Throughout the decades, the sport of baseball has seen some elite talents take the mound. While the game has evolved over the years stylistically, there’s still something to be said about the art of pitching. It’s a craft — where you pair repetition, physicality, and psychology when trying to get the batter out. At-bats almost function as mini challenges themselves. In regards to this piece, we’ll break down the top 10 starting pitchers in MLB history.
10. Clayton Kershaw
Concerning Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation. The longtime Los Angeles Dodgers ace made a career from being highly consistent. Early on, he had a mid-to-upper 90s fastball where he’d utilize all quadrants of the strike zone. As his velocity dipped, Kershaw developed a devastating 12-to-6 curveball and a lethal wipeout slider. A 10-time All-Star and a 3-time Cy Young Award winner, Kershaw has led the National League in ERA on five separate occasions. Through 16 seasons, Kershaw has accumulated a microscopic 2.48 ERA to go along with 210 wins.
9. Pedro Martinez
Martinez virtually sits in a category all by himself. At 5’11” and 170 pounds, he was a dominant performer throughout his career. The torque and rotation he was able to generate were simply otherworldly considering his small frame. If firing high 90s fastballs wasn’t impressive enough, Martinez had an assortment of off-speed pitches to pull from. Of course, it was the famed curveball that made him a dynamic ace for over a decade.
8. Tom Seaver
Known affectionately as “Tom Terrific,” Seaver’s career spanned two decades, during which he showcased ridiculous skill, determination, and consistency. With a devastating repertoire of pitches and impeccable command, he baffled hitters and dominated opposing lineups with ease. Seaver’s career highlights include three Cy Young Awards, 311 career wins, a career 2.86 ERA, and induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame with one of the highest voting percentages in history. To this day, Mets fans still look back at his time with the franchise as a major high point.
7. Roger Clemens
Clemens was as competitive as they come. “The Rocket” had just that — a powerful fastball that had considerable life and movement. There was an intimidation factor whenever he took the mound. Clemens didn’t just want to win the at-bat…he wanted to take your soul in the process. Clemens won a whopping 354 games throughout his illustrious career. He also won seven Cy Young Awards and two World Series rings in the process.
6. Randy Johnson
Imagine standing in the box getting ready to face Randy Johnson. If you’re a left-handed batter, you’re going up against a 6’10” monster who essentially threw over 100 miles per hour with a semi-sidearm release. As a right-handed batter, you’d be treated to that velocity along with a backfoot slider which was deemed nearly unhittable. All the while, you’ve got the long-striding Johnson bearing down on you with his immense wingspan — making the 60-feet 6-inches look a whole lot closer to you by the time the ball is released. Throw in the 303 career wins and five Cy Young Awards, and you’re left with an all-time great.
5. Greg Maddux
Maddux approached the game akin to a surgeon operating on a patient. He was downright clinical with his decision-making. Maddux manipulated the ball as well as anyone with his variety of grips. Even though he wasn’t overpowering with his velocity, no one came close to exacting the movement he got with the baseball. The ball danced like a knuckleball, but still possessed enough bite and velocity to bear down on hitters. Efficient, accurate, and wildly consistent, Maddux won four Cy Young Awards in a row during the early-to-mid ’90s. He also is widely considered to be the best fielding pitcher ever — evidenced by a mind-blowing 18 Gold Gloves.
4. Walter Johnson
“The Big Train” dominated the sport like few others, setting records and leaving a lasting legacy that still reverberates through the annals of the game. With his imposing stature and overpowering fastball, Johnson struck fear into the hearts of batters throughout his illustrious career, which spanned from 1907 to 1927. His remarkable consistency and durability set him apart, as evidenced by his staggering 417 wins. Johnson’s prowess on the mound earned him two MVP awards and countless accolades, cementing his status as one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
3. Cy Young
Over his remarkable tenure in the game from 1890 to 1911, Young redefined the art of pitching. With a remarkable 511 career wins, a feat that remains unmatched, Young’s dominance on the mound was nothing short of legendary. His durability was equally impressive, with an astonishing 815 complete games. Young’s legacy extends far beyond his statistics; his influence on the game helped shape the modern era of baseball and continues to inspire generations of players. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in its inaugural class, Cy Young’s name remains synonymous with excellence in pitching
2. Nolan Ryan
Ryan is the archetype flamethrower. In terms of being able to consistently throw the ball with high velocity for long durations of time, Ryan is the man. He pitched a whopping 27 years in the Big Leagues. During this time, he notched eight All-Star appearances, 5,714 strikeouts, and 324 career wins. Some players might have better ERAs or more Cy Young Awards. However, Ryan’s ability to terrify hitters in the box with his stuff is perhaps the most underrated skill he brought to the table. Stats really don’t tell the whole story here with how good Ryan was.
1. Sandy Koufax
Koufax was a unique talent. He pitched like he had a fastball that would top out at 88 miles per hour — meaning he’d paint the corners and aim to deceive hitters by changing speeds regularly. Yet, he had some of the best stuff we’ve ever seen. He paired a fastball routinely sitting in the high 90s/touching 100 miles per hour with the best curveball ever constructed. Oh yeah — and he’s a lefty to top it off. There are questions as to whether older players could perform at a high level versus current competition. There are no questions regarding Koufax… he’d dominate if he were pitching in 2024.