Throughout the history of professional baseball, there have been some phenomenal talents on the mound. From former big leaguers like Juan Maricel to Tom Seaver to Lefty Grove to Gaylord Perry, there is no shortage of pitchers who have dominated the game. With so many outstanding talents, it can be hard to discern who the best of all time is. The debate becomes even more complicated when you factor in some of the changes the game has gone through in its more than one hundred years of history. But still, “who is the best ever” is a fun debate to have.
Another spirited debate centers around what constitutes Major League Baseball's “modern era.” Some experts simply say that baseball's modern era began in the year 1900. That's a tough one to swallow given that the sport looked vastly different in 1900 than it does today. Some argue that the “modern era,” begins in 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and baseball began its move toward integration. And it's a valid argument. However even in 1947, the game was much different than it is today. There is no shortage of thought about where the “modern era” of baseball begins and there are some compelling arguments out there.
For the purposes of this article, we are going to define baseball's “modern era” as 1969 . It was in 1969 that a variety of innovations within baseball – such as the lowering of the pitcher's mound in an effort to generate more offense – thus making pitchers have to be that much better – the unbalanced schedule, divisional play, and an expansion of the postseason, made baseball look much like the game we know and love today.
Given the amount of incredible pitching talent that has passed through the Major Leagues, it's tough narrowing down a “best” list to 100. Narrowing it down all the way to 10 is insane and will likely leave off quite a few names – and will undoubtedly upset a lot of people along the way. But for the purposes of this article, no player who began their career prior to 1969 will be named, no active player will appear, nor will any pitcher who spent more time in the bullpen than in the starting rotation.
Even with that criteria, it's tough to winnow this list down. But we shall soldier on and deal with the flak accordingly. Here then, are the 10 greatest pitchers in MLB's “Modern Era...”
10 Tom Glavine (1987-2008)
Glavine is, perhaps, one of the most underrated pitchers in MLB history. Because he was part of one of the most dominant pitching rotations the game has ever seen, a rotation that included Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, Glavine often found himself overshadowed. But that didn't stop him from being one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. The southpaw posted a career record of 305-203 with a 3.54 ERA to go along with 2,607 K's. Glavine was a 5-time 20 game winner (including 3 straight years with 20 or more wins), a 10-time All Star, and 2-time Cy Young Award winner. He even added 4 Silver Sluggers to his trophy cabinet. In 2014, Glavine was enshrined in Cooperstown, a first ballot Hall of Famer.
9 Bert Blyleven (1970-1992)
Blyleven was on a Major League roster for an incredible 22 years, spending time with the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and California Angels. Over the course of his illustrious career, he put together a resume that included 287 wins, a 3.31 ERA, two World Series rings, 3,701 strikeouts, 2 All Star appearances, one no-hitter, and Hall of Fame induction in 2011. He ranks 5th on baseball's all time strikeout list, but interestingly enough, only led the league in K's one time in his career.
8 Orel Hershiser (1983-2000)
The Bulldog was one of baseball's most dominating pitchers for a lot of years. And in 1988, he put together one of the best seasons baseball has ever seen. In 1988, Hershiser went 23-8 in 34 starts, compiling an ERA of 2.26 with 15 complete games, and he also tossed 8 shutouts for good measure. And oh yeah, he also set a MLB record by throwing 59 consecutive scoreless innings – a feat that may never be matched. Over the course of his 18 years in the Majors, Hershiser posted double digit wins 13 times on his way to 204 career victories.
7 Curt Schilling (1988-2007)
There are very few pitchers in the Majors who can match Schilling's intensity – or his longevity. Over 20 years in the big leagues, Schilling amassed 216 career wins – including three 20-win seasons – to go along with more than 3,000 strikeouts. As good as he was in the regular season, he seemed to find another gear come playoff time. In 19 postseason starts, Schilling went 11-2, compiled a paltry 2.23 ERA, and fanned 120 batters over 133 innings of work.
