Thursday, May 20, 2010

Canon Review List-A-Mania: Top Ten Pitchers in Baseball History

This list comes about from an idea by reader Dickson S. He wanted to know who, in my opinion, were the top five pitchers of all time. Well, I decided not to just give my top five, but rather, I decided to name The Canon Review's top ten pitchers in the history of baseball. So without further adeiu, let's get this list started, shall we?

Dishonorable Mention: Roger Clemens - With six Cy Young Awards, 354 wins, and 4,672 strikeouts, Clemens certainly has an impressive resume, and I would include him on the list except for one reason, which is his suspected use of performance enhancers. Because of that, I can't put Clemens on this list because I don't know how much of his success was due to artificial means. If it wasn't for that, Clemens would probably be in the top 5 at the least.

10. Randy Johnson - Johnson was the most intimidating pitcher since Nolan Ryan's heyday, with a 100 mph fastball, a killer slider, his height (6'10") and a wild streak which made batters wonder where exactly his heater was headed. Once Johnson gained more control over his pitches, he became dominant, winning five Cy Young Awards and pitching in 10 All-Star games. Johnson put up some incredible numbers during his career, compiling six seasons with 300 or more strikeouts, leading his league in Earned Run Average four times and in strikeouts eight times. For his career, Johnson won 303 games, struck out 4,875 batters (second all time to Ryan) and is first all time in most strikeouts per nine innings (10.61). Recently retired, Johnson will waltz into the Hall of Fame the first year he is eligible.

9. Grover Cleveland Alexander - Alexander started his career with a bang in 1911, winning 28 games and striking out 227 batters, and never looked back from there. The man from Elba, NE won three pitching triple crowns (leading the league in wins, strikeouts, in ERA) in 1915, 1916, and 1920. Alexander led the league in wins and strikeouts six times, and in ERA four times. Alexander is perhaps best remembered for his relief appearance in game 7 of the 1926 World Series for the Cardinals. After starting and winning game 6, Alexander spent most of the night drinking (this, to be honest, was a fairly common activity for Alexander). In the seventh, with the bases loaded and two outs, Alexander, then 39 years old, was called upon to face future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri. He struck Lazzeri out, than held the Yankees scoreless in the next two innings to clinch the World Series for the Cardinals. For his career, Alexander ranks tied for third all time in wins (373) and 2nd in shutouts (90).

8. Sandy Koufax - I debated including Koufax on this list, as he by far had the shortest career of any pitcher on this list. But ultimately, Koufax was too dominant not to be on the list. His peak may have been only five seasons, but for those five seasons Koufax was as good a pitcher as there's ever been. For his career, Koufax led the league in ERA five times, strikeouts four times, and wins three times. He won the pitching triple crown in three seasons (1963, 1965, and 1966) and won the Cy Young award in each of those seasons, a fact more impressive considering only one award was given for the entire major leagues (now, the AL and NL award separate Cy Young Awards), and the accomplishment taking place during one of the most dominant pitching eras ever. Not to mention that Koufax suffered from crippling arthritis during the last two years of his career. For his career, Koufax ranks second all-time in hits allowed per nine innings (6.792), sixth in strikeouts per nine (9.278) and won four World Series and two World Series MVPs (1963, 1965).

7. Warren Spahn - Spahn got a late start, as he didn't get going until he was 25, largely due to WWII. But Spahn sure made up for lost time. In 21 seasons, Spahn compiled 363 wins, 6th all time and the most by a left-handed pitcher. Spahn also was selected to play in 17 All-Star games, a record amongst pitchers, and led the league in wins a record eight times in his career. Among those eight was a five year period where Spahn led the league in wins each year from 1957-1961, when Spahn was 40. At 42, Spahn compiled a 23-7 record with a 2.60 ERA and a league leading 22 complete games. Spahn also led the league in ERA three times, strikeouts four times, and won the league wide Cy Young Award in 1957.

