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Greatest Pitchers

 

by Aman Verjee

 

 

1. Lefty Grove

2. Walter Johnson

3. Roger Clemens

4. Sandy Koufax

5. Christy Mathewson

6. Greg Maddux

7. Grover Alexander

8. Cy Young

9. Tom Seaver 

10. Warren Spahn

 

Honorable mention: Bob Feller, Mordecai Brown, Bob Gibson, Carl Hubbell, Steve Carlton, Juan Marichal, Randy Johnson, Rube Waddell

Best Defensively: Bobby Shantz, Jim Kaat, Mark Langston

 

 

     Chicks may dig the long ball, but for the purist, nothing beats a pitcher's duel.  The man on the mound controls everything - the game's tempo, its rhythms, its very essence.  The game doesn't start until he throws the ball; baseball is the only sport where the offense doesn't touch the ball and where the outcome of the game isn't determined until the defense initiates action.  In any one game, it is only the pitcher who can dominate with regularity.

 

     What does it take to be considered the best pitcher of all time?  Well, he would have to allow fewer runs than his peers, and do it by a wide margin.  He would have to win a lot of games, pitch well in clutch performances, and munch innings.  And he would have to it all over an extended period of time.  By this standard, Pedro Martinez may well join the pantheon of great pitchers - below is a  table showing how his recent four-year stretch compares with the greatest four-year stretches in history (league average ERA is weighted by the number of innings pitched by the pitcher):

 

Pitcher

IP W-L Pct. ERA Lg. Avg. ERA RERA
1997-2000 Pedro Martinez 905.1 77-25 .755 2.16 4.66 .399
1992-1995 Greg Maddux 946.2 75-29 .721 1.98 4.18 .445
1910-1913 Walter Johnson 1,407.1 119-49 .708 1.44 3.03 .474
1906-1909 Mordecai Brown 1,165.0 102-30 .773 1.31 2.51 .521
1963-1966 Sandy Koufax 1,192.2 97-27 .782 1.86 3.50 .532
1908-1911 Christy Mathewson 1,290.0 115-39 .747 1.61 2.84 .570
1962-1965 Hoyt Wilhelm 504.2 31-34 .477 2.10 3.67 .572
1928-1931 Lefty Grove 1,116.2 103-23 .817 2.49 4.33 .575
1931-1934 Carl Hubbell 1,153.2 76-47 .617 2.25 3.78 .596
1966-1969 Bob Gibson 1,074.1 76-41 .650 2.08 3.39 .613
1902-1905 Rube Waddell 1,312.0 97-52 .651 1.88 2.97 .633

 

     Still, Pedro has some hills to climb before he achieves the status that these pitchers.  What's interesting about this methodology is that no matter how many years are used - at least between 2 and 7 - Greg Maddux and Walter Johnson consistently top the list.  For instance, here are the best seven-year figures:

 

Pitcher

W-L Pct. ERA Lg. Avg. ERA RERA
1992-1998 Greg Maddux 137-53 .721 2.15 4.08 .527
1910-1916 Walter Johnson 199-100 .665 1.55 2.94 .527
1904-1910 Mordecai Brown 160-65 .711 1.56 2.68 .582
1926-1932 Lefty Grove 161-59 .732 2.64 4.28 .616
1907-1913 Christy Mathewson 187-74 .716 1.80 2.92 .619
1906-1912 Ed Walsh 168-112 .600 1.71 2.76 .619
1986-1992 Roger Clemens 136-77 .638 2.66 4.06 .654
1931-1937 Carl Hubbell 147-73 .668 2.54 3.87 .656

 

     Before we anoint Greg Maddux as the greatest ever, let's remember that he pitches in a pretty favorable ballpark, just as Sandy Koufax did.  Let's also remember that 1994 and 1995 were strike-shortened seasons, so his numbers for those two spectacular years may not have held up.  And let's remember that Johnson pitched about 50% more innings than Maddux did over the same period.

