The 100 Greatest Pitchers of All-Time

The Top 100 Pitchers

Walter Johnson

1907—1927
HALL OF FAME

1

“From the first time I held a ball, it settled in the palm of my right hand as though it belonged there and, when I threw it, ball, hand and wrist, and arm and shoulder and back seemed to all work together.” — Walter Johnson

“Johnson will always be the greatest pitcher I ever saw. He threw hard, but he threw almost effortlessly.” — Satchel Paige

Greg Maddux

1986—2008
HALL OF FAME

2

Among the top twenty pitchers, Maddux only threw harder than two of them: Bert Blyleven and Phil Niekro. But speed wasn’t his game, location was. He didn’t have swing-and-miss stuff, he had to rely, as he said, on “keeping the ball in front of the outfielders.”

Tom Seaver

1967—1986
HALL OF FAME

3

“Blind men come to the park just to hear him pitch.” — Reggie Jackson

You wouldn’t look ridiculous if you argued Tom Seaver was the best pitcher of all-time. Or any of the top five players listed here, all of them have a claim to the top spot. Ultimately the numbers are too overwhelming for Walter Johnson, even after allowances for the lesser competitive balance of that era. Lefty Grove and Bob Feller followed, throwing even harder than Johnson. About 15 years after Feller was done in the big leagues, Seaver arrived off the campus of USC, a fresh-faced star.

Randy Johnson

1988—2009
HALL OF FAME

4

The scowl, the mullet, the bullwhip sidearm delivery, all of it was part of the legend of Randy Johnson, who had fewer wins at the age of thirty than Ralph Branca, fewer than Ben Sheets, fewer than Babe Ruth the pitcher. Fewer wins than the Babe at the age of thirty! But like fellow lefties Warren Spahn and Sandy Koufax, he stirred himself to become the most dominant pitcher in the game, a tall, slender freak who literally frightened batters. Johnson won 222 games after his 30th birthday, a total surpassed by only four pitchers: Cy Young, Phil Niekro, Spahn, and Jamie Moyer.

Lefty Grove

1925—1941
HALL OF FAME

5

“Sometimes when the sun was out, really bright, he would throw that baseball in there and it looked like a flash of white sewing thread coming up at you.” — Joe Sewell

Bob Feller

1936—1956
HALL OF FAME

6

When famed scout Cy Slapnicka found Bob Feller in Van Meter, Iowa, he returned to Cleveland and told the front office, “Gentlemen, I’ve found the greatest young pitcher I ever saw. I suppose this sounds like the same old stuff to you, but I want you to believe me: this boy that I found will be the greatest pitcher the world has ever known.” Feller was the real deal, he was a great pitcher when he was 17 years old. In his first major league start he struck out 15 batters. He was still a high school student and returned to Iowa after the season to finish his senior year. He struck out a batter an inning when he was 18 years old, and the following season in his final start of the year, he struck out 18 batters. He threw the fastest fastball since Lefty Grove in his heyday, since Walter Johnson roamed the mound.

Pete Alexander

1911—1930
HALL OF FAME

7

Roger Clemens

1984—2007

8

Pedro Martinez

1992—2009
HALL OF FAME

9

Martinez came to America but he never became an American. He felt guilty about the large sum of money he earned, read his bible before games, and never lost the taste for goat meat. He was happy to be in the United States, and thankful for his God-given gift, but part of him was always still the poor little boy who sat in the shade of a mango tree in the Dominican. Off the field he was humble, but on the mound Pedro had a swagger that drove him into the inner circle of greatest pitchers of all-time.

Bob Gibson

1959—1975
HALL OF FAME

10

Gibson was a triple threat: blessed with a fantastic arm, competitive as hell, and smart. Some guys have a great arm, some are gifted with high pitching IQ, and others are intense competitors. A few great ones have two of the three, but only a select few have all three.

Cy Young

1890—1911
HALL OF FAME

11

Young was a thick man blessed with a barrel chest, broad shoulders, and long arms. No motion pictures were ever taken to show his pitching form, but we have photographs. In the photos taken when Young was actually pitching, his weight is shifted back on his rear right foot, his powerful chest is prominent, and his arm is away from his body, in a three-quarter sidearm motion. That motion would have placed less stress on Young’s shoulder than throwing overhand. It would have allowed him to hide the baseball behind his large frame.

