Since the beginning of the 20th century (and including a guy who pitched both before and after the turn) there are 17 pitchers that stand out as the greatest 17. Almost every single one of these guys has a legitimate case to be number 1, and there is still so much debate. Oftentimes I get asked who I think the greatest of all time is, and here I will show you who my top 17 are, in order. We will exclude guys that spent most of their career before the turn of the century, with only one guy on my list having played at all in the 19th century. But before we get started, I need to make some honorable mentions.
Starting with the guys who didn't make the cut because most of their career came before the 20th century:
And now the guys who just barely missed out on this list.
And now, the Top 17 Starting Pitchers of all time.
Coming in, at Number 17 is the greatest pitcher of our generation by a longshot. The dominant, yet injury prone left hander who has still yet to win the ultimate prize.
Kershaw has often been compared to another Dodgers lefty, one you'll see way later in this list, and he's warranted it. Kid K, as they call him, lowered his career ERA each year from 2009 to 2017, and his Baseball-Reference page is basically the pitching version of Mike Trout. Kershaw's standout stats are his 2.44 career ERA and 157 career ERA+. Had he qualified in 2016, his 15.64 SO/W ratio would've beaten the previous single season record by over 4. He fell just 13 innings short that year.
Kershaw's dominance has resulted in plenty of gems, but this is his most famous, his no hitter.
Had Hanley Ramirez not botched that throw, it would've been a 15 strikeout perfect game. For my money, this was the greatest pitching performance of my lifetime.
However, Kershaw has been consistently ridiculed for his poor postseason performances, with detractors dubbing him "Chokesaw." Clayton Kershaw is still on a quest for a ring, and the Dodgers have put all of the pieces together for him to get one, we just have to wait and see.
Number 16 is a guy that I think has long been overrated, but it doesn't mean he wasn't great. Never won a Cy Young, never had those seasons where he was Kershaw dominant, but he was quite good.
With a fastball that went into triple digits, Nolan Ryan is the all time strikeout king and a 300 game winner.
A 12th round pick in 1965, Ryan played in the big leagues from 1966 to 1993 and has his number retired by 3 teams. Many who saw him pitch call him the greatest to ever live, but I feel that having him at 16 is appropriate and this is why.
All of those years that he was striking guys out, he also walked and incomprehensible amount of hitters. His peak wasn't incredibly high, as he only had one non-strike shortened season with an ERA of 2.50 or better in that long career. His ERA+ was not super impressive, at just 112, he was, over the course of his entire career, just 12% better at preventing runs than the average pitcher.
Now, he is a 1969 World Champion, and most notably, he threw seven no hitters, but 0 perfect games. He is the all time strikeout king and will likely never be caught. He played for so long that I needed to zoom out TWICE just to get his entire Baseball-Reference table to show up.
The man that I have ranked at number 15 is a guy that I've seen some people rank as their number 1 left handed pitcher of all time. While he isn't as known for this nickname as somebody higher on my list, this man was known simply as "Lefty" He played in the same era as Ryan and also played for about a million years, number 15 is....
Carlton debuted with the Cardinals in 1965, but he really broke out in 1967. He won the World Series that year, and followed it up with back to back all star seasons. In his first year with Philly in 1972, he won his first of four Cy Young Awards, which at the time of his retirement, was the most ever won by a lefty.
Carlton played the best years of his career in Philly including two 10+ bWAR seasons 8 years apart. The aforementioned 1972 was a 12.1 bWAR season, which is the highest single season bWAR by a left handed pitcher since 10 years before Babe Ruth was even born. He somehow finished 5th in MVP voting.
He led the Phils to a World Series with 10 bWAR in 1980, the club's first World Championship. His career ERA+ is just 115, but he had those dominant. Cy Young seasons that help boost him into this conversation. With over 4000 strikeouts for his career, he easily entered the Hall. He was also a very good hitting pitcher, with a stretch of two seasons where he had an 81 OPS+, which is fantastic for a pitcher.
Carlton had incredible longevity, pitching into his mid 40's similar to Ryan, but he didn't exit quite as gracefully as the great Ryan.
