Who are the best starting pitchers in Dodgers history?
The Dodgers might just have the deepest all-time pitching depth chart of any team in baseball history. As a result, this was not an easy list to make, and there are several pitchers who would be a lot higher on a list for basically any other franchise.
Since we have so many pitchers to talk about, let’s get right into the conversation with some honorable mentions before we rank the top five starters in Dodgers history.
Johnny Podres was a Dodger workhorse and World Series hero. A three-time World Series champion over a 13-year Dodger career, Padres is perhaps best known for his performance in the ‘55 series. He threw complete games in Game 3 and Game 7, giving up a total of two runs and being named the first ever Series MVP.
Podres’ best season came in 1957 when he led the NL with a 2.66 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, a feat even more impressive as he missed the previous season while serving in the Navy. He was a three-time All-Star, and posted a 3.66 ERA over his Dodger tenure. Podres compiled an impressive 2.13 ERA over six career World Series games, and hit .313 with a double in 16 Series at bats.
You may associate him with the reconstructive elbow surgery that bears his name, but Tommy John had quite the playing career. His 288 wins are the most of any pitcher not in the Hall of Fame, and he was a four-time All-Star. John posted some solid seasons after coming to the Dodgers in the Dick Allen trade, leading the NL in winning percentage in back-to-back seasons. He then suffered a debilitating elbow injury in 1974, and became the namesake of the innovative surgery he underwent to correct it. John actually had some of his best seasons after the surgery, finishing second in Cy Young voting in 1977. He posted a 2.97 ERA over six seasons in LA, and was the guinea pig for a procedure that has salvaged many a pitching career.
We’re going back to the days of the Brooklyn Robins for this one. Charles Arthur Vance bounced around a couple teams before being included as a throw-in when the Robins acquired catcher Hank DeBerry. Vance and DeBerry ended up blossoming into arguably the most dynamic battery duo of the 1920’s. Dazzy’s best season came in 1924, when he won the pitcher’s Triple Crown and was named Most Valuable Player. He struck out nearly twice as many batters as the runner up, and set the then-record for strikeouts in a game with 15. Over 12 years in Brooklyn, Vance totaled 190 wins, 29 shutouts, 1,918 strikeouts, and a 3.14 FIP. We could only imagine what his numbers would’ve looked like if he pitched more than 33 innings in his twenties.
Fernando Valenzuala had one of the most dramatic and highly publicized rises to stardom in all of baseball history. Fernandomania swept the nation as the 20-year-old lefty became the first player ever to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. He posted a stellar 2.48 ERA, threw eight shutouts, and led the league in innings and strikeouts.
The 1981 season began a six-year streak of All-Star appearances for the screwball specialist, and he finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three other times in that span. Fernando was also no slouch with the bat in his hands and with the glove, winning a Gold Glove and two Silver Sluggers, as well as hitting .368 as a pinch hitter. He totaled a 3.31 ERA and 1,759 strikeouts over an 11-year Dodger career, and remained active with the team after his retirement. Valenzuela joined the Dodgers’ Spanish broadcast team in 2003, and maintains a devout following in the Latino community.
Claude Osteen may have just been the most dominant high school pitcher in the nation when the Reds signed him to a big league contract at age 17. As a senior at Reading High School, he fanned 221 batters in just 103.2 innings with a microscopic 0.13 ERA. However, Osteen never really figured it out in Cincinnati, and was traded to the Washington Senators. The Jim Nabors lookalike pitched better than his record in Washington, and soon became a hot commodity as a stellar pitcher on a not so stellar team.
The Dodgers traded for Gomer in 1964 and he furthered his reputation as one of the premier pitchers in the Senior Circuit. Osteen was a three-time All-Star in LA, and posted an ERA as low as 2.64. He was also noted for his ability to keep the ball in the yard, leading the majors with a .2 HR/9 in 1966. Over a 9 year Dodger career, Osteen compiled 147 wins, a 3.09 ERA, and 34 shutouts, and was a part of the 1965 World Series team.
Orel Hershiser wasn’t a highly touted prospect when the Dodgers drafted him, but he became one of if not the most valuable Dodgers of the 1980’s. The 17th round pick out of Bowling Green cruised through the minor leagues despite less than lofty expectations, and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting during his first full season.
Hershiser blossomed the following year, finishing third in Cy Young voting with a 2.03 ERA and 19-3 record. He had a run of three consecutive All-Star seasons, punctuated with a historic 1988 campaign. Bulldog won the Cy Young unanimously after throwing an MLB 59 consecutive scoreless innings, as well as becoming the only player to win the Cy Young, NLCS MVP, and World Series MVP in the same season. Hershiser lost a couple seasons after his historic run to injury, but remained an effective pitcher after he recovered. He ended his 13 year Dodger career with a 3.12 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 1,456 strikeouts, and is currently part of the Dodger broadcast team.