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Who's The Greatest? Top 10 MLB Starting Pitchers of All Time

Pedro Martinez - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

I've spent the last four months writing exclusively about NFL football and NBA basketball. But I'm excited to get back to writing about my favorite sport and America's original pastime - baseball.

When I sat down to start writing this article, I thought it would be pretty easy to come up with my top ten. I have been watching baseball my entire life and I consider myself a super fan, especially when it comes to pitchers. I remember growing up and watching some of the all-time greats on this list as well as going back and watching or reading about some of the old-timers from the early days of the game. This list was much harder to compile than I originally thought. There are a lot of incredible pitchers who didn't make the cut and I'm fully prepared for some discussions and debates from readers as to who I omitted or how I ranked my final ten.

The criteria that I used here when evaluating my top ten included both longevity and how dominant a pitcher was in their peak seasons. We have some pitchers represented here from all eras of baseball and while it's tough to compare players from different eras in any sport, we still do it anyway and we are forced to when looking at the totality of the history of any sport. Let's get to the list already and I invite you to hit me up on Twitter @ThunderDanDFS if you want to discuss and debate these any further. All feedback is welcome! Here are my top 10 starting pitchers of all time. We will start at the bottom of the list at #10 and work our way up to the top.

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Honorable Mentions

 

10. Steve Carlton, LHP

Years Played: 1965 - 1988

Teams: Cardinals, Phillies, White Sox, Giants, Indians, Twins

Career Stats and Accomplishments: 329 wins (11th most), 4,136 strikeouts (4th-most), 4 Cy Young Awards, 10 All-Star appearances, 55 shutouts (14th most)

We start our list off with the original "lefty" and only one of two Southpaws to make my top 10. Carlton spent seven seasons in St. Louis before coming to Philadelphia where he pitched the majority of his career. As a Phillie, he led the NL in wins four times, including a 27-win season in 1972 in which he also led the league in ERA with an incredible 1.97 mark and topped 300 strikeouts. That '72 triple-crown season was perhaps one of the strongest of any pitcher and started a 10-year run of dominance.

Carlton bounced around to four more teams in his early 40s and finally retired at age 43 having played 24 seasons. He has a little bit of everything working for him here in terms of our criteria as he managed great longevity but also was dominant for 10 years at the peak of his career. He was the strikeout king when he retired with 435 more strikeouts than the next closest pitcher (Blyleven) before getting passed up by Clemens, Johnson, and Ryan.

 

#9. Bob Gibson, RHP

Years Played: 1959-1975

Teams: St. Louis Cardinals

Career Stats and Accomplishments: 9-time All-Star, 9 gold gloves, 2-time Cy Young winner, 2 World Series MVP, 56 shutouts (13th-most)

I never had the pleasure of watching Bob Gibson live, but my dad swore he was the greatest pitcher he had ever seen growing up in the 1960s. His 251 career wins rank just 46th all-time, but his 3,117 strikeouts are good for 16th place and he's just one of three pitchers who cracked 3k strikeouts in fewer than 20 seasons along with Pedro Martinez and Ferguson Jenkins.

Gibson's career was shorter than most of the guys on this list but had quite possibly the most dominant several-year spans of any pitcher. From 1968 to 1970, Gibson won 65 games, both his Cy Young awards, and won his only regular season MVP (in '68). His 1.12 ERA in '68 stands as the 9th-best ever, however, some guys ahead of him went under 1.0 with a lot less innings pitched. Only two pitchers who threw 200+ innings were ever better (Mordecai Brown and Dutch Leonard) and the fact that Gibson achieved his over 304 innings is mind-boggling.

Gibson also led the league in shutouts (13) and strikeouts (268) in that remarkable '68 season. He turned around and pitched 28 complete games for the second straight season in '69 then won 23 games in '70 at age 34 years old.

His postseason dominance is another reason we remember him so fondly. He was the World Series MVP in 1964 and again in 1967 as he led the Cardinals to two titles. He beat Boston three times in '67 while allowing just three runs over 27 innings. The Cardinals lost in '68 to Detroit, but Gibson pitched well in that series, too.

 

#8. Christy Mathewson, RHP

Years Played: 1900-1916

Teams: New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds

Career Stats and Accomplishments: 373 wins (3rd most ever), Career 2.13 ERA, 2,507 strikeouts. Led the majors in wins 4 times, in ERA 5 times, and in strikeouts 5 times.

