The most important player on the field is the pitcher. The baseball is literally in his hand to start every play. Starting pitchers log the most innings and face the most batters. They’re the most crucial members of a team. They’re the quarterbacks of baseball.
Through 2017 there have been 113 World Series to determine the champions of baseball, dating back to the beginning of the American League vs. National League format which began in 1903. In baseball we often focus on how many titles a franchise has won, but we rarely talk about how many rings an individual has won. That’s odd, because in other sports titles are important currency. Fans know how many rings Lebron James has won, how many titles Tom Brady has, and so on.
Which got me to thinking: if starting pitching is so important in baseball, which starting pitchers have won the most titles?
To figure that out I counted every starter who was a regular in a rotation for a team that won the World Series. The pitcher had to be a significant part of the starting rotation, no partial seasons were included. I counted any pitcher who started 15 games or accumulated at least 100 innings pitched (as a starting pitcher) for their team.
Here’s the list of starting pitchers with the most World Series titles:
Starting Pitchers with Most World Series Titles
|PITCHER||TITLES||TEAMS||CHAMP WAR||PER SN|
|Catfish Hunter||5||A’s, Yankees||15.5||3.1|
|Jack Morris||4||Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays||9.7||2.4|
|John Lackey||3||Angels, Red Sox, Cubs||6.3||2.1|
|Dutch Leonard||3||Red Sox||8.8||2.9|
|Jon Lester||3||Red Sox, Cubs||9.2||3.1|
|Carl Mays||3||Red Sox, Yankees||8.1||2.7|
|Curt Schilling||3||Diamondbacks, Red Sox||20.7||6.9|
|Don Gullett||3||Reds, Yankees||6.8||2.3|
The Yankee Dynasty
As we can clearly see, this list is dominated by Yankees, who have won oodles of titles since they captured their first in 1923. Their close concentration of titles in the late 1920s, the late 1930s, from 1949-53, and in the 1990s, accounts for several of the pitchers.
The 1949-53 Yankees, still the only team to win five straight World Series, has four pitchers on this list: Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Eddie Lopat. The 1936-39 Yankees, the first team to capture four straight titles, also has a quartet of starters on this list: Hall of Famers Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez, Bump Hadley, and Monte Pearson. Spud Chandler bridged the two eras and was a member of four championship rotations.
Of the 34 pitchers who have won at least three World Series titles as members of a starting rotation, half of them pitched for the Yankees for all (or most) of their rings.
Andy Pettitte and David Cone continued that tradition by winning four titles each in more recent times. Pettitte won his first title in 1996, his last in 2009, both with the Yankees, and he also copped three more, from 1998-2000. Cone was his rotation mate in four of those years.
Ford holds the record for being in the most rotations that won a pennant: 11, starting in 1950 and ranging to his last, in 1964.
Morris and Podres
Only two starting pitchers have won four World Series titles while having never pitched for the Yankees, and both won a World Series for their hometown teams.
The first was Johnny Podres, a lean left-hander who relied heavily on his curveball. Podres grew up in New York as a fan of the Dodgers, who later drafted him. In the 1955 World Series, Podres hurled a complete game 2-0 victory in Game Seven to give Brooklyn their first World Championship. Podres won three more titles with the Dodgers, all of them in Los Angeles, in 1959, 1963, and 1965.
The second pitcher to win four titles and never pitch for the Yanks was Jack Morris, the durable right-hander who pitched more innings and won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s. Morris was 7-1 in his first nine starts in the postseason, which went a long way to helping the Tigers (1984), Twins (1991), and Blue Jays (1992-93) win World Series crowns. In Game Seven in the ’91 Fall Classic, Morris tossed a 10-inning 1-0 shutout for his hometown Twins.
Podres, who won 148 games in a 15-year career, will never make the Hall of Fame (though a statue of him stands in a courtyard outside that museum). But Morris has been a controversial candidate for Cooperstown, and his four World Series titles and postseason accomplishments are a large part of his credentials.
Koufax, Schilling, and Chief
They called Sandy Koufax “The Left Arm of God.” His career started slow: he battled control problems. But when he harnessed his ability, Koufax was arguably the greatest pitcher the game has ever seen for about five years, until a serious shoulder problem forced him to retire. His performance as a World Championship ace is the best in history, according to this list.
Column four above shows the combined WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for each season the pitcher was in a championship rotation. In his three WS-winning seasons, Koufax accumulated 20.9 WAR, which trails only the Yankee trio of Ruffing, Gomez, and Ford, all of whom were on six championship teams. Koufax’s average championship season was 7.0 WAR, the highest figure in history. It’s safe to say that without Sandy, the Dodgers would have had a very difficult time winning the pennant, let alone the World Series, in 1959, 1963, and 1965.
Close behind Koufax on average WAR per championship season is Curt Schilling, who won a title in 2001 with Arizona and two more with Boston in 2004 and 2007. Each time, Schilling was a stud in the regular season and a monster in the World Series too. He averaged 6.9 WAR in championship seasons.
Chief Bender pitched for five A’s teams that won the pennant, and three that captured the World Series. The Hall of Famer’s championship WAR was 5.0, making him the third pitcher to reach at least 5 WAR in championship seasons, along with Koufax and Schilling. The tall right-hander completed nine of his ten World Series starts for Philadelphia, winning six times in the Fall Classic. His teammate Eddie Plank did not perform as well in championship seasons, posting a 3.7 WAR per season in the same three years.
Odds and Ends
Several teammates are on the list. The 1972-74 A’s boasted Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, and Ken Holtzman. While Hunter won a lot of games, his WAR was never that eye-popping. He later pitched in three more pennant-winning rotations for the Yankees (1976-78), winning two more championships.
The 2010/2012/2014 Giants put three starters on this list: Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain. Each had varying degrees of success, but Lincecum is notable in that he had his greatest seasons when the Giants did not win a pennant.
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer spread his three championship seasons apart. The first came in 1966 when the tall right-hander was 20 years old. The last one came in 1983 when he was 37 and sort of a spot starter.
The only two starting pitchers to win championships with three different teams are Morris and John Lackey, who won his with the Angels as a rookie, with the Red Sox as a journeyman, and with the Cubs as a crusty veteran.
Submarine specialist Carl Mays is the only man to win a World Series as a regular starting pitcher for both the Yankees (1923) and Red Sox (1916 and 1918). Mays was also on the staff for Boston’s title in 1915, though he was more of a relief pitcher as a rookie that season.
John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Madison Bumgarner, each with three world titles as starting pitchers, are the only three players on this list who were active in 2017. Should any of them get another title, they’d join the select group of 15 hurlers who won as many as four titles as starting pitchers. And none of them have won a title with the Yankees.