30 Most Unsung Pitchers in MLB History
Know that incessant “o-ver-ra-ted!” chant at ballparks? It’s so overdone that it has become — get ready for it — o-ver-rat-ed!
Besides, isn’t anyone underrated? Where’s the love for them? Well, kids, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s our list of the 30 of the most unsung, under-the-radar, underrated pitchers in major league history. No one-year wonders or self-promoters here. These are guys with solid career resumes who often came up big in big games yet seldom, if ever, received widespread acclaim. A few even deserved a Cy Young Award or should be in the Hall of Fame.
OK, let’s hear it now ...Un-der-ra-ted!
30. David Wells
Career: 21 seasons (1987-2007)
Teams: Toronto Blue Jays (1987-92, 1999-2000), Detroit Tigers (1993-95), Cincinnati Reds (1995), Baltimore Orioles (1996), New York Yankees (1997-98, 2002-03), Chicago White Sox (2001), San Diego Padres (2004, 2006-07), Boston Red Sox (2005-06), Los Angeles Dodgers (2007)
Career statistics: 177-135 record/3.39 earned run average/30 saves
Bottom Line: David Wells
Boomer played for so many years with so many teams — three more than once — it was hard to keep track of him. That explains why he had some of the quietest 239 games in baseball history, 192 of them in his 30s.
If there’s a Baseball Greezers Hall of Fame, then this guy deserves to be there.
29. Virgil Trucks
Career: 17 seasons (1941-43, 1945-1958)
Teams: Detroit Tigers (1941-43, 1945-52, 1956), St. Louis Browns, (1953), Chicago White (1953-55), Kansas City Athletes (1957-58), New York Yankees (1958)
Career statistics: 177-135/3.39/30
Bottom Line: Virgil Trucks
His numbers got a boost in the war years but not much. After the big leagues returned to normal, the righty won 19 games twice and 20 once in a season. In 1952, he authored a pair of no-hitters, one of only three pitchers in MLB history to do so.
Then, there was his most important dubyah of all — a 4-1 route job in Game 2 of the 1945 World Series. All this for two All-Star Game invitations.
28. Bob Shawkey
Career: 15 seasons (1913-27)
Teams: Philadelphia Athletics (1913-15), New York Yankees (1915-27)
Career statistics: 195-150/3.09/29
Bottom Line: Bob Shawkey
This four-time, 20-game winner beat the cross-borough Giants in the crucial Game 4 of the 1923 World Series.
Unfortunately, the right-hander played in the same era as mound stars Eddie Cicotte, Stan Covaleski and Walter Johnson, to name a few. Oh, and let’s not forget that Ruth guy, either.
27. Steve Rogers
Career: 13 seasons (1973-85)
Teams: Montreal Expos (1973-85)
Career statistics: 158-152/3.17/2
Bottom Line: Steve Rogers
Seven times this sinkerballer ranked among the top 10 National League pitchers in home runs allowed per nine innings. So what happened in a rare relief appearance in the 1981 NLCS? Rick Monday took him deep to win the pennant?
One year later, despite an edge in several major categories, the right-hander was a distant runner-up to Steve Carlton in the Cy Young Award vote. Not only that, but he received one stinkin’ first-place vote.
26. Stu Miller
Career: 16 seasons (1952-54, 1956-68)
Teams: New York-San Francisco Giants (1952-54, 1956), Philadelphia Phillies (1956), Baltimore Orioles (1963-67), Atlanta Braves (1968)
Career statistics: 105-103/3.24/153
Bottom Line: Stu Miller
Misplaced as a starter early in his career, this member of the 100 Wins-100 Saves Club had four consecutive stellar seasons out of the bullpen in his mid-30s.
So what is the 165-pounder still known for most to many? The time that he was blown off the mound at wind-whipped Candlestick Park in his only All-Star Game appearance. That’s cold.