   Also, while consistency ought to be rewarded, what of we simply looked at the top seven seasons of a pitcher's career, regardless of when they fell, and adjusted their ERA for ballpark effects?  Based on data collected from Total Baseball, which calculates an annual ERA+ that divides the league ERA by the adjusted pitcher's ERA, here's how the big guns would stack up (ERA+ is weighted by year based on the number of innings :

 

 

Pitcher

ERA+ Led League in ERA+:
1910-13, 1915, 1918-19 Walter Johnson 211 5 times
1992-1998 Greg Maddux 190 5 times
1986, 1990-92, 1994, 1997-98 Roger Clemens 185 7 times
1926, 1930-31, 1936, 1938-39 Lefty Grove 184 9 times
1903, 1905, 1908-1912 Christy Mathewson 178 5 times
1904-1910 Mordecai Brown 176 1 time
1892, '95, '99, 1901-02, '05, '08 Cy Young 172 2 times

 

 

1. Lefty Grove

ERA Titles: 9 (12 top five AL finishes)

ERA +: 148 (2nd all time)

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

Note: ERA + refers to pitcher's ERA adjusted for league average and ballpark.  An ERA + of 110 signifies that the league average ERA was 10% higher than the pitcher's ERA, adjusted or ballpark effect.

 

     His lifetime ERA of 3.06 is obviously higher than that of many of his fellow Hall of Famers; in fact, it doesn't even register among the top 100 all-time.  But baseball statistics can be misleading when taken out of context - Grove's career ERA is wholly attributable to the era in which he pitched, as the late 1920s and 1930s were wonderful times to be major league hitters.  Consider this: he won nine ERA titles, and that's not a misprint.  And that's despite splitting his career in two hitter's parks: Philadelphia's Shibe Park and Boston's Fenway Park.

     Grove pitched in the minors until he was 24, but only because his minor-league team wouldn't let him go.  Once he did reach the majors, Grove and his overpowering fastball led the American League in strikeouts in each of his first seven seasons.  Despite his late start, he still won 300 games, and his winning percentage of .680 trails only Pedro Martinez and Whitey Ford (who toiled for the mighty Yankees) among contemporary pitchers.

     From 1928 to 1936, he was the best pitcher in baseball - had the Cy Young Award been around, he would have won it in 5 of those by years, by my reckoning, and may have won it in as many as 8.  He averaged over 280 innings a season during that period, frequently popping up among the league leaders in that category; he also led the league in wins 4 times.

     From 1929 to 1931, he sparked the Athletics to three pennants and two World Series titles with a 79-15 record and three straight ERA titles.  His 1931 MVP year ranks as maybe the greatest pitching season of all time - a 31-4 record, a 2.06 ERA (the league ERA back then was 4.38, so Grove's relative ERA was 212 - one of the 15 best marks of all time), 27 complete games in 30 starts, 11 relief appearances, 5 saves, a league-leading 175 strikeouts.

 

 

2. Walter Johnson

 

ERA Titles: 5 (13 top five AL finishes)

ERA +: 147 (3rd all time)

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     The Big Train pitched in a different era, one where starters went 40-plus games a season, and looking at his pitching stats is mind-boggling for the contemporary fan.  For instance, in 1913, he finished 36-7, led the AL with a 1.14 ERA, tossed 29 complete games with 11 shutouts and - get this - got 2 saves.  He pitched in 48 games (12 in relief) and amassed 346 innings.  By the way, he also hit .261 that year.

     For most of his career, Johnson depended on a sidearm fastball that left hitters shaking their heads in disbelief, and sometimes fear. Later, he developed a baffling curveball.  His 110 shutouts is a record as unbreakable as any in baseball, right up there with Dago's 56-game hit streak and Yogi Berra's 75 World Series appearances.  Johnson led his league in strikeouts 12 times and wins 6 times, astonishing considering that he pitched for the Washington Senators, who finished above .500 in only 9 of Johnson's 21 seasons with the club, and didn't win their first American League pennant until Johnson was 37 years old.  His 5 league ERA titles and 13 top-five finishes shows how good he was relative to his era; he also led the American League in innings pitched 5 times, and cleared 300 IP a whopping 9 times (the last pitcher to pitch over 300 innings was Steve Carlton in 1980).

