Strikeout Kings: The Best Pitchers In MLB History

Baseball | 10/15/21

From Roy “Doc” Halliday to Jay “Dizzy” Dean, some Major League Baseball pitchers surpass all others. With lightening-fast throws and stellar precision, there is a reason these men made it to the big leagues.

Step up to bat and learn more about the best pitchers in baseball history.

Tom Seaver

MLB Photos Archive
Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images
Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

For 20 seasons, Tom Seaver was dominating the pitcher’s mound. Seaver earned the Cy Young Award three times during his career, was the NL ERA leader three times, and was the NL strikeout leader a solid five times.

He even pitched a no-hitter back in 1978. Seaver is lucky enough to be thrice inducted into the hall of fame: the Baseball Hall of Fame, the New York Mets Hall of Fame, and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Christy Mathewson

Christy Mathewson, Major League Baseball Player, New York Giants, Harris & Ewing, 1912
GHI/Universal History Archive via Getty Images
GHI/Universal History Archive via Getty Images

Christy Mathewson is one of the best pitchers in baseball history, holding a top-ten slot in multiple pitching categories, including strikeouts (2,502), wins (373), and ERA (2.13). The two-time World Series champion even pitched two no-hitters during his 17-season career with the New York Giants.

A five-time NL strikeout leader and five-time NL ERA leader, Mathewson retired from baseball with a solid 79 career shutouts.

Rube Waddell

Rube Waddell Los Angeles
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

A southpaw pitcher, Rube Waddell, proved to be a force on the mound. He was known for his erratic behavior and tendency to strike out everyone who came up to bat, leaving the game with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3-to-1.

Waddell graced the pitchers’ mound for a solid 13-year career from 1897 until 1910. In 1946, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Smokey Joe Wood

Smokey Joe Wood 1921
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Image
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Image

Smokey Joe Wood was in the MLB for 14 years, a majority of which he played for the Boston Red Sox. While pitching for the Sox, he led the team to three World Series victories.

In 1911, Wood pitched a no-hitter, solidifying his place in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

Cy Young

Cy Young
Photo File/Getty Images
Photo File/Getty Images

During his early days, Cy Young had one of the fastest pitches in the MLB, leading him to 2,803 career strikeouts. He was even lucky enough to pitch both a perfect game and a no-hitter during his career.

To honor one of the greatest pitchers in the game, the Cy Young Award is an annual award given to the best pitcher in each league.

Tom Glavine

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

As one of 24 pitchers to have 300 career wins, Tom Glavine has secured his spot as one of the greatest in history. During his career, Glavine played for both the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets and became a ten-time All-Star and World Series champion.

In the 1990s alone, he earned the second-highest number of wins, at 164, of any pitcher in the MLB.

Ed Walsh

Portrait Of Ed Walsh
Paul Thompson/PhotoQuest/Getty Images
Paul Thompson/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

For several seasons, Big Ed Walsh was widely considered the best pitcher in the game. He is the last modern pitcher to have won 40 games or more in a single season and the last of any team to throw more than 400 innings in a season.

As of 2021, Walsh holds the record for lowest ERA, at a staggeringly low 1.82.

Jay “Dizzy” Dean

Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds
Diamond Images/Getty Images
Diamond Images/Getty Images

The last National League pitcher to win 30 games in a season, batters were scared to go up to the plate when Jay “Dizzy” Dean took to the mound. With a solid 134 victories during his career, “Ol’ Diz” left the league with a 2.99 ERA.

In 1953, Dean was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 2014 he was inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals team Hall of Fame.

Mordecai Brown

Mordecai Brown Pitching Baseball
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In his youth, an accident had Mordecai Brown lose parts of two of his fingers on his right hand. He did not let the handicap slow him down, though. Instead, he used it to his advantage, learning how to grip a ball in such a way that batters did not stand a chance.

The quirky throw resulted in such a powerful curveball that Brown became known as one of the best pitchers of his time.

Nolan Ryan

Sports Contributor Archive 2019
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Considering Nolan Ryan holds the MLB for most career strikeouts with a whopping 5,714, it is safe to say he is one of the best pitchers in the game’s history.

Over a 27-year career, Ryan consistently clocked in over-100 miles-per-hour pitches, was a two-time ERA leader, and, not so surprisingly, an 11-time strikeout leader.

Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale Holds Up Baseball
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

One of the most dominate pitchers throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Don Drysdale played his entire MLB career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. His unique ability to throw the ball as close to the batter as possible without hitting them made him a force on the mound.

During his time, Drysdale went on to become a three-time World Series champion.

Juan Marichal

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Photo File/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Photo File/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In the 1960s, Juan Marichal was the leading pitcher in the league for wins, playing for the San Francisco Giants at the time. Known for his outrageously high leg kick and a wide variety of pitches, Marichal’s pinpoint accuracy was something to behold.

Over his long career, the “The Dominican Dandy” struck out over 2,300 batters.

Carl Hubbell

A Giant In Uniform
New York Times Co./Getty Images
New York Times Co./Getty Images

Playing for the New York Giants during his career, Carl Hubbell became a two-time MVP for a reason. Not only did he win 24 straight games between 1936 and 1937, but he was also a World Series champion, a nine-time All-Star, and a three-time MLB ERA leader.

Hubbell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947.

Roger Clemens

Boston Red Sox
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

When a pitcher’s nickname is “The Rocket,” they are more than likely going to be considered one of the greatest to grace the mound.

At least this is true in the case of Roger Clemens. The former MLB pitcher played for 24 seasons, leaving the league with 4,672 career strikeouts, an ERA of 3.12, and two World Series titles.

