All-Time Great American League Pitchers

AL Pitchers
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04: Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Six of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on November 4, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees won 7-3 to win the series 4 games to 2. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Continuing with our All-Time Great American League Team, it’s time to include some pitchers in the rotation. So, here’s a list of the All-Time Greatest American League Pitchers.

Criteria

  • 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 American League in order to be eligible.
  • Relief pitchers must have spent the majority of their careers in the bullpen in order to be eligible

Exclusions Due to Time In Both Leagues

Nolan Ryan (1968-1993)

Known for throwing a devastating 100mph fastball, Nolan Ryan is one of the most intimating pitchers to ever play in the league. His 5,714 career strikeouts will most likely never be surpassed. Ryan also holds the record for most no-hitters with seven and his .204 BA against is tops in MLB. Interestingly, he never won a Cy Young Award. Ryan was also an eight-time All-Star.

Pedro Martinez (1992-2009)

Pedro Martinez was the most dominant pitcher in baseball during his prime. He is the only pitcher in history to reach 3,000 strikeouts with fewer than 3,000 innings pitched. Also, only Randy Johnson reached 3,000 strikeouts faster than Martinez. An eight-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young Award winner and 1999 pitching’s Triple Crown winner. He joined Juan Marichal as only the second Dominican born pitcher to be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame.

Cy Young (1890-1911)

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.

Randy Johnson (1988-2009)

Arguably one of the most intimidating pitchers in MLB history, Randy Johnson simply dominated during his time in the League. His 4,875 career strikeouts are most all-time by a left-hander and only second behind Nolan Ryan for most all-time. Johnson’s 303 career victories rank him fifth all-time amongst left-handers. Won five Cy Young Awards, four consecutively and is one of only six pitchers to win the award in both leagues. The ten-time all-star is also one of only five pitchers to throw a no-hitter in both leagues as well.

Rollie Fingers (1968-1982, 1984-85)

Rollie Fingers truly defined the relief pitcher role and became what is now the modern closer. Fingers won both the AL Cy Young Award and AL MVP in 1981. At the time of his retirement, his 341 saves were the most in baseball history. Finished his career as a three-time World Series champion and seven-time All-Star.

Starters

Walter Johnson (1907-1927)

Despite retiring nearly 100 years ago, Walter Johnson still holds multiple pitching records. His 110 career shutouts will likely never be repeated, his 417 wins rank second all-time and his 531 complete games rank fourth all-time. At the time of his retirement, Johnson’s 3,508 were a Major League record. In fact, he was the only member of the 3,000 strikeout club until Bob Gibson joined him in 1974. Johnson led the league in strikeouts a record eight times and is the only pitcher in history with over 400 wins and 3,500 strikeouts. He was a two-time AL MVP and won the pitching Triple Crown three times. Johnson is a very deserved member of the inaugural 1936 Hall-of-Fame class. He is still considered to this day one of the greatest pitchers to ever play.

Roger Clemens (1984-2007)

With a record seven Cy Young Awards, Roger Clemens definitely deserves a spot on the list. Clemens’ 4,672 career strikeouts rank third all-time and he is the only pitcher in MLB history to record at least 350 wins and 4,500 strikeouts. He is an 11-time All-Star, two-time Triple Crown winner and won the AL MVP in 1986. Also along the way, Clemens led the league in wins four times and strikeouts five times. Unfortunately, Clemens’ career has been marred by steroid allegations. However, there’s no denying the impact he had on the game of baseball and his intimidating style of play won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Whitey Ford (1950, 1953-1967)

Whitey Ford is arguably the most successful pitcher in New York Yankees history, spending his entire sixteen-year career in pinstripes. He is a six-time World Series champion and a ten-time all-star. In 1961, Ford won both the AL Cy Young Award and World Series MVP. Also, his .690 career winning percentage is tops in all of baseball. Ford’s 2.75 ERA is the second-lowest since the advent of the live-ball era in 1920. His World Series accomplishments alone would be enough to land him on this list. Ford has ten wins in 22 starts, both most all time, and, before being broken by Mariano Rivera in 2000, he held the longest scoreless innings streak in World Series history at 33 innings.

Lefty Grove (1925-1941)

One of the most dominant pitchers of his era, Lefty Grove is in the argument for greatest pitcher of all-time. Grove led the American League in wins four times, strikeouts an incredible seven years in a row and had the lowest era a record nine times. The six-time All-Star won the pitching Triple Crown twice and finished his career with an even 300 wins. Grove’s .680 winning percentage ranks eighth all-time and is highest amongst 300 game-winners. Unbelievably, Grove didn’t make his MLB debut until age 25. Had those earlier years not been spent in the minor leagues, his career numbers would no doubt be even more impressive.

Bob Feller (1936-41, 1945-1956)

Bob Feller is one of the few modern-day players ever to completely bypass the minors and start in the majors. Making his MLB debut at only 17, Feller was a baseball prodigy who became an eight-time All-Star and six-time AL win leader. Despite missing four years due to military service, Feller finished his career with 266 wins, 2,581 strikeouts, three no-hitters and won the pitching Triple Crown in 1940. At the time of his retirement, his three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters were both records. Also, it is speculated that Feller was one of the fastest throwers in MLB history, being able to throw the ball well over 100mph. Had those four years not been lost, it’s no doubt that Feller would’ve amassed over 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.