25. Larry Jackson
Career: 14 seasons (1955-1968)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1955-62), Chicago Cubs (1963-65), Philadelphia Phillies (1966-68)
Career statistics: 194-183/3.40/20
Bottom Line: Larry Jackson
This three-sport athlete had 10 seasons of at least 33 starts, 243 innings pitched and a sub-4.00 ERA. Consider that none of his teams won more than 87 games in a season, and his career numbers look a lot better.
As Cubbie teammate Ron Santo once said, “He can go out there alone, even when he doesn’t have his good stuff, and his guts and courage alone will carry him into the seventh or eighth inning.”
24. Tom Gordon
Career: 21 seasons (1988-1999, 2001-09)
Teams: Kansas City Royals (1988-1995),Boston Red Sox (1996-99), Chicago Cubs (2001-02), Houston Astros (2002), Chicago White Sox (2003), New York Yankees (2004-05), Philadelphia Phillies (2006-08), Arizona Diamondbacks (2009)
Career statistics: 138-126/3.96/158
Bottom Line: Tom Gordon
A limited repertoire reduced his effectiveness as a starter in the first half of his career. But when Flash moved to the bullpen, where his live heater and killer curve played better, his career took off. He limited opponents to a crazy-good .618 OPS as a reliever.
Still, the guy received only three All-Star Game invitations — two of them after he had turned 36 years old.
23. Babe Adams
Career: 19 seasons (1908, 1910-21)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1906),Pittsburgh Pirates (1907, 1909-1916, 1918-26)
Career statistics: 194-140/2.76/16
Bottom Line: Babe Adams
The 1909 World Series hero (3-0 record, 1.33 ERA) pitched in the long shadows of Hall of Famers Pete Alexander and Christy Mathewson, or else he might have a plaque in Cooperstown, New York, himself.
Despite five seasons of 17-or-more victories, only once did the control artist have as much as a 10 percent approval rate in a Hall of Fame election.
22. Mark Langston
Career: 16 seasons (1984-99)
Teams: Seattle Mariners (1984-89), Montreal Expos (1989), California-Anaheim Angels (1990-97), San Diego Padres (1998), Cleveland Indians (1999)
Career statistics: 179-158/3.97/0
Bottom Line: Mark Langston
Some remember the player that the M’s acquired for this left-hander more than he actually accomplished with them. That person would be Randy Johnson, of course.
Yet early in his career, Langston was dominant himself. In his first five full seasons, he won 70 games and was the American League strikeout leader three times. He did this with a team that never had more than 78 W’s in any of them.
21. Hippo Vaughn
Career: 13 seasons (1908, 1910-21)
Teams: New York Yankees (1908, 1910-12), Washington Senators (1912), Chicago Cubs (1913-21)
Career statistics: 178-137/2.49/5
Bottom Line: Hippo Vaughn
This right-hander probably would have claimed the 1918 Cy Young Award had there been one, but since we don’t know that for certain, we’ll tweak the eligibility requirement here.
In a seven-year span (1914-20), his average season was 293 innings pitched, 20-13 record and 2.16 ERA. Even so, he wasn’t even the best pitcher in his own league, a title that Pete Alexander held beyond dispute.
20. Sam McDowell
Career: 15 seasons (1961-75)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1961-71), San Francisco Giants (1972-73),New York Yankees (1973-74), Pittsburgh Pirates (1975)
Career statistics: 141-134/3.17/14
Bottom Line: Sam McDowell
“Faster than (Sandy) Koufax?” That’s what Sports Illustrated wondered about Sudden Sam in the Summer of ’66. How ‘bout “Almost As Good As Koufax?”
In his most dominant stretch (1965-70), he averaged 261 innings pitched, 15 wins and 275 strikeouts over six seasons. In his best such run (1961-66), Koufax checked in at 272, 21.5 and 285.5 with a far better team. Of course, Sudden Sam wasn’t Koofoo. But the American League version did a darn good impersonation.
