The world may prove inconsistent and random at times, but there is one issue that we can 100 percent depend upon now and forever: baseball fans will never agree on who is the best.
Not the best hitter, base runner, manager or owner. Not the best park or the best fans. And certainly not the best pitchers.
Of course, that’s part of the game’s allure. Rich in history, baseball offers legions of fans the opportunity to have opinions on every single aspect of the game.
To add our voice to the debate, we’ve come up with seven pitchers who are – arguably, of course – among the best in the last 50 years. We used a simple criteria: who wins? Because while you can look at strikeouts and walks – or more subjective criteria such as quality of stuff – there’s no arguing with winning.
We kept it to the last half century because the full list is dominated by pitchers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But we will get around to looking at them someday, too.
Top Eight Major League Pitchers
Obviously some of these pitchers benefited from being on good teams. But there’s a reason good teams get pitchers like this. And baseball history is filled with good pitchers who failed in the limelight. These guys didn’t.
A smart and methodical pitcher, Maddux painted corners and mixed incredible breaking stuff with his fastball. One of his tricks? He practiced to make his release the same on all pitches, giving batters no clue as to what was coming. In a career that spanned from 1986 to 2008, mostly with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, Maddux won 355 games and 11 playoff games.
Clemens racked up 354 total wins and 12 playoff wins pitching for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. He had an amazing. 65.8 winning percentage over his entire career. He did not wither in big games, winning 60 percent of his playoff decisions and going 3-0 in World Series games.
He became the prototype of the dominating left-handed pitcher. In a career that ran from 1965 to 1988, Carlton won 329 games. His best years came with the Philadelphia Phillies (1972-1985), where he won the Cy Young four times.
Even casual fans know Nolan Ryan mowed down batters – he struck out 5,714 batters over his career (1966-1993). He had such great stuff that he pitched until reaching the age of 46. But he also won – a lot. He had 324 wins over his career with the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
In a career that ran from 1966-1988, Sutton amassed 324 wins. Amazingly, he only had one 20-game winning season (he won 21 in 1976), but displayed incredible consistency through much of his career. His best years came with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first 15 years of his career, though he also won 15 games in 1986 at the age of 41 with the California Angels.
Niekro pitched until he was 48 years old. In a career that spanned from 1965 to 1987, Niekro won 318 games. That includes a very strange 1979 season with the Atlanta Braves in which he won 21 but also lost 20. He spent the bulk of his best years with the Braves, (268 of his wins came in Atlanta), winning on a team that was not very good much of the time. He pitched in only two playoff games his entire career.
Perry won 314 games over his career, including a decade with the San Francisco Giants and four years each with the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. He won the Cy Young twice (1972 and 1978) But much like Niekro, he did not have winning teams, pitching in only one playoff game in 1971.
Tom Seaver won 311 games over this career and held a 60 percent winning percentage. He is best remembered as a member of the 1969 New York Mets, which won the World Series. Seaver won 25 games that year, won a game in the World Series and collected a Cy Young award.
That’s an impressive list of pitchers. However, there are plenty more who didn’t make the list who arguably were better, but just didn’t win as often (we are looking at you, Pedro Martinez). That’s the nature of baseball, and one of the reasons it remains the nation’s pastime.