We’re just 26 days away from MLB’s opening day as the Chicago Cubs embark on their first World Series title defense since 1909. (Feel good, Cubs fans?)
With a few minutes to kill until the first pitch, we were curious what each team’s best all-time pitching staff might look like, and then ranked them. Some of the rotations for the younger franchises are pretty stunningly bare while others are comprised entirely of National Baseball Hall of Famers (denoted by an asterisk).
Each of the players listed started at least 75 games for the team, and only their performance for the particular team is considered for purposes here. Also note that the current league construction rules (Brewers used to be in the AL, etc.). Finally, they’re ranked by overall strength of the 5-man unit. Here we go.
1. Ubaldo Jimenez (2006-2011): Coors Field makes life pretty tough for pitchers, including its own. Jiminez often lost the strike zone but he was on, he dominated, putting together a solid 3.66 ERA and 8.2 K/9 rate in six Rockies seasons, finishing third in the Cy Young voting in 2010.
2. Aaron Cook (2002-2011): Colorado should find more sinkerballers like Cook, who managed to keep a lot of balls in the dirt in his 10 seasons in the Rockies. He picked up 72 wins in that span and managed a 4.53 ERA.
3. Jorge De La Rosa (2008-2016): His home/away splits are actually almost identical. A back-of-the-rotation guy for most teams, De La Rosa and his 4.35 Colorado career ERA puts him third all-time in pitching WAR (15.2).
4. Jhoulys Chacin (2009-2014): His best season in Colorado came in 2013 when he managed a 3.47 ERA and nearly put 200 innings in the books (197.1).
5. Jeff Francis (2004-2010, 2012-13): Francis came back for more of the unforgiving Coors, running his Rockies win total to 62 and ERA to nearly 5.00 (4.96). Clearly this all-time rotation can be displaced if Jon Gray or any other pitcher dares.
San Diego Padres
1. Jake Peavy (2002-2008): Equipped with a five-pitch arsenal, Peavy dazzled in San Diego, leading the league in ERA twice (2004, 2007) and won the Cy Young in 2007.
2. Eric Show (1981-1990): The only 100-game winner in franchise history (exactly 100), Show enjoyed a great stretch from 81 to 88 when he picked up 86 wins and recorded a 3.37 ERA.
3. Randy Jones (1973-1980): Jones claimed the 1976 Cy Young Award after finishing second in the voting the year before. All it took was 25 complete games, 22 wins and a league low 1.02 WHIP.
4. Andy Ashby (1993-1999): We’re digging a bit here but Ashby earned two All-Star trips and recorded an impressive 3.59 ERA during eight steroid era seasons.
5. Andy Benes (1989-1995): Same first name as Ashby, similar numbers: 3.57 ERA (3.47 FIP) and 1,036 strikeouts in 1235 innings pitched.
1. Ben Sheets (2001-2008): It’s a common story: arm injuries stole greatness, but when healthy Sheets used his awesome fastball-curveball-change combo to baffle batters for some awesome stretches, particularly 2004-2005 (2.95 ERA and 7.11 K/BB).
2. Teddy Higuera (1985-1994): Higuera’s first five seasons were stellar with a 3.28 ERA and 78-44 record.
3. Mike Caldwell (1977-1984): The Brewers enjoyed the latter half of Caldwell’s complete game-tastic career: he went the distance 81 times in 217 Brewers starts (3.74 ERA).
4. Chris Bosio (1986-1992): Not a ton of guys to choose from in Milwaukee but don’t blame Bosio and his very serviceable 3.50 FIP over 162 starts with 32 CGs and 8 shutouts.
5. Yovani Gallardo (2007-2014): YoYo’s control often left a bit to be desired but he was at least top-of-the-rotation caliber with a 3.69 ERA and a lot of missed bats.
Getty ImagesSean Brady
1. Jose Fernandez (2013-2016): May he rest in peace. The 2013 RoY had electric, overpowering stuff and was only getting better, posting 253 K’s in 182 innings in his final season in 2016.
2. Josh Beckett (2001-2005: The big righty was solid in the regular season and brilliant when it counted in the 2003 World Series when he threw a CGSO in a decisive Game 6, earning the WS MVP.
3. Dontrelle Willis (2003-2007): Things unraveled quickly for the 2003 RoY but he was dominant and very exciting during that stretch when he also finished as the 2005 Cy Young runner-up.