Number 14 is a guy that many people won't include on their list anywhere. He didn't debut in the majors until he was 42, but he made his case, over the previous 20+ years before that, to be the single greatest pitcher to ever live
Like the picture, Satchel Paige's legacy is an issue of black and white. He was the greatest Negro League pitcher ever, drawing crowds wherever he went. He drew such crowds, that he'd be rented out to other Negro League teams to draw a crowd, and he'd be cut in on the profits.
Stats can't tell the story because there aren't official ones for the Negro Leagues, but this piece from his SABR.org bio helps explain it.
Satchel defied that shadowy system by keeping his own records. He carried a notebook listing innings pitched, game scores, opponents, strikeouts, bases on balls, and, according to one sportswriter who said he saw it, “a very important item to [Satchel], his end of the gate.” The Paige almanac had him pitching in more than 2,500 games and winning 2,000 or so. He professed to have labored for 250 teams and thrown 250 shutouts. His per-game strikeout record was 22, against major-league barnstormers, which would have been an all-time record for all of baseball. Other claims that would have set marks: 50 no-hitters, 29 starts in a month, 21 straight wins, 62 consecutive scoreless innings, 153 pitching appearances in a year, and three wins the same day.
Yeah, he was good. Of course those were his tallies and not official, but it's hard to trust any Negro League numbers. Paige did pitch in the Majors, and was pretty damn good despite being in his 40's. He won the 1948 World Series with the Indians, and he came out of retirement at age 58 in 1965 to throw 3 shutout innings in his beloved Kansas City.
Those who saw him swear that he's the greatest to ever do it, and I'd probably agree had I seen him. But because records aren't complete, he ranks at just 14.
Number 13 on my all time greatest pitchers list is a guy who reportedly had the fastest fastball of anybody ever. He may be the most talented pitcher to ever live, and he finds himself at 13.
The Heater from Van Meter was a national celebrity before the time he was even allowed to vote. Making his major league debut in 1936 at age 17, Feller was the youngest player in the AL for two seasons.
He struck out 200 batters at age 19, and then from 1939 to 1940, he was unbelievable. At ages 20 and 21, he led the league in strikeouts, wins, innings, complete games, shutouts, K/9, and H/9 in both seasons. 1940 in particular was insane because he won the pitching triple crown at age 21.
After another great year in '41, Feller went off to war, and when he came back in '45, he was still very good. He had 10 bWAR in 1946 with 348 K's.
Feller's legend comes from his ridiculous fastball, which has been estimated to be the fastest that anybody (except Sidd Finch) has thrown. He won the 1948 World Series and won over 250 games. He easily made the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Number 12 on the list is remembered fondly for perhaps the most ridiculous single season statistic since integration. This man was the pride of the Cardinals for 17 seasons, number 12 is.
I could make that the entire section about Gibby and it would still justify his inclusion. His 1.12 ERA in 1968 is the lowest of any pitcher since 1914, and he did it in style.
Famous for his intimidation, Gibson was one of the most competitive men to ever step on a baseball diamond. He debuted for the Cards in 1959 and made his first all star team in 1962. Up until 1968, he was a very good pitcher, and he capped 1967 with a World Series to remember. He pitched 3 complete games giving up just three runs and striking out 26 in his World Series MVP Impossible Dream crushing victory.
But 1968 was legendary. The aforementioned 1.12 ERA was good for an ERA+ of 238. He struck out an NL leading 248 batters, had a 1.77 FIP and won the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player. He once again went to the World Series and pitched 27 innings. In game 1, he struck out 17, a World Series record that still stands. He won game 4, but lost in game 7, but the legend grew.
His 1968 was technically a fluke, but he was still fantastic, putting up 10 and 9 bWAR over 1969 and 1970, even winning a second Cy Young in 1970. Gibson retired from baseball in 1975 and was elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1981. His notorious follow through is memorialized in a statue outside of Busch Stadium
I had a really hard time putting this guy so low. The top 10 is just so crowded with amazing pitchers that I had no place for him.
Had Grover Cleveland Alexander been a writer, the French would have called him a poete maudit, a cursed poet. Alexander had within him the greatness and the frailty that make for tragedy.
He was nearly the National League MVP in 1911 as a rookie and he followed that up with more success. He had a 1.22 ERA in 1915, which was the first of three consecutive seasons in which he won the pitching triple crown.
After his third, he left Philadelphia for the Cubs and then left Chicago for France.
