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Strikeout Kings: Top Pitchers in MLB History, According to Critics

Zuzanna Krause Sports /

From Sandy Koufax to Bob Gibson, many iconic pitchers have come through the MLB over the years. Here's a closer look at what makes these beloved athletes stand out on top, according to top critics.

30. Justin Verlander

Currently pitching as number 35 for the Houston Astros, there's seemingly nothing Justin Verlander can't do. From striking out his 3000th batter to successfully winning over 200 games, this guy has done it all.

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In addition to previously playing for the Detroit Tigers, Verlander has made himself forever known in the MLB community. Per Gameday News, the monster pitcher has won two Cy Young Awards, been named an all-star eight times (yup), held the title for MVP in 2011, and won a World Series title in 2017.

29. Trevor Hoffman

Playing in the MLB for 18 years, from 1993 to 2010, this baseball superstar definitely deserves the title of one of the greatest pitchers of all time. According to Gameday News, Trevor Hoffman has more than earned his place on this list, especially being the first pitcher ever to save 500 games and eventually reach 600!

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Hoffman began his career as a shortstop in college, but after a short batting career for the Cincinnati Reds, he was switched to pitcher. After finding out his true talent was being able to throw up to 95 miles per hour, he was traded to the Padres, where he played for 15 years and is now a senior advisor for their operations team.

28. Edward "Whitey" Ford

Edward "Whitey" Ford started his career playing as an amateur free agent in 1947 for the New York Yankees, which he then ended up pitching for 16 years to follow. His entire career was spent with the Yankees, to which he became known as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, per Gamesday News.

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In a statement made by the Yankees following his death, they honored his life, saying, "Whitey spent his entire 16-year career as a Yankee. A 6x WS Champion and 10x All-Star, The Chairman of the Board was one of the best lefties to ever toe the rubber. He will be deeply missed."

27. Warren Spahn

Known for being a star on the pitching mound, this baseball legend is remembered as one of the greatest hitters of all time, per Gamesday News. Not only was he a force on the baseball field, but Warren Spahn was also drafted to the army in 1942 as an army engineer right after he debuted with the Boston Braves.

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Spahn re-joined the league in 1946 for close to 20 years, where he proved himself as one of the best players of all time, hitting all-time MLB highs. Known as the "thinking man's" pitcher, Spahn holds the spot for most career wins by a left-handed pitcher, 363, and became a 17-time All-Star and World Series Champ.

26. Grover Cleveland Alexander

Nicknamed "Old Pete," Grover Cleveland Alexander was a savage on the pitching mound during his time in the league from 1911 to 1930. According to Gameday News, this highly praised athlete was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938, the Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame, and the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame that same year.

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So obviously, this guy set some pretty unbelievable records during his time on the field if he's in three separate Halls of Fame. Grover Cleveland Alexander won the Triple Crown three times, won a World Series title, landed 90 shutouts, and became an NL ERA leader four times and NL leader six times.

25. Roy "Doc" Halladay

Nicknamed "Doc" per the Toronto Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek, Roy Halladay is remembered for his influential time on the field. As Gameday News put it, Halladay's strong arm and dominant skills landed him in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

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The eight-time All-Star started his career playing for the Toronto Blue Jays when he was drafted in 1995 and, after a few years, was drafted as the pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. There he pitched a perfect game, making it the twentieth perfect game in MLB history.

24. Bob Feller

It's no surprise Bob Feller made it to this list per Gameday News, with nicknames like "The Heater from Van Meter," "Bullet Bob," and "Rapid Robert." Achieving unbelievable records, Feller played in the MLB for 18 seasons as a seasoned pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.

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Recognized as one of the most dominant pitchers on the mound, "Bullet Bob" left baseball with a win-loss record of 266-162, a World Series title, a Triple Crown, and three no-hitters. This baseball prodigy was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

23. Steve "Lefty" Carlton

Nicknamed "Lefty" for his high achievements as a left-handed pitcher, Steve Carlton dominated the game, making him one of the greatest pitchers of all time, according to Gameday News. Carlton has the second-most lifetime wins of any left-handed pitcher and second-most lifetime strikeouts.

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With these killer stats, the left-handed legend earned his way to the top as he played for six different teams in the MLB. Lefty was a force to be reckoned with between his ten-time All-Star title, two-time World Series champion success, and being the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards.

22. Mariano Rivera

Spending most of his career as a relief pitcher, this "Sandman" earned his place as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, according to Gameday News. Mariano Rivera spent 19 seasons in the MLB playing for the New York Yankees, proving his loyalty to his team.

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In addition to being nicknamed "Sandman," Rivera also went by "Mo." Mo had a killer career during his time pitching for the Yankees, which left him with 652 saves and 952 finishes, the most recorded in MLB history. With stats like this, it's no surprise Rivera was a five-time World Series champ and 13-time All-Star player.

21. Leroy "Satchel" Paige

Being one of the first Black pitchers in MLB, Leroy Paige helped break down the racial barriers that existed within pro sports. The talented athlete joined the MLB at age 42 after being drafted by the Cleveland Indians. It was there his career unfolded, making him one of the greatest pitchers of all time, according to Gameday News.