4. A.J. Burnett (1999-2005): Solid but unspectacular with a 3.73 ERA and 8 shutouts, let’s remember this is a very young club that’s already seen two firesales (and two titles).
5. Josh Johnson (2005-2011): Arm and shoulder injuries derailed the 6-foot-7 right’s career. He was a true ace when healthy, his best season coming in 2010 when he led the NL IN ERA (2.30) and FIP (2.41) and allowed just 7 homers in 183 innings pitched.
Washington Nationals (Hello, Expos fans)
1. Pedro Martinez* (1994-1997): In 117 starts with Montreal, Pedro recorded a 3.06 ERA with 20 complete games and 8 shutouts and nearly on K per inning (8.6).
2. Dennis Martinez (1986-1993): The Nicaraguan righty was 32 when he joined the club and found his best self, recording a 3.06 ERA and 100 wins over 233 starts with 13 shutouts.
3. Stephen Strasburg (2010-2016): He’s certainly had his share of arm problems and frustrations but when healthy, he dominates: 2.85 career FIP and 10.6 K/9 through 156 starts.
4. Steve Rogers (1973-1985): The 5-time All-Star’s spent his entire career up north, posting a 3.17 ERA with 129 complete games and 37 shutouts in 393 starts.
5. Jordan Zimmerman (2009-2015): He got paid by Detroit because he was productive and real solid: 3.32 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 4.09 K/BB across seven seasons.
1. Randy Johnson* (1999-2004, 1997-8): He’s a Mariner first (and now a rock photographer) but Johnson’s Diamondbacks years were superb, too, as the Big Unit won four straight Cy Youngs from 1999-2002, posting a 2.48 ERA and average 354 strikeouts over that span (leader every year).
2. Curt Schilling (2000-2003): The only pitcher to appear twice on the NL side, he certainly did enough in the desert to warrant inclusion here: a 3.14 ERA and 10.1 K/9 with 5 shutouts in 107 starts, plus 3 starts in the 2001 World Series when he won the MVP (21.1 IP, 4 ER, 26K).
3. Brandon Webb (2003-2009): Webb looked poised to become an all-time great but arm injuries abbreviated the sinkerballer’s career highlighted by a Cy Young award in 2006 and runner-up finishes in both 2007 and 2007.
4. Dan Haren (2008-2010): The nomadic, 6-foot-5, 88 mph-throwing Haren started 85 games in Arizona and made two All-Star trips, enough to get the nod here. He compiled a 3.56 ERA and 1.13 during the stint.
5. Robbie Ray (2015-2016): Based almost entirely on potential, here’s the lefty Ray who posted a pretty humongous 11.3 K/9 rate in 2016 across 174 innings.
1. Babe Adams (1907-1926): Solid throughout his career, Adams particularly excelled from ages 37-40 when he led the league in FIP and WHIP three times and BB9 and K/BB every year.
2. Bob Friend (1951-1965)(pictured): The 1955 ERA leader started almost 500 games for Pittsburgh, posting a 3.58 ERA and 1.29 WHIP and 36 shutouts.
3. Wilbur Cooper (1912-1924): Of course it was a different era, but Cooper (2.79 Pirates ERA) almost always went the distance, leading the league in CGs twice with 279 total in 406 starts.
4. Bob Veale (1962-1974): Veale managed 20 shutouts and 78 CGs in 255 Pirates starts, 120 wins, posting a 2.76 FIP during the 11-year run.
5. Sam Leever (1898-1910): Leever enjoyed a lot of Pirates victories at the dawn of the modern era with a 2.47 ERA and record of 194-100 in 13 seasons.
1. Johnny Vander Meer (1937-1949): A four-time All-Star, Vander Meer led the league in strikeouts three straight seasons (1941-1943) and posted a 3.41 ERA in his 11 years with the Reds.
2. Bucky Walters (1938-1948): A six-time All-Star, Walters claimed the 1939 MVP Award thanks to a 27-11 campaign with a 2.29 ERA (career 2.93 in Cincy) and a league-leading 137 Ks.
3. Eppa Rixey* (1921-1933): The 6-foot-5 Rixey spun a 3.33 ERA over 357 starts for Cincy.
2. Jose Rijo (1988-1995, 2001-2): Rijo’s greatest achievement might be coming back from three Tommy John surgeries… but he was also the 1990 World Series MVP (15.1 IP, 1 ER).