     His 2.17 career ERA is two-thirds of the average league ERA over his career.  Only Roger Clemens and Lefty Grove can make that claim.

 

 

3. Roger Clemens

 

ERA Titles: 6 (10 top five AL finishes)

ERA +: 151 (1st all time)

 

     When he is on, no one is quite so effective as Rocket Roger.  Consider this: of all the pitchers who have gone before him, no one has maintained a lower career ERA relative to his league and adjusted for ballpark then the Rocket - he has won six ERA titles (and runnered up twice) and that's despite the fact that he pitched for most of his career in a launching pad called Fenway Park, and is the only pitcher on this list to have to face the American League designated hitters.

     The physically imposing, 6'4" 220-pound Clemens has been one of baseball's most overpowering hurlers, but his impeccable mechanics, outstanding control, and good curveball have made him a complete pitcher as well as a flamethrower.  Drafted by the Red Sox in June 1983, Clemens became only the fourth pitcher ever to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards - and he did it in his first two full seasons.  His first 7 seasons - 1986 to 1992 - stand as a stretch of dominance unparalleled in major league history since Lefty Grove (1928-1936); he won 4 ERA titles during this stretch, finished in the top five 6 times, won 17 or more games in each year, won three Cy Young Awards, runnered up once in 1990 (he lost a close vote to Oakland's 27-game winner Bob Welch, whose ERA was a run-per-game higher but who won games because Oakland's mighty offense gave him tons of run support), and finished third in 1992 when voters tired of giving him the prize and went with Dennis Eckersley's 51 saves instead (Jack McDowell edged Clemens out of second by a 51-48 margin).

     In fact, the period from 1990 to 1992 is one of the handful of most dominant three-year periods ever - Clemens became the second pitcher to lead the league in ERA and shutouts three years in a row (following Grover Alexander), and his ballpark-adjusted ERA for that period was 180.  Only Sandy Koufax (1964-1966), Lefty Grove (1929-1932), and Alexander (1915-1917) were so brilliant over a three-year stretch.  (More recently, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez have added their names to the list).

     In his first two full seasons, he pitched 18 shutouts in his first 139 starts.  He also established a major-league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game - a feat he repeated a decade later.  Despite his regular-season dominance in 1986 (he started off 3-0, leaped into the national spotlight with 20 strikeouts in a 3-1 win over Seattle, pitched 3 perfect innings to win the All-Star Game MVP - he was 14-1 at the break - and then finished the season 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA), Clemens won only one of his four post-season starts while achieving a number of dubious LCS records: most hits allowed (22) in a series, most runs allowed in one game (8), most earned runs allowed in one game (7), and most earned runs allowed in one series (11).  (On a brighter note, he did tie a record with four consecutive strikeouts.)  Clemens pitched more adequately in the World Series, but won neither of his starts, and it was reported (though never confirmed) that Clemens asked to be taken out of the infamous World Series Game 6 and leave it to Calvin Schiraldi to hold a 3-2 lead.

     Clemens skipped spring training in 1987 in a contract squabble and was only 4-6 on June 12 that year, but he went 16-3 the rest of the way to finish 20-9 with a league-leading seven shutouts, winning his second consecutive Cy Young Award.

     What is most impressive about him is that he went through an apalling period in the middle of his career, only to bounce back.  He spent two stints on the DL in 1993 and finished with a losing record for the first time, with a bloated 4.46 ERA; despite a recovery in 1994, it appeared as if his career might have been winding down in 1995 when his ERA ballooned again to 4.18.  In 1996, his 10-13 record reflected a season-long distraction: ongoing debates with the front office about whether he would re-sign with the Red Sox.  When he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997, it would have been easy for him to satisfy the prediction of most observers by spending his declining years in comfort.

