Twenty Greatest Pitchers of All Time?

     Here is a list that I have compiled of the twenty greatest pitchers of all time, in no particular order…yet.  I may do something else with this list, but for now I am just trying to get the [correct] twenty that should be considered.  Open to suggestions, of course.  Give me some names if you think I have overlooked any.  And remember, I believe players of today are better than the players in 1900.  So even though it is just a theory, it is a theory I agree with, for the most part.  And I also believe that a great starter is more valuable than a great reliever, in most cases.  So it will be strictly starters on this list.   And single season greatness does not translate into this list either.  It is not a list of the 20 best seasons.  A pitcher like Denny Mcclain is not going to crack the top 10 simply because he won 31 games and had an ERA of 1.96 in a single season.  And some current players will not be considered because they have not played enough to qualify.  For Example:  Johan Santana may end up being on this list, but if his career ended today than it would not be enough.  And remember, I am not going to spend countless hours researching every players statisitics, so I may forget someone.

Greg Maddux

Pedro Martinez

Nolan Ryan

Roger Clemens

Tom Seaver

Randy Johnson

Bob Gibson

Sandy Koufax

Jim Palmer

Steve Carlton

Walter Johnson

Warren Spahn

Bob Feller

     Okay, so I didn’t make it to twenty.  I had too many roadblocks and it began to get very hard to choose between certain pitchers.  So give me some suggestions.  I may actually eliminate three pitchers and make this a top ten list. 

37 Comments

Don Sutton belongs in there; so does Ferguson Jenkins; and Gaylord Perry; Juan Marichal. Tom Glavine at the back end, as well and Whitey Ford. That’s off the top of my head.

Grover Cleveland Alexander , Mathewson? Whitey Ford’s numbers may not be top 20 all time caliber ( to me they are pretty darn good) .But you gotta remember his winning % of .690 is top five all time while doing it for those classic 50′-60′s Yankees who won six World Series titles and made it to 11 series . Now , being the ACE and anchor of 11 pennant winning teams ought to account for something , eh? I think I made my case about Whitey being there in the top 20 , in the low 10′s
(11-14th) . Also , isn’t it time we started looking at relief pitchers in a new historical context? These guys nail down victories for others . Shouldn’t that account for something too ? To me there are at least 5 relief pitchers in the all-time top 30 ( two in my top 20 , if there is such a thing ) . Just chipping in with my thoughts .

Nice list, although I think there are some names not yet mentioned:
Lefty Grove

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Cy Young (the guy they name the award after)

Christy Mathewson

All of these guys should be on the list… even if it’s the top ten.

I agree with you that players today are likely a little better on average than they used to be, but not that much. While none of the men I named above faced african-americans, there were also far fewer teams. There is little doubt they would have been premier pitchers today. For example, take the careers of Spahn, Feller, and Robin Roberts, all of whom pitched before and after integration.

Thank you for dismissing relievers from consideration. Closers are born from failed starters.

And that is part of my predicament. Separating the great pitchers of old.

But as for CY Young etc, I agree that he would probably be good if one were to bring him in a time machine and put him into todays game. But I like to compare “as is.” It is unfortunate that pitchers pitched back then, when players workout regimens were not as beneficial and all that. But the one thing that separates the pitchers of today from the ones around 1900 is that they know so much more now. They know the best way to make a ball break, they know the best way to deliver the ball, etc. The mechanics of the game plus the strength equals a better ball player in my opinion. But I do understand that this is more of a “skill” sport than that of football or basketball, generally speaking. So if a hitter has a great eye, then he can hit the ball a long way, regardless of how strong one is, although the strength would help. I also believe that players of today are better coached and and taught the most effective way to do everything when compared to the ones back then. And the way one is taught effects a player in a great way.

So if say, Albert Pujols had to face Pedro, and Cy Young, who was brought in from 1900 in a machine built to travel through time. Then I think he would fare better against CY, personally.

What good is it if you ain’t gona refute or accept what propose in my comment . Can I get a reply , anyone ?

