Clayton Kershaw

25 greatest starting pitchers in MLB history

Home » MLB » Best Starting Pitchers of All Time: Greatest Starters in MLB History

There is perhaps no list in baseball harder to come up with than the best starting pitchers ever. From the start of baseball history, the game has revolved around great starting pitchers.

It’s always been a prerequisite for success. That means there is well over a century’s worth of Hall of Fame pitchers in baseball history, making it tough to put together an accurate list of the greatest starters in MLB history.

Best starting pitchers of all time

In recent years, the argument over the best pitcher in baseball has been all about Kershaw vs Scherzer.

But imagine adding over a century’s worth of pitchers to that argument. Needless to say, it was a challenge limiting our list of the greatest starters in MLB history to the best 25. However, we were excited for the challenge, and so here is our ranking of the best starting pitchers ever.

25. John Smoltz

Granted, John Smoltz will lose some points on this list because he switched roles and became a reliever during the second part of his career. However, he still warrants mentioning among the best starting pitchers ever.


The first dozen years of his career were spent as a starter, and during that time, Smoltz was selected to four All-Star Games, led the National League in strikeouts twice, and won the Cy Young in 1996.

He was a major part of the Atlanta rotation that was dominant during the 1990s, winning at least 14 games seven times between 1990 and 1999. He also won 12 postseason games during that 10-year period, typically saving his best for when the spotlight was biggest.

24. Gaylord Perry

One of Gaylord Perry’s claims to fame is that he was the first pitcher to win a Cy Young in both leagues. He pitched 22 seasons with eight different teams, racking up 314 career wins and over 3,500 career strikeouts.

He also pitched a no-hitter and was named an all-star five times. Of course, it’s fair to mention that Perry was known for doctoring balls by throwing a spitball, although it wasn’t until late in his career that umpires called him out for it and punished him. Despite that little bit of controversy, the numbers speak for themselves in making Perry one of the best pitchers of all time.

23. Phil Niekro

Without question, Phil Niekro is the most accomplished knuckleballer in big league history. Throwing that pitch allowed him to stay in the majors for 24 seasons, winning 218 games while striking out over 3,300 batters and posting a 3.35 ERA.


He could also field his position as well, winning five Gold Gloves, matching his all-star selections. One could argue that his knuckleballer is one of the single best pitches that any pitcher in MLB history has ever thrown, as it would give batters fits at the plate and nightmares afterward.

22. Don Sutton

After pitching in the big leagues for 23 seasons, it’s no surprise that Don Sutton ranks near the top of the all-time list in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts. While he was only an all-star four times, Sutton showed incredible longevity, pitching from 1966 to 1988, winning 324 games and striking out over 3,500 batters.

In his 23 seasons, Sutton won at least 10 games in all but two seasons. He also threw five one-hitters and 10 two-hitters, not quite throwing a no-hitter but coming close on several occasions.

21. Bert Blyleven

While he wasn’t overly dominant, Bert Blyleven was nothing if not consistent, doing so over an extended period of time, which is what puts him on a list of the greatest starters in MLB history.

Despite only being an all-star twice, losing 250 games, and posting a somewhat modest 3.31 ERA, Blyleven won 287 games, putting him among the top-30 pitchers on the all-time list.

He also ranks fifth in career strikeouts with 3,701. Surprisingly, he only led the American League in strikeouts once, which is a sign of just how consistent Blyleven was over his 20-plus seasons in the majors.

20. Justin Verlander

Even before his career is over, Justin Verlander has a resume that makes him a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest starters in MLB history. He’s already surpassed 3,000 strikeouts, leading the American League in that category five times.

Early in his career, Verlander was a dominant power pitcher but has hardly slowed down in his 30s. He took home Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 and then Cy Young honors in 2011 and 2019, showing just how long he’s been able to maintain a high level. Verlander also won MVP honors in 2011 when he won the Triple Crown and has been named an all-star eight times and counting.

19. Max Scherzer

His career doesn’t need to be over for Max Scherzer to be considered among the all-time best starters. His competitiveness has always made him stand out, although his stuff is just as filthy.

With three Cy Young Awards on his resume, Scherzer is one of just six pitchers to win that award in both leagues. He’s also one of four pitchers to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game and one of three pitchers to throw three immaculate innings in his career.

Scherzer has already topped 3,000 career strikeouts, and if you take away the shortened 2020 season, he’s been an all-star every year since 2013 and counting.

18. Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine is the most recent and perhaps the last pitcher to surpass 300 career wins. He was a massive part of the Atlanta rotation that helped the Braves dominate the 90s but also a pitcher who showed incredible longevity.

The southpaw pitched for over two decades, going to the All-Star Game 10 times and winning two Cy Young Awards. Even when his velocity dropped, Glavine’s precision and outstanding changeup helped to keep him one step ahead of opposing hitters.

In addition to leading the National League in wins five times and being World Series MVP when the Braves won their title in 1995, Glavine also won four Silver Slugger Awards, handling the bat far better than most starting pitchers.