After going to war in 1918, he came back and put up another sub 2 ERA, winning his fourth ERA title. He then won the pitching triple crown for the fourth time in 6 years. It would be the last time he struck out 100 batters in a season.
In 1926, Rogers Hornsby and the Cardinals needed an ace, so they traded for Alexander, and he responded by pitching well. Then, game 7 of the World Series against the Yankees came. And I'll let SABR.org tell the story
Standing amidst gloomy late afternoon shadows that darkened the cavernous stadium, Hornsby knew exactly who he wanted on the mound and waved to the bullpen. Through the cold, misty fog that had descended upon the field all eyes strained to see his choice. After a minute or so the hushed fans watched as the gate to the Cardinals bullpen opened and the grey silhouette of a solitary figure emerged onto the playing field. The new pitcher appeared a bit stooped. He was wearing a red Cardinals sweater and had his cap tilted a bit to one side. As he slowly ambled across the outfield grass he touched gloves with left-fielder Holm and a few seconds later did the same with shortstop Thevenow. By the time he reached Hornsby at the edge on the infield the whispers that had been circulating throughout the stadium became a low roar. “It’s Alexander…’Alex the Great’!” “Does Hornsby really want ‘Old Pete’?”
Yes, Hornsby did want Old Pete. What followed was a sequence of events where Alexander said to Hornsby exactly what he wanted to do, and when Hornsby refuted, Alexander basically said, "If I do it right, it'll work" and Hornsby backed off and let Alexander take it.
Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri exactly as planned and the Cardinals won the World Series when Babe Ruth was caught stealing. Alexander's career ended not so gracefully, but his moment came in 1926. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1938.
It was SO HARD to put this guy so low, but the greatest left handed pitcher of all time at the time of his retirement is my number 10.
According to legend, he was traded from his minor league team to another minor league team, for a fence. That team later sold Grove to Connie Mack's Athletics for $100,600. He debuted in the AL at age 25 and led the AL in strikeouts each of his first seven seasons. In 1925, he was the wildest pitcher in the league, but in 1926, everything changed. Yankees manager Miller Huggins said of Grove in '26
Now he has wide, bending curves, better control, is mentally fit, has a lot of confidence and plenty of natural ability... He mixes his speed and curves and he’s the speediest pitcher in baseball.
He also won back to back triple crowns and then he won another ERA title after that. Following 4 straight ERA titles, he led the AL in wins and then was traded to Boston.
In Boston, Grove continued his legacy, despite a down year in 34, he won four more ERA titles. He won exactly 300 games as he slumped in both 1940 and 1941. He was not extremely well liked by the media, as evidenced by him only getting 76% of the HOF vote.
Many who saw him swear that he's the greatest to ever do it, a common theme with guys on this list.
At number 9 is a guy who is the exact opposite of Grove. The biggest control freak in the history of baseball in number 9 on my list.
Maddux was a mental pitcher. He wasn't blowing you away with fastballs, he was forcing you to hit balls weakly. Dominant isn't the right word to define Maddux, but his back to back sub 2 ERA seasons in 1994 and 1995 imply a ridiculous level of dominance.
Maddux, like Wade Boggs and Rod Carew, was a relic of a time long past. A pitcher who didn't give up many runs, didn't strike guys out, didn't walk them, and didn't give up home runs. Greg Maddux just got guys out.
He started his career with the Cubs, where he won his first of 4 consecutive Cy Young Awards in 1992. He then moved to the Braves where he completed his reign of four in a row by winning the next 3.
Perhaps his most notable legacy is "The Maddux", which is a complete game shutout with under 100 pitches. The phrase was coined by writer Jason Lukehart, and Maddux is unsurprisingly, the leader in Maddux's since Pitch Counts began to be tracked.
Bob Nightengale said of Maddux
Maddux, whose fastball is routinely clocked at only 88 mph, remarkably throws more fastballs than any established pitcher in the game. The difference is control and movement. He can throw the fastball with nearly pinpoint control, while the ball darts and spins as if he’s controlling it like a yo-yo.
His fastball was gonna make you hit it weakly, and that's how Greg Maddux stuck around for so long. He retired with over 350 wins and an ERA of 3.16 for his career. His four Cy Young Awards in a row is matched only by Randy Johnson, and his back to back sub 2 seasons are also super rare in baseball today, oh yeah, he also won 18 Gold Gloves, an All Time Record.
