Josh Madas: I don’t think we have ever seen a strikeout pitcher who was as dominant as Nolan Ryan. He made hitters look silly and would blow his fastball by them. Ryan changed speeds so well that he made more hitters miss than any other pitcher in the history of baseball. He is the only pitcher to ever top 5,000 strikeouts and could possibly remain at the top of the list for a long time.
John Yeomans: Ryan had one of the meanest fastballs baseball has ever seen, and never lost his touch throwing 100 MPH even when playing in his 40s. “The Ryan Express” never pitched a perfect game but made up for it with his record seven no-hitters. The biggest accomplishment of Ryan’s career would be his MLB record 5,714 strikeouts, which should stand tall for a very longtime. The only knock on Ryan is he played mostly for mediocre teams, which shows in his career record (324-292), and is probably why he never won a Cy Young Award.
Rich Stowe: Like Koufax, it took Randy Johnson a little while to get his career going, but once he did, he was amazing. One of the most intimidating pitchers in history, he was also one of its best power pitchers and his slider is one of the most unhittable pitches in history. It was hard to bump Lefty Grove or Bob Gibson off my list for Johnson, but what he did during the height of “The Steroid Era” was truly incredible.
Matt Strobl: The Big Unit is the second-best southpaw on my board, which indicates the overall level of competition at work here. Johnson dominated both leagues at points of his career and finished with five Cy Young Awards, a collective 3.29 ERA, and a best-ever 10.61 K/9. Pitching well into his 40s dragged down his stats, and admittedly, Johnson had a couple of less than stellar years along the way. But, those minor bumps in the road can’t obscure his excellence. The era in which he played and his accomplishments in both the AL and NL give Johnson the edge in my rankings over other Top-5 considerations such as Christy Mathewson, Grover Alexander, and Sandy Koufax.
John Yeomans: “The Big Unit” had a stellar career (303-166 career record), with his best years being between 1999 and 2002 where he won four straight Cy Young Awards, and was a key factor in the Arizona Diamondback World Series Championship over the Yankees in 2001. Johnson’s signature pitch was the slider that helped him earn 10 All-Star appearances and fear from every batter that faced him. In his last season with the Diamondbacks, Johnson solidified himself as one of the all-time greats with his perfect game on May 18, 2004. Not even faltering under the bright lights and heavy media playing with the Yankees could hurt his reputation as one of the best pitchers baseball has ever been able to witness.
Mark Cebulski: The greatest left-hander of all time with 11 20 win seasons, 363 career wins, and terrific durability. He reinvented himself late in his career and at age 42, went 23-7 in 1963 with not much more than a nasty screwball and endless guile. I watched him while growing up near Milwaukee and his script could have been written before the game began: runners at the corners, one out–then a screwball pounded into the dirt for a room-service double play. He held the patent for the comfortable 0-for-4.
Brian Podoll: Part of my choice here is local bias from Spahnie’s Milwaukee Braves prime, but the other factor to consider are the three years he lost to serving in World War II. He already has the most wins of any lefty in history (363) and may well have approached or surpassed Walter Johnson for second all-time (417) with those three extra seasons. A master of adaptation to extend his career, Spahn expanded his repertoire of deliveries to ultimately six pitches when knee problems affected his reliance on his fastball at the start of his long successful run with Milwaukee. That is the difference between a true pitcher and a hurler.
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