Whitey Ford probably could be added. 28th all time in “Adjusted ERA.” The win percentage isn’t all that important to me. Wins are very much indicative of team success. But I don’t ignore them either. I think there are some guys who can fall apart in close games and some who can rise to the occasion, earning a decision either way, because of it. But in general, the “wins” stat is very overrated and has little value when analyzing a pitcher.

For instance: Who is/was better Bob Gibson or Andy Pettite? Pettite’s win% is .635 while Gibson’s is .591. And obviously, we will all agree that Gibson is better.

hey sentinel, he either ignores yankee fans or makes dismissive remarks about their comments, that’s why i stopped commenting here….making this one exception.

What are you talking about Mike? I don’t have any idea what you are talking about. Was it bringing up the positives in Damon? I don’t ignore Yankees fans. I wouldnt have “Yankees Chick, Heartland, BPS, and Boogie down,” on my typelist if I didn’t want to discuss baseball with Yankees fans. I also comment on their sites all the time. I wasn’t ignoring anyone. I have stuff going on and didnt feel like answering when sentinel originally commented.

And this quote from my comment above was in reference to [both] of the previous comments and them mentioning Grover Cleveland

//And that is part of my predicament. Separating the great pitchers of old//

And Mike, the last time you made a comment, I answered. I just went back and checked.

OK sintinel, here’s a response. The entire art of pitching has changed, mostly over the past 20-30 years. Thirty years ago, with very few exceptions, nobody in the world strived to be a relief pitcher. In fact, when I pitched through high school and into the minor leagues, the words you never wanted to hear were “relegated to the bullpen”. You were a relief pitcher if you weren’t good enough to be a starter. Relief pitchers weren’t used as a part of game strategy. They were thrown in when games got out of hand, one way or the other. No pitcher who ever started game ever had any intention of going less than nine innings. It was common for a pitcher to pitch a complete game and lose. They’ve made a big deal recently of comparing Clemens and Warren Spahn. So lets take a look. Spahn averaged about 30 complete games a year. Clemens has thrown 29 complete games in the last 14 years. Before the last 14 years, Clemens completed his fair share of games when the “CG” meant something. I don’t think any team this year will have an entire staff that completes 30 games.

With those thoughts in mind, it is almost impossible to compare the pitchers of today’s era and those of yesteryear. The guys who played when baseball was a game to be played, and not so much a big business, were a whole different breed. Even in the relief game, those guys who were the original closers like Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, **** Radatz, and some of the other dominating relief pitchers frequently pitched two or three innings at a whack and the rules for saves were much different. In those days, you didn’t come in with a three run lead and get a save for tossing one inning.

For two years, there was no pitcher more dominating in the game than the Red Sox **** Radatz. Referred to as the Monster, here’s a guy that won 33 games and pitched nearly 300 innings over two years as a relief pitcher. He pitched 9 innings of relief in an extra inning game one time. He was scary. Next was Goose Gossage. He was a wild man, but could he throw. These guys today can throw hard, but they were nowhere near as intimidating as the Monster, Goose, Rollie and the Eck.

I agree, relief pitchers should be considered, but in their own category. Other pitchers should be looked at maybe as pre and post 1970.

Whitey Ford? Doesn’t Kason Gabbard remind you a little of him? I think old Whitey held the record for the most consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series for a long time. He may still even have it. I think it was some ridiculous number like 29. He for sure was among the best.

Now for my top few pitchers: The very best I’ve ever seen was Sandy Koufax. He was beautiful to watch. He had power, a fall off the table curve ball, and pinpoint control. He was gone too soon. The second best was Pedro Martinez. He is Koufax from the other side. They can talk about Dice-K and the gyro, but Pedro could really do magic with a baseball. Like Koufax, I’m afraid Pedro will be gone too soon. The most awesome pitcher, by far, was Nolan Ryan. He played on a lot of bad teams, and had control issues, but nobody, and I mean nobody wanted to hit against him. He put the fear of God into hitters. He was mechanically perfect, much like Clemens, which is why neither of them ever had much in the way of arm troubles. Did Ryan have sever or eight no hitters? Incredible!!!! If we’re talking intimidators, let’s include Bob Gibson. Was there ever a tougher competitor? Of course Clemens has to be included based on longevity and numbers, if nothing else. I don’t think I’ve ever been as awestruck as the night I watched him strike out 20 Seattle Mariners.