Greg Maddux wouldn't immediately strike you as the greatest pitcher of his time, but that's pretty much a perfect metaphor for Maddux as a whole.
From the ultimate control freak, to a guy who led his league in K/9 6 times, number 8 on my list is....
From the very beginning of his career, Tom Seaver was special. He won Rookie of the Year in 1967, and that was the beginning of a 7 year stretch in which Tom Seaver had a sub 3 ERA each year and made every single All-Star team.
His eighth season was a 3.20 ERA, and then he won the Cy Young Award in his ninth. His most famous performance was his 10 inning win over the Baltimore Orioles in game 4 of the 1969 World Series, a series the Mets won in 5.
The most famous of the Miracle Mets of '69, Seaver also was one of the team's leaders, as broadcaster and Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner remembers.
Tom Seaver was the driving force behind the players, always pushing the team to be better than they were, never letting them settle
He won 3 Cy Young awards with the Mets before an acrimonious contract negotiation led to him being traded to the Reds in 1977. Seaver was not the dominant pitcher he was in New York, but he still made multiple All-Star teams while with the Reds. Seaver led the NL in strikeouts 5 times and in WHIP three times. He retired after a return stint with the Mets, and stints with the White Sox and Red Sox.
Seaver became the first pitcher to be elected into the Hall of Fame with at least 98% of the vote. He was also the first, and only until 2015, Mets representative in the Hall of Fame Plaque Room. Many claim Seaver as the greatest to ever live, and the Mets "Franchise Player" lives today in Connecticut, and the street address for Citi Field is known as "41 Tom Seaver Way."
From the ultimate Hall of Famer to one of the most controversial cases ever, number 7 is....
“It’s all about him, nobody else but him.” -Cito Gaston on Clemens
Clemens’ ambition gained him both fans and detractors, helped him to achieve massive success, and ultimately contributed to his fall from grace.
When speaking of dominance and longevity, Roger Clemens name comes to mind. He was a strikeout machine, a workhorse into his 40's, and most notably, a 7 time Cy Young Award winner.
Known as "The Rocket," Clemens debuted with the Red Sox, where he won 3 Cy Young Awards and an MVP in his 13 seasons there, but was on the edge of falling off after 1995. Clemens had his worst season of his career in 1993, but rebounded well in '94, but '95 was a different story. He labored to just 10 wins and an ERA over 4. He also led the AL in hit batsmen. 1996 was part 1 of his comeback tour.
Clemens led the AL in strikeouts in 1996, and then signed with the Blue Jays for 1997. He won back to back Cy Youngs in his two years with the Jays, both of those seasons winning the Triple Crown. He won his 6th Cy Young with the Yankees in 2001, and went to the National League for the first time in 2004 when he signed with the Astros
He won his 7th Cy Young in 2004, and was very close to winning it again in 2005, when he had his second sub 2 ERA season.
Clemens retired in the middle of the '07 season and seemed sure to be a first ballot HOFer. But then he was suspected of taking PEDs. He has never handled the media the same since the suspicion. He has spent many a days testifying in courts, and by the time his HOF case came up in 2013, he was nowhere near the 75% necessary.
Clemens had multiple 20 strikeout games, won back to back World Series with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, has a career ERA+ of 143 and is third all time in strikeouts. He very well should be a Hall of Famer, but he likely never will because of his PED scandal. The Rocket also has a claim to be the greatest pitcher who ever lived.
The most unbreakable records in baseball history, go, ummmm 56 game hitting streak (Joe DiMaggio), 5714 strikeouts (Nolan Ryan), .366 career batting average (Ty Cobb), 1406 stolen bases (Rickey Henderson), 60 wins in a season (Old Hoss Radbourn), 1.12 ERA (Bob Gibson), and most unbreakable of all, 511 career wins.
The award for pitching is literally named after this guy. His excellence is commonly downplayed in statistical circles as being both a product of his era, and a compiler, which he was, but that doesn't discount the fact that he was the greatest pitcher ever at the time of his retirement in 1911, and people still call him that to this day.
In a newspaper the day after his no-hitter, the Reds batters were described as having "walked up to be slaughtered only because the rules required and not for the good it did them." Young routinely made hitters feel useless, winning over 20 games 15 times and having 6 seasons with a sub 2 ERA.
