Going by the results, the right-handed starting pitching was a really difficult category, with any number of entirely viable candidates. On the other hand, that also makes it kinda tough to argue with the results, since there’s a perfectly good case for the eventual winners. Will the same apply to the penultimate category, the left-handed starting pitchers? For a good chunk of what I said in the right-handers introduction applies here too. Pitchers now pitch fewer innings, but with far greater dominance, than they did in the early days of the major leagues. However, looking at the left-handed leaders by bWAR, I’m not seeing quite the same skew towards the pre-integration era.
Indeed, of the top ten all-time by that metric, four of them pitched in 2008, albeit at different stages of their careers. It was the final season for Tom Glavine, and Randy Johnson was also approaching the end of his career. But C.C. Sabathia was just coming off his Cy Young win the previous year, and in Los Angeles, some guy called Clayton Kershaw was in his rookie season, posting an unremarkable 4.26 ERA over 21 starts. He’ll clearly never amount to anything much... Of course, he’s still going, and Sabathia retired only at the end of the 2019 campaign. But of the top 10, only one (Eddie Plank) pitched in the dead-ball era before 1920.
As ever, we do exclude active players from consideration, so Kershaw gets crossed out, his spot going to another dead-ball pitcher, Rube Weddell. But it’s interesting to speculate where Clayton might end up by the time his career finishes. It seems clear he is past his best, not having finished above 8th in Cy Young voting since 2017. But he was still worth 2.1 bWAR last season, despite missing time to injury and making only 22 starts. If we restrict the list to being through age 33, we get a startling change with Kershaw posting the highest bWAR to that point of any left-handed pitcher. Lefty Grove is second, but to find the Big Unit, you need to look all the way down to forty-second place.
He was truly a late bloomer. as you can see if you flip the criteria and look at bWAR after the age of 33. There, Randy Johnson posted 66.1 bWAR, which is 21.2 wins MORE than anyone else. In particular, through ages 35-38, when he won four consecutive Cy Youngs, Randy was worth 38.1 bWAR. Only two other pitchers (Grove and Steve Carlton) have produced even 20 bWAR during that spell in their career. But I think we’ll probably be talking more about RJ in this series... Going back to Kershaw, it really depends how long he pitches. I can’t see him being anything near as productive as Johnson, but surpassing Glavine should be a snap, health permitting. I’d say he will finish somewhere around Steve Carlton.
Anyway, onto the non-active players from whom we need to pick our ballot. Below are the top 10 by bWAR, though you can click on the first link in this article if you want to go deeper than that. But I’m not sure we’ll need to do so: on a quick scan, nobody really jumps out as essential candidates. But I’ll leave that choice up to you! As ever, names go over to the Baseball Reference page for the player.
Best LHSP ever
Not much more needs to be said. I think this one may end up being a two-horse race for the two spots... and one of those ponies will be decked out in purple and teal. I’m just sayin’... However, there may be scope for another surprise, as with Bob Gibson making a surprise surge to get one of the right-hander spots. We shall see!
Usual rules, but I would say you should not feel limited to a single nomination, since we may have an expanded ballot. As normal this will be done largely on the basis of recs in the comments, though the decision of the judging committee i.e. me, will be final in this regard. Just identify the player in the subject line, and make your case in the body of the comment. If you agree with a choice already made, give it a rec. If you don’t see your choice, post a new comment. I will delete subsequent top-level comments about the same player. Poll to follow on Friday!