How about the greatest potential pitcher of all time? I guess that would be Babe Ruth. He had a 94-46 record, and won 18-23-24 games in consecutive years. His career ERA was 2.28. Two questions about the Babe. How good a pitcher would he have been if he just pitched? How many home runs would he have hit had he not pitched those five or six years? Oh yeah, he had 107 complete games in 168 starts. Clemens has 117 for 700 starts.

So who’s the best baseball player of all time? Is there any doubt?

Well, do you believe that Babe Ruth could play in todays game and be a great pitcher and a great hitter? Because I do not. The talent level is too good now, in my opinion, for a player to have the kind of success that Ruth had in comparison to the rest of the league on both sides of the ball.

Jayson Stark actually had Koufax as the most overrated lefty in his new book.

I agree with your assessment of relievers though.

I believe Ruth could hit in any era. I’m not sure whether or not he could pitch today, but he was a great athlete.

However, your question makes my point clear. It’s very difficult to compare players of different eras. It’s a different game today. It’s played by bigger, faster, and stronger players in smaller more hitter friendly parks. Another huge factor is that today we have Latinos and African American playing where in Ruth’s era, there were none. There is a whole new pool from which to draw quality ball players that didn’t exist then.

But in his era, there was nobody even close to Ruth, and in today’s game, there is nobody as dominant in baseball, as Ruth was in his day.

You are seeing the last of the 300 game winners. You may see two or three 20 game winners in a season now. Soon, there won’t be any.

As far as Sandy Koufax being overrated …… he is the Jim Rice of pitchers. For those four or five years, he was the best in the game. He was absolutely dominant. I think he won 27 games his last season. He’s in the Hall of Fame, as Jim Rice should be.

But that was Starks opinion, not mine. And I can see what he meant from a statistical viewing, but like you said he was absolutely dominant for that particular stretch.

I may actually buy the book, or maybe go read it at “Barnes and Noble” again, tomorrow.

ok, but i still think you were rather dismissive of my post on a-rod.
aside from that congrats on your guy lester doing so well tonight. i have to admit i was rooting for him myself as i’m sure a lot of other yankee fans…or any baseball fans were tonight.

What I was saying that I dont think I made clear was that I addressed that the Yanks should defintely consider keeping ARod if the Rangers are still paying some of his contract. It was that if he opted out I believe then the Rangers would be off the hook, I think, and then the Yankees would have to fork over all 30 million each year. And if one team has to pay 30 mill to one player then I dont think it is worth it to that [one] team.

But anyway, Lester looked pretty good tonight, I agree.

just pretty good? 6 strikeouts plus the fact that he worked himself out of a jam impressively.

He looked good then, but not great. Getting out of the jam was great. And the fact that he was out there was great. He got a quality start against a great offense. So yes, it was a good night for the Red Sox and Jon Lester.

Actually Bill James has his “Top 100″ pitchers ranked by “Win Shares” in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” that I just picked up today. And a lot of his conclusions were made upon these “WS,” actually all of them, because the way he ranks them is strictly by “Win Shares.” So the best pitcher of all time based on “Win Shares” is Walter Johnson. But “Win Shares Per Season” is led by Pedro with 37.59. Nolan Ryan actually falls in at 96th per season out of the top 100. A lot of this argument depends upon how much one takes longevity into account, as I believe someone mentioned already in one of the comments above, I might be mistaken though.

I personally believe that at his peak, Pedro was the best ever. And James agrees that per season he is. But Pedro has had a relatively short career when compared to the likes of Ryan and Clemens. He hasn’t had the chance to decline like most pitchers do. But if Koufax is in the argument, then Pedro is too.

