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Baseball's Best Pitchers Since 1990

Updated on April 1, 2014

Aces Wild

Major League Baseball has featured several dynamic starting pitchers since 1990, and what follows is a small list of the best of the best. As a disclaimer I will not take into account any alleged or admitted steroid use when compiling this list. I believe it is impossible to differentiate between those who did and those who did not and that there will never be an answer to this problem, therefore I will simply go by the performances given on the mound and leave assumptions for others. The beauty of pitching is that there is one job to be done, get the batter out, and yet there is a myriad of ways to go about said job. The pitchers who grace this list all had their own unique set of abilities, personality, and methodology out on the mound. Remember too when reading this list that I am only covering pitchers since 1990, so while I'm sure Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax would make any list of all time greats they will not be included here because I never saw them pitch, and I do not believe in comparing eras at that drastic of a clip. With our disclaimers out of the way lets dive into this who's who of hurlers.

The Rocket
The Rocket | Source

Roger Clemens

The Rocket pitched with a dominating style that embodied his Texas roots and embraced his role as an intimidator on the bump. Clemens was the quintessential right handed power pitcher of his generation who was never afraid to dominate the inner half of the plate. He was known as a strikeout pitcher throwing a two seam fastball and a hard breaking ball, he added a devastating split finger pitch in his later years. Roger Clemens pitched for four different ball clubs and won at least one Cy Young Award with each team. Clemens won 7 total Cy Young's and was also the oldest pitcher to ever win one at the age of 42. As a member of the Boston Red Sox Clemens also won an MVP award in 1986. The Rocket was as dominating a pitcher as the league has ever seen in his two years with the Toronto Blue Jays. On his way to winning the Cy Young both years in Toronto 1997 and 98, he also won the pitching triple crown both seasons leading the American League in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. In 1999 Clemens was traded to the New York Yankees where he finally added a World Series ring to his illustrious trophy case. Clemens helped the Yankees to the third and fourth titles in their four out five World Series run from 1996 through 2000. Clemens struggled to find himself in 1999 but came out of his shell especially in the 2000 postseason where he dominated. In 2004 Clemens returned home to Texas to pitch for the Houston Astros where he won his final Cy Young award. He finished his career with 4,672 strikeouts, and 354 wins, unbelievable numbers for any pitcher in any era, but even more so now with more and more emphasis being placed on relief pitchers. If I had to take one pitcher for one game I'm pretty sure I would take Clemens, but if I had to take one pitcher for an entire season or career there is no doubt The Rocket is my guy.

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux was the master of control. He could control with incredible accuracy the spot of any pitch. His change of speeds kept hitters uncomfortable in the box as Greg Maddux would cruise through innings untouched. The Professor threw a litany of pitches from a cutter to a splitter, but he relied mainly on his two seam sinking fastball and his deceptive circle change. Maddux won the Cy Young every year from 1992-1995 four years in a row a feat only matched by Randy Johnson. A 355 game winner with 3,371 strikeouts, Maddux entered the Hall of Fame in 2014. Mad Dog could also pick it as well as he could pitch it, winning 18 gold gloves in his illustrious career. His consistency was never more on display than in the win column where he became the only pitcher in Major League Baseball to win at least 15 games in 17 straight seasons. Maddux took home his only World Series title with the Atlanta Braves in 1995 winning game one although losing game five. He pitched for four different clubs pulling double duty for the Dodgers and Cubs while only single stints with the Braves and Padres. The bulk of his work was done as a Brave where he was part of the three headed monster that was Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine, perhaps the best starting rotation of all time.

Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson towered over his opponents with a rugged look and screaming fastball that when delivered out of his six foot ten inch slender frame, was all but a blur. The big lefty also threw a hard biting slider to go along with a split finger fastball that induced groundballs much like a sinker ball. Johnson's slider broke down and away from lefties and down and in to right handed batters which could make them swing and have to jump out the way of getting their feet clipped by the 90 mph slide piece. Johnson was the master of what is called being effectively wild often missing behind the batter with his slider before coming back over the plate with his fastball, meanwhile the batter is completely out of sorts from the wild pitch which would lead to halfhearted swings en route to another k. John Kruk even jokingly switched sides of the plate in an All Star game after one of such pitches. Johnson's fastball regularly hit triple digits on the radar gun making a lethal combination of pitches which led him to a perfect game, 5 Cy Young awards, 4,875 strikeouts, 303 wins, and a World Series MVP. Johnson pitched 22 big league seasons with the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants. Johnson came into his own with the Seattle Mariners in the mid 90's where he won his first Cy Young and burst on to the major league scene as one of the best pitchers in the game. Johnson's talent was fully realized during his stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks where he won his World Series title and four consecutive Cy Young awards. The Big Unit bounced around in his final few seasons but remained an effective power pitcher well into his forties.

Randy Johnson
Randy Johnson | Source

How They Stack Up

The Ace
Strike Outs
Wins
ERA
Cy Youngs
Roger Clemens
4,672
354
3.12
7
Randy Johnson
4,875
303
3.29
5
Greg Maddux
3,371
355
3.16
4
John Smoltz
3,084
213
3.33
1
Tom Glavine
2,607
305
3.54
2
Roy Halladay
2,117
203
3.38
2
Pedro Martinez
3,154
219
2.93
3
 
 
 
 
 

Who Is The Best of the Bunch?