Clayton Kershaw

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game One
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A left-handed pitcher, Clayton Kershaw has made quite a name for himself as a premier pitcher since his MLB debut in 2008.

A World Series champion, a three-time NL Cy Young Award-winner, and lucky enough to pitch a no-hitter, Kershaw is going down in history as one of the best.

Jim Palmer

Sports Contributor Archive 2019
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

With three Cy Young Awards, four Gold Glove Awards, and never allowing a grand slam during a major game, Jim Palmer is highly considered one of the best pitchers to play the game.

Palmer was a three-time World Serie champion who had a storied career and ended his time in the MLB with 268 career wins.

Robert “Lefty” Grove

Bob Grove of Red Sox Throws Pitch
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Robert “Lefty” Grove became a star pitcher in the MLB after moving up from the minor leagues in the 1920s. One of the best pitchers in history, Lefty led the American League in strikeouts seven years in a row, held the league’s lowest ERA nine times, and had the most wins in four separate seasons.

He was a six-time All-Star, a two-time Triple Crown winner, and two-time World Series champion.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige

Satchel Paige Pitchiing Miami Marlins
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Image
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Image

Leroy “Satchel” Paige’s cocky behavior made him a different type of pitcher during his era, but no less fantastic. He would have his infield take a breather and head towards the dugout while he proceeded to strike out each batter who came to the plate!

At the end of his career, Paige was a World Series champion, a two-time MLB All-Star, and the oldest player to ever retire from the game, at 59 years old.

Mariano Rivera

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

For 19 seasons, Mariano Rivera pitched for the New York Yankees. A five-time World Series champion and a 13-time All-Star, Rivera was a force on the mound.

At the end of his career, he left the league with a whopping 652 saves and 952 finishes, the most in MLB history.

Edward “Whitey” Ford

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jeffmur48833900/Twitter
jeffmur48833900/Twitter

Edward “Whitey” Ford played in the MLB for 16 years, all of which he pitched for the New York Yankees. During his career, Whitey became a six-time World Series champion, a ten-time All-Star, and led the MLB in ERAs twice.

In 1974, Ford was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Steve “Lefty” Carlton

Steve Carlton Portrait
Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Steve “Lefty” Carlton has a very apt nickname, as he has the second-most lifetime wins of any left-handed pitcher as well as the second-most lifetime strikeouts, a solid 4,136.

The first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards, Lefty was a ten-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion during his career.

Bob Feller

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Photo File/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Photo File/MLB Photos via Getty Images

With nicknames such as “Bullet Bob,” “The Heater from Van Meter,” and “Rapid Robert,” it probably makes sense that Bob Feller is one of the greatest to grace the pitcher’s mound.

After playing 18 seasons in the MLB, Feller left the game with a win-loss record of 266–162, three no-hitters, a Triple Crown, and a World Series title.

Roy “Doc” Halladay

Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Nick Laham/Getty Images

First pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays before pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies, Roy “Doc” Halladay has gone down in history as one of the best ever to grace the mound.

One of the most dominant pitchers of his era, Halladay had one perfect game under his belt and a post-season no-hitter. The eight-time All-Star was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Portrait Of Grover Alexander
New York Times Co./Getty Images
New York Times Co./Getty Images

Playing in the major league from 1911 through 1930, Grover Cleveland Alexander set some pretty insane records. Alexander managed 90 shutouts during his career, became an NL ERA leader four times, an NL leader in wins six times, won the Triple Crown three times, and won a World Series title.

Alexander is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame, and the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame.

Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn In Milwaukee Braves Uniform
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Warren Spahn holds countless records with the MLB, including the most career wins by a left-handed pitcher, 363. Playing for 21 seasons, Spahn became known as the “thinking man’s” pitcher who liked to play with the batter’s mind.

He became a 17-time All-Star and a World Series champion with 2,583 strikeouts under his belt by the time he retired.

Pedro Martinez

Montreal Expos v Philadelphia Phillies
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Even though he retired in 2009, Pedro Martinez remains the only pitcher to have over 3,000 career strikeouts with less than 3,000 innings pitched. An electric player throughout his career, Martinez left the game with an ERA of 2.93, the sixth-lowest in MLB history.

In 2015, he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Boston Red Sox retired his number, 45, two days after his induction.

Greg Maddux

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

During his time pitching in the MLB, Greg Maddux set numerous records, including becoming the first player to receive the coveted Cy Young Award multiple years in a row and the only person in history to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons.

At the end of his career, the World Series champ had 3,371 career strikeouts.

Randy Johnson

Sports Contributor Archive 2018
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Randy Johnson is one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in history, having a total of 4,875 career strikeouts, the second-highest amongst pitchers and the highest amongst lefties.

The ten-time All-Star is also a five-time Cy Young Award-winner and a World Series title-holder. Johnson is also lucky enough to say he pitched both a perfect game and a no-hitter during his career.

Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson Wearing his Uniform
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

During his 17 seasons playing in the MLB, Bob Gibson was one of the most unhittable pitchers in the league. His performance is often cited as one of the reasons why the league changed the regulation mound height from 15 inches to ten inches!

Gibson retired as a two-time World Series champion with a no-hitter, two NL Cy Young Awards, nine Gold Glove Awards, 3,117 career strikeouts, and MLB ERA leader.

Walter Johnson

Baseball Player Walter Johnson of Washington Senators
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Pitching 21 years for the Washington Senators, Walter Johnson set a few league records, including most shutouts in a career at a whopping 110. As of 2021, the record still holds!

When he retired in 1927, Johnson had 417 wins under his belt, 3,508 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.17. In 1936, Johnson was one of the “First Five” inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.