17. Roy Halladay

After he came close to pitching a no-hitter in his second career start in the big leagues, it was clear that Roy Halladay was destined to become one of the best starting pitchers ever. He did not disappoint, putting together an amazing career that included 203 wins and over 2,100 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.38.

While he didn’t quite pitch a no-hitter in his second career start, Halladay would eventually achieve baseball immortality by throwing a perfect game in 2010. Later that year, he became just the second pitcher to throw a no-hitter during the postseason.

Halladay’s resume also included two Cy Young Awards, helping to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, although tragically he had to be inducted into Cooperstown posthumously after passing away in a small plane crash a little over four years after throwing his last pitch in the big leagues. 

16. Warren Spahn

Among left-handed starters, no starting pitcher collected more wins than Warren Spahn, who won 363 games over 21 seasons. One could say that he did nothing but win games, leading the National League in wins eight times.

The southpaw also led the league in strikeouts in four straight seasons from 1949 to 1952 and led the league in ERA three times. Spahn took home Cy Young honors in 1957 and was the runner-up in the voting on three other occasions.

While he didn’t have overpowering stuff, Spahn is regarded as one of the smartest pitchers in baseball history, knowing just what to do to upset a hitter’s timing. He finished his long career with 17 all-star selections, helping to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

15. Grover Alexander

Known colloquially as Old Pete, Grover Alexander pitched 20 seasons in the big leagues, racking up 373 wins and posting a career ERA of 2.56. During those 20 years, he won the Triple Crown three times and was the National League strikeout leader six times.

Keep in mind that he also spent a little time during his career in Europe serving in World War I. Among National League pitchers, Alexander’s 373 wins are tied for the most while his 90 career shutouts remain the record. Old Pete was also one of the best fielding pitchers of his generation and a more than capable hitter back when they let pitchers do that.

14. Lefty Grove

Lefty Grove pitched just long enough in the majors to win 300 games, helping him earn consideration as one of the greatest starters in MLB history. Those 300 wins give him a winning percentage of .680, which is eighth on the all-time list.

Of course, he has over 60 more wins than any of the other pitchers ahead of him on that list. He split his career between the Athletics and the Red Sox, helping the A’s win back-to-back World Series in 1929 and 1930 and being named MVP in 1931.

Despite only being a six-time all-star, Grove led the American League in strikeouts seven times and wins nine times, helping him win the Triple Crown in both 1930 and 1931.

13. Bob Gibson

For a while, Bob Gibson was the most dominant and intimidating pitcher in the big leagues. He’s easily the biggest reason why the mound had to be lowered in 1969 after Gibson registered a 1.12 ERA in 1968. Gibson played 17 seasons in the majors, all with the Cardinals.

He was a nine-time all-star and a two-time Cy Young winner. Naturally, he won both the Cy Young and MVP honors after his incredible 1968 campaign.

The guy could also field his position, winning nine straight Gold Gloves at one point. His 3,117 career strikeouts were good for second on the all-time list at the time of his retirement, helping to make Gibson a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

12. Roger Clemens

His connections to PEDs have surely tarnished his legacy to some extent, but it’s tough to argue against Clemens being among the best pitchers of all time. The guy threw serious heat, and even if steroids helped him later in his career, enabling Roger Clemens to stay in the big leagues for over 20 years, his legacy was already intact.

He won the Cy Young seven times, doing so in three different decades. Clemens is also the only pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game on two separate occasions. The records books say that Clemens won 354 games and struck out 4,600 batters, but even if you cut him off in 1998 when he first allegedly used PEDs, Clemens accomplished enough to get on this list.

11. Pedro Martinez

Most would consider Pedro Martinez to be undersized, but that didn’t stop him from being one of the best power pitchers of his generation. In his prime, Pedro’s stuff was utterly filthy. He had the lowest ERA in the majors five times and won the Cy Young three times, including in 1999 when he won the pitching Triple Crown.

If not for the injuries that slowed him down, he would rank much higher among the best starting pitchers ever. But anyone who watched Martinez in his prime knows that there was nobody better at that time.

10. Clayton Kershaw

Among modern pitchers, there’s no doubt that Clayton Kershaw is one of the best and more than deserving of mention among some of the best starting pitchers ever. He’s a lefty with a great curveball, helping draw comparisons to another longtime Dodger who is a little higher on our list.

Between 2011 and 2014, it was impossible to find a better pitcher, as Kershaw led the National League in ERA in all four seasons and won the Cy Young three times during that four-year stretch.

Of course, Kershaw has been excellent outside of those years, earning eight all-star selections. When all is said and done, Kershaw will likely finish his career with over 200 wins and 3,000 strikeouts, putting him in rarefied air.

9. Steve Carlton

Among southpaws, Steve Carlton is surely one of the greatest starting pitchers in baseball history. Randy Johnson is the only left-handed pitcher in baseball history with more strikeouts than Carlton.

With 329 career wins, he currently ranks 11th on the all-time list. Carlton took home four Cy Young Awards during his career, the first coming in 1972 and the last coming a decade later.