19. Al Leiter
Career: 19 seasons (1987-2005)
Teams: New York Yankees (1987-89, 2005), Toronto Blue Jays (1989-95), Florida Marlins (1996-97, 2005), New York Mets (1998-2004)
Career statistics: 162-132/3.80/2
Bottom Line: Al Leiter
Remarkably, this late-bloomer recorded all except 33 of his victories after he turned the big three-oh. He pulled this off in the middle of the steroids epidemic.
Yeah, we know what you’re thinkin’, but he wasn’t the type. Rather, it was Yankees teammate Ron Guidry who taught the lefty the cutter that turned around what would become a successful if underappreciated career.
18. Tim Hudson
Career: 17 seasons (1999-2015)
Teams: Oakland Athletics (1999-2004), Atlanta Braves (2005-13), San Francisco Giants (2014-15)
Career statistics: 222-133/3.49/0
Bottom Line: Tim Hudson
This right-hander had a half-dozen seasons of at least 15 wins and a sub-3.50 earned run average. He also won more games than he lost every season until he was 38 years old.
Somehow, he never won an individual award that mattered. The only time he finished higher than fourth in a Cy Young Award vote (2000), Pedro Martinez pitched absolutely out of his mind.
17. Chuck Finley
Career: 17 seasons (1986-2002)
Teams: California-Anaheim Angels (1986-99), Cleveland Indians (2000-02), St. Louis Cardinals (2002)
Career statistics: 200-173/3.85/0
Bottom Line: Chuck Finley
This long, tall lefty was widely known to be one of the better American League starters of his day. Sorry, unh-unh. Anyfranchise leader in games started, innings pitched, victories and WAR is better than just pretty good unless it comes with the Bad New Bears.
While the guy never won more than 18 games in a season, he reached double figures 11 times over a 12-season span.
16. Mark Buehrle
Career: 16 seasons (2000-15)
Teams: Chicago White Sox (2000-11), Miami Marlins (2012), Toronto Blue Jays (2013-15)
Career statistics: 214-160/3.81/0
Bottom Line: Mark Buehrle
This left-hander had at least 30 starts and 10 victories every season that he pitched in the bigs. Better yet, he worked faster than a burglar who was double-parked. Catch ball, throw ball.
Hey, look — it’s a 2.5-hour game! Yeah, baseball sure could use more Mark Buehrles right now.
15. Brad Radke
Career: 12 seasons (1995-2006)
Teams: Minnesota Twins (1995-2006)
Career statistics: 148-139/4.22/0
Bottom Line: Brad Radke
This one-time, 20-game winner was good for 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings every season except the first and last. He was good when his team sucked in the first six seasons, and he was very good when his team was competitive in the last half-dozen seasons.
Too bad all he got was one trip to the All-Star Game in return.
14. Wes Ferrell
Career: 12 seasons (1927-41)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1927-1933), Boston Red Sox (1934-37), Washington Senators (1937-38), New York Yankees (1938-39), Brooklyn Dodgers (1940), Boston Braves (1941)
Career statistics: 193-128/4.04/13
Bottom Line: Wes Ferrell
His spectacular 1935 season remains one of the most complete and least known in baseball history — 322 1/3 innings pitched, 25-14 record, 3.52 ERA, .347 batting average, seven home runs, 32 RBI, .960 OPS.
Now get this — his brother and battery mate Rick was an All-Star selection but not him! One more thing — he finished second to Hank Greenberg in the Most Valuable Player race despite a massive edge in WAR (10.6-7.7). So when does the recount begin?
13. Luis Tiant
Career: 19 seasons (1964-82)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1964-1969), Minnesota Twins (1970),Boston Red Sox (1971-78), New York Yankees (1979-80), Pittsburgh Pirates (1981), California Angels (1982)
Career statistics: 229-172/3.30/15
Bottom Line: Luis Tiant
As consistent as El Tiante was throughout his career, the side-winder was irrelevant too often. In the 1968 Year of the Pitcher, he was more dominant than Denny McLain, the runaway Cy Young Award winner on his 31-6 record alone. Six years later, he received nary a first-place vote in what should have been a tight five-man race. (He finished in a tie for fourth.)
His career numbers most closely resemble those of Jim Hunter and Jim Bunning, both Hall of Famers. Yet only in his first year of HOF eligibility did he receive as much as 20 percent of the vote.
12. Jimmy Key
Career: 15 seasons (1984-98)
Teams: Toronto Blue Jays (1984-92), New York Yankees (1993-96), Baltimore Orioles (1997-98)
Career statistics: 186-117/3.51/10
Bottom Line: Jimmy Key
This Clemson product was the very definition of crafty left-hander. Coupled with the fact that his best years came north of the border, that explains his relative lack of league-wide acclaim.
All except one of his five All-Star appearances came after he turned 30 years old.
11. Rick Reuschel
Career: 19 seasons (1972-81, 1983-91)
Teams: Chicago Cubs (1972-81, 1983-84), Pittsburgh Pirates (1985-87), San Francisco Giants (1987-91),
Career statistics: 214-191/3.37/5
Bottom Line: Rick Reuschel
How can a guy win this many games and not be widely acknowledged as one of the best pitchers of his time? Bo knows. They still haven’t found the ball that Bo Jackson launched off him in the 1989 All-Star Game, a monstrous home run that became part of his legacy.
Then there’s his nickname — The Whale. If he had been known as, say, The Big Fish, he might have won the 1977 Cy Young Award that he deserved.
10. Wilbur Wood
Career: 17 seasons (1961-65, 1967-78)
Teams: Boston Red Sox (1961-64) Pittsburgh Pirates (1964-65), Chicago White Sox (1967-78),
Career statistics: 164-156/3.24/57
Bottom Line: Wilbur Wood
How much would this portly left-hander have been worth today? While teammate Dick Allen stole the show, the White Sox knuckleballer served as a one-man rotation. He averaged 45 starts and 21 victories over five seasons (1971-75) before a shattered left kneecap cut short his career.
Among knuckleballers, he was in a class with Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm — and his slower flutter ball was easier to catch.
9. Dave Stieb
Career: 15 seasons (1979-93, 1998)
Teams: Toronto Blue Jays (1979-92, 1998), Chicago White Sox (1993)
Career statistics: 176-137/3.44/3
Bottom Line: Dave Stieb
If WAR had been the standard, then this prickly right-hander with the drop-dead slider would have been the first pitcher to capture three consecutive Cy Young Awards in baseball history. Problem was, the guy wasn’t liked even by some teammates, let alone feckless media who allowed personality to cloud their judgements.
This cannot be debated: He won more games than any major league pitcher except Jack Morris in the 1980s decade, and his WAR total (45.2) blew everyone away.
8. Eddie Rommel
Career: 13 seasons (1920-32)
Teams: Philadelphia Athletics (1920-32)
Career statistics: 171-119/3.54/30
Bottom Line: Eddie Rommel
The father of the modern knuckleball was a two-time, 20-game winner, not to mention one of the best American League starters in the 1920s decade.
By the time the Athletics achieved dominance, however, he had been banished to the bullpen, a role player amid a Hall of Fame cast. Then he became an umpire and people knew his name again.
7. Urban Shocker
Career: 13 seasons (1916-28)
Teams: New York Yankees (1916-17, 1925-28), St. Louis Browns (1918-24)
Career statistics: 187-117/3.17/25
Bottom Line: Urban Shocker
Before Wally Pipp, the Yankee who was famously replaced by Lou Gehrig at first base, there was George Pipgras, who started ahead of this 18-game winner in the 1927 World Series.
The spitballer had arrived to New York after four 20-win seasons with erratic Browns teams, destined to become known as the best player on the fabled Yankees team who few remember.