In 1898, he, and many of the Cleveland Spiders' best players were sent to St. Louis, and Young performed well with the Perfectos too. In 1901, he moved to the American League, and played for the Boston Americans. He had arguably his best season in 1901, sporting 33 wins and a 1.62 ERA. Two years later, he put up similarly ridiculous pitching numbers, with a 2.08 ERA and 28 wins, but he also led the Americans to the first World Series and put up these a 125 OPS+ at the plate.
Young's most iconic number is his 511 wins. The most unbreakable career record in baseball is this one. You can go back and forth between this and Ty Cobb's .366 batting average, but neither will ever be broken. Second most wins is nearly 100 off Young's tally, and the closest guys to have played in the last 50 years both are more than 150 wins off despite having played 23 and 24 seasons respectively.
Breaking this record would require 20 years of 25 win seasons, a mark that a pitcher hasn't eclipsed in one season since 1990. It feels wrong to have Young this low, but I feel that the five ahead of him simply are another level.
From a guy who set ridiculous records to a guy that was the most physically imposing figure to ever step on a mound, number 5 is....
Imagine you're standing in the batters box, and sixty feet, six inches away, stands a 6 foot, 10 inch, dude with nasty hair flowing out the back of his cap holding his glove in front of his face looking directly at you...
That's the feeling that batters faced for over 20 years when Randy Johnson took the mound. "The Big Unit" was the tallest man to ever play Major League Baseball at the time of his debut, and it actually took him some time to develop into a star. Despite making his first all star game in 1990, he didn't have his first qualified sub 3.50 ERA season until he was 29, in 1993. From there, he didn't look back. 1994 was another 10+ K/9 with a career best at the time 152 ERA+. In 1995, he became the backbone of the Mariners, winning the AL Cy Young with a 2.48 ERA, 193 ERA+, 12.3 K/9, and an 18-2 record.
He pitched in a one game playoff against the Angels to secure a playoff berth, and then he saved the day in game 5 of the ALDS, picking up the win in the M's first ever playoff series.
Johnson was the most intimidating figure in the history of the sport. He backed that up with a nasty fastball/slider combination that turned him into a superstar. His first 20 win season came in 1997, and he was traded in the middle of 1998 after struggling with Seattle. He immediately found his best ever form, as he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in his 11 starts for Houston, pitching in 84.1 of the possible 99 innings in those starts.
1999-2002 was absolutely ridiculous. Johnson, aged 35, joined the young Arizona Diamondbacks, in just their second year as a franchise, and win 4 consecutive Cy Young Awards, striking out over 300 batters in each of those four seasons. He won the World Series and took home Co-MVP honors with Curt Schilling in that series. His 2002 Cy Young campaign, where he won 24 games with a 2.32 ERA at age 38 still baffles me. During this stretch, he also killed a dove, his most famous moment was somehow a Spring Training game.
His strikeout totals were nuts into his late 30's and he nearly won a 5th Cy Young in six seasons in 2004. Johnson went to the Yankees in 2005 and put up a decent season, but he would never be the same as he was in Seattle, Houston, and Arizona. He was a first ballot Hall of Famer as he was the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a long stretch and has a legitimate claim to be the greatest pitcher of all time.
Johnson's complete opposite, a short, skinny, right hander comes in as the fourth greatest pitcher to ever live....
Pedro Martinez is the exact opposite of Randy Johnson. Pedro is not an imposing figure on the mound in a vacuum, but during his peak, he mowed down hitters with relentless efficiency.
Starting his career along with his brother Ramon on the Dodgers, Pedro performed well as a reliever, but was traded to Montreal before the 1994 season. He pitched well, and made an all star team in 1996, but he truly became elite in 1997.
And so it began. From the first pitch of 1997 to the last of 2003, Pedro Martinez was arguably the most dominant pitcher in league history. He put up a sub 2 ERA in 1997, winning his first Cy Young with 11.4 K/9, a sub 1 WHIP and a 219 ERA+. Keep an eye on ERA+, because in the steroid era, runs were being put up at record rates.
Pedro signed with Boston in 1998 and finished second in Cy Young voting, but the best was yet to come. As documented in a video by Foolish Baseball, Martinez had arguably the two best pitching seasons ever, back to back. His 1999 campaign had a 1.39 FIP, the lowest since 1920.