1. Jim Maloney (1960-1970): Maloney compiled a 134-81 record over 11 seasons with a 3.16 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.
1. Fergie Jenkins* (1966-1973, 1982-83): Jenkins won the Cy Young in 1971 and finished top 3 in the voting four more times.
2. Mordecai Brown* (1904-1912): Brown didn’t allow a postseason run for the 1908 World Series team and posted a career 1.80 ERA across 10 (dead ball era) seasons in Chicago.
3. Kerry Wood (pictured) & Mark Prior, collectively: (2002-2005): Let’s highlight the span when they absolutely mowed down the competition. It was short, sweet, sad and dominant.
4. Rick Reuschel (1972-1981, 1983-84): Not exactly a household name but Reuschel was a solid starter with a 3.15 FIP and 48.3 WAR across 343 Cubs starts in 12 seasons.
5. Jake Arrieta (2013-2016): Assuming he works out a long-term agreement, the 2015 Cy Young winner is poised to climb this rank. Through 98 Cubs starts, he’s twirled a 2.52 ERA with nearly 9 K’s per 9 (8.9).
New York Mets
1. Tom Seaver* (1967-1977, 1983): The undisputed greatest Metropolitans pitcher won the 1967 NL Rookie of the Year and three NL Cy Youngs including in ‘69 when the Amazins shocked the Orioles.
2. Dwight Gooden (1984-1994): ESPN’s 30 for 30 Doc & Daryl addressed what could have been but as far as what was: the electric Gooden who opened his career with the NL RoY and Cy Young awards won 157 games in New York with a 3.10 ERA and 67 complete games.
3. Jerry Koosman (1967-1978): The two-time All-Star lefty earned a ring with that ‘69 team and tallied a 3.09 ERA over 346 starts in New York, completing 108 games with 26 shutouts.
4. Jon Matlack (1971-1977): Another lefty from that same era, Matlack was the 1972 Rookie of the Year and managed to convert 26 shutouts in 199 games started in New York, or about 13% of his starts.
5. David Cone: (1987-1992, 2003): Maybe better remembered as a Yankee, Cone turned in some dominant seasons in Flushing with a 2.98 FIP, 1.19 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 and 15 shutouts across 169 games started.
Note: Someone from new generation may soon join (Harvey, Syndergaard, DeGrom) but they also have to beat out Al Leiter, Johan Santana, Ron Darling and Nolan Ryan, who became Nolan Ryan after the Mets traded him to the Angels.
Focus On SportFocus on Sport/Getty Images
1. Steve Carlton* (1972-1986): The brilliant lefty collected four Cy Youngs in Philly, posting 39 shutouts and 3,031 strikeouts over his 14-plus seasons there.
2. Pete Alexander* (1911-1917, 1930): Hailing from early in the modern era, Alexander led the NL in ERA five times in a six-year span from 1915 to 1920, finishing his Philly tenure with a 2.18 overall mark.
3. Robin Roberts* (1948-1961): Roberts was a workhorse the NL during the 1950’s and possessed good control, leading the league 5 times in strikeout to walk ratio.
4. Cole Hamels (2006-2015): The 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP served as the team’s ace for much of his tenure, spinning a 3.31 ERA with nearly on K per inning (8.6).
5. Curt Schilling (1992-2000): The well-traveled Schilling spent longer in Philly than anywhere else, recording 101 wins and a 3.35 ERA with 61 complete games and 14 shutouts in that span.
Note: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and even Joe Blanton will always be remembered for that glorious SI cover but missed the cut due to their fairly brief stints.
St. Louis Cardinals
1. Bob Gibson* (1959-1975): The best pitch in the “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968, Gibson spun an incomprehensible 1.12 ERA/0.85 WHIP with 13 shutouts and 268 Ks, claiming the Cy Young and MVP.
2. Dizzy Dean* (1930-1937): Dean was thoroughly dominant from a 1934-1937, four All-Star campaigns when he registered 95 wins and a 2.91 ERA, won an MVP (‘34) and finished runner-up twice (35-36).
3. Adam Wainwright (2005-2016): The rock of the Cardinals’ rotation for almost a decade, Wainwright packs a nasty curveball and boasts a 3.17 ERA (2.87 if you want to filter out his comeback in 2016) and 1.18 WHIP.