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Joining the league at 42, Paige didn't retire until he was 59 years old, recording him as the oldest player to retire in professional baseball. To round out his career, Leroy "Satchel" Paige retired as a two-time MLB All-Star and a World Series champion!

20. Robert "Lefty" Grove

Starting in the minor leagues in the 1920s, this superstar athlete quickly moved up to the big leagues, where he earned his title as one of the strongest baseball players in history, per Gameday News. Robert "Lefty" Grove became a star pitcher, setting records for years to come.

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Lefty led the American League in strikeouts for seven years in a row and the most wins in four separate seasons. Talk about a come-up story. Robert "Lefty" Grove became a six-time All-Star, two-time Triple Crown titleholder, and won two World Series championships.

19. Carl Hubbell

Nicknamed "The Meal Ticket" and "King Carl" for his insane skill set as an athlete, Carl Hubbell is remembered as one of the most legendary pitchers ever to exist, per Gameday News. Hubbell joined the league in 1928 as a pitcher for the New York Giants, where he played until 1943.

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Full of electric moments, Hubbell is most famously known for winning 24 straight games between 1936 and 1937, something unheard of. With this in mind, it definitely explains his nine-time All-Star status, World Series champion title, and spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in '47.

18. Juan Marichal

Known as "Dominican Dandy," this athlete stole the show when he stepped onto the pitching mound. Juan Marichal was drafted into the big leagues in 1960, where he played for the San Francisco Giants and continued his career to be known as one of the greatest pitchers of all times, according to Gameday News.

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Playing for the Giants, Juan Marichal was the top pitcher in the game for wins and struck out over 2,300 batters. No biggie. Marichal became known for his abnormal high leg kick and variety in pitches during his career, which always seemed to come in handy!

17. Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale became one of the most famous names in the game during the 1950s and 60s while playing for the Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodgers. He was known for his unique talent of pitching the ball as close to the batter as possible (without actually hitting them), making him a legend on the mound, according to Gameday News.

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However, he did get injured with a torn rotator cuff that unfortunately never healed and led him to retire in 1969. Regardless of his early retirement, the superstar athlete became a three-time World Series champion and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, just a few years before he passed away.

16. Nolan Ryan

Hitting groundbreaking high records, Nolan Ryan made it to Gameday News' list for greatest pitchers in MLB history, and we can totally see why. Nicknamed "The Ryan Express," the professional athlete holds the record for most career strikeouts, 5,714. Woah.

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"The Ryan Express "played in the MLB for nearly three decades, which may explain his prestigious titles and his long list of achievements. The savage pitcher had a fierce arm, clocking in over 100 miles-per-hour pitches, and was an 11-time strikeout leader.

15. Rube Waddell

Let's go all the way back for a second. One of the greatest pitchers of all-time per Gamesday News, Rube Waddell played professional ball back in 1897, claiming his spot as one of the greats early on. He was known for his tendency to strike out everyone who came up to bat.

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A powerhouse on the field, Rube Waddell retired with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3-to-1 during his 13-year career. Waddell played for a variety of teams during his time in the game, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

14. Jay "Dizzy" Dean

Despite only having six full big-league seasons under his belt, Jay "Dizzy" Dean is remembered as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, according to Bleacher Report. The athlete had to cut his career short after breaking his toe in the 1937 All-Star game and later injuring his arm.

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The baseball pro got his nickname during his service in the army from a sergeant who dubbed him "Dizzy" after doing something foolish, and the name stuck, especially because his fastballs made players dizzy! Even with a shorter career than most, Dizzy was a four-time All-Star player and World Series champ.

13. Smoky Joe Wood

One of the greatest players of all time, Smokey Joe Wood, played for the Boston Red Sox from 1908 to 1915 and Cleveland Indians from 1917 to 1922. Although he did play in the outfield during his time in Cleveland, he is still remembered as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, according to Gameday News.

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The majority of his career was spent pitching for the Boston Red Sox, where he led the team to three World Series victories, making him an absolute legend. With three world series championships and a no-hitter under his belt, the pro-athlete scored a spot in the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995.

12. Tom Glavine

After 22 years in baseball, this pro-athlete definitely deserves a spot as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, per Gamesday News. Tom Glavine played for both the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves during his long career, where he was named a ten-time All-Star and took home a World Series W.

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Drafted in 1987 to the Atlanta Braves, he quickly became a pitching sensation on the mound. And in the 90s, he hit the second-highest number of wins of any pitcher in the MLB. Glavine retired in 2010, where he joined the Braves front office with some radio and TV broadcasting and on-field coaching.

11. Tom Seaver

Per Gameday News, one of the greatest pitchers of all time is none other than the great Tom Seaver. For 20 seasons, Tom Seaver graced the pitching mound with his strong arm and unbelievable techniques. He played for the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, and Boston Red Sox from 1967 to 1986.