Mathewson played baseball in the early days of the 20th century when the game was much different. He played his entire career with the New York Giants other than one start made for the Cincinnati Reds in his final season.

This was the era when great pitchers threw complete games, win or lose, and piled up huge inning totals. From 1901 (his age-20 season) to 1914 (his age-34 season), Mathewson averaged 320 innings per season! He won 20+ games 14 times and 30+ games 5 times in his career, including an incredible 37 games in 1908.

That 1908 season is up for consideration as one of the best of all time by any pitcher. Mathewson finished 37-11 with a 1.43 ERA and 259 strikeouts over 390 innings. He led the league in wins, ERA, games started, shutouts (11), innings pitched, and even recorded five saves pitching in relief between starts.

His 373 wins are even more impressive when you consider he did it in fewer innings pitched than the next 8 guys on the all-time wins list.

 

#7. Roger Clemens, RHP

Years Played: 1984-2007

Teams: Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Houston Astros

Career Stats and Accomplishments: 7-time Cy Young winner, 1 MVP, 354 wins (9th most), 4,672 strikeouts (3rd-most), Led league in ERA 7 times, led league in strikeouts 5 times.

The Rocket has to make my top ten. He not only dominated during his prime but he also pitched well into his 40s and had success for every franchise he played for over his illustrious 24-year career.

He still shares the single-game strikeout record at 20 that he set back in 1986 (with Kerry Wood) and was both a workhorse when it came to innings and a big-time strikeout pitcher, too.

He left Boston in 1996 to go to Toronto at age 34 and a lot of people thought his days of dominance were over. He proceeded to win 20 games in '97 and '98 and lead the league in ERA both seasons, picking up two more Cy Young awards as a member of the Blue Jays.

He won his final Cy Young as a member of the Houston Astros in 2004 at age 41 and turned in a 1.87 ERA the following season at age 42. He was not only dominant during his prime, he was a great pitcher to the end of his long career.

 

#6. Walter Johnson, RHP

Years Played: 1907-1927

Teams: Washington Nationals (AL)

Career Stats and Accomplishments: Two-time MVP, Five-time ERA leader, Three-time Triple Crown, 417 wins (second-most all-time), 3rd-most innings pitcher all-time

At the sixth spot, we go back to the old timers with Walter "Big Train" Johnson. You can't ignore the longevity here and the durability as Johnson just piled up innings at an incredible rate every season. I mean he led the league in complete games four years in a row from 1913 to 1916, compiling a staggering 133 complete games.

His 110 career shutouts are the most of any pitcher and he led the league in strikeouts for eight consecutive seasons from 1912 to 1919. The only other pitcher who has more total wins in MLB history is Cy Young.

 

#5. Nolan Ryan, RHP

Years Played: 1966-1993

Teams: New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers

Career Stats and Accomplishments: 8-time All-Star, Two ERA titles, Most Strikeouts in MLB history, 7 No-Hitters

When talking with other baseball fans, there might not be a pitcher that expert opinions differ more on than Ryan. I actually was concerned that I had Ryan ranked too low at #5 and I had friends who were trying to convince me that he didn't even belong in the top 10!

Ryan's longevity is certainly something special and not likely to ever be duplicated. He pitched in four decades and was still dominant in his age 42 season when he was an All-Star and struck out 301 hitters.

Ryan's lack of a Cy Young award is baffling given how good he was for such a long time. But his seven no-hitters are truly amazing and speak to the type of attitude he brought to the mound with him. He wanted to strike out every hitter he faced and it often led to a lot of walks (he's the all-time leader in free passes, too) and his fair share of long balls allowed.

 

#4. Randy Johnson, LHP

Years Played: 1988-2009

Teams: Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants

Career Stats and Accomplishments: Ten-time All-Star, 5-time Cy Young, Four ERA titles, Triple Crown winner (2002), Second-most strikeouts in MLB history

We go right from one flame thrower to another with Randy Johnson, aka "the Big Unit" here at #4. I had the pleasure of watching Johnson pitch his entire career from the time I was just a little tyke til the time I was already in my late 20s when he finally hung it up at age 45.