4. Chris Carpenter (2004-2012): Little did Toronto know what St. Louis would find in Carpenter who went 95-44 for the Cards, posted a 3.07 ERA, won the 2005 Cy Young and consistently performed in the postseason (3.00 ERA in 18 starts).
5. Harry Breechen (1940, 1943-1952): One of the best southpaws of his day, Breechen lost two years early two WWII and came back firing for a 2.91 ERA/1.18 WHIP over 11 seasons, contributing 3 wins (20 IP, 1 ER) in the Cardinals’ 1946 World Series over Boston.
1. Greg Maddux* (1993-2003): Four-time NL Cy Young winner, total master of control, career 2.63 ERA in Atlanta, also a serial prankster.
2. Warren Spahn* (1942, 1946-1964): In 20 seasons with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, Spah spun 356 wins and 63 shutouts with a 3.05 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and won the 1957 Cy Young Award.
3. John Smoltz* (1998-2008): Posted a 3.26 ERA, 210 wins, 53 complete games and 14 shutouts.
4. Tom Glavine* (1987-2002): The durable lefty won the 1991 and 1998 NY Cy Young, tallying 244 wins in Atlanta plus the crucial W in the decisive Game 6 of the Braves’ 1995 World Sereis win over Cleveland.
5. Phil Niekro* (1966-1983): The great knuckleballer recorded a 3.20 ERA and 268 wins over 595 starts with the Bravos, striking out 2,912 (he later passed the 3K mark elsewhere).
Note: This group of entirely Hall of Famers is obviously is dominated by the Bobby Cox-led ‘90’s era arms. As a bonus, Smoltz, who recorded 154 saves in three-plus seasons in the bullpen, could step in as the closer.
AFP/Getty ImagesMATT CAMPBELL
San Francisco Giants
1. Christy Mathewson* (1900-1916): Mathewson led the majors in ERA five times, in FIP seven times and K/BB 9 times. A model of consistency and greatness.
2. Madison Bumgarner (2009-2016): Part human, part ox, Bumgarner has an otherworldly 0.25 ERA in 36 World Series innings pitched, 5 of them memorably coming in 2014 when he carried SF to another even year title.
3. Carl Hubbell* (1928-1943): The lefty won three ERA titles over four years (1933-34, 36) and bookended that period with MVP honors, finishing his career with a 2.98 ERA and 36 shutouts.
4. Gaylord Perry* (1962-1971): Perry claimed two Cy Youngs (one of them with San Diego) and spent the majority of his career in San Fran, earning a 2.96 mark and 1606 of his strikeouts on his way to joining the 3,000 club.
5. Juan Marichal* (1960-1973): A 10-time All-Star, Marichal tossed 244 complete games and 52 shutouts in 238 giants victories accompanied by his 2.84 ERA.
Note: After four rocky seasons from 2012-2015, two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum just missed, a testament to all the Giant arms.
Getty ImagesJason O. Watson
Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Sandy Koufax* (1955-1966): How does one summarize the lefty Koufax? He was an absolutely stifling human pitching machine who boasted 1.95 ERA over his final five seasons (leading the league each season), picking up three Cy Youngs, an MVP and two World Series MVPs in that span.
2. Clayton Kershaw (2008-2016): Another Dodgers lefty with a vicious curveball, the future Hall of Famer has tormented hitters since entering the league with his steady but deceptive delivery. Three Cy Youngs and counting and a positively absurd 15.6 K/BB ratio over 149 innings in 2016.
3. Don Drysdale* (1956-1969: A perennial All-Star and 3-time World Series champ with the Dodgers, Drysdale accomplished an absolute absurdity in the Year of the Pitcher (1968) by stringing together SIX consecutive shutouts en route to a then-record 58 ⅔ consecutive scoreless innings, later bested by fellow Dodger Orel Hershiser.
4. Dazzy Vance* (1922-1932, 1935): Vance led the league in strikeouts for 7 straight seasons to begin his (Brooklyn) Dodgers career, also leading the league in FIP in 5 of those seasons.
5. Don Sutton* (1966-1980, 1988): Sutton became a member of the small fraternity of 300-plus game winners thanks to 233 Ws as a Dodger, recording a 3.09 ERA with one ERA title in 1980 (2.20).
Note: The Dodgers have had such an embarrassment of pitching riches that Orel Hershiser barely misses the cut along with Fernando Valenzuela.