Joe,
I have a book called 100 greatest pitchers by Brent P Kelly, printed 1988. Here are a few other names to think about-somehaving been already mentioned in the comments;

Johnny Sain (Spahn and Sain Pray for rain), Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Lefty Grove, Early Winn, Fernando Valenzuela, Mel Stottlemyre, Whitey Ford, Juan Marical, Bert Blyleven, Dizzy Dean, Don Sutton, Bob Feller, Walter Johnson, Vida Blue, Goose Gossage, Luie Tiant, Jim Kaat, and Hoyt Wilhelm. Those are some that stick out in my memory. There are others as well.

No complaints about the 13 you picked. Can’t deny they are all great pitchers!

Mike

I do have Feller and Johnson already, but those are some good names. I wouldn’t put Gossage there, personally, even though he is one of the greatest relievers of all time. Marichal looks like he will be added.

jim bouton and satchel paige ought to be mentioned

I don’t have enough numbers for Paige, so I overlooked him. I used a lot of stats as reference, and he wasn’t listed in most because of his time in the negro leagues.

I do have Feller and Johnson already

That’s what ADHD will do for you (not kidding). All 100 are listed on the back cover. I didn’t want to list them all. I just picked a bunch that I recall being good.

Just now Catfish Hunter popped into my head!

Mike I should have mentioned satchel paige as well, I don’t know if he is in the book or not. I have seen it on Amazon for like 6 bucks if interested-not mine! I got one name added anyway!

Gee, what a surprise “Miwil” another Yankee :)

Joe,
We have traded words here and over at BPS. I visit your site frequently. I don’t post here often. I do enjoy your thoughts.

While I am at it I went to Tool (third time) a few weeks ago, and Roger Waters(2nd time)a few nights later. What a week!

I saw NIN in Worcester a few years back, and A Perfect Circle opened for them. This was a few weeks before Mer de Noms had come out. (only Judith had been played)A night to not forget. It’s more baseball here so I won’t keep going but I know we share a liking for baseball, music, and reading.

I live near the NH border in Essex County, MA (whole life) so I am always talking Sox/Yankees. (Yes with the right people, we can get along-as you know).

Have a good night.

Mike

That does sound like a good week! I saw Tool here in Orlando when they came, it was definitely good. And I saw NIN when they came over a year ago or whenever. Roger Waters must have been good too. I am not a huge Floyd fan, but I have three burned cds and like some of the stuff.

Oh, and when I said “What a surprise, another Yankee,” it was in reference to Catfish Hunter, not you. I wasnt saying another Yankee leaving a comment.

Hey,
It’s funny it’s the A’s I recalled him on (no clue why he popped into my head). Yeah there are some Yankees in there. Boston Braves , Sox (El Tiante, and a host of other teams. I am a baseball fan first, Yankee fan second. Just the way I am. I was happy to see Lester get half a standing O the other night. After that, well you know how it goes!

Certainly he had his best years with the A’s. I guess thats why.

Ok you have most of my top guys on here. Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens. Then of course there Mathewson and Young and Ford. You got Nolan Ryan. How about Dazzy Vance? 197 wins- 140 losses. 3.24 era. 2045 K’s to only 840 BB, 30 shut outs, and he played in the ’34 series. I think he deserves some consideration. Plus he was inducted in 1955. How about Allie Reynolds? But if you were to include relievers then I would suggest Firo Marberry. He was “baseball’s first great relief pitching specialist.” He played for the senators at the same time as the Big Train, and really changed the way baseball is played. So he gets my vote for top 20.

and sportscenter… no comment.

http://coralrae.mlblogs.com

Oh yeah I forgot to mention that I strongly approve of Bob Feller.

Coral, you know I favor players of today over those from 1925.

And the SC panel they had today was kind of cool, at least it was a different kind of coverage on Bonds.

Joe,
Had to get to the gym so I made it quick. My mind works in mysterious ways (even to me at times). I should have realized you were talking about Catfish and not me. I sometimes see the glass half whatever! As far as Yankee Pitchers go-what kind of Yankee fan would I be if I didn’t drop a few in there :)

Corals mention of Christy Matthewson,he’s another I failed to mention.

Have a good night.

Mike

No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth. Do you agree?
http://www.nicetick.com
- MLB Air Jordan

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