Continuing with our All-Time Great National League Team, it’s time to include some pitchers in our rotation. So, here’s a list of the all-time greatest National League pitchers.
- Eight total starting pitchers: Five starters and three starter reserves
- Five total relief pitchers including two reserves
- Played at least 70% of their games in the National League in order to be eligible.
- Relief pitchers must have spent the majority of their careers in the bullpen in order to be eligible
A Note On Cy Young
Unfortunately for Cy Young, he spent nearly identical time pitching for both the Cleveland Spiders of the National League and the Boston Americans of the American League. He would no doubt have made the list had he spent more time in one league than the other. His stats are very much worth noting, however. He still holds the record for career wins with 511 as well as games started, complete games and innings pitched. He also threw three no-hitters with one of them being a perfect game.
Bob Gibson (1959-1975)
Bob Gibson can be summed up in one word: dominant. He is a two-time NL Cy Young award winner, two-time World Series champion, nine-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner. In 1968 Gibson not only won the MVP, but he also pitched to the tune of a 1.12 ERA which is still a record to this day for a starter with more than 200 innings pitched. Also, Gibson is the main reason the mound was lowered after the 1968 season. He finished his career with 251 wins and 3,117 strikeouts. He’s a definite ace for the All-Time National League staff.
Greg Maddux (1986-2008)
Arguably the greatest control pitcher to ever play, Greg Maddux holds a multitude of MLB records. Maddux holds the record for most Gold Gloves with 18 and is tied with Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to win four consecutive Cy Young Awards. And, during that four-year span, Maddux won 75 games and had a minuscule 1.98 ERA. He is the only pitcher to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons and is one of only ten pitchers to win at least 300 games and amass at least 3,000 strikeouts. Maddux’s 355 wins is good enough for eighth all-time.
Sandy Koufax (1955-1966)
Sandy Koufax is considered by many to be the best left-handed pitcher in history. He was the National League’s MVP in 1963 and was a unanimous three-time Cy Young Award winner. And, he also won the Triple Crown for pitchers in those three seasons by leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. The six-time All-Star threw four no-hitters including one perfect game. Unfortunately for Koufax, traumatic arthritis greatly shortened his dominant career. But, despite pitching only 12 seasons, Koufax’s 2,396 career strikeouts were good enough for seventh all-time at the time of his retirement. He is one of only five pitchers in the Hall-of-Fame to have more strikeouts than innings pitched.
Christy Mathewson (1900-1916)
One of the most dominant pitchers to ever play, Christy Mathewson was deservedly in the inaugural 1936 Hall-of-Fame class. He and Walter Johnson are the only two pitchers in MLB history to rank in the top ten in both career wins and career ERA. Speaking of wins, Mathewson’s 373 are tied for a National League record. Mathewson pitched two no-hitters during his career and threw three shutouts in the 1905 World Series alone. Four times he led the league in wins and was the ERA and strikeout leader in the league five times. Mathewson could have no doubt pitched in any era in baseball history.
Tom Seaver burst on to the scene for the New York Mets and won the Rookie of the Year award in 1967. Over the next decade, Seaver solidified himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball by winning the Cy Young Award three times and helping the Mets capture the 1969 World Series Title. Seaver finished his career with 3,640 strikeouts and 311 wins. Also, his 14 Opening Day starts are a record he shares with Walter Johnson. At the time of his induction to the Hall-of-Fame in 1992, Seaver had the highest percentage of votes with 98.84%.
Pete Alexander‘s 90 shutouts are still a National League Record and his 373 wins are tied with Christy Mathewson for most National League Wins. In 1911, Alexander led the league with 28 wins, 31 complete games, 367 innings pitched and seven shutouts. It’s worth noting that 1911 was Alexander’s rookie year. His 5,190 innings pitched are good enough for tenth all-time. Interestingly enough, Alexander has the most career wins for a pitcher that has never thrown a no-hitter.
Given a few more years, Clayton Kershaw could very well go down as one of the best pitchers in history. He is already an eight-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young Award winner and NL MVP winner. His 2.44 career ERA and 1.01.WHIP is good enough for best ever in the live-ball era.
Due to a farm equipment accident in his youth, Mordecai Brown earned the nickname ”Three Finger” Brown. Due to this injury, Brown was able to grip the baseball in a way that allowed him to throw what would be known today as a knuckle curve. This advantage allowed him to become one of the best pitchers of his era. Brown was part of two World Series Championship Chicago Cubs teams. His 2.06 career ERA is good enough for the best of any pitcher with at least 200 wins and third-best of any pitcher in the Hall-of-Fame.
- Steve Carlton (1965-1988) – 329 career wins and 4,136 career strikeouts both rank second all-time amongst left-handed pitchers. He also a four-time Cy Young Award winner.
- Warren Spahn (1942, 1946-1965) – His 363 career victories are the most for a left-handed pitcher. He is a 1957 Cy Young Award winner and three-time runner-up. Spahn also a 17-time All-Star.
- Juan Marichal (1960-1975) – Ten-time All-Star. He won more games in the 1960s than any other pitcher.
The first pitcher ever to reach the 500 and 600 save milestones, Trevor Hoffman didn’t even begin his career as a pitcher. Hoffman still holds many league records including fifteen 20-save seasons, fourteen 30-save seasons and nine 40-save seasons. Though never winning a Cy Young award, he finished runner-up twice. The seven-time All-Star ended his career with 601 saves, 1,133 strikeouts, and a 2.87 ERA.
Lee Smith is considered one of the most dominant closers in baseball history. He led baseball in career saves for fourteen years until Trevor Hoffman surpassed Lee’s record of 478 saves in 2006. His 1,022 games pitched is tied for twelfth all-time and he still holds the record for most saves in Chicago Cubs history. Lee led the league in saves four times, is a seven-time All-Star and finished second in Cy Young voting in 1991.
One of the most dominant left-handed relievers ever, Billy Wagner was born a natural right-hander. After suffering two right-arm fractures as a child, Wagner taught himself how to throw left-handed. His 422 career saves make him one of only six pitchers to accumulate at least 400 saves. Also, his 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings are the highest of any major league pitcher with at least 800 innings pitched. Wagner is a seven-time All-Star and finished his career with 1,196 strikeouts.
Behind Billy Wagner, John Franco should be considered the most effective left-handed reliever ever. His 424 career saves rank fourth all-time and his 1,119 games pitched is a National League Record. He finished his career as four-time All-Star.
Bruce Sutter was one of the most dominant relievers of the 70s and 80s. He is a six-time All-Star and won the NL Cy Young Award in 1979. Sutter finished his career with a 2.83 ERA and 300 saves. At the time of his retirement, he was the only pitcher to lead the National League in saves five times.
- Eric Gagne (1999-2008) – Despite a brief career, Gagne was pretty much untouchable from 2002-2004. He converted a record 84 consecutive saves and won the 2003 Cy Young Award.
- Robb Nen (1993-2002) – Three-time All-Star and 1997 World Series Champion. He finished his career with 314 saves which were good enough for eighth overall at the time of his retirement.
All of the pitchers on this list will no doubt stand the test of time. But, with the National League continuing to produce excellent starting and relief pitching, there are sure to be more players added to the ”All-Time Best” discussion.
Please check back soon as we will be listing the best position players and pitchers for the American League.
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