     Instead, the Rocket channeled his anger and turned in one of the finest single pitching seasons ever - he won his first 11 starts, threw nine complete games and three shutouts 9both tied for the league lead), and by leading the AL in wins (21-7), ERA (2.05 - his ERA+ of 211 is one of the top five seasons since 1961), and strikeouts (292), he won the pitcher's Triple Crown for the first time in the AL since Hal Newhouser did it with the Tigers in war-depleted 1945.  He also became just the third four-time Cy Young winner after Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux.  And as if his dominating debut with the Blue Jays wasn't enough, Clemens turned in an unprecedented fifth Cy Young season in 1998; after a slow start, he won his last 15 decisions, and his 2.65 ERA, 20 wins, and 271 strikeouts made him only the fourth pitcher (after Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lefty Grove, and Sandy Koufax) to win the pitcher's Triple Crown in consecutive seasons.

 

 

4. Sandy Koufax

 

ERA Titles: 5 (5 top five NL finishes)

ERA +: 131 (19th all time)

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     From 1962 to 1966, Koufax dominated like no other pitcher ever has over a sustained period of time.  A few pitchers have won three straight ERA titles - Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux - and one had even won 4 in a row: Lefty Grove.  But five!?  Yet after moving to spacious Dodger Stadium, that's exactly what Koufax did.  Then, dramatically, he retired at the peak of his career at the tender age of 31 - five years later he became the youngest man to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and only the sixth to achieve the honor in his first year of eligibility.

     Koufax achieved his tremendous five-year run - 5 ERA titles, the lowest opponent batting average every time, three unanimous Cy Young selections (this when pitchers from both leagues competed for one award), an MVP in 1963, three pennants, a no-hitter each season from 1962 to 1965, and the modern day National League record for strikeouts with 382 in 1965 - in spite of injuries.  A mysterious circulatory ailment in his pitching arm cost him a third of a season in 1962.  Another arm injury in 1964 shortly led to an arthritic pitching elbow.  After a 27-9 record in 1966, he retired at age 31 rather than risk crippling his arm.

     Koufax packed a Hall of Fame career into the final six of his dozen ML seasons.  He was always a hard thrower, but control problems hobbled him during his early years.  His five-year stretch from 1962 to 1966 may be the most dominant in baseball history, but he got a lot of help from his home park, where the deep alleys and clean, hard infield dirt helped him to post his astonishing stats:

 
Sandy Koufax at his peak
Year W-L Pct. ERA LERA RERA Home Road IP K's Avg.
1961 18-13 .581 3.52 4.03 0.87 4.29 2.78 255.2 269 .222
1962 14-7 .667 2.54 3.94 0.64 1.75 3.53 184.1 216 .197
1963 25-5 .833 1.88 3.29 0.57 1.38 2.31 311 306 .189
1964 19-5 .792 1.74 3.54 0.49 0.85 2.93 223 223 .191
1965 26-8 .765 2.04 3.54 0.57 1.38 2.72 335.2 382 .179
1966 27-9 .750 1.73 3.61 0.48 1.52 1.96 323 317 .205
                     
Total 129-47 .733 2.19         1,632.2 1,713 .197

 

Bold indicates that he led the league

 

     Still, his accomplishments were remarkable on many levels.  Consider this: in 1965 and 1966, he threw 27 complete games each time.  And he performed best when it counted - in 7 World Series starts and 57 IP, he had an ERA of 0.95, allowed just 47 baserunners and struck out 61.

 

 

5. Christy Mathewson

ERA Titles: 5 (8 top five NL finishes)

ERA +: 136 (11th all time)

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     Gentlemanly and patrician, Christy Mathewson was the dominant pitcher of his era, which extended from 1900 to 1916.  He is tied for third all-time in wins (with 373) and stands 8th in winning percentage; he led the National League in ERA 5 times, was the runner up twice, led in wins 4 times and in strikeouts 5 times.  But the real tipoff to his greatness is the 1936 inaugural Hall of Fame vote; Mathewson received 205 votes, while Walter Johnson received 182.

     An intelligent and resourceful pitcher, he baffled hitters with terrific control and pitch selection (he walked just 1.6 batters per 9 innings over his career) and his magic pitch: the "fadeaway."  This early form of a screwball, or reverse curve, was the greatest weapon in baseball in the early part of the century.

     He was also the ultimate big-game pitcher.  In the 1905 World Series, Mathewson showed that he was ready for prime time by tossing three shutouts - a record that is as unlikely to be broken as any in baseball.  Even more remarkably, Mathewson accomplished the feat in a five-game series, which the Giants won 4-1: he threw a 4-hitter in Game 1; another 4-hitter with one walk on just two days rest in Game 3; then sealed the victory in Game 5 on one day of rest in Game 5.