The most iconic Pedro performance was his hometown All-Star game appearance, where he sat down a murderers row of Hall of Famers and superstars.
His 2.07 ERA and 13.2 K/9 were also eye popping especially the ERA, as that's good for a 243 ERA+. Then, he did it again in 2000. This time, it was simply his 0.737 WHIP that caught the eye and his eye popping 291 ERA+. Both of those are single-season records. He didn't quite repeat those seasons again, but from 1997-2003, he had an ERA+ of 213, which is absolutely ridiculous. It should be no surprise that Pedro is this high because his peak was just as good as if not better than everybody else's peak.
Pedro won the World Series in 2004 with the Sox and then signed with the Mets where he put together two more All-Star seasons, and he retired in 2009 after a brief stint with the Phillies.
Martinez has his number 45 retired in Boston and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
We're about to take it way back, with number three we go with.....
Making his debut in 1900, Christy Mathewson struggled in 6 games that year, but he quickly put all of those struggles behind him. From 1901-1913, Mathewson didn't have an ERA over 3, and his total ERA in that stretch was below 2. This included a ridiculous 1909 season in which he had a 1.14 ERA and a ridiculous 1905 season in which he had a 233 ERA+.
Mathewson, a devout christian, never pitched on Sundays, but he'd pitch in over 40 games a year for most of his career, similar to other workhorses of his time.
His most iconic performance came in the 1905 World Series. In game 1, facing Eddie Plank and the A's, Mathewson shut out the A's on 4 hits. Mathewson himself picked up a base hit in game 1 and the Giants won it 3-0. But he wasn't even close to done. Three days later, on October 12, he struck out 8, walked just 1, allowed just four hits in another complete game shutout. For the Giants, the won game 3 9-0 behind Mathewson's second complete game shutout of the series. He had 8 shutouts that regular season to lead all of Major League baseball, but in game 5 was where he became immortal. Pitching on one day rest, Mathewson struck out four in a five hit shutout to clinch the Championship. It was the first, and only time that a pitcher threw three complete game shutouts in a World Series. This record will never, ever, be broken. Had the World Series MVP Award been around, he would have won it.
He continued his Hall of Fame career through 1916, when he retired after 1 game with the Reds. He retired with 373 wins, tied with Pete Alexander for 3rd all time, and a mind boggling 2.13 career ERA with a WHIP of a minuscule 1.058. If it weren't for the guy that I have ranked number 1, Mathewson would be talked about way more. He was elected into the Hall of Fame as part of the first class in 1936, 11 years after his far too early death.
Over the course of five seasons, this man owned baseball. They gave him the nickname "The Left Arm of God" and I wouldn't be surprised if God's left arm was actually that of.....
Born in Brooklyn, Sandy Koufax was the hometown hero for the Dodgers, and then when the team moved, he became the hero across the country. He played ball at the University of Cincinnati with future Mets owner Fred Wilpon, and then was signed by the Dodgers.
Koufax showed flashes of brilliance everywhere he pitched. It was so obvious how talented he was, even though he didn't show it in his first few years in the bigs.
His legend took a few years to grow, but his talent was apparent. He moved with the Dodgers to LA after 1957, where he became a legend. Through 1960, he'd been a decent pitcher, but then 1961 happened.
Dodgers catcher Norm Sherry said of Koufax "[he could] do things with a baseball nobody has been able to do before or since" and over the next five years, he would.
One of my favorite quotes in all of baseball has to be this one. Koufax was a good Major League pitcher from 1955 to 1960, but in 1961, he began a stretch that catapulted him into the GOAT debate. He attributed it to this
I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.
Here, hit this. And nobody could. He led the NL in K's in 1961 and he garnered MVP votes. In 1962, he won his first of five consecutive ERA titles, and nearly pitched the Dodgers into the World Series. In 1963, Koufax won his first Cy Young Award, going 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts, a pitching Triple Crown. He also pitched games 1 and 4 of the World Series, clinching it with a win in the fourth game. He won the World Series MVP award and his legend continued to grow.
Ernie Banks called facing Koufax super scary, and many more Hall of Famers agreed. 1964 was another ridiculous season for Koufax, finishing with 19 wins and a 1.74 ERA. 1965 was perhaps home to his most famous moment. With Vin Scully on the call, Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs en route to a 2.04 ERA and a World Series berth.