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Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez had a toolbox of effective pitches that kept hitters guessing what would come next. Early in his career Martinez could ratchet up a 97 mph fastball a blow away hitters but as injuries took their toll Pedro came to rely more on a litany of out pitches that could all be thrown for a strike in any count. A circle change and a good curveball were regular strikeout pitches even with a full count where most pitchers would rely on a fastball. Martinez dominated baseball as a member of the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox posting the lowest WHIP in baseball history. Among 200 game winners his winning percentage was only second to Whitey Ford. Martinez had 10 gams with 15 or more strikeouts ranking him 3rd all time in that category. Martinez won his only World Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2004 helping Boston win their first World Series in 86 years. With a 2.93 career ERA Martinez ranks among the best of all time. After his glory years in Boston Pedro bounced around to the Mets and Phillies giving him five teams he has played for after starting out with the Dodgers in 1992. Pedro won his first Cy Young with the Montreal Expos making him the only Expo to win the National League Cy Young award. He then won back to back Cy Young with Boston in 1999 and 2000 arguably the best two year run of any pitcher in modern history posting ERAs of 2.07 and 1.74 respectively combined that's a 1.90 ERA over two seasons. He won 41 games during the two year span while posting 597 strikeouts against only 69 walks. In 2000 he set major league records for opponents batting average against .167, opponent's on base percentage .213, and K/BB with an 8.8 ratio. Martinez' all time numbers in wins don't quite stack up with the all timers but his ERA and strikeouts combined with his complete domination of the sport for two seasons cement his place on the list of the best pitchers to ever play.

John Smoltz
John Smoltz | Source

John Smoltz

John Smoltz is not only a 200 game winner, but he also has 150 plus saves under his belt as well, making him the only pitcher in MLB history to record such a feat. After undergoing Tommy John surgery Smoltz became the Braves closer, and in his first full season in the new role he set the NL record for saves with 55 (later surpassed by Eric Gagne). Smoltz fired a 98mph four seam fastball paired with a good slider and split finger pitch he used as his out pitch. Smoltz spent three years in the middle of his career as a closer before returning to starting where he once again became among baseball's best. Smoltz best year yielded his only Cy Young in 1996 when he won an astonishing 24 games while setting a franchise record by recording a win in fourteen straight decisions. Smoltz over his career had 3,084 strikeouts, 213wins, 154 saves, all while posting a 3.33 ERA. Smoltz' longeveity and versatility allowed him to compile amazing statistics and become a Braves legend even while pitching next to Maddux and Glavine. John Smoltz outlasted both Maddux and Glavine as a Brave and went on to beat both head to head later in their careers. The three collaborated for the Braves only World Series win in 1995. Smoltz may have been the third man on the Braves but when your line reads 200 150 3,000 you have cemented your place on any list of all time pitching greats.

Halladay Is Perfect

Tom Glavine
Tom Glavine | Source

Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine was the third member of the Atlanta Braves three headed starting pitcher monster. Pitching from 1987-2008 for the Braves and Mets, Glavine tallied 305 wins and 2,607 strikeouts with a 3.54 ERA. He won two Cy Youngs in 1991 and 1998 both with the Braves and he was also the World Series MVP in 1995. Glavine won both of his starts in the World Series games two and six while throwing eight inning of one hit ball in Game six. Glavine was a left handed control specialist who remained effective despite losing velocity over the course of his 20 year career. Glavine featured one of the best changeups in the game as well as above average curve and slider. Glavine won 20 games three years in a row from 1991-1993 becoming the last pitcher in major league history to do so. Glavine spent four uneventful years with the Mets in between his time with the Braves. Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux will all be remembered together for their dominance as Braves, but each man has over 300 wins and 2,500 strikeouts giving them individually the credentials to be amongst pitching greatness.

Roy Halladay

Doc Halladay is the only man on this list with both a Perfect Game and a post season no-hitter. Halladay dominated in both leagues for the Blue Jays and the Phillies from 1998-2013. His numbers are not quite up to par with some of the other members of this list but he still has two Cy Young awards to go with his perfecto and no no. Halladay threw both a four seam and two seam sinking fastball with excellent control. Paired with a good curve and an excellent cutter, Halladay was both an efficient groundball pitcher as well as a strikeout threat amassing 2,117 strikeouts despite being known as a pitch to contact pitcher. Halladay's win total may be more of a sign of the times rather than an indictment on his pitching prowess. 203 wins in the era of the relief pitcher is no small feat. Stymied by injuries Halladay's career was cut short in 2013 but during his time on the mound he was the preeminent pitcher of his time.

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    • Camby24 profile image
      Author

      Jon Campbell 2 years ago from Littleton Colorado

      The article is about pitchers since 1990 not 1960, I never saw Koufax pitch other than highlights so I am not an authority.

    • profile image

      DrJ 2 years ago

      Where is Sandy Koufax? His arthritis caused him to retire at 30, but he was by far the best from 1960 on.

    • KevinTrusty profile image

      Kevin Trusty 3 years ago from Joliet, IL

      Great stuff here!