     In the 1911 World Series, he won the opener against the A's 2-1, then dropped Game 3 even though he allowed just one earned run over 11.0 IP.  He then lost Game 4 against Chief Bender, 4-2.  In the 1912 Series (one of the greatest ever played), he allowed just one earned run in 11.0 IP in Game 2 but came away with a tie; he took a hard-luck loss in Game 5, losing 2-1, and then took the mound in the decisive Game 8, pitching 9 2/3 IP and allowing just one earned run again, but losing 3-2.  In the 1913 Series, which his team lost in five games, he won Game 2 with a masterful 10-inning shutout performance and lost the decisive Game 5 despite allowing just two earned runs.

 

 

6. Greg Maddux

 

ERA Titles: 4 (8 top five NL finishes)

ERA +: 146 (4th all time)

 

     When you cast your eye over this list, firebreathing fastballers like Johnson, Grove and Clemens are the norm.  But Maddux - one of the best control pitchers in history - is an anachronism, with a fastball that won't hit 90 on a good day.  The four-time Cy Young Award winner (a feat matched only by Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton) might be the most dominant pitcher of the 1990s, and has achieved success without one defining or unhittable pitch.  Instead, he thrives on discipline, outstanding pitch selection, complete command and pinpoint accuracy.  A terrific fielder, he has also won 8 Gold Gloves.

     Maddux started his career in lively Wrigley Field, and control problems early in his career plagued him.  For instance, in 1988, he walked 82 batters, even though he went 18-8 and posted a solid 3.18 ERA.  He went from staff ace to superstar by cutting down on the walks - in 1995, he walked 23 batters, and in 1997, he walked just 20 in 232 innings (6 of those were intentional).

     In addition to his regular season success, Maddux has succeeded where Roger Clemens has failed - in the post-season.  In three trips to the World Series, he has made 4 starts and has a 1.99 ERA; his winning Game 1 of the 1995 World Series on a 2-hit shutout set the tone for the entire fall classic, and the following year he and John Smoltz shut the New York Yankees down to take a 2-0 lead.  (Of course, the Yankees came back to win 4-2.  But Glavine in Game 3, Denny Neagle in Game 4, Smoltz in Game 5 and Maddux in Game 6 all pitched valiantly; the culprit in Game 3 was Greg McMichael, and it was Mark Wohlers who blew a save in a critical Game 4 to let the Series go even.  In Game 5, Smoltz lost a 1-0 duel to Andy Pettitte, and in Game 6 Maddux lost 3-2 to Jimmy Key, Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland.)  In 17 post-season starts, Maddux has a 8-7 record and a 3.08 ERA.

     Beginning in 1993, he began a string of 4 seasons that were reminiscent of Koufax a generation ago - he won the Cy Young Award each year, took 3 ERA titles and led the league in innings pitched each time.  Three times he led in complete games, and twice he led in shutouts.  He had an off-year of sorts in 1996, going just 15-11 with a 2.72 ERA, and lost the ERA title to Kevin Brown and the Cy Young to teammate John Smoltz (24-7, 2.94 ERA).  In 1997, he rebounded and posted outstanding numbers once again (19-4, 2.20 ERA), although an even better year by Pedro Martinez (17-8, 1.90 ERA) won the Cy Young.  In 1998, Maddux the Magnificent was back, with another epic performance - a 2.22 ERA, and a 18-9 record.  (Teammate Tom Glavine, who was 20-6 with a 2.47 ERA, won the Cy Young, making Maddux the bridesmaid for the second straight season.)

     A strong case could be made that Maddux's performance in 1995 was the single best in major league history - it's certainly up there with Lefty Grove's 1931, Bob Gibson's 1968, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown's 1906, Ron Guidry's 1978, Steve Carlton's 1972, Dwight Gooden's 1985 and Pedro Martinez's 1999 and 2000.  Maddux was 19-2, and his ERA that year of 1.63, in a year of ridiculously inflated offensive numbers, was 62% lower than the league average.

