Great pitching wins baseball games. In the 21st century, the focus has shifted to the bullpen and away from the starters. Today, starting pitchers are expected to pitch five or six innings and then surrender the ball to the relief corps. In the past, pitchers finished what they started. For example, Walter Johnson completed 531 of his 666 starts. Many believe Walter Johnson represents the pitching pinnacle and was probably the greatest pitcher in history. Meanwhile, the modern award for pitching excellence was named after 19th century ace Cy Young. The following are the top ten right handed pitchers in baseball history.
1. Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson spent his entire career with the abysmal Washington Senators franchise. Despite this, Johnson managed to overwhelm batters and win 417 games. In 21 seasons, The Big Train won 20 or more games on 12 occasions and led the league in victories six times. He holds the record for most career shutouts with 110, is second in all time wins, and completed 531 games. Johnson was the charter member of the 3,000 strikeout club, led the league a record 12 times, and finished with 3,508. Additionally, he won the MVP twice, Triple Crown three times, led the league in ERA five times, and pitched a no hitter in 1920. In 1913, he pitched 55.2 scoreless innings which is the third longest streak in history and still the AL record. Johnson capped his career by winning Game 7 of the 1924 World Series in relief after dropping Games 1 and 5.
2. Cy Young
Like Johnson, Denton True “Cy” Young was a World Series champion. At age 36, Young led the Red Sox to the 1903 title. By this point, Young was already legendary. He still holds the record for wins (511), game starts (815), complete games (749), innings (7,356), and batters faced (29,565). On top of this, he won the 1901 Triple Crown (33 wins, 1.62 ERA, 158 strikeouts), pitched three no-hitters and a perfect game, led the league in wins five times, ERA twice, and strikeouts twice. Amazingly, Young won 30 or more games five times. Upon his death, baseball honored Young by naming the award for pitching excellence after him.
3. Greg Maddux
Like Cy Young, Greg Maddux’s statistical achievements warrant wonder and awe. “The Professor” pitched throughout the steroid era, but his statistics do not seem to reflect this. Overall, Maddux won 355 games, struck out 3,371 batters, and posted a 3.16 ERA. He is the only man to win 15 or more games for 17 consecutive seasons and the first to win four straight Cy Young Awards. Since 1920, only Warren Spahn (363) won more games than Maddux. In addition to the Cy Young Awards, Maddux was an eight time All Star, 18 time Gold Glove winner, and 1995 World Champion.
4. Bob Feller
Like Maddux, Bob Feller played on only one world championship club. The Indians won the World Series in 1948. Overall, he won 266 games, posted a 3.25 ERA, and struck out 2,581 batters. He tossed three no-hitters, 12 one-hitters, and pitched 3,827 innings. Feller led the league in strikeouts seven times, pitched the only Opening Day no-hitter, and struck out 18 Detroit Tigers in a game. In 1940, the righty won the Triple Crown (27 wins, 2.61 ERA, and 261 strikeouts). World War II interrupted Feller’s playing career and stunted his career totals. He lost three prime years plus part of 1945 to military service. Otherwise, Feller might have appeared higher on this list.
5. Tom Seaver
Tom Seaver was as important to the New York Mets as Bob Feller was to the Indians. He won the 1967 Rookie of the Year and then led the Mets to the 1969 World Series title. He won 311 games, struck out 3,640 batters, and finished with a 2.86 ERA. Seaver won three Cy Young Awards, made 12 All Star teams, and pitched a no-hitter in 1978. Perhaps the worst moment in Mets history occurred when the team traded the ace to the Reds. Ironically, Seaver played for the 1986 Red Sox squad that lost an epic World Series to the Mets.
6. Christy Mathewson
Tom Seaver won the World Series in 1969 and lost in 1986. Likewise, Christie Mathewson knew both the agony and ecstasy of victory and defeat in the Fall Classic. Mathewson played on champions in 1905 and 1921 and appeared on losing squads in 1911, 1912, and 1913. In 1905, he threw three consecutive shutouts in the Giants five game series win. Mathewson also accumulated an impressive regular season resume. He won two Triple Crowns, pitched two no-hitters, led the league in strikeouts and ERA five times, and led the league in wins on four occasions. Overall, Mathewson finished with 373 wins, 2.13 ERA, and 2,502 strikeouts.
7. Grover Cleveland Alexander
Mathewson’s contemporary, Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander also experienced the thrill of World Series glory. He emerged from the bullpen to stymie the New York Yankees and seal the Cardinals 1926 triumph. On top of this, “Old Pete” won three Triple Crowns, led the league in wins and strikeouts six times each, won the ERA title four times, and finished with 373 wins. Two years after his death, future President Ronald Reagan portrayed Alexander in the film, The Winning Team.
8. Jim Palmer
To date, Hollywood has not produced a film based on Jim Palmer’s career. Despite this, Palmer proved a key component of three Oriole world championships. In 1966, the right handed pitcher was the youngest to throw a World Series shutout and was the old man on the 1983 champions. He led the majors in wins in the seventies and finished with 268. Palmer won three Cy Young Awards, four Gold Gloves, and threw a no-hitter in 1969. Interestingly, the Oriole great never surrendered a grand slam home run in his 19 year career.
9. Nolan Ryan
While Palmer pitched 19 seasons, Nolan Ryan played an astounding 27. By the end of his career, Ryan was one of the faces of baseball and an American legend. He won 324 games, posted a 3.19 ERA, and set records with 5,714 career strikeouts and seven no-hitters. Ryan played so long he struck out seven father-son pairs. The eight time All Star pitched for the 1969 World Champion Mets, led the league in ERA twice, and topped the league in strikeouts 11 times. The “Ryan Express” often topped 100 mph with his fastball and tossed 5,386 total innings.
10. Roger Clemens
Both Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens are Texas products. During Clemens career, the pair were often compared. Clemens won 354 games, finished with a 3.12 ERA, and struck out 4,672 batters. “Rocket” won two World Series with the Yankees, seven Cy Young Awards, two Triple Crowns, and the 1986 AL MVP. He won the ERA title seven times, strikeout crown five times, and led the league in wins four times. Few pitchers were as fierce on the mound as Clemens.