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Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Pitchers in MLB History

Greatest Pitchers in MLB

Pretty much every American loves baseball and the thrill of watching home runs by big hitters. However, there’s something extraordinary to see a pitcher who can dominate the playground on his own. A pitcher is extremely powerful to control the intensity, pacing as well as final score of the game.

From the time when Major League Baseball (MLB) started, it has seen thousands of pitchers standing on the mound to make a name for themselves, some with more successful and dominating attitudes than others. Using some statistics like walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), earned run average (ERA), winning percentage, and wins above replacement (WAR), we’re able to round up the top 10 greatest pitchers in MLB history.

Obviously, it’s not easy to compare pitchers, but here we have managed to list the most dominating pitchers in MLB history as well as some pitchers who are worthy of an honorable mention.

#10.  Bob Gibson (1959-1975)

Career Statistics: 251-174, 2.91 ERA, 3884.1 IP, 1.19 WHIP, 7.22 K/9, 3117K

Peak Timing: 1968-1972

Bob Gibson, who previously played for Harlem Globetrotters, was one of the best pitchers in MLB history. Major League Baseball was forced to modify the pitching rules because of his domination on the playground. 

Bob Gibson also is the owner of the greatest single-season performer of any pitcher in history. He also won the NL CY MVP and Young rewards, where he went 22-9 with a mind-blowing 1.12 ERA, 0.85 WHIP with 13 full shutouts in 34 starts. He also owned league-best strikeouts, which were 268.

In that particular season, even though MLB lowered the pitcher’s mound by five inches and also reduced the strike zone size, Gibson continued his dominating style.

The golden days of Gibson were when he won 7 World Series starts consequently, and struck out more than 10 batters in 5 World Series starts.

However, he is remembered because of his match against the Detroit Tigers in 1968, where he scored 17 strikeouts which remains as a World Series record.

Postseason Success

While Gibson competed in just three postseasons, he also had shown his dominating nature there. The 1964 and 1967 World Series MVP was none other than Gibson himself. Unfortunately, he missed the 1968 World Series MVP because the Cardinals could not win that one.

With a 1.89 ERA, he went 7-2, a 10.22 K/9, and 5.41 K/BB ratio; he completed a total of 9 start in those series. If you are considering the greatest players in MLB history, Bob Gibson must take place in your top 10 list.

#09. Greg Maddux (1986-2008)

Career Statistics: 355-227, 2.17 ERA, 5008.1, 1.06 WHIP, 6.06 K/9

Peak Timing: 1993-1997

It’s been said that the opposing batters looked helpless when they faced a pitcher like Maddux.

During his peak timing, Maddux had a prestigious 2.15 ERA as well as 0.97 WHIP. While he wasn’t a strikeout king, he allowed only a small rate of both the walk and home run.

Maddux won 4 CY Young awards in his career. However, when he began his career, he was unsuccessful in his first 2 seasons as well as the last 6 seasons. But, he has achieved success in his middle 15 seasons that proved him as one of the best pitchers ever stepped on the pitcher’s mound.

Postseason Success

Maddux competed in 13 postseasons during his 23 years of career, where he pitched in 198 innings and went 11-14 with an ERA of 3.27. From 1995 through 199, he had a postseason ERA of 2.15 and 0.321 percentages in opposing slugging.

#08. Roger Clemens

Career Statistics: 354-184, 3.12 ERA, 8.55 K/9, 4916.2 IP, 133.7 WAR

Peak Timing: 1986-90

It may sound unfair, but Roger Clemens was among the top baseball pitchers of all time; however, he has a bad reputation for using steroids. This is the main reason why he could not get an entry in the Hall of Fame record.

However, one thing is certain that Clemens had a record of 32 complete-game shutouts with an ERA of 2.66. He also scored a minimum of 208 strikeouts in every season.

Three times CY Young award winner and one-time runner-up Roger Clemens had a score of 21-6 with a 1.93 ERA. He was also awarded AL MVP in 1986. 

Postseason Success

When Clemens played 2000 ALCS and World Series Game 2, he logged 17 shutout innings with only 3 hits and also 24 strikeouts. Overall, he had a great performance in his 19 out of 34 postseason series. However, the ERA of his postseason is 3.75, with a better-posted ERA in 2001 (2.36).

#07. Clayton Kershaw (2008-Present)

Career Statistics: 144-64, 2.36 ERA, 1935.0 IP, 4.18 K/BB, 9.86 K/9

Peak Timing: 2011-2015

As one of the famous major league pitchers, Kershaw maintained an extraordinary 2.10 ERA from 2011 through 2017. From 2011 to 2014, he also maintained a major ERA each year. However, he could not qualify for the 2016 title due to his fewer innings as a pitcher, but he had a mark of 1.69, which is very hard to obtain.

Though he could not win any NL Cy Young award in the past 7 years of his career. But, he was named as the NL MVP in 2014 with an ERA of 1.77 and 21-3 record.

#06. Sandy Koufax (1955-1966)

Career Statistics: 165-87, 2.76 ERA, 9.28 K/9, 2324.1 IP, 2.94 K/BB

Peak Timing: 1962-1966

Where most of the pitchers fail to maintain their performance in their final few seasons, Sandy Koufax was one of the few players who saved his best performance for the last. This left-handed pitcher performed like a legend in his final four seasons. 