     Another strong case can be made that Maddux in 1994 posted the single greatest season in major league history - a 16-6 record in the strike-shortened year, and his 1.56 ERA (even lower relative to the league average than his previous year's number) was the third best in baseball since 1919.  Certainly, Maddux in 1994-1995 has to be considered in the pantheon of great two-season performances: in my view, it surpasses Walter Johnson (1913-1914 and 1918-1919), Pedro Martinez (1999-2000) and Roger Clemens (1997-1998) and is the greatest of all time.

 

 

7. Grover Alexander

 

ERA Titles: 5 (7 top five NL finishes)

ERA +: 135 (12th all time)

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     This may be controversial selection - though it may not - because a lot of people don't know Pete Alexander.  But in his day, he was the game's most dominant pitcher - taking the mantle from Christy Mathewson around 1913, he won 5 ERA titles and led the league in innings pitched a whopping 7 times.  And he did it all while pitching in the Coors Field of his day - the Baker Bowl, which consistently boosted run production by 20-30% until it was abandoned in 1938.  Alexander's greatest years were in Philadelphia (1911-17), despite a right-field wall that was only 272 feet from home plate.  He won 190 games (one-third of the team's total for the period), won 30 or more three straight years, 1915-17, and led the NL in every important pitching statistic at least once.  His 16 shutouts in 1916 is still the ML record.

     You have to love an innings muncher who can win ERA titles in a great hitter's park.  He led the league 6 times in wins, pitching for the hapless Phillies and later the Cubs, and he finished with a third-highest-all-time 373 wins.  He also led the NL in strikeouts 6 times, and was the finest fielding pitcher of his time, and maybe of all time.

     Alexander was an alcoholic - this was widely known even before Ronald Reagan portrayed him in a movie called THE WINNING TEAM - and also suffered from epilepsy.  It was perhaps for these reasons that he was purchased for $750 by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1911; in his rookie year, he led the league in wins (with 28), innings pitched (367), and shutouts (7).

     In 1917, he was traded with catcher Bill Killefer to the Cubs; there, he won another 128 games for Chicago.  But when Joe McCarthy took over as manager in 1926, it seemed that Alexander's best years were behind him and that whiskey and age were taking their toll; McCarthy sent his drinking pitcher to the Cardinals for the $6,000 waiver price.

     But Alexander wasn't done yet.  In the World Series, he won three games for the Cards; he notched the Game 7 win by appearing in relief in the seventh inning, bases loaded and two out, to protect a one run lead - he struck out the Yankee's Tony Lazzeri on four knee-high pitches, and pitched two more hitless innings to clinch the win.

 

 

8. Cy Young

 

ERA Titles: 2 (11 top five AL finishes)

ERA +: 138 (9th all time)

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     511 wins - it is one of the records that is beyond breakable.  Play this game for 25 seasons, and win 20 game each time, and you still wouldn't get there.  When a record like this seems so inexplicable, baseball writers try to rationalize it away - and indeed, oceans of ink have been spilled in the effort.  Did Young pitch in a different era, one where starters went 45, 50 times a year, and always finished what they started?  Sure - Young's 749 complete games is testimony to that.  Is it true that Young also lost 316 games - more than anyone else?  Yep.  Is the award that carries his name a result of circumstance?  Yes - Young died in late 1955, and that's probably why the annual award for best pitcher was named after him and not Mathewson or Johnson, who both preceded Young into the Hall of Fame.  And throughout his long and illustrious career, he won just two ERA titles; Mathewson and Johnson won 5 each.

     But let's not diminish the accomplishment.  Yes, pitcher did a lot more work back then, but that only increases their value relative to today's starters - Young's workload shouldn't be held against him.  Young led his league in victories five times, and in opponent's on-base average a gaudy 8 times.  While most great pitchers of Young's era flamed out early, their arms ruined by all those games, Young just kept plugging along; he topped the National League with 36 wins and a 1.93 ERA when he was 25 years old, and when he was 40, Young won 21 games and posted a 1.26 ERA, second lowest in the American League.

