The second installment of the MLB Network’s Prime 9 players of the decade list focuses on starting pitchers. In my opinion, this list contains a few obvious omissions and one pitcher that shouldn’t find his name on the list. Here are your top 9 starting pitchers of the decade in descending order:
9. Javier Vazquez – Vazquez is a surprising choice for the No. 9 spot on the list. Over the decade, he went 128-116 with a 4.01 ERA for 5 different teams. Vazquez led the majors in “quality starts” for the decade and finished second to only Randy Johnson for the most strikeouts with 2,001 in 2,163 IP. He was selected to the All-Star Game in 2004 and enjoyed most of his success pitching in the NL with the now defunct Montreal Expos and is currently with the Atlanta Braves.
8. C.C. Sabathia – Sabathia burst onto the scene with the Cleveland Indians in 2001 where he won 17 games his rookie season. He completed the decade with a record of 136-81 to go along with a 3.62 ERA. His best season was in 2007 where he won the AL Cy Young award and established himself as a premier pitcher in the game. The most defining moment of his career was this past season where he won his first World Series title with the New York Yankees as the ace of their staff.
7. Roy Oswalt – Like Sabathia, Oswalt also had a very successful rookie season in 2001 with the Houston Astros by going 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA in only 28 appearances (20 of them starts). Oswalt produced back to back 20 win seasons in 2004 and 2005 and was named the NLCS MVP in 2005 as well. He was a 3-time All-Star this decade and finished with a record of 137-70 with an impressive 3.23 ERA.
6. Roy Halladay – The recently acquired pitcher of the Philadelphia Phillies finds his name next on the list. Halladay finished with a record of 139-69 with a 3.40 ERA all with the Toronto Blue Jays. In the day and age of pitch counts, the man they call “Doc” led the majors with an outstanding 47 complete games this decade. He also appeared in 6 All-Star games and won an AL Cy Young in 2003 where he posted the first of his two 20 win seasons. Halladay is a throwback pitcher and is one of the most feared pitchers in all of baseball with his bulldog mentality.
5. Andy Pettitte – Pettitte was the winningest pitcher in the majors this decade with 148 wins for the Yankees and Astros. In this decade, Pettitte has been known as a big game pitcher as his 2 World Series rings and 2001 ALCS MVP award will attest to that. He produced one 20 win season with the Yankees in 2003 and had arguably his most dominating season in 2005 with the Astros where he won 17 games to go along with a 2.39 ERA in 222.1 IP. In my opinion, his placement on this list, especially in this spot, is up for debate.
4. Roger Clemens – The illustrious career of arguably the best pitcher of the modern era came to a halt in 2007 amid well documented steroid allegations. In 8 seasons this decade, Clemens went 107-50 and added 2 more Cy Young awards to his credit, including becoming one of only 4 pitchers all time to win the award in both leagues. Like his good friend Pettitte, Clemens pitched for both the Yankees and Astros this decade and appeared in 4 All-Star games. In the future, it will be interesting to see how the Hall of Fame voters view Clemens when it is time for his name to be on the ballot amid the above mentioned steroid allegations.
3. Johan Santana – Santana started his career in 2000 with the Minnesota Twins where he didn’t truly establish himself as an elite pitcher until he won the first of 2 Cy Young awards this decade with a 20 win season in 2004. He also was a 3-time ERA leader and even won the pitching Triple Crown in 2006 by leading the AL in wins (19), ERA (2.77), and strikeouts (245). He finished the decade with a record of 122-60 with an ERA of 3.12 and 1,733 strikeouts (9.12 K/9). Santana is also known for his defense and even won a AL Gold Glove in 2007.
2. Pedro Martinez – The charismatic pitcher is making a case for Cooperstown with his numbers this decade. Pedro had the best winning percentage of any pitcher this decade as he won 69 % of his starts (112-50). He also led all pitchers with an ERA of 3.01. Pedro produced one 20 win season in 2002 with the Boston Red Sox and won the AL Cy Young in 2000 with a record of 18-6 along with a dominating 1.74 ERA and 284 K in 217 IP. The best moment of the decade for Pedro was being a vital key in ending the curse in Boston by winning a World Series title. He was arguably the most dominating pitcher of the decade when healthy.
1. Randy Johnson – The “Big Unit” has been the most feared pitcher in the game over his career and especially in this decade. The man with the 6-10 presence and long flowing hair often used intimidation and intensity to become the No. 1 starting pitcher on this list. The Big Unit started off the decade with a bang by winning 3 consecutive NL Cy Young awards from 2000-2002 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His biggest feat in those 3 seasons was being the Co-MVP of the 2001 World Series where he won his first ring. Like Santana, the Big Unit won the Triple Crown in 2002 with 24 W, 2.32 ERA, and 334 K. He finished the decade with an amazing 2,182 K’s and in 2004 became the oldest pitcher to pitch a perfect game. Even more impressive, the Big Unit joined the exclusive 300 win club last season with the San Francisco Giants at the age of 45. His path to Cooperstown has been paved.
In my opinion, the most glaring omission on this list is Curt Schilling. Schilling went 117-63 with a 3.54 ERA this decade. He was a runner-up for the Cy Young 3 times and who could forget his domination with the Big Unit where they almost single-handedly won the Diamondbacks their first and only World Series. Also, who can forget the bloody sock? He definitely deserves to be on this list instead of Vazquez, who was a very average pitcher in the AL.
Another name who deserves some consideration for this list is Greg Maddux. Maddux seems to get lost in the discussion at times despite being one of the top 10 best pitchers of all time, in my opinion. Despite not pitching in 2 years this decade, “Mad Dog” was 134-101 with a 3.70 ERA along with winning his 300th game, 3,000th K, and 18th Gold Glove. I find it hard to believe Maddux didn’t have as big of an impact on the league than Vazquez or even Sabathia.
Up Next: Top 9 Closers of the Decade