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The best we've seen?
The Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal has a good article, here, about Roger Clemens. At the very end, he mentions in passing that Clemens is the best pitcher of this generation. I'm not to sure this is as clear as Rosenthal makes it sound, but at least its pretty clear that there are only three choices, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, or Roger Clemens.
Here are some relevant numbers, I'd be interested in all your takes on this as well,
GS IP W/L ERA WHIP SO K/9 CG SHO ERA+It took Randy Johnson a little while before he moved up into the elite level of pitchers, but once he did, he never looked back. What clicked for Randy was his control. Once he learned how to control his high-90s heat and his nasty low-90s slider, he began to simply embarrass hitters. Has won five Cy Young awards including four consecutive, to go with the pitching triple crown in 2002, and nine All-Star appearances. One of only three pitchers to win the Cy Young in both leagues.
Strikeouts have always been king for Randy, and he is currently 4th on the All-time list, and first all-time with 11.16 K/9. Led the league in K's eight times, and finished in the top 10 twelve times. Originally labeled as a post-season choker of sorts, Randy dominated in three rounds of 2001 to earn World Series co-MVP with Curt Schilling. Owns a 7-8 record with a 3.08 ERA in 108 postseason innings.
The only lefty on this list, Randy was hurt by his relative late start. For peak value (amazingly occurring in his mid to late-30s) it doesn't get much better, but for overall value, Randy falls short. He has recently shown signs of slowing down due to injuries, but when healthy has been as dominant as ever, even at 40 years old. It will be interesting to see if this freak of nature can continue to pitch into his mid-40s like that other freak, who also struck out a few in his day. Its possible Randy could creep up on Clemens and Maddux, but for now he's third best.
GS IP W/L ERA WHIP SO K/9 CG SHO ERA+The Professor (see photo) deserves to be on this list simply because he doesn't possess a dominating pitch like the others. One could even argue that nothing Greg Maddux does can be described as dominating, yet that is exactly what he has done for a very long time.
Has eight All-Star appearances and four (consecutive) Cy Young awards. Led the league in ERA four times and finished in the top 10 eleven times. Won 20 games twice, and also won 15 or more games an unprecedented sixteen (and counting) consecutive years. Has thirteen consecutive gold gloves, something no one else on this list has even one of. Incredibly durable over his career and finished in the top 10 in innings pitched in fifteen of his seventeen full seasons. Led the Atlanta Braves to the postseason ten straight years and owns a Greg Maddux-like 3.22 ERA in 190 postseason innings, though is only 11-14.
Maddux's two best years in 1994 & 1995 could be the best two year stretch of pitching in the history of the game. The only other competition would be Pedro's 1999 & 2000 and Walter Johnson's 1912 & 1913 seasons. Maddux's peak performance in the mid-90s was good enough to get him on this list, but over his career he has been remarkable in his consistency. For both career and peak value, Maddux surpasses Randy Johnson, but how does he compare to Roger Clemens?
GS IP W/L ERA WHIP SO K/9 CG SHO ERA+Clemens has won a record six Cy Young awards, and is the only player in history to win one in three different decades. He also won the pitching triple crown in 1997 & 1998 along with an MVP in 1986. He's pitched in nine All-Star games, and looks to be making the 2004 squad as well. Led the league in ERA six times and finished in the top 10 twelve times. Led the league in strikeouts five times and in the top 10 sixteen times. Pitched very well in the playoffs, 8-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 155 2/3 innings.
Clemens is a little bit strange in that he never really had a traditional career peak, he was just really damn good for a really long time. This is probablly a direct result of his legendary work-outs, and his religious commitment to keep himself in great shape. Even without a peak as high as Maddux, Clemens has been a better pitcher, if only slightly. Its possible that if Maddux plays out the length of his contract, and Clemens "retires" after this year (looks unlikely at this point) that Maddux could pass him. Pitching in the AL for almost all of his career means the ERA difference is negligible. The strikeouts, the wins, and the extra innings give Clemens a tiny advantage but its very, very close.
Clemens has won 20 games six times, and 317 games in his career. If he keeps up his current hot start, he could conceivably get to 330 career wins. If he does, he would have passed Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, and Steve Carlton on the all-time wins list this year alone. At that point, Clemens would be 9th all-time, and Warren Spahn, with 363, would be the only pitcher ahead of him that pitched after the 1920s.
Clemens is the best pitcher of this generation, and one might even be able to make a case for him as the best of all time. That's a story for another day.