Because game 1 fell on Yom Kippur, Koufax, who was Jewish, didn't pitch. The Dodgers still defeated the Twins in seven.
In 1966, Koufax had his best season by many standards. He had his most wins, lowest ERA, and highest ERA+. He struck out 317 batters and won his third pitching triple crown and third Cy Young. He lost his start in the World Series, in which the Dodgers were swept, and it would be his final ever game.
Koufax was forced to retire due to arthritis right in the middle of the most dominant stretch a pitcher had ever had. I can't even fathom the numbers that a healthy Koufax would put up in the 1968 year of the pitcher, or how many more Cy Young's and World Championships he would've won, but it wasn't to be. The meteoric career of Sandy Koufax got him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, and his health is still the center of one of the great "What If's" in baseball history.
If you've ever asked me who the greatest pitcher of all time is, I've given this as my answer. So many guys have a case, but this man blows them all away.
From the first time I held a ball, it settled in the palm of my right hand as though it belonged there and, when I threw it, ball, hand and wrist, and arm and shoulder and back seemed to all work together.
1924, the World Series, Walter Johnson is a 36 year old coming off of a resurgent season in which he'd win MVP, a relatively new award, for the second time in his career. Johnson came into save the game after a ball may or may not have hit off a pebble to tie the game for the Senators earlier. He pitched well, and then, it happened again. Another ball to Freddie Lidstrom that bounced over his head, a run scored, and the Senators won Walter Johnson his first World Championship. Legend has it that the ball hit off the same pebble both times.
That was the capstone moment in the career of the greatest pitcher to ever live. Walter Johnson debuted against the Detroit Tigers in 1907, and on his debut, his fastball, according to Ty Cobb, "hissed with danger, and made [Cobb] flinch." Johnson finished ten seasons with over 100 innings and a sub 2 ERA, including a season with a 1.14 ERA, 36 wins and a WHIP of 0.780 in 1913 at age 25. That was without a doubt, Johnson's greatest ever season, and he put up 15 bWAR that season. He took home the MVP award in its' third year of existence. The award went out of fashion after 1914, and didn't resurface until 1922, but Johnson earned MVP again in his aforementioned age 36 season.
He would routinely lead the league in strikeouts, FIP, WHIP, ERA, Wins, Complete Games, Shutouts, K/9 and pretty much every pitching stat. He has the most bWAR of any pitcher of all-time, with Cy Young being the only guy even close to him, and he's second all time out of anybody in bWAR, behind only Babe Ruth.
Journalist Shirley Povich said of Johnson that:
Walter Johnson, more than any other ballplayer, probably more than any other athlete, professional or amateur, became the symbol of gentlemanly conduct in the heat of battle
His god given talent was immense, and his congeniality was just as important. He became a national hero and icon, beloved from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between. The entire country was rooting for him when the Senators, who'd struggled immensely during his prime, made the World Series in 1924, and eventually defeated the Giants.
His counting stats are ridiculous, as the only pitcher not named Cy Young with over 400 wins. The Big Train also struck out over 3500 batters in a time when strikeouts were uncommon. He is the all time leader in shutouts, with 110 of them. To put that in context, the active leader, who is Clayton Kershaw, hasn't had a shutout in three years, and has 15 for his career. Obviously that's how baseball evolves, but Johnson's 110 is still 20 more than second place Pete Alexander. He managed to have a 147 career ERA+ and a WHIP of 1.061 for the entire 21 year career. Walter Johnson was a one team man with the Senators and was inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in the first class. Just about the only thing that Johnson failed at during his life was an unsuccessful run for Congress. Johnson passed at age 59 in 1946, and nearly 75 years after his death, he's still the greatest pitcher to ever live.
Everybody knows that rankings are a crapshoot. Especially when it comes to pitchers, a topic with which there is so much debate. So please, let me know where I've gone wrong, and tell me who you think the greatest pitchers to ever live are.
For a look at Advanced Pitching Stats on Baseball Savant, watch this stream.
Expect more baseball content from me, but also expect some shorter, AFL Match Recaps or Manchester United match recaps starting when those sports return. The baseball articles will continue to be extremely detailed statistical analysis, but most of my other pieces will be shorter, but still heavy on character and content.