     And it's not like he pitched for great teams - he earned his career 511-316 record.  From 1890 to 1898, he played for the Cleveland Indians and posted a 241-135 record; without him on the mound, the Indians were a mediocre 416-423.  Then he moved to St. Louis for two seasons - he went 45-35, while the Cardinals were 104-107 without him.  Then Young went to Boston for 8 years, where went 192-119; his team was an atrocious 411-459 without him - in fact, in 1907, he went 21-15 for a club that was 59-90 overall!

     It isn't surprising that according Total Baseball, Young won 99 more games than his teams would have done with a team-average pitcher in his stead; that's more than anyone else, including Walter Johnson (90), who toiled famously for the terrible Washington Senators.

 

 

9. Tom Seaver

 

ERA Titles: 3 (7 top five AL finishes)

ERA +: 127 (28th all time)

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     Tom Terrific succeeded with such regularity that you almost took him for granted.  In his 10 years in New York from 1967 to 1977, he won 25% of the Mets' games; he won three Cy Young Awards, in 1969, 1972 and 1975, and was the 17th 300-game winner in major league history.  Seaver set a major league record by striking out 200 or more hitters in 10 seasons, nine in a row from 1968 to 1976.

     The intelligent, hard-working perfectionist was a throwback to the days of Christy Mathewson, whose blond, blue-eyed, All-American good looks and reputation for sportsmanship and clean living imbued him with a heroic, almost mythic quality.  Seaver was the first true star for the New York Mets "miracle" World Championship team of 1969, and that gave him a mythic veneer in the early 1970s.  The Mets had struggled since joining the Nation League in 1962, winning more than 60 games just once between 1962 and 1966.

     Seaver quickly became the team's star, and in 1969 he won his first of three Cy Young awards with a 25-7 record and a 2.21 ERA; he led the NL in wins and winning percentage.  He also starred in the World Series, winning a 2-1 ten-inning thriller in Game Four, helped by Ron Swoboda's game-saving catch in the ninth inning.

     From 1970-1975, Seaver solidified his status as baseball's premier pitcher.  He was overshadowed by Steve Carlton (27-10, 1.97 ERA) in 1972, but owned the ERA title in 1970, 1971 and 1973.  He led the league in strikeouts 5 times.  Seaver himself felt that 1971 was his best season; he compiled a 20-10 record and led the league for the second year in a row in with a 1.76 ERA and 289 strikeouts.  By 1976, Seaver was having trouble with Met general manager M. Donald Grant over Seaver's salary and how the team was being run, and the two traded private and public taunts.  Two months later, on June 15, Seaver was dealt to Cincinnati for four players, Pat Zachary, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman, a trade that ripped out the hearts of New York fans.

     Seaver had four winning years with the Reds, including 1979, when he went 16-6 and led the NL in winning percentage and shutouts (5).  In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Seaver went 14-2 and led the majors in victories but lost a controversial Cy Young vote to rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela.

 

 

10. Warren Spahn

 

ERA Titles: 3 (10 top five AL finishes)

ERA +: 118

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     OK, so he didn't exactly dominate like Koufax or Maddux.  At his peak, he was never he game's best pitcher.  Still, no one succeeded with the consistency of Warren Spahn.  Reliably among the league leaders in ERA (10 top five NL finishes) and wins (he led the league 8 times) Spahn seemed to pitch just well enough to win.  While he did win 3 ERA titles, his career ERA is very good but not great - that said, his ERA never went above 3.50 between 1946 and 1963, when he was the mainstay of the Braves' pitching staff; he won 20 games a ML record-tying 13 times, pitched two no-hitters, and led the NL in strikeouts 4 consecutive years in this period.

     A workhorse, he led the league in innings pitched 4 times, and complete games 9 times.  His 363 career victories is 5th all time.  Spahn was a masterful pitcher, with an array of four quality pitches - a decent fastball, a good curve, an excellent screwball and a very god slider.  As he developed the latter two pitches, and began to master changing speeds and location to keep hitters off balance, he became baseball's most successful lefty - he led the NL in ERA in 1953, and failed to win 20 games only once between 1953 and 1961.

 


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