Top 20 MLB Pitchers of Live Ball Era
Top 20 MLB Pitchers of Live Ball Era
Just about any pitcher that makes it to Major League Baseball has what it takes to be great for a period of time. I don’t think it is too farfetched to say that eighty percent of the pitchers who make it to the big time have at least one small stretch of great performances. That might last for years and place their name among the legends of the game or it might last for two innings make them into a has-been or a never-was.
What of those select few who are able to pitch great for a longer period of time? There aren’t many. Think of a pitcher who seems great for our current time period. Tim Hudson is a great example. Hudson has been towards the top of the pitching game for a long time but he just recently recorded his 200th win. I don’t mean to shortchange him because the vast majority of pitchers never get to 100 wins much less 200. It just goes to show how difficult it is to go from top pitcher to that hallowed next level of greatness.
So many things go into throwing a pitch it’s no wonder the majority cannot do it masterfully for long periods of time. At the major league level any change in motion or arm speed will give a pitch away. If the big boys know what’s coming, it doesn’t matter what it is or who throws it. That makes it necessary for every pitch to come from the same exact motion with the same exact arm speed and release point in order to give the pitch a chance to get by the hitter. Oh and then of course you have the matter of knowing where the ball will be when it gets 60’-6” away from the pitcher.
It is very difficult to even think of but there are those who have mastered it as an art. This list is of the top twenty pitchers I believe were the best at mastering the art of pitching during the live ball era. Be sure to leave a comment if you agree or disagree with the choices.
20 - Robin Roberts
Robin Roberts didn’t quite reach the 300 win mark but what gets him on this list is having five consecutive 20 win seasons, in each of which he surpassed 300 innings. 200 innings remains a mark of consistent winning pitchers, 300 is almost unbelievable to have happened in consecutive successful seasons.
19 - John Smoltz
Along with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, John Smoltz is part of the most dominating pitching trio in recent memory. Smoltz had trouble with injuries in the last ten years of his career and that kept him from reaching the 300 win mark. Smoltz didn’t let that stop him though as he reinvented himself time and again to help his team win. In the end a career with 213 wins and 154 saves with a 3.33 ERA is quite remarkable.
18 - Phil Neikro
With 318 wins, a 3.35 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP, Niekro is easily one of the most dominant knuckle ballers in baseball history. The 1.27 WHIP over a career that spanned 23 seasons throwing the most unpredictable pitch in existence might be one of the most amazing feats in baseball history.
17 - Fergie Jenkins
While pitching for terrible teams in two of the most hitter friendly ballparks ever, Fenway Park and Wriggly Field, Jenkins still collected 284 wins including seven 20 win seasons. His ability to spot the ball and change speeds could have led to well over 300 wins if he played for better teams.
16 - Juan Marichal
Having twice led the National League in complete games and shutouts, Marichal and his high leg kick were signatures of the San Francisco Giants. His fifteen year career resulted in an ERA of 2.89 and a WHIP of 1.1.
15 - Bob Feller
Bob Feller totaled 266 wins over his career once it was all said and done. His ERA of just over three was plenty to brag about. Of note here is that Feller missed four prime years from his career serving the country in World War II. If he hadn’t of missed those years he easily would have been in the 300 win club and might have scared the daylights out of 400.
14 - BobGibson
Gibson is owner of one of the greatest single seasons in history. His 1968 season saw him go 22-7 with a 1.12 ERA and thirteen complete game shutouts. He won both the Cy-Young and MVP awards that season.
13 - Tom Glavine
Glavine won two Cy-Young awards and won 305 games during his long and successful career. His Cy-Young total could have easily been four or five however if Greg Maddux wasn’t dominating at the same time as Glavine. Maddux however does not fully overshadow the greatness of Glavine, who is one of the most successful left-handers in baseball history.
12 - Jim Palmer
Palmer led the Baltimore Orioles to six World Series appearances and three Championships. During the regular season he had eight 20 win seasons. His ERA dipped down from 2.86 to 2.61 during the playoffs in 17 appearances.
11 - Randy Johnson
Johnson averaged 271 strikeouts per season over the course of his career. That includes the years early on before he really got rolling however. He won five Cy-Young awards including four consecutively, won 303 games with a winning percentage over .600 and compiled 4,875 strikeouts.
10 - Don Sutton
With 324 wins and a 3.26 ERA, Don Sutton was as reliable on the mound as he was not to get hurt. His entire career included zero appearances on the disabled list and he consistently reached double-digit wins and struck out over 100 batters. Consistency is what takes pitchers to greatness and Sutton had that.
9 - Roger Clemens
I realize some might discount Clemens because of suspected cheating for a period of his career. Clemens won 354 games with an ERA just over 3.00 and compiled 4,672 strikeouts. He won seven each Cy-young awards and ERA titles. There is just no way I can allow myself to leave Clemens off of the list. He is one of the best ever, period.
8 - Nolan Ryan
Ryan compiled 324 wins but that is not what puts him on this list. I don’t think anyone will ever match his 7 no-hitters or even get close to his incredible 5,714 strikeouts. How he never won a Cy-Young award I’ll never know but he made this list easily.
7 - Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez in his prime was not a pitcher opposing teams wanted to see. As an example, his pitching triple crown season in 1999 looked like this. He was 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and a whopping 313 strikeouts. I think that about illustrates the point. Martinez will always be one of the best ever.
6 - Steve Carlton
Carlton’s 329 wins, career ERA of 3.22 and 4,136 strikeouts are plenty good enough to land him on this list. Considering he played for a load of terrible teams during his career, you wonder how great he could have been, stat-wise, if those Phillies teams had been better. For example the Phillies won only 59 games in 1972. Carlton’s record that year was an amazing 27-10.
5 - Tom Seaver
With 311 wins, a 2.86 career ERA and a grand total of 3,640 strikeouts, Tom Seaver more than earned a high spot on this list.
4 - Warren Spahn
Spahn averaged twenty wins a season for over a decade and his 361 complete games is amazing even though they were more common back then. All of this with a career ERA of 3.09 and you get one of the best pitchers of all time.
3 - Lefty Grove
Grove is owner of the highest win percentage of anyone in the “300 club” and one of the greatest six year stretches in history. From 1927 to 1933 Grove collected 172 wins under a 2.74 ERA. It doesn’t get any better than that.
2 - Sandy Koufax
From 1962 to 1966 Sandy Koufax had the best ERA five years in a row. Over that span he had a 1.95 ERA, a record of 111-34 and 1,444 strikeouts. Wow. If his career hadn’t of been cut short he probably would have been number 1.
1 - Greg Maddux
The unreal control that Maddux wielded is second to none in the history of the game. He could put the ball where he wanted it within an inch or less. It gained him 355 wins and a career ERA of 3.16. Any time a pitcher goes through a stretch of games with an ERA well below 2.00, it is still said today that the ERA is down in “Maddux territory”.
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