Johnson was larger than life out there on the mound at 6'10" and his fastball must have seemed like it was coming at hitters at 120 MPH when he released it 5-10 feet closer to the hitter than your average pitcher. He was wild early on in his career, but once he gained control of his stuff in his late 20s he was absolutely dominant.

Johnson's best seasons were in his late 30s in Arizona where he won the triple crown in 2002 at the age of 38. He and Curt Schilling formed a formidable duo that brought Arizona their only World Series title. We all remember him throwing behind John Kruk in the All-Star game and killing a poor bird with a fastball mid-flight, but the legacy of Randy Johnson is much bigger than that. He probably has a case to be ranked even higher on the list as he was easily one of the most feared pitchers ever.

 

#3. Cy Young, RHP

Years Played: 1890-1911

Teams: Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Americans, Cleveland Naps

Career Stats and Accomplishments: Triple Crown winner, Two ERA titles, All-time MLB leader in wins (511), losses (315), games started (815), complete games (749), innings pitched (7,356)

Some of these records will never be broken as today's starting pitchers simply don't make enough starts or log enough innings to ever catch up. Cy Young started 815 games over 22 years for an average of 37 starts per season. For a pitcher to break Young's record of 511 wins, they would need to win 25 games per season for 20 straight years.

If you are someone who thinks that we should largely ignore the stats accumulated by pitchers around the turn of the century, that's fine - I realize the innings are inflated since most starting pitchers were expected to pitch the entire game whether they were effective or not. But Young finished his 22-year career with a 2.63 ERA despite not being a dominant strikeout pitcher. The award for the best pitcher every season bears his name for a reason, no other starting pitcher was better during their era for longer.

 

#2. Greg Maddux, RHP

Years Played: 1986-2008

Teams: Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres

Career Stats and Accomplishments: Four Cy Young awards, 4 ERA titles, 8-time All-Star, 18 Gold Gloves, 8th most career wins

I expect to catch some flack here with Maddux being ranked ahead of some other power pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson. I suppose what you are looking for in a pitcher matters here as Maddux was a guy who got incredible results without being able to blow pitches past hitters with an overpowering fastball.

Greg Maddux combined elite control with some of the best movement on his pitches of any pitcher in the modern era to get awesome results. He was incredibly durable as well, throwing 200+ innings in 18 of 23 seasons. He led the league in innings pitched for five straight seasons from 1991 to 1995, piling up 44 complete games in that stretch.

He was virtually unhittable in '94 and '95, finishing with a 1.56 and a 1.63 ERA, respectively. And he fielded the position better than any pitcher ever has with 18 gold gloves at the position. Watching Maddux pitch was like watching a painter complete a masterpiece. He could put any pitch anywhere he wanted in any count.

 

#1. Pedro Martinez, RHP

Years Played: 1992 - 2009

Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies

Career Stats and Accomplishments: Three Cy Young awards, 8-time All-Star, Five ERA titles, Triple Crown winner (1999), Three strikeout titles

Here's where we have to toss longevity and career totals aside. Pedro pitched for 18 seasons, but really only had about 13 full seasons of starting in the middle of his career. Yet, I would argue he was more dominant in his prime than any other pitcher on this list and pitched in an incredibly tough era for pitchers (the steroid era) when hitting reigned supreme.


From 1997 to 2003, Martinez put up numbers that are almost hard to wrap your head around. In his last season in Montreal, he finished with a 1.90 ERA and 13 complete games. Two years later, he won 23 games while putting up a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts and won the triple crown. He had another season with a sub-two ERA in 2000, leading the league with 4 shutouts and 284 strikeouts.

His changeup may have been the best offspeed pitch we have ever seen. With his abnormally large fingers, he was able to wrap them nearly all the way around the ball and create a huge velocity difference from his fastball with a ton of downward movement out of the zone. Go look up some highlights on YouTube and watch some of the best hitters of that ERA flail helpless at that pitch.

I am sure many of you might disagree with my rankings and I invite you to tell me about where you think I got it right or wrong. Hit me up on Twitter (X) at ThunderDanDFS if you want to chime in with your two cents!



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At its very core, the game of fantasy football is intended to deliver a unique experience in which you are an NFL owner, general manager, and head coach, all in one role. Seasonal fantasy football replicates the responsibilities in fun, user-friendly packaging, but fantasy football dynasty leagues appeal even more to a savvy fantasy player... Read More