of those 16 seasons, nine were 300 inning seasons, a few of which were much closer to 400.
He lead the league in strikeouts six times, and an incredible 437 of his 600 career games started were complete games.
2.) Roger Clemens
Career Innings Pitched: 4,916.2
I know, I know. I can hear it already. "Hey! Wait a minute, Greg. Roger Clemens cheated!" "You're an idiot, Greg, Clemens was on STEROIDS." And of course, there's always that one pleasant reader that will tell me I have no right to place Clemens, who "cheated" at the game of baseball, ahead of "clean" pitchers like Greg Maddux and Lefty Grove.
On some levels, I completely agree with that sentiment, however, that isn't the discussion. I've said it many times before—I'm a man of numbers. Having seen Clemens pitch, maybe there's just a part of me that wants to ignore the allegations and let-downs that he's provided and imagine him as one of the best of all time, which he will be regardless.
That's a different debate though. For a long time, I debated with myself as to whether or not Clemens was a fit here, and ultimately, I couldn't leave him off the list. Then the debate became, "Well, looking at his numbers and career achievements, where do I put him? Can I put him above a guy like Maddux, who was clean? Can I put him above guys like Mathewson and Grove, who are regarded as two of the greatest of all time?"
In the long run, I obviously did. Performance-enhancing-drugs obviously played a large part in Clemens' health, thus leading to his work horse mentality. However, as much as people will argue that I can't put him here, I'll argue that I have no right to exclude him. I can't take even an out away from those 4,916.2 innings away from him, and thus, he's here in all of his glory.
Now, on to actual numbers and the like.
"The Rocket" spent 24 seasons in the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Houston Astros. Of those 24 seasons, Clemens finished with more than 200 innings pitched in a single season 15 times, and those 24 seasons resulted in an incredible 145.5 WAR.
Over the course of his career, he started 707 games, and there weren't many that weren't good. After all, 354 of those starts would translate into wins. He lead the league in ERA six times. Wins, four times. Three times in his career, he had the best win percentage among pitchers. He lead the league in strikeouts five times, and twice in his career, there was not other pitcher that threw as many innings as The Rocket in a single season.
He was also a walking award. After finishing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 1984, it seemed like Clemens won every award the league had to offer. The man is an 11 time All-Star and has won the Cy Young award a whopping seven times—the most all time.
Simply put, I couldn't leave him off the list.
1.) Walter Johnson
Career Innings Pitched: 5,914.1
And then there was one, and in the long run, could it be any man besides Walter Johnson?
In his 21-season career with the Washington Senators, Johnson was absolutely dominant. 18 of his 211 seasons were years that he threw more than 200 innings, and nine of those were seasons in which he threw more than 300 innings, and every pitch had purpose. He lead the league in wins six times, and led a number of other stats including ERA, games, games started, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts (which he lead an incredible 12 times), ERA+, WHIP, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/9 and SO/BB at least twice.
His 110 shutouts are the most of all time, and there is just one man with more wins than "The Big Train's" 417, and he has an award named after him. In 1913, Johnson had arguably the greatest season ever when he posted a record of 36-7 with an ERA of just 1.14. That season, he earned the first of two MVP awards.
Simply put, outside of Cy Young, there were none better than Walter Johnson, and there probably never will be.
As is the case with a lot of the rankings found here on Bleacher Report, this list is a list of my 25 greatest work horses of the modern era, and believe me, I am far from perfect. After all, I'm just a human being with a fascination for baseball in all of it's glory, and as such, I'm going to make mistakes at one point or another!
With that in mind, leave your thoughts in the comments section! Let me know where you think I screwed up, who you think I excluded that should have been on the list and which guys should have been higher or lower. Let me know who your top "work horses" of the modern era were, and maybe, which current players could be on a list like this someday.
Roy Halladay has already amassed 2,297.1 innings in his career and captured two Cy Young awards. Could he make the list someday?
Felix Hernandez is just 24, but he's already logged 1,154.2 innings in his career and received a Cy Young award last season. Could King Felix one day reign as the greatest of all time? Only time will tell!