Phil Niekro

1964—1987
HALL OF FAME

12

There was never a strong indication that Niekro was going to be a great pitcher until he was a great pitcher, and it took a long time to materialize. When he was thirty years old, Phil had 31 wins listed on the back of his baseball card. When he was 40, he still hadn’t won 200 games, but he ended up with 318 victories and struck out more than 3,300 batters, many of them with his fluttering knuckleball.

Bert Blyleven

1970—1992
HALL OF FAME

13

Blyleven had two curveballs: the overhand drop and what he called “the roundhouse” that broke from third base away from a right-handed batter. He held his fastball and curve the same way, which was unusual. Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax also did that, but Blyleven had a better curve than those fastball specialists. His curve was probably the best of all-time.

Warren Spahn

1942, 1946—1965
HALL OF FAME

14

He pitched 837 games in a professional career that spanned 28 years, and he never had a sore arm. The high leg kick, a Spahn trademark, served a purpose. “[My father] insisted that I throw with a fluid motion,” Spahn said, “and the high leg kick was a part of the deception to the hitter. Hitters said the ball seemed to come out of my uniform.”

Steve Carlton

1965—1988
HALL OF FAME

15

“Defeat? I never consider it. Pressure? It doesn’ t exist. I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do, throwing a baseball for a living.” — Steve Carlton

Robin Roberts

1948—1966
HALL OF FAME

16

Roberts used a three-quarter motion and had long arms and fingers which allowed him to exert exquisite control. He pitched a dozen years without missing a turn in the rotation from 1949 to 1960. It wasn’t easy, he fought through several nagging injuries. In 1952 when he won a career-high 28 games and completed 30 games, Roberts had a sore arm most of the season.

Christy Mathewson

1900—1916
HALL OF FAME

17

Mathewson single-handedly won a World Series: in 1905 he made three starts for John McGraw’s Giants and tossed a shutout in each. You think Madison Bumgarner was something in October? Christy made 11 starts in the Fall Classic and allowed a total of 11 earned runs. The pitch that Mathewson used, the one that confounded the Athletics in the 1905 World Series, was called the “fadeaway.” Mathewson threw it like a modern screwball, a variation of a fastball. The baseball was held like a two-seam fastball but at the point of release Matty would twist his wrist inward, creating a counter spin.

Curt Schilling

1988—2007

18

Clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame, even if he had never won a game in October. People should stop reading his Twitter feed.

Mike Mussina

1991—2008
HALL OF FAME

19

Mussina was one of the best postseason pitchers of his era, along with John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, and maybe Randy Johnson and a few others. He mowed down the vaunted Cleveland lineup in the 1997 ALCS, striking out 15 in Game Three. He came back and pitched eight innings of one-hit ball in Game Six. But he was unlucky: his Orioles lost both games when they could only score one run.

Fergie Jenkins

1965—1983
HALL OF FAME

20

“On the mound Jenkins is a model, a man with a compact windup and delivery. Working quickly, he stands upright, takes the catcher’s sign without a bend or a squint, quickly brings his hands, which have been hanging loosely by his side, together in his glove where he gets a grip on the ball. With hardly a quiver, he delivers the ball through about a three-quarter arm arc.” — Sports Illustrated

Justin Verlander

2005—

21

Verlander and Warren Spahn are the only pitchers to finish second in Cy Young Award voting three times. Spahn won the Cy Young once, Verlander has won it twice (through 2020), and also has an MVP award. Verlander is the most decorated pitcher in history. He’s the only pitcher to win a league MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and MVP of the League Championship Series. The only hardware he’s missing is the World Series MVP trophy.

Clayton Kershaw

2008—

22

Of the five great starting pitchers of the first part of this century (Kershaw, Verlander, Greinke, Scherzer, and Felix Hernandez), Kershaw is the most unorthodox. His herky-jerk, crooked-paused-leg motion is hideous but effective. Kershaw has not been durable, and that’s something to watch as he enters his thirties. He hasn’t had one season as valuable as the top two seasons by Verlander, largely because he doesn’t log as many innings. Kershaw has also been inconsistent in the postseason, while Verlander has been a horse, for the most part.