He was also a 10-time all-star and led the National League in strikeouts five times. Oddly enough, he holds the MLB record for most career balks. But that’s also because Carlton had a spectacular pick-off move, holding the all-time record for pickoffs by a wide margin.

8. Christy Mathewson

If you look at the top-10 in most pitching categories, Christy Mathewson’s name will be found time and time again. He pitched 17 seasons from 1900 to 1916 and was arguably the best pitcher of his era.

He led the National League in ERA and strikeouts five times each, twice winning the Triple Crown. Mathewson was one of the first five members of the Hall of Fame, earning over 90% of the vote. While not a huge strikeout pitcher, Mathewson finished his career with over 2,500 punch-outs, as well as 373 wins and a career 2.13 ERA.

7. Walter Johnson

Nearly a century after his career ended, Walter Johnson still owns several all-time records, including the most career shutouts with 110. That’s surely a record that will never be broken.

In his 21 seasons, Johnson led the league in strikeouts 12 times, ERA five times, and wins six times. He won the Triple Crown three times and MVP twice. In his career, Johnson racked up 417 wins and over 3,500 strikeouts with a career ERA of 2.17. Fittingly, Johnson was a part of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

6. Tom Seaver

During the late 1960s and 70s, it was hard to find a better pitcher than Tom Terrific.

Tom Seaver’s delivery was almost painful to watch and his stuff was utterly nasty. That explains why he was a 12-time all-star, a three-time Cy Young winner, and led the National League in strikeouts five times.

Seaver was also the catalyst for the 1969 Miracle Mets. In his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Seaver earned over 98% of the vote, which says a lot about him. His 311 career wins and 3,640 career strikeouts make him one of two pitchers with over 300 wins, over 3,000 strikeouts, and an ERA under 3.00. He still ranks sixth on the all-time strikeout list and is one of two pitchers to ever strike out 10 consecutive batters. At his best, Seaver could make betters look foolish better than perhaps any other pitcher in baseball history.

5. Cy Young

There are reasons why the award for best pitcher every year is named after him. Obviously, Cy Young pitched in a different era, playing from 1890 to 1911. But he has the most wins in MLB history with 511, a record that will never be threatened.

But it wasn’t just longevity that got him there. Young led the league in wins five times and also threw three no-hitters, including a perfect game. Early in his career, Young was one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the game, but like a true legend, he adjusted when his velocity dropped. That’s why he won 511 games and finished his career with a 2.63 ERA, making him one of the greatest starters in MLB history.

4. Randy Johnson

The Big Unit was one of the tallest pitchers in MLB history, and he knew how to use his size to dominate opposing hitters.

His resume includes 10 all-star selections, five Cy Young Awards, and a perfect game.

Johnson is also one of the few pitchers to throw no-hitters in both leagues and win the Cy Young in both leagues. It’s also important not to forget that he didn’t retire until he was 46. His longevity was quite impressive, enabling him to win over 300 games and rack up 4,875 strikeouts, which ranks second on the all-time list.

3. Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux might be the most complete pitcher in MLB history. He was more of a power pitcher early in his career but then developed into a pitcher with pinpoint control and an intellectual mastery of the game.

He was the leader of Atlanta’s amazing rotations during the 1990s, winning the Cy Young four straight years from 1992 to 1995.

For what it’s worth, Maddux also walked away with 18 Gold Gloves, winning the award every year except once between 1990 and 2008. In the last century, only Warren Spahn can top his 355 career wins. He is also the only pitcher in MLB history with over 300 wins, over 3,000 strikeouts, and less than 1,000 walks (999), making him something special.

2. Nolan Ryan

In terms of longevity and strikeouts, there is no doubt that Nolan Ryan is among the best starting pitchers ever. Even before teams became obsessed with velocity, Ryan was regularly hitting triple digits on the radar gun.

He remains the all-time leader in strikeouts with 5,714 and no-hitters with seven. It’d be shocking to see either of those records broken.

Ryan also threw 12 one-hitters and 18 two-hitters. In other words, when he was at his best, Ryan was close to untouchable. Even though he was a flamethrower, Ryan’s career lasted from 1966 to 1993, as he pitched across four decades, making the All-Star Team eight times and leading the league in strikeouts 11 times.

Somehow, he never won the Cy Young, although his 98.79% of votes on his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot says everything you need to know about where Ryan stands among the best pitchers in MLB history.

1. Sandy Koufax

There’s no question that Sandy Koufax is one of the greatest starters in MLB history.

The southpaw reached the majors when he was 19 and was retired by 31, giving him the distinction of being the youngest Hall of Famer in baseball history.

It also meant that he was in his prime for most of his career, explaining his seven all-star selections in 12 years.

In those 12 years, Koufax also led the National League in ERA five times and won the Triple Crown three times, also winning the Cy Young in each of those three seasons, as well as earning MVP honors in 1963.

The key to his career was Koufax’s curveball, which many believe is the best of all time. He was also a winner and a big-game pitcher, helping the Dodgers win four World Series during his career, winning World Series MVP twice.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *