Dodgers: Ranking the Top 5 starting pitchers in franchise history

Clayton Kershaw (R) - Los Angeles Dodgers (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Clayton Kershaw (R) - Los Angeles Dodgers (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /
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VERO BEACH, FL – 1981 : (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been shot in black and white. Color version not available.) Former pitcher Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers sits in the lounge during an interview at spring training in Vero Beach, Fl. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

1. Best Dodgers starters of all-time: Sandy Koufax

I was looking at the numbers and Kershaw has Koufax beat in a lot of statistical categories. Kersh has the edge in Wins, ERA, strikeouts, strikeout rate, WHIP, and strikeout to walk rate, and he’s still going. However, Koufax’ impeccable playoff resume and the aura surrounding him puts him on the top of our list.

Believe it or not, Sandy Koufax was once considered more of a basketball prospect. He only played baseball his senior year of high school and walked onto the team at the University of Cincinnati. The 17-year-old lefty was raw, walking 30 batters in 31 innings, but his blistering fastball caught the attention of big league scouts.

Luckily for the Dodgers, they won the Koufax sweepstakes and the rest is history, although it may have not looked that way initially. Koufax got his first call up in 1955 (Tommy Lasorda was optioned to Montreal to make room for him), and was promising but wild. After a couple more trial runs of varying degrees of success, Koufax stuck in the rotation in 1958. Even with some big league innings under his belt, he was still more of a thrower than a pitcher. The first category he led the majors in was wild pitches. Koufax was missing bats, but also missing the zone, walking 405 batters in 691.2 innings the first six years of his career.

However, Koufax found himself in 1961 after making a simple adjustment: take a little off. He had previously been overly concerned with his velocity, but now was able to relax his muscles and throw more off-speed pitches. The results were tremendous. Koufax went from a serviceable starter with potential to an All-Star every year of his career from then on.

He became the first player to win three Cy Young awards, and remains the sole pitcher to do so when only one was awarded for the entire major leagues. Koufax was named the MVP in 1963 after posting a 1.88 ERA over 311 innings, including a league leading (and Dodger record) 11 shutouts. The 1961-66 accolades of Sandy Koufax could be a lengthy story on its own, but for the purposes of this article, let’s just say it was arguably the greatest display of pitching dominance of all time.

Sadly we weren’t able to see the full extent of what Sandy was capable of. Koufax was no stranger to pitching through injuries, as he was frequently plagued with shoulder and finger issues for most of his career. However, he started developing arthritis in his elbow in 1963 which would sideline him for games at a time. It took a turn for the worst in 1965, as Koufax had to resort to a topical numbing agent and painkillers that have since been determined unfit for human consumption.

The pain didn’t slow him down, as he set major league records for strikeouts and WHIP that season. His elbow got so bad the following season he needed to get his suit jackets tailored to mask the permanent bend in his arm. Nevertheless, Koufax set a career best 1.73 ERA and won his third Cy Young. His arm was finally pushed to the breaking point, and he retired at just age 30 following a losing decision in the World Series. Despite being outdueled by Jim Palmer in that particular outing, Koufax compiled a miniscule 0.95 postseason ERA and was twice named the World Series MVP.

It really is a shame we didn’t get to see more of Sandy Koufax, and we can only wonder if his career could have been salvaged by modern medical science. What we do know is that he was the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. Koufax totaled 165 wins, a 2.76 ERA, 1.106 WHIP, 2,396 strikeouts, seven All-Star appearances, three World Series titles, three Cy Youngs, an MVP, five ERA titles, and three pitcher’s triple crowns, and four no hitters, including a perfect game.

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He was the youngest Hall of Famer of all time at age 36, and at the time received the most Hall of Fame votes. The Dodgers retired his number 32 in 1972, the same year he was inducted.