Nolan Ryan

1966—1993
HALL OF FAME

23

The harder you throw, the more strain on your arm, and the more likely you will suffer an injury. But that’s not the only factor in pitching injuries. According to sports medicine, throwing 95 miles per hour with good mechanics is less strain on the arm than throwing 90 miles per hour with poor mechanics. Nolan Ryan had near-perfect mechanics, and that’s why he pitched injury free for most of his 27-year career. When he was 26 years old he struck out 383 batters, 125 more than anyone else in baseball. When he was 42 years old, Ryan struck out 301 batters, and when he was 45, he was striking out a batter per inning.

Roy Halladay

1998—2013
HALL OF FAME

24

In the ten most important starts of his career, Roy Halladay was 7-2 with a no-hitter. That includes his five postseason starts with the Phillies, one start in September for the Blue Jays in 2000, and four starts in September for the Phils in 2010. His teams won eight of the ten games.

Zack Greinke

2004—

25

Clayton Kershaw, briefly a teammate, said of Greinke: “The way he executes his pitches is probably the best I’ve ever seen. He can throw anything at any time to any spot.” A former pitching coach compared Greinke’s pitching intellect to Greg Maddux.

Tom Glavine

1987—2008
HALL OF FAME

26

An avid golfer, Glavine took the adage “Drive for show, putt for dough,” and applied it to pitching. Glavine was never the hardest thrower on any pitching staff he was on, but he could locate all of his pitches on the edge of the plate. He was known for his circle change, a pitch that dipped out of the strike zone at the last second. He had some similarities to Eddie Plank, a lefthander who ranks just below him on this list.

David Cone

1986—2003

27

Cone was a flake who had several noted meltdowns on the mound, but he was cool enough one afternoon to pitch a perfect game at Yankee Stadium. He was intense on the field, but loose off of it. The Royals traded him because they thought he was difficult and uncoachable. He was a master prankster on par with contemporary Greg Maddux.

Max Scherzer

2008—

28

“You lay it on the line every single time you touch that field. Whenever I get the ball next, I get the ball and you just lay it on the line.” — Max Scherzer

Juan Marichal

1960—1975
HALL OF FAME

29

Juan Marichal had five different pitches and he would throw them at any time. When he pitched in Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Marichal would wait until the wind was gusting to deliver his pitch. The batter would see his high leg kick and have to pick up the baseball with the Pacific wind blowing in his face.

Marichal was sort of the dragon slayer. Against the five premier pitchers in the National League (Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Jim Bunning), the Dominican Dandy was the best in head-to-head competition. In 43 starts against that group, Marichal was 24-12 with a 2.11 ERA.

Gaylord Perry

1962—1983
HALL OF FAME

30

“I reckon I tried everything on the old apple but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping.” — Gaylord Perry

Sandy Koufax

1955—1966
HALL OF FAME

31

I have Koufax rated lower than anyone else. Bill James had him 10th among pitchers and ranked him as the 51st best player in history. ESPN placed Koufax 44th among all players, and The Sporting News rated Sandy as the 28th(!) best player of all time (in their 2005 list). I simply can’t see how others can rate Koufax so high when he pitched only 2,324 innings. That’s half as many innings as Robin Roberts. Koufax pitched 1,100 innings less than Catfish Hunter, who had a brief career for a Hall of Famer. Mickey Lolich logged more innings in an eight-year stretch than Koufax threw his entire career. Bob Gibson threw 1,500 more innings than Sandy, so did Jerry Koosman, and Bob Feller, even though Feller missed five years in the war.

Jim Palmer

1965—1984
HALL OF FAME

32

A tall, handsome athlete who pitched and won big games to help the Orioles maintain their dynasty for close to two decades. He never allowed a grand slam.

Carl Hubbell

1928—1943
HALL OF FAME

33

The secret to Hubbell’s success was his uncanny ability to throw all four of his pitches with the same motion and from the same slot. To the batter, every pitch looked the same until it left his hand. The great pitchers who used a screwball before Hubbell, like Christy Mathewson (who called it a “fadeaway”), threw the pitch with a different arm angle. Hubbell threw his fastball, curve, change, and screwball from the same spot. He used a unique grip on his fastball, loosening his fingers, which made it seem to “hop” over the bat.

