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Now that Randy Johnson has won four consecutive Cy Young Awards, is he the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time?
Before jumping to conclusions, I think its safe to group him among baseball’s elite all time left-handed pitchers. They are Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove, and Randy Johnson.
So what are we going to do now, compare “The Big Unit” to southpaws from 75 years before in Hubbell and Grove? What about the fact that Spahn never won a game before he was 25 years old and averaged 20 wins a season for a 17 year stretch? What about Koufax’s total dominance for 5 years in the 1960’s? What about Steve Carlton’s 4 Cy Young Awards? The real question is not so much who is the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, but who is the greatest left-hander in their prime?
First things first, Warren Spahn is not associated with dominance such as Koufax is, but for the sake of consistency, Spahn’s 363 lifetime wins, making him the all time winningest left-hander cannot be looked over. Thus, if you were going to build an all time pitching dynasty and you were looking for sustained excellence, Spahn would be the top lefty pick.
We’ll compare Grove, Hubbell, Koufax, Carlton, and Johnson in three categories, wins, ERA, and strikeouts. Also, we will take their greatest stats in whatever five year block of time they were most dominant.
Lefty Grove’s greatest five year block was from 1929 to 1933. With the Philadelphia Athletics he won two World Series in that time, but World Series victories is not the mark of dominance we’ll use for this model. Grove averaged 26 wins, 171 strikeouts, and had an average ERA of 2.69.
Carl Hubbell’s most dominant block was from 1933 to 1937. He averaged 23 wins, only reaching as high as 26 wins once, in 1936. Thus, Grove’s average of 26 wins was Hubbell’s all time highest single season win total. Hubbell, also averaged 141 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.54.
Of baseball’s two greatest lefties from 1900 to 1950, Lefty Grove gets the nod as the most dominant.
Sandy Koufax’s block is from 1962 to 1966. He averaged 22 wins, 288 strikeouts, and an ERA of 1.98.
To rank Steve Carlton by this model is unfair to him, because Carlton’s dominance existed in small blocks of time, stretched out of many years. For instance, he won 20 games in 1971 and 27 games in 1972, but he only won 10 games in 1970 and 13 games in 1973. Later on he would win 24 games in 1980, but just 13 the next year. To just take Carlton’s five best years is not staying with the 5 year block model that the pitchers are judged upon. Carlton was a great Hall of Fame pitcher, but he falls more in a streaky version of Warren Spahn’s long career.
Now we have Lefty Grove as the best southpaw in the first half of the 20th century and Sandy Koufax as the best in the second half of the century. Now its time to look at Randy Johnson.
Johnson’s block will be from 1998 to 2002. He won an average of 20 games, struckout 345 batters, and had an ERA of 2.64.
Lefty Grove averaged the most wins per season, with 26. Randy Johnson averaged the most strikeouts per season with 345. Sandy Koufax averaged the lowest ERA per season at 1.98.
Lets not break down these statistics anymore. Your three most dominant left-handed pitchers of all time are Grove, Koufax, and Johnson. You couldn’t go wrong with any one of the three.