6. Kevin Brown
Career: 19 seasons (1986, 1988-2005)
Teams: Texas Rangers (1986, 1988-94), Baltimore Orioles (1995), Florida Marlins (1996-97), San Diego Padres (1998), Los Angeles Dodgers (1999-2003), New York Mets (2004-05)
Career statistics: 211-144/3.28/0
Bottom Line: Kevin Brown
This late-bloomer was scrooged out of two Cy Y0ung Awards, the first in 1996 (John Smoltz) and the second only two years later (Tom Glavine). Only Cheatin’ Andy Pettitte did better than his 143 victories in the 1990s decade, yet he received barely 2 percent of the vote in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Seriously, what did this guy do to deserve such shabby treatment except play with too many mid-market teams?
5. Kevin Appier
Career: 16 seasons (1989-2004)
Teams: Kansas City Royals (1989-99, 2003-04), Oakland Athletics (1999-2000), New York Mets (2001), Anaheim Angels (2002-03)
Career statistics: 169-137/3.74/0
Bottom Line: Kevin Appier
That slow, roundhouse curveball of his made one want to pick up a bat and get in the batter’s box immediately. But the big tease knew how to pitch, had good enough stuff and rarely strayed to the inner half of the plate.
Only in his rookie season did the Royals chalk up more than 84 victories. Yet the one-time All-Star won more games than he lost seven consecutive times.
4. Cole Hamels
Career: 15 seasons (2006-20)
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies (2006-15), Texas Rangers (2015-18), Chicago Cubs (2018-19), Atlanta Braves (2020)
Career statistics: 163-122/3.43/0
Bottom Line: Cole Hamels
Because this lefty won more than 15 games in a season only once, he seldom was mentioned with the elite pitchers of the game. Fact is, over a 10-year span (2007-16), few were more consistent in either league.
And let’s not forget his 2008 postseason — five starts, 4-0 record and 1.80 ERA — a baseball Picasso if there ever is one.
3. Roy Oswalt
Career: 13 seasons(2001-13)
Teams: Houston Astros (2001-10), Philadelphia Phillies (2010-11), Texas Rangers (2012), Colorado Rockies (2013)
Career statistics: 163-102/3.36/0
Bottom Line: Roy Oswalt
Six times this right-hander received Cy Young Award votes. Twice he won 20 games in a season. He owned a 5-2 record in the postseason. He ranks among or close to the top 100 in win-loss percentage, strikeouts, strikeouts per base on balls ratio and WAR in baseball history.
By the modern Harold Baines standard, is this guy a first-ballot Hall of Famer or what?
2. Dan Quisenberry
Career: 12 seasons (1979-90)
Teams: Kansas City Royals (1979-88), St. Louis Cardinals (1988-89), San Francisco Giants (1990)
Career statistics: 56-46/2.66/244
Bottom Line: Dan Quisenberry
Four-time league saves leader Lee Smith had greater longevity while this five-time saves leader had greater effectiveness, not to mention one more World Series title in which he played a key role.
So how is it that Lee Arthur gained Hall of Fame induction but the Quiz never received more than 4 percent of the vote? Please discuss.
1. Curt Schilling
Career: 20 seasons (1988-2007)
Teams: Baltimore Orioles (1988-90), Houston Astros (1991), Philadelphia Phillies (1992-2000), Arizona Diamondbacks (2000-03), Boston Red Sox (2004-07)
Career statistics: 216-146/3.46/22
Bottom Line: Curt Schilling
We’re embarrassed that this guy isn’t in the Hall of Fame. The No. 1 reason couldn’t be more off base — Schill doesn’t share the same politics of the left-driven media. Otherwise, there’s no legit reason to snub a career 216-game winner (more than 16 current HOFers with at least 350 career starts) and three-time Cy Young Award runner-up who is on the short list of greatest postseason players ev-er, the only major league pitcher to win more games than he lost in all five postseason rounds — ALDS, NLDS, ALCS, NLCS and World Series.
We believe the word is partisanship.