Starter Reserves

Ed Walsh (1904-1917)

While his career record of 195-126 doesn’t look impressive, Ed Walsh was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his playing days. He still holds the record for the lowest career era at an unbelievable 1.82. Also, he is one of only two modern-day pitchers in history to win 40 games and is the last pitcher to throw 400 innings in a season. Unfortunately, Walsh’s overuse caused his career to end earlier than it should have due to dead arm issues. He pitched an average of 375 innings from 1907-1912.

Jim Palmer (1965-67, 1969-1984)

During the 1970s, it is difficult to find a more successful pitcher than Jim Palmer. He tallied 186 wins, won three Cy Young Awards and four Gold Gloves. Also, he won at least 20 games eight times during that span as well. Palmer finished his career with 268 wins, a 2.86 era and 2,212 strikeouts. The six-time All-Star is also a member of three World Series championship teams.

Eddie Plank (1901-1917)

Eddie Plank was the fist left-hander in MLB history to reach both the 200 and 300 win marks. His 326 total victories rank third amongst lefties and eleventh overall. He still holds the record for most shutouts by a left-hander with 66. Plank is a three-time World Series champion and has a minuscule 1.32 era in series play. He finished his playing career with a 2.35 era and 2,246 strikeouts.

Starter Alternates

  • Babe Ruth (1914-1935) – Before becoming one of the most successful hitters in MLB history, Ruth was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Ruth had a 94-46 overall record. He led the league with a 1.75 era and nine shutouts in 1916 and complete games with 35 in 1917.
  • Bert Blyleven (1970-90, 1992) -A two-time All-Star and World Series champion. He ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts, 14th in innings pitched and 27th in wins. He finished his career with 287 wins, a 3.31 era and 3,701 strikeouts.
  • Satchel Paige (1948-49, 1951-53, 1965) – A two time MLB All-Star, five-time Negro-League All-Star, and 1948 World Series champion. The oldest major league rookie at age 42 in 1948. His charisma and infectious personality make Paige one of the most recognizable names in baseball history.

Relievers

Mariano Rivera (1995-2013)

Mariano Rivera is the only unanimous Hall-of-Famer in MLB history. He is not only the most consistent closer ever but also the most successful one. Rivera finished his career with 652 saves, the most in MLB history. Also, he saved at least 25 games in 15 consecutive seasons and posted an era under 2.00 in 11 seasons; both are records. He also holds the record for most seasons with 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 saves. Simply put, he was absolutely dominant in closing out games. Rivera’s postseason records are just as impressive. In 96 games, he has the lowest career era at 0.70, most saves with 42 and most consecutive scoreless appearances with 23. He was also a 13-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion. Mariano Rivera is no doubt in a league of his own when it comes to the closer position.

Rich Gossage (1972-1989, 1991-94)

Rich ”Goose” Gossage is perhaps the first incarnation of the modern-day closer. Finishing his career with 310 saves, he led the American League in saves three times and was second in saves twice. His 1,502 career strikeouts place him second all-time amongst relief pitchers and his eight All-Star selections are second only to Mariano Rivera for relief pitchers. Rich Gossage also earned an astounding 53 saves in which he recorded seven outs or more. Without Goose Gossage, the closer role would not be as important as it is today.

Dennis Eckersley (1975-1998)

Had Dennis Eckersley maintained the early success he had as a starting pitcher, he could’ve possibly ended his career as just another good pitcher. However, Eckersley’s role as a closer landed him in the Hall-of-Fame. From 1988-1992, he was the most dominant closer in the league saving 220 games and never posting an era higher than 2.96. Eckersley won the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 1992 posting 51 saves that season with a 1.91 era. He finished his career with 390 saves and 2,401 strikeouts. Also, the six-time All-Star is one of only two pitchers with both a 20 win season and a 50 save season in a career.

 

Reliever Reserves

Sparky Lyle (1967-1982)

One of the most dominant relievers of the 1970s, Sparky Lyle will go down as one of the best left-handed closers ever. He led the league in saves twice, was a three-time All-Star and two time World Series champion. As the 1977 AL Cy Young Award winner, Lyle became the first American League pitcher to win the award. His 232 American League saves are the most ever by a left-hander. Also, at the time of his retirement, he was the first pitcher to appear in 600, 700 and 800 games without ever making a start.

Dan Quisenberry (1979-1990)

Dan Quisenberry was not an overpowering pitcher. Instead, he relied on his remarkable control and accuracy to get hitters out. His 1.40 BB/9 is the lowest for any pitcher since the 1920s and third lowest in MLB history. The three-time All-Star was the first reliever to record at least 40 saves in a season and he led the league in saves five times. He finished his career with 244 saves and helped the Kansas City Royals win the 1985 World Series.

Reliever Alternates

  • Joe Nathan (1999-2000, 2002-09, 2011-2016) – From 2004-2009 he was the most successful closer in the league recording 246 saves during that span. His 376 American League saves are second only to Marino Rivera. He finished his career with 377 saves and is a six-time All-Star.
  • Dave Righetti (1979, 1981-1995) – 1981 ROY. His 46 saves in 1986 still stand as a single-season5 record for AL left-handed pitchers. One of three pitchers to throw a no-hitter and lead the league in saves in his career.

Conclusion

So many great pitchers including award winners and Hall-of-Famers. Without a doubt, these names will go down in history as some of the best to ever play and will be remembered for years to come. To see how the National League side stacks up against the American League side, please take a look here.

Main Image
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