There have been many great pitchers over the long history of Major League Baseball. Many of those pitchers were also left-handed. There are some who threw hard and some who were soft tossers. Regardless, there are ten lefties in particular that were the best of all time.
The keys to making this list were longevity, lots of wins and being dominant every time they were on the mound. There are many who aren’t on this list like Tommy John, who came back from the surgery now named after him or Jamie Moyer, who seemed to pitch forever. This list is littered with some of the greatest pitchers ever, left or right-handed.
Here is the list of the top 10 greatest left-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball history.
10. Hal Newhouser: Played From 1939-1955
Newhouser pitched for 17 years while compiling a 207-150 record. While his win total isn’t the highest, it is his run through the mid-1940s that moves him onto the list. Newhouser won 29 games in 1944 and added 25 wins in 1945, 26 wins in 1946 and 21 wins in 1948. He would win two ERA titles during that time as well and finished with a career ERA of 3.06. The 1945 season saw Newhouser pitcher 313 1/3 innings, have 29 complete games and a career-low ERA of 1.81 while helping the Detroit Tigers win the World Series in seven games over the Chicago Cubs. His career may not have been bookmarked by as much success as others, but that five-year run of dominance is unreal.
9. Tom Glavine: Played From 1987-2008
It was a long and storied career for Glavine with 305 wins over 22 seasons. He was quite consistent along the way as well, with an average of 15 wins per season during his career. He reeled off three straight 20-win seasons from 1991-1993 and won the Cy Young in 1991. He would add another Cy Young Award in 1998 after winning 20 games. Glavine had five such seasons of over 20 wins while being part of the dominant Atlanta Braves rotation in the 1990s. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014 where he will join his fellow Braves teammate Greg Maddux in Cooperstown. There aren’t many crafty lefties in today’s game that are as good as Glavine.
8. Eddie Plank: Played From 1901-1917
The story of Plank is one of complete pitching dominance. He had 326 wins in 17 seasons for an average of 19 wins per season to go along with a career ERA of 2.35. Even at age 41 in 1917, he had an ERA of 1.79 to finish his career. Plank won at least 20 games during eight different seasons including two years where he won 26 games. This was back in the days where pitchers started and completed most games as Plank threw 357 1/3 innings in 1904 during his 26-17 season with 37 complete games. He wasn’t a strikeout king or someone who would win Most Valuable Player awards but was a steady force on the Philadelphia Athletics for most of his career.
7. Carl Hubbell: Played From 1928-1943
There are many claims to fame for Hubbell, including the fact he struck out five straight Hall of Famers during the 1934 All-Star Game, but he was also one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history. Hubbell won 253 games in 16 seasons with the New York Giants from 1928-1945 and won the MVP Award in 1933 and 1936. He had a streak of five straight 20-win seasons from 1933-1937 including a 26-6 season in 1936 where he had a 2.31 ERA and a league-leading 159 strikeouts. Hubbell completed 260 of the 433 games he started and finished with a career ERA of 2.98 for the Giants. The “Meal Ticket” delivered every time he was on the mound.
6. Whitey Ford: Played From 1950-1967
Ford pitched 16 seasons for the New York Yankees with 236 career wins and an ERA of 2.75. While those numbers don’t appear to be as good as some of the others on this list, it is his postseason stats that push Ford up. In 22 World Series starts, Ford was 10-8 with a 2.71 ERA to help the Yankees win six championships. Ford’s best season was in 1961 where he went 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA and pitched a MLB-high 283 innings. He would add a 24-win season in 1963 and averaged 17 wins a season over his long career. Sadly (or fortunately, seeing as how many great ball players are totally forgotten with time), today’s generation thinks of Ford more from “The Simpsons” and Marge’s pretzels being called “Whitey Whackers.”
5. Steve Carlton: Played From 1965-1988
Carlton put together a very long career for himself with 329 wins over 24 seasons. Most of his claim to fame came as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies where he won 241 games in 15 seasons. He finished with a career ERA of 3.22 and struck out 4,136 hitters. Carlton won the strikeout title five different times and in 1972 had one of the greatest seasons any left-handed pitcher has ever had. He went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA in 41 starts that included 30 complete games while pitching 346 1/3 innings. He also struck out 310 batters that year. The Phillies won just 59 games that season which makes his performance even more remarkable. Carlton would finish his career with four Cy Young Awards.
4. Sandy Koufax: Played From 1955-1966
It is hard to dispute what Koufax did during his 12 seasons with the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers. Koufax won 165 games while having a 2.76 ERA. He finished his career with a 27-9 record in 1966 and retired from the game at just 30 years old. Koufax won the ERA title his last five seasons in the league and finished that 1966 season with a 1.73 ERA in 41 starts with 27 complete games. He pitched at least 323 innings in each of his last two seasons as well and won the Cy Young in 1963, 1965 and 1966 along with winning the Most Valuable Player in 1963. The sad thing is that fans never got to see how many wins Koufax would have had if he’d kept pitching. It is very possible that had injuries not cut his career short he could have become the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.
3. Warren Spahn: Played From 1942-1965
Spahn pitched for 21 seasons and had 363 wins over that time. He would win over 20 games 13 different times but never won more than 23 games in any one season. He had a career ERA of 3.09 but his consistency from the mound with the Braves is unmatched. He would win the Cy Young just once in 1957 when he went 21-11, but it was well known that it would be almost impossible to win on a day where Spahn pitched. He led the league in complete games for seven straight seasons from 1957-1963 and probably would have had over 400 wins if he didn’t miss the 1943-1945 seasons while serving in the military. He is definitely one of the greatest pitchers of all time and his numbers are off the charts, even today.
2. Lefty Grove: Played From 1925-1941
Grove pitched for 17 years and had exactly 300 wins during that time with a 3.06 ERA from 1925-1941. One of the most dominating pitchers of his generation, he won at least 20 games in each season from 1927-1933, including a season in 1931 that will go down in the record books. Grove was 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 41 appearances. He completed 27 of his starts and even added five saves over 288 2/3 innings. That season would earn Grove his lone MVP Award. He led the league in strikeouts in each of his first seven seasons and was one of the first big-time strikeout pitchers. He may have declined somewhat over his final two seasons, but he remained a pitcher that no batter wanted to see on the left side of the mound.
1. Randy Johnson: Played From 1988-2009
“The Big Unit” wasn’t just a dominating pitcher; he was a dominating figure out there at 6’10”. Johnson pitched 22 seasons for six different teams and finished with 303 career wins. His best season was in 2002 when he went 24-5 with a 2.32 ERA and had 334 strikeouts. Johnson would have at least 300 strikeouts six different times and hitters had trouble catching up to his 100 MPH fastball. He would win four straight Cy Young Awards from 1999-2002 pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks and while he did move around more during the final years of his career, Johnson was still the same dominating force on the mound. There wasn’t a single hitter out there who wanted to see him pitching and his All-Star at-bat with John Kruk is what makes Johnson the legend he is today.