Ed Walsh

1904—1917
HALL OF FAME

34

“If Ed Walsh was not the greatest pitcher who ever lived, he was certainly the most valuable in his prime. He could pitch as well as anyone. But he had tremendous added value because his great strength allowed him to pitch out of turn and save a whole raft of games for other pitchers.” — Johnny Evers

Stan Coveleski

1916—1928
HALL OF FAME

35

When Stanley signed his first professional contract he decided to Anglicize his name to Coveleskie and it remained that way throughout his playing career. Sometime after his retirement, an editor somewhere dropped the last “e”, but Stan never signed his name Coveleski, he always wrote “Covey.”

John Smoltz

1988—2009
HALL OF FAME

36

For a decade, the Braves had three of the top 36 pitchers of all-time in their rotation: Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. The trio combined for five Cy Young Awards. The Braves won the division title in all nine of the full seasons played during that stretch. Manager Bobby Cox had the luxury to start Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz 1,234 times. From 1990 to 2008, the years where at least one of the three were in an Atlanta uniform, they started 42 percent of the games for Atlanta. That’s how you become a Hall of Fame manager.

Rube Waddell

1897—1910
HALL OF FAME

37

Luis Tiant

1964—1982

38

From the age of 31 to 38, Tiant averaged 17 wins per season and became a darling in Fenway. He made himself a great pitcher after losing his fastball, the pitch that served him so well with the Indians when he was a kid. Luis employed a corkscrew delivery and used many different arm angles to confuse batters, and he delighted teammates and fans by lighting up a cigar after a victory. When he was 33, he pitched 311 innings(!) and led the league with seven shutouts.

CC Sabathia

2001—2019

39

A popular teammate and great competitor, Carsten Charles Sabathia is the most recent pitcher to win 100 games with two teams. It’s been done by eight pitchers: Pete Alexander (Phillies & Cubs), Lefty Grove (A’s & Red Sox), Nolan Ryan (Angels & Astros), Dennis Martinez (Orioles & Expos), Greg Maddux (Cubs & Braves), Randy Johnson (Mariners & Diamondbacks), Mike Mussina (Orioles & Yankees), and CC (Indians & Yankees). All eight of these pitchers are in the top 100.

Johan Santana

2000—2012

40

Sandy Koufax pitched about 30 more games and pitched almost exactly 200 more innings than Santana, though they both had 12-year careers. Their numbers are very close. But the perception favors Koufax by a factor of about a million. Outside of a few experts, his fans in Minnesota, and those who cheered his no-hitter for the Mets, Santana has few supporters for the Hall of Fame. But he should, he was the closest thing we’ve had to Sandy Koufax since that golden left arm retired itself more than fifty years ago.

Eddie Plank

1901—1917
HALL OF FAME

41

Plank was a professional fidgeter. He was famous for his tedious mannerisms on the mound. A thin southpaw from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with a long, pointy nose, Plank liked to examine the baseball between pitches, tug at the bill of his cap, and hitch at his pants. In an era when games frequently took only 90 minutes to play, “Gettysburg Eddie” would add 10-15 minutes to the contest with his mound habits. But the stalling wasn’t for lack of courage: Plank was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the first decade of the 20th century. He won 20 games eight times and led the league in shutouts twice, once throwing eight in one season.

Don Drysdale

1956—1969
HALL OF FAME

42

Someone once said of Don Drysdale that he had “the face of a choir boy, the physique of a Goliath, and the competitive instincts of a tarantula.” He twice hit seven home runs in a season, and hit 29 total. He intimidated everyone who came to the plate to face him. He especially liked to dust off the superstars. “He hit me more than anyone else,” Frank Robinson said. “He kept me going like a rocking chair.” Once when Walt Alston ordered his pitcher to intentionally walk Willie Stargell, Drysdale fired his first pitch into Willie’s ribs. Asked later why he did it, Drysdale replied, “Why waste three pitches?”

Dazzy Vance

1915—1935
HALL OF FAME

43

Jim Bunning

1955—1971
HALL OF FAME

44

“I never heard of him before, I never saw him before, and I never want to see him again. — Willie Mays, after facing Jim Bunning in the 1957 All-Star Game

Vic Willis

1898—1910
HALL OF FAME

45

“Willis threw overhanded, from way over his head, using every inch of his vast height, reinforced by a lofty hill. The ball, therefore, came down on a lightning slant, and you never knew when it would cave you in.” — The Sporting News

Hal Newhouser

1939—1955
HALL OF FAME

46

The “Prince Hal” nickname was double-edged: Newhouser got it for his greatness on the mound, but it was also a backhanded slap at his arrogance. No one was more disliked in the Detroit clubhouse than Newhouser, who was not only cocky, but also displayed an explosive temper when things failed to go his way. Like Curt Schilling, he delighted at seeing his name in the papers, even if it meant stepping in front of his own teammates to provide a quote.