6. Christy Mathewson - The man known as "Big Six" comes in at number six on this list. Mathewson starred during the early part of the 20th century for the New York Giants, as he was amongst the most well-regarded and respected, if not the most respected player during his playing days, due to his ability and his intelligence. On the field, Mathewson put together a legendary career, winning 373 games (3rd all-time) and leading the league in wins four times, and in ERA and strikeouts five times. Mathewson won the pitching Triple Crown in 1905 and in 1908. In the 1905 World Series, Mathewson pitched three complete game shutouts in a six day span. If somebody did that today, ESPN would devote a whole week of programming to that man. In 1936, Mathewson was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

5. Cy Young - It wouldn't make sense to leave the man whose name is now synonymous with pitching excellence off this list. Not to mention the fact that Young holds the all-time record for most innings pitched (7,354.2), most complete games (745) and most wins (511). If anybody breaks any of those records during my lifetime, I'll eat my hat, and your hat as well. Young isn't the greatest pitcher of all-time, as he only led his league in ERA and strikeouts twice, but he is easily amongst the greatest of all-time, due to the fact that he was so good for so long, pitching 22 seasons and compiling 20 wins or more in 14 of those seasons.

4. Tom Seaver - From the beginning, Seaver was an elite pitcher. In his rookie season of 1967, Seaver won the Rookie of the Year Award with 16 wins and a 2.76 ERA. In 1969, Seaver was the main force behind the 'Miracle Mets', winning 25 games with a 2.21 ERA and 208 strikeouts, and continuing his excellent pitching throughout the NLCS and the World Series. For his career, Seaver led his league in wins and ERA three times, and in strikeouts five times. Seaver won three Cy Young Awards and was named to the All-Star Team 12 times. Seaver also got the highest percentage of votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving 425 out of 430 possible votes in 1992 (98.84%).

3. Lefty Grove - Grove pitched during one of baseball's highest scoring eras during the 1920s and 1930s, but that didn't stop him from dominating the game. After excelling for years in the minor leagues, Grove finally was allowed to play in the majors for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1925. In his first seven years, Grove led the American League in strikeouts each year. In 1931, Grove put together an incredible 31-4 record, with a 2.06 ERA and 175 strikeouts, winning the pitching triple crown that year. Grove led his league in ERA an incredible nine times, and his 148 Adjusted ERA+ is second all-time in the modern era (behind Pedro Martinez). Even though he played only 17 years, Grove was able to win exactly 300 games before retiring.

2. Greg Maddux - Like Grove, Maddux pitched in an era where bats were king, and like Grove, Maddux was able to dominate the league anyway. The winner of four Cy Young Awards (1992-1995), Maddux went an incredible 17 seasons in a row winning at least 15 games each season. Maddux led the league in ERA four times, wins three times, and fewest walks per nine innings nine times during his career. In 1994 and in 1995, Maddux posted ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63 respectively, some 2 and a half runs better than the league ERA those seasons. Maddux also was an excellent fielder, winning a record 18 Gold Gloves during a career which saw him win 355 games (8th all-time) and strike out 3,371 batters (10th).

1. Walter Johnson - Our number one pitcher is none other than the Big Train himself. Johnson is the all-time leader in shutouts with 110, and 2nd all time in wins with 417. Johnson led his league in wins six times, in ERA five times, and in strikeouts an unbelievable 12 times during his career. Johnson won three pitching triple crowns during his career (1913, 1918, 1924) and won the MVP Award in 1913 and in 1924. In 1913, Johnson had what is perhaps the best pitching season of the modern era, compiling a 36-7 record with a 1.14 ERA, 11 shutouts, and 243 strikeouts in 346 innings. During that season, Johnson won 40% of his teams games. Johnson had 12 20 win seasons during his career, despite the fact that he often played for teams that weren't so good. For these reasons, Walter Johnson is The Canon Review's greatest pitcher in the history of baseball.

Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any qualms over this list, than feel free to share them with me. Also, if you have any ideas for future posts, than send those along to me either by e-mail at or by leaving a comment on the blog.


  1. Greg Maddux is easily my favorite pitcher of all time. Even if being a Braves fan makes me somewhat biased.


  2. Yes, but do you think Maddux is the best pitcher ever? Or is it John Rocker? :)