Koufax had an ERA of 1.86 from 1963 through 1966, despite the pain and arthritis he faced while pitching, which eventually ended his career. He was awarded both Cy Young and NL MVP in 1963. Additionally, he also won the Cy Young award for the second and third time in 1965 and 1966.

Postseason Success

Postseason Koufax was considered the god of the pitcher. With a victory of 5-2 in the 1963 World Series, he only allowed a few multiple runs while pitching in that time. After 2 years, Koufax scored complete game shutouts against Minnesota in Games 5 and 7.

#05. Pedro Martinez (1992-2009)

Career Statistics: 219-100, 2.93 ERA, 2827.1 IP, 4.15 K/BB, 10.04 K/9

Peak Timing: 1997-2001

Pedro Martinez dominated the pitcher’s mound from 1997 to 2003. Martinez had an ERA of 1.90 with 13 complete games and 305 strikeouts in 1997. He won AL Cy Young Award in both 1999 and 2000. Additionally, he received so many votes that he ended up at top3 in 1998, 2002, 2003. However, he was disqualified from the Cy Young race due to his rotator cuff injury.

Postseason Success

In the 199 postseasons, Martinez pitched a record of 17 innings which was scoreless. He also maintained a 4.19 ERA in his 13 career playoff appearances. 

#04. Cy Young (1890-1911)

Career Statistics: 511-316, 2.63 ERA, 3.43 K/9, 7354.2 IP, 2.30 K/BB

Peak Timing: 1901-1905

If you are comparing Cy Young’s number with the modern generation of baseball, then immediately stop the comparison. In his 5 year stretch, he maintained an ERA of 1.93 while pitched in 184 complete games. 

However, his peak WAR is not too high because he didn’t compete in the most innings from 1901 to 1905. He had 5.6 WAR in 18 consecutive seasons, which is more than impressive.

Postseason Success

The World Series began in 1903, and this is the main reason why Young didn’t get enough chances to compete and show his talent in the postseason. But in the first World Series, he pitched for the Boston Americans with an ERA of 1.85.

Due to the lack of the World Series played, Young only obtains the fourth rank on our list. Nevertheless, Young pitched an incredible amount of innings. He also stroke out 102 batters in 422.2 innings in the year 1893.

#03. Randy Johnson (1988-2009)

Career Statistics: 303-166, 3.29 ERA, 4132.1 IP, 3.25 K/BB, 10.61 K/9

Peak Timing: 1998-2002

It is a fact that the performance of pitchers decreased overage, but Randy Johnson is exceptional.

He won 100 games between Seattle, Houston, and Arizona from 1998 to 2002. However, the Houston stop was the most ridiculous, where he went four shutouts, and 10-1 in 11 starts with an ERA of 1.28. He was nominated for Cy Young in 1998 but continued to win the prestigious award for the next four seasons.

Postseason Success

He didn’t have a decent postseason success as he lost seven consecutive starts from 1995 ALCS through 2001 NLDS. Additionally, he performed very badly in the last three postseason matches.

#02. Walter Johnson (1907-1927)

Career Statistics: 417-279, 2.17 ERA, 5914.2 IP, 2.58 K/BB, 5.34 K/9

Peak Timing: 1910-1914

Walter Johnson performed beautifully in his five-year-long career from 1907 through 1919. During those long seasons, he twice maintained an ERA of 1.90 and never greater than 2.22

However, his final 8 seasons did affect his number efficiency. But he also maintained a 1.65 ERA with 297 wins, 5.75 strikeouts, and 0.97 WHIP through 1919. But if you compare it with modern games, the strikeout rate can’t be considered as impressive.

In 1913, he maintained 36-7 with an ERA of 1.14 and 11 shutouts. From 1910 through 1914, he also struck out 1291 batters.

Postseason Success

Johnson performed in 5 starts in the World Series between 1924 and 1925. In all of his starts, he pitched 50 innings with an ERA of 2.52, and he was on the pitcher’s mound when the 1924 World Series was won by Senators.

#01. Christy Mathewson

Career Statistics: 373-188, 2.13 ERA, 4780.2 IP, 4.71 K/9, 2.96 K/BB

Peak Timing: 1907-1911

Christy Mathewson didn’t have a long career; this is why his WAR graph is not as high as the other players.

In 1905, he won 31 games with an ERA of 1.28, which made him lead the National League in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons. In this entire career, he won 139 games with 0.96 WHIP and 1.69 ERA.

Postseason Success

The postseason matches were the only thing that made Mathewson invincible and the greatest pitcher in MLB history. No one can touch his dominant level. While competing in the 1911-13 World Series, Mathewson made eight more starts. 

Overall, hepitched101.2 innings with an ERA of 0.97 and 4 shutouts.

Honorable Mentions

Picking the greatest pitchers among other players is not an easy task. To make things easy, it’s best to exclude the pitchers who spent most of their pitching careers before baseball’s modern era. However, here is the pitcher’s list that barely missed the sorting process:

  • Red Faber
  • David Cone
  • Catfish Hunter
  • Stan Coveleski
  • Bob Lemon
  • Tommy John
  • Red Ruffling
  • Jim Kaat
  • Jack Morris

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