Dennis Eckersley

1975—1998
HALL OF FAME

47

A fantastic starting pitcher through the age of 29, but then he hit a mid-life crisis. He emerged a few years later as Tony La Russa’s reclamation project. From that point on, Eck pitched like a machine for more than a decade, a lights-out closer who helped the A’s to three straight pennants.

Iron Joe McGinnity

1899—1908
HALL OF FAME

48

Joe developed a breaking pitch that he released from just above his shoe tops, an underhand delivery that was unusual and helped by his natural movement. Throwing that way, McGinnity’s fastball had more movement, and his new breaking ball, which he called “Old Sal”, bit sharp at the end, diving away from the batter. Throwing underhand, Joe could also make the ball rise, which caused problems for batters.

Bret Saberhagen

1984—2001

49

With better luck and health, Saberhagen may have been a top twenty pitcher. He had excellent control and he was a top-notch post-season performer.

Dave Stieb

1979—1993, 1998

50

Has much in common with a similar underappreciated pitcher on this list: Wes Ferrell. Both Stieb and Ferrell were ill-tempered. Both were known to shoot a glare at a teammate who dared make an error behind them. Both Stieb and Ferrell were excellent athletes: Ferrell was one of the best hitting pitchers in history, and Stieb was a former outfielder who fielded his position well. Both Stieb and Ferrell were overshadowed by contemporaries in their own league, Ferrell by Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing, Stieb by Jack Morris, Roger Clemens, and Bret Saberhagen. Stieb and Ferrell both pitched for championship teams after their prime, neither making appearances in the Fall Classic. Both Stieb and Ferrell succumbed to a sore arm in their early 30s, and both attempted a comeback.

Wes Ferrell

1927—1941

51

See the Dave Stieb comment.

Kevin Brown

1986—2005

52

An ornery SOB who made few friends in the game, but was a great pitcher for about a decade. He was overshadowed by Maddux, Glavine, and Big Unit, but Brown was an ace, even if he laid a few eggs on the big stage (5.83 ERA in nine starts in the LCS and World Series).

THE REST OF THE 100

  • 53. Ted Lyons (HOF)
  • 54. Red Faber (HOF)
  • 55. Don Sutton (HOF)
  • 56. Orel Hershiser
  • 57. Kevin Appier
  • 58. Dwight Gooden
  • 59. Felix Hernandez
  • 60. Eddie Cicotte
  • 61. Wilbur Wood
  • 62. Mordecai Brown
  • 63. Frank Tanana
  • 64. Ron Guidry
  • 65. Cole Hamels
  • 66. Mark Buehrle
  • 67. Chuck Finley
  • 68. Tim Hudson
  • 69. Red Ruffing (HOF)
  • 70. Whitey Ford (HOF)
  • 71. Mickey Lolich
  • 72. Urban Shocker
  • 73. Tommy John
  • 74. Frank Viola
  • 75. Jimmy Key
  • 76. Mark Langston
  • 77. Early Wynn (HOF)
  • 78. Dizzy Dean (HOF)
  • 79. Andy Pettitte
  • 80. Rick Reuschel
  • 81. Cliff Lee
  • 82. Roy Oswalt
  • 83. Billy Pierce
  • 84. Mariano Rivera (HOF)
  • 85. Chris Sale
  • 86. Jerry Koosman
  • 87. Hippo Vaughn
  • 88. David Wells
  • 89. Sam McDowell
  • 90. Vida Blue
  • 91. Curt Davis
  • 92. Larry Jackson
  • 93. Jacob deGrom
  • 94. Steve Rogers
  • 95. Bucky Walters
  • 96. Dennis Martinez
  • 97. Fernando Valenzuela
  • 98. Eddie Rommel
  • 99. Wilbur Cooper
  • 100. Jack Morris (HOF)