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Seaver ended his career with three Cy Young awards, the NL ERA leader three times, and pitched a no-hitter in '78. The decorated athlete is one of the few to be inducted into three separate halls of fame: the Baseball Hall of Fame, the New York Mets Hall of Fame, and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

10. Clayton Kershaw

Debuting as a strong left-handed pitcher in 2008, Clayton Kershaw marked his terrority as one of the greatest pitchers to grace the mound, per Gameday News. Kershaw has played for the Los Angeles Dodgers his entire MLB career, giving him a World Series win back in 2020.

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Kershaw has earned his way to the top and is going down as one of the best in the biz, with his fastball coming in at 93-95 mph. During his peak years from 2011 to 2017, he earned seven All-Star selections and three Cy Young awards proving his high status as an excellent pitcher.

9. Bob Gibson

Pitching an average fastball at 91.9 mph, Bob Gibson was an absolute legend. Per Bleacher Report, Gibson was such a force in the league that pitching rules were eventually altered to improve overall scoring. During the offseason, the pitcher's mound was lowered, and the size of the strike zone was reduced - but Gibson still slayed.

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Gibson spent his 17-season career playing with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he is remembered as the greatest pitcher in Cardinals history. He ended his career with 251 wins and 3,117 strikeouts, awarding him two Cy Young Awards, 2 World Series MVP awards, and 2 World Series wins!

8. Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux's time in the MLB proved he was one of the greatest pitchers to ever step on the mound, according to Bleacher Report. During the second round of the 1984 MLB draft, Maddux was chosen by the Chicago Cubs, where he played for seven seasons before signing with the Atlanta Braves.

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The talented pitcher joined the 300-win club and surpassed 3,000 strikeouts during his career - making him one of the most powerful pitchers in history. Known for his incredibly accurate arm and talent to psyche out batters, Maddux ended his career with the most Gold Gloves and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

7. Roger Clemens

With the most Cy Young awards, 7, under his belt, it's no surprise this famous pitcher made it to the top of the list per Gameday News. Nicknamed "The Rocket," Roger Clemens stole the show on the pitching mound during his 24 seasons in Major League Baseball.

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Primarily playing for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, Clemens ended his career as one of the greatest of all time. The former pro-athlete had 4,672 career strikeouts, two World Series titles, over 300 wins, and a one-hitter against Cleveland, giving him the "Rocket" nickname he deserved.

6. Sandy Koufax

An incredible athlete like no other, Sandy Koufax is hailed as one of the greatest pitchers of all-time per Bleacher Report, and the whole world knows it! At age 36, he was even the youngest player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, making him an absolute living legend!

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Suffering from arthritis that ended his career earlier than expected, Koufax walked away from his career decorated in achievements. With three Cy Young awards, 2,396 strikeouts, 137 complete games, 40 shutouts, and three World Series rings, it's no wonder he made it so high up on the list!

5. Cy Young

There is no doubt Cy Young is remembered as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, per the National Baseball Hall of Fame official website. Young changed the game for pitchers to follow with his outstanding legacy of winning 511 games during his career.

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His best season came in 1901, playing for the Red Sox when he led his team to 33 wins and dominated with 158 strikeouts. With all his celebrated achievements, the MLB announced the Cy Young Award, given in his honor, annually to the best pitchers in the game.

4. Pedro Martinez

Starting his career playing with the Montreal Expos, it wasn't until Pedro Martinez was drafted to the Boston Red Sox that he hit the peak of his career. From 1997 to 2003, Martinez was on top of the game and the league, absolutely dominating the pitching mound.

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According to Bleacher Report, Pedro Martinez is one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, and it seems like the stats agree. He won five ERA titles, three Cy Young awards, and was a World Series champ. Martinez was one of four pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks when he retired.

3. Randy Johnson

With the nickname "The Big Unit" attached to his resume, how could he not be considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time, per Bleacher Report. Randy Johnson played for six teams during his 22-season run in the league - but most notably pitched for the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Johnson was known for throwing a killer fastball that could pass 100 mph. The celebrated athlete had an outstanding five-year peak from 1998-to 2002, where he won 100 games between Arizona, Houston, and Arizona. And in 2004 he became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game. He also took home five Cy Young awards in his career.

2. Walter Johnson

Talk about loyalty! Walter Johnson, the iconic right-handed pitcher, spent his entire 21-year baseball career dedicated to the Washington Senators, where he proved himself to be one of the most celebrated pitchers of all time, as Bleacher Report put it.

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It's hard to pinpoint Johnson's career peak because, honestly, it was all just so good. He became the first pitcher to strike out four batters in one inning during his career. Johnson ended his stint with a World Series Champion, three Triple Crowns, and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its first five members.

1. Christy Mathewson

Considered one of the greatest athletes of all time, Christy Mathewson steals the spot for number one on the greatest pitchers of the all-time list, per Bleacher Report. Nicknamed "Big Six," Mathewson spent 17 seasons dedicated to the New York Giants as their pitcher.

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Of course, being the best pitcher of all time comes with many accomplishments, but we can only share so many. Mathewson ended his career with 373 wins against 188 losses, which is basically unheard of. Mathewson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936 for his incredible career and is still remembered to this day...