6 Andy Pettitte (1995-2013)
Perhaps because he was in a Yankees rotation that was perpetually loaded, Pettitte never seemed to get the credit he deserved. He spent 18 years in the Major Leagues, averaging a remarkable 17 wins a season. Perhaps even more remarkable is that in his 18 year career, Pettitte never once posted a losing record in any season – a feat that hasn't been accomplished by any other pitcher to ever play the game that long. He has 256 career wins, threw 2,448 strikeouts, and is a 5-time World Champion. He's also MLB's all time postseason victories leader with 19 wins in his 44 playoff starts. Pettitte was quietly dominant, but his numbers speak for themselves and it won't be long before he's being enshrined in Cooperstown.
5 Dennis Eckersley (1975-1998)
Most people tend to forget that Eck was a starting pitcher for a lot of years. In fact, between the years of 1975 through 1987, Eckersely compiled a record of 165-140. He even had a year with the Red Sox in which he won 20 games. But Eck is best known as Oakland's dominant closer and is still the only pitcher in MLB history to have won 20 games in a season as well as saved 50 games in a season. After A's manager Tony LaRussa converted Eck to a reliever in 1987, he went on to become one of the best the game has ever seen, saving an average of 33 games a season. In 24 years in the big leagues, Eckersley posted a 197-171 career record with 390 saves, and became a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2004.
4 Pedro Martinez (1992-2009)
It's easy to forget that Martinez pitched in the Majors for 18 years, spending time with the LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies. For a time, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, and posted 219 career wins to go along with a very impressive 2.93 career ERA. Martinez was a 3-time Cy Young Award winner and 5 time ERA champion – his best season coming in 2000 while a member of the Red Sox when over 29 starts, he won 18 games and posted a mind boggling 1.74 ERA. Though his last few seasons in the Majors were marred by injuries and a loss of effectiveness, it doesn't take away the fact that Martinez is one of the best pitchers ever to play the game.
3 Randy Johnson (1988-2009)
Quite possibly, the only person to be more intimidating than Roger Clemens is the 6'10”, 100 mph throwing Randy Johnson. The Big Unit had a very distinguished 22-year career that saw him collect 303 wins. Johnson is a 10-time All Star, 5-time Cy Young winner, 4-time ERA champ, 9-time strikeout champion, and has one World Series MVP award to go along with his 2001 World Series Championship. The Unit's 4,875 strikeouts is second only to Nolan Ryan in MLB history, and his 10.6 strikeouts per 9 innings is the highest total in the history of the game. Though he started off his career pretty wild, Johnson settled in and became one of the game's fiercest and most dominant pitchers.
2 Roger Clemens (1984-2007)
Though the steroid scandal Clemens found himself caught up in has tarnished his otherwise sterling career, it can't be denied that the Rocket was one of the most intimidating pitchers ever to set foot on the mound. Over his extraordinary 24-season career, Clemens put together 354 wins, seven Cy Young Awards, was a seven time ERA champion, led the league in strikeouts five different times, was the American League MCP in 1985, ended his career with more than 4,600 strikeouts, was an 11-time All Star and a 2-time World Series champ. There isn't much Clemens wasn't able to accomplish on the mound. Of course, many folks believe that an asterisk needs to be put next to his name and that he should be barred from the Hall of Fame after the steroid scandal came to light – but that's another debate for another day.
1 Greg Maddux (1986-2008)
Maddux was never going to beat you by blowing you off the plate. But rest assured, he was going to beat you. He had pinpoint control of his pitches, not to mention a very wide repertoire, and that led to him racking up 355 wins over his 23-year career – feat made all the more impressive by the fact that he spent 10 years playing for some very bad Chicago Cubs teams. The Professor is an 8-time All Star, 4-time Cy Young winner, 3-time NL wins champion, and 4-time NL ERA champion. Maddux won his lone ring in 1995, and became a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2014. Proving his dominance and standing as one of baseball's greatest ever, he is the only pitcher in MLB history to win 15 games (or more) for 17 consecutive seasons.
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