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The Ultimate MLB Team (Pt. 2): Pitching, Pitching, Pitching

No birds were harmed in the creation of this pitching roster

Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In part one of this series—inspired by Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100 book—I put together half of my ultimate all-time MLB squad: nine starters and four bench bats. Now it’s time to select the moundsmen, beginning with this starting rotation:

  • Pedro Martinez (RHP): His stats would be dominant in any era—yet his entire career was in the teeth of the steroid boom. Pedro feared no batter and had the stuff to back it up.
  • Lefty Grove (LHP): Much like Pedro, Grove put up remarkable numbers (300 wins, 3.06 ERA, 148 ERA+) during a predominantly offensive-dominant era (1920s-30s).
Lefty Grove Trophied
Lefty with some hardware
Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
  • Christy Mathewson (RHP): The Dead Ball Era’s premiere hurler—to my mind—who also posted a 0.97 ERA in 101.2 postseason innings (when the competition improved drastically in those days).
  • Randy Johnson (LHP): Five Cy Young Awards (three 2nd-place finishes), almost 5,000 Ks, a devastating slider, and a heater that obliterates avian creatures. Yeah, he’s in my top five.
  • Greg Maddux (RHP): When one spawns a pitching term—The Maddux (CG shutout in <100 pitches)—it indicates something special. Perhaps the best control over a pitch arsenal ever.

Now, on to some of the bullpen specialists...

  • Sandy Koufax (LHP Long Relief): Narrowly losing a rotation spot to The Big Unit, Koufax is available in the pen in the—however unlikely—occurrence of a faulty starter. Perhaps keeping him out of the starting churn allows his cranky arm to reach its full potential.
Dodgers
About to unleash a devastating breaking ball, more than likely
Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images
  • Walter Johnson (RHP Long Relief): Just nipped by Matty, The Big Train needs to be here for his utter era dominance (147 career ERA+, including four times over 200) and basically inventing the fastball as we know it.
  • Aroldis Chapman (LHP Specialist): Need to sit a lefty batter down? Chapman’s 100 MPH-average fastball probably gets the job done.
  • Dennis Eckersley (RHP Specialist): A side-winding menace who at his peak just simply didn’t give up runs (603 ERA+ in 1990).
  • Craig Kimbel (RHP Alternate Closer): His 2010-2018 stretch—333 saves, 212 ERA+, .920 WHIP—was filthy and ensconced him in a closer role when many teams began eschewing that label.
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
He of the iconic arm hang
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Finally, the top-shelf back end of the bullpen...

  • Rich Gossage (Primary RHP Setup): Though his stats aren’t quite as pristine compared to today’s more specialized firemen, it seems as if every batter of the 1970s-80s feared Goose more than anyone else trotting out of the pen.
  • Billy Wagner (Primary LHP Setup): I’ve been beating the “Billy Wags in the Hall of Fame” drum for some time now, as I consider him the best left-handed reliever ever. Besides one injury-shortened season, the back of his baseball card shows no other “bad years” from 1995-2010.
  • Mariano Rivera (Primary Closer): Is any explanation really even necessary? The premiere game-finisher in MLB history. Regular season, postseason—it didn’t matter. Mo just kept throwing his cutter and getting weak-contact outs.
New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins
Locking down one of his 36 career saves against the Twins
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

If the phrase “good pitching beats good hitting” contains any truth at all, this would be a tough arsenal of peggers to make much headway against.