Throughout the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, pitching comes to mind first before hitting. The Dodgers have obviously had some great hitters since the team first began playing in Los Angeles in 1958.
However, Chavez Ravine, where the Dodgers have played since 1962, has always been known as a pitcher’s ballpark. The Dodgers have become much more comfortable winning games 2-1 or 3-2 rather than slugfests that push double digits in runs.
For every Shawn Green, Adrian Beltre or Tommy Davis who hit home runs at a blistering pace, there have been four or five pitchers painting the corners of the plate for the Dodgers. An unofficial team slogan in Los Angeles seems to be: ‘Good pitching beats good hitting every time.”
So, in 53 years in Los Angeles, who are the best pitchers to ever don the crisp white uniforms with the cursive blue “Dodgers” letters? Who are the top five pitchers to pitch for the Dodgers?
I’m going to cheat a little and list the top six pitchers in Dodgers history. I had to include the sixth pitcher on this list because he made some marks for the Dodgers that will never be broken.
(Drum roll … ) Here are the top six pitchers in Los Angeles Dodgers history:
1. Sandy Koufax (1958-66) – Koufax doesn’t have the most wins in franchise history; in fact he’s only fifth on the all-time wins list with 156 (just his stats since the team moved to Los Angeles). Ask anyone, though, and they will say that the only reason the southpaw Koufax isn’t first in every pitching category for the Dodgers is because his career was cut miserably short.
Koufax had to retire at the young age of 30 because of severe Arthritis. In only nine seasons in Los Angeles, Koufax racked up some staggering numbers. He won 20 games three times and was the first pitcher in the Major Leagues to win three Cy Young awards. In case you ever wondered whether Koufax still had filthy stuff when he retired, his last season with the Dodgers in 1966 saw him win 27 games, post a 1.73 ERA and strike out 317 hitters.
2. Don Drysdale (1958-69) – Drysdale teamed with Koufax to give the Dodgers one of the nastiest 1-2 pitching combinations in the history of MLB. Like Koufax, Drysdale saw his career end prematurely. Drysdale had to retire in the middle of the 1969 season because of a bad shoulder at the age of 32. Drysdale is second in all-time wins for the Dodgers with 187 after the team moved to Los Angeles.
Drysdale won 20 games twice in his career and also won a Cy Young award. In 1968, Drysdale posted a mind-blowing six-straight shutouts. While Koufax was a finesse pitcher with a nasty curve, Drysdale was more of a bully, hitting a National League record 154 batters. Over his 12-year career in Los Angeles, Drysdale posted an ERA of 2.95.
3. Don Sutton (1966-80) – Sutton has no business on this list of the top Dodgers pitchers in the history of the franchise. A country boy from Clio, Alabama shouldn’t be the franchise leader in wins, strikeouts and shutouts…but Sutton is. Sutton was a grinder. He was a scrapper. He wasn’t a textbook pitcher with overpowering stuff, but he was one tough hombre.
While Sutton has the most wins in Los Angeles history with 233, he also holds the record for the most losses (181). However, you can’t discount Sutton’s 52 career shutouts, 3,816 innings pitched or 2,696 strikeouts. Any Dodger manager who hitched his plow to Sutton knew that the country boy would pitch at least 200 innings a season and would have a solid ERA. Sutton finished his career with a 3.09 ERA.
4. Orel Hershiser (1983-94) – Hershiser is only 10th in all-time franchise wins with 135 and comes in sixth in career strikeouts with 1,456. What “Bulldog” (as he was commonly called) did, though, during the height of his Dodger career is astounding. In 1988, Hershiser led the Dodgers to their last World Series title by pitching a record 59-1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. That is a mark that will never be broken. That is almost the equivalent of pitching seven-straight complete games without allowing an earned run.
Hershiser won a Cy Young award with the Dodgers and reached the 20-win plateau once. He was far from a fireballer, and he made his living nibbling on the inner and outer edges of the plate. Hershiser broke fellow Dodger Drysdale’s scoreless inning record (Drysdale held the previous record with 58 scoreless innings).
5. Fernando Valenzuela (1980-90) – Valenzuela hardly looked like a pitching specimen when he arrived in Los Angeles with his glasses and portly frame. However, Valenzuela helped lead the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series title by winning the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.
Valenzuela is eighth on the all-time wins list for the Dodgers. He is also fifth in strikeouts with 1,759 and is sixth in career shutouts with 29. In addition to his pitching prowess for the Dodgers, Valenzuela created a buzz in the Hispanic community in and around Los Angeles with what was called ‘Fernandomania.” Valenzuela’s screwball was his signature pitch that was matched by few other pitchers during his career.
6. Eric Gagne (1999-06) – A relief pitcher on the list of the top pitchers in Dodgers history? Say it ain’t so, Joe! Like Hershisher, Gagne set a Dodger record that will probably live forever – he saved 84-straight baseball games. That’s right – 84 games in a row that Gagne closed without blowing it. A marketing slogan that was created for Gagne still defines his Dodgers career – “Game Over!”
Gagne, who began his Los Angeles career as a (failed) starting pitcher, was nothing short of freakish in a three-year run from 2002-04. In those three seasons, Gagne saved 52, 55 and 45 games. He also posted ERAs of 1.97, 1.20 and 2.19. To further illustrate Gagne’s filthy stuff on the mound, he struck out 629 hitters in his Dodger career in only 545 innings. Gagne ranks first in career strikeouts per nine innings with 10.4. He also did something that is generally reserved for starting pitchers – won the Cy Young award in 2003. He tops the list with 161 career saves for the Dodgers.