MY ALL-TIME PITCHING STAFF
Yesterday, I shared my all time lineup. You can read that here if you missed it. Today I’ll be focusing on the best pitchers of all-time. I’ll start with a traditional 5-man rotation and then give a few great relievers to put in the bullpen. Please note that these are not listed in any particular order.
If I had to put the ball in anyone’s hand to get me a win, I’d go with Randy Johnson. The Big Unit was a flamethrowing ace his whole career. He won 303 games and five Cy Young Awards (with 4 of them coming in a row from ‘99-’02). Even more impressive, he won those awards during his age 35-38 seasons. Johnson set the baseball world on fire during this stretch where he posted an ERA of 2.48 with 1,417 strikeouts. He was the anchor of Arizona’s rotation in 2001 where he propelled them to a World Series and earned himself World Series MVP after winning three games and posting a 1.04 ERA in the series. In Johnson’s career, he averaged over 10 K/9, an astounding 14 times, and 12 K/9 six times. In his 2001 season, he averaged 13 K/9. That translates into striking out 1.444 batters per inning. Johnson is also a member of the elite perfect game club throwing nine perfect innings against the Braves on May 18, 2004. Johnson’s name will forever be etched among the GOATs.
No great pitching list is complete without the all-time wins leader. Cy Young is arguably the best pitcher of all-time statistically. He holds records for most wins of all time with 511 and most innings pitched with 7,356. (Yes, he threw 7,356 innings). Young started 815 games completing a remarkable. 749 of them. Young was a legend in his day but the game has changed so much since then that no player will ever break 815 games started or 511 wins. We are long past the days of pitchers throwing both ends of the double headers, but we definitely have to acknowledge Cy Young for the legend he was.
Maddux made batters tremble in the box, but not because he threw hard, it was because he threw so well. This righty was able to rack up 355 wins on his way to the Hall-of-Fame. Maddux won four Cy Young awards in four consecutive years from ‘92-’95. During that stretch he dominated the National League, winning 75 games and recording 11 shutouts with 37 complete games and posting a 1.98 ERA. Maddux didn’t have the same strikeout numbers as other greats, but rarely gave up walks or home runs. The best stat to illustrate this is his WHIP, which was 1.14 for his career. It is really hard to score runs on someone who doesn’t allow runners to get on base. Aside from his pitching, he was an exceptional fielder snagging 18 Gold Gloves in his 23 year career. Maddux’s consistency helped the Braves be a force at the top of the NL throughout the 90’s. He helped the Braves win the World Series in 1995.
The strikeout king, Ryan was one of the most dominant pitchers of all time. He was able to blow by hitters with his fastball that could hit triple digits and also keep batters guessing with great off-speed pitches, primarily a 12-6 curveball and a circle change. Ryan struck out 5,714 hitters in his 27 year career, blowing the old record out of the water. Ryan struck out 839 more betters all-time than runner-up Randy Johnson. 839! Ryan didn’t allow many base runners either with a career WHIP 1.247 and 6.6 hits per nine innings. His 6.6 H/9 is still the record. Ryan captured the lowest ERA in baseball twice and a World Series title in only his second year in 1969 as a member of the miracle Mets. Ryan’s most impressive stat is the seven no-hitters he threw across his career.
Gibson has left his mark on baseball in many ways, but perhaps the most important would be the lowering of the pitchers mound, even if he didn’t do this himself…. The mound used to be 15 inches high before 1969, but it was dropped to 10 inches due, in large part to the “Year of the Pitcher” (1968) a year in which Bob Gibson’s threw to a ridiculous 1.12 ERA. Gibson in his prime struck out 200+ batters every year. He was a two-time Cy Young winner, an MVP, a nine time All-Star, a nine time Gold Glove winner, a two time World Series champ and a World Series MVP. He got better in the postseason too posting a 1.89 career postseason ERA, along with seven postseason victories in only nine starts with eight of those starts turned into complete games. Gibson’s 1.12 ERA will forever live on as the best ERA of the live ball era.
Eck is one of the few players in the history of the game to have success as a starter and as a reliever. Eckersley built a solid career as a starter and from 1975-86 winning 151 games along with a 3.67 ERA and 1,627 strikeouts. He even finished 4th in the Cy Young voting in 1978. In 1987, Eck made the switch to the pen more than half way through the season and became the closer for the A’s. He recorded 16 saves. In the ‘88 season Eck dominated and established himself as the best closer in baseball recording a league leading 45 saves. He only continued to light the league on fire recording 30+ save seasons year after year. Then, in 1992 Eck recorded 51 saves, which was enough to win him the Cy Young and the AL MVP. Eckersley finished his career with 390 saves which is now 7th on the all time saves list.
Hoffman was one of the best closers of all time. He was an anchor of the Padres pen for the better part of 16 years. Hoffman had great pitches with fantastic movement and pinpoint accuracy. His fastball sat around 85-86 MPH and offspeed pitch was right around 73-75 MPH. He was certainly no flamethrower, but his ability to paint the corners and be consistent is what earned him 601 saves good enough to be second all-time. Hoffman was a 7-time all-star and two time Reliever of the Year. Hoffman’s ability to dominate the 9th inning earned him a spot along the greatest of all time.
This one was really a no-brainer. Mo is the greatest of all time plain and simple. He is the all time saves leader with 652 saves across his 19 year career. Along with an incredible 2.21 career ERA. Rivera won five World Series titles and a World Series MVP in 1999. In that World Series, Rivera saved two games, won another as he allowed no earned runs. Mo recorded 42 postseason saves and posted a 0.70 postseason ERA. Mo threw one of the best pitches in MLB history; his amazing cutter. His consistency was perhaps the most impressive part of his career as he recorded sixteen 30+ save seasons including hitting 50+ saves twice. 652 saves will be the magic number for all closers of the future to strive for, but it will be a long time before anyone comes close.