MLB History: The 10 Best Starting Pitchers of the 1990s
The ’90s involved a lot of great players, including several dominating starting pitchers who were the best of an era. Even though this decade is more well-known as a time when offense was at its peak, the decade featured some pitchers who we will remember as the best of all time. Here are our 10 best starting pitchers of the 1990s (with a minimum of 180 games started).
10. John Smoltz
The third-best pitcher of the decade for the Atlanta Braves, Smoltz won a single Cy Young award in 1996 — breaking a long streak of a teammate. Over the course of the ’90s, he started 315 games with a 3.32 ERA and 3.26 FIP, and his best season would come in that ’96 campaign when he struck out a league-best 276 batters. Smoltz compiled 39.9 WAR in those 10 years, all of which were as a starting pitcher; he wouldn’t make his famed move to closer until 2001.
9. Mike Mussina
Compiling a 136-66 record in 254 game starts from 1991–99, Mike Mussina pitched his way into the 10 best starting pitchers of the 1990s. Mussina pitched the entire decade in a Baltimore Orioles jersey, with his best season coming in his first full season in the major leagues; in 1992, he started 32 games with eight complete games, four shut-outs, and a 2.54 ERA in 241 innings pitched. Overall, he had a 3.50 ERA and 3.64 FIP in 1,772 innings in the decade, compiling 42 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
8. Kevin Appier
Kevin Appier nearly pitched the entire decade in a Kansas City Royals uniform, before being dealt to the Oakland Athletics in the middle of the 1999 season. He might have been higher up on this list had he continued on in his career like he started in his first few years. From 1990–93, he had a 2.80 ERA and 3.05 FIP. From 1994–99, those numbers rose to a 4.03 ERA and 3.84 FIP. But overall, he still accumulated 47.7 WAR in the ’90s and makes the list as one of the best starting pitchers of the 1990s.
7. Pedro Martinez
Admittedly, Pedro Martinez would be higher on this list if he had pitched more frequently in the ’90s. He certainly had a dominant stretch of time, transforming into the best pitcher in baseball from 1997–99. After winning his first Cy Young award and posting a 1.90 ERA in ’97 with the Montreal Expos, the team dealt him to the Boston Red Sox for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. He went on to win the Cy Young again in 1998, finish second in 1999, and then win again in 2000, which we don’t count because it’s outside of the decade in question. Pedro posted 40.3 WAR in total over the course of the decade.
6. Tom Glavine
Only the second-best pitcher of the decade for the Braves, but still one of the best in the game. Tom Glavine had a 3.21 ERA and 3.59 FIP over the course of the decade, winning two Cy Young awards and helping lead the Braves to win the World Series in 1995. He led the league in wins — not really the most important pitching stat — four times in the decade and compiled 45 WAR.
5. Kevin Brown
Prior to 1996, you wouldn’t have imagined Kevin Brown ending up on this list. But Brown was one of the very best starting pitchers of the 1990s — the decade’s final five seasons at least. He led the league in ERA in ’96 at 1.89, coming in second in the NL Cy Young race. He won a World Series as the ace of the staff with the Florida Marlins in 1997, before being traded away to the San Diego Padres. Then he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he continued his run as one of the best in the game. Overall, he had 48.2 WAR.
4. David Cone
Starting the decade with the New York Mets, David Cone moved on to the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, back to the Blue Jays, and then to the New York Yankees. His best season came in 1994, when he won the Cy Young award in the American League with the Royals. He posted a 2.94 ERA in 23 games started that year — shortened due to the strike — and won 16 games. Cone compiled a 3.21 ERA, 3.44 FIP, and 52.9 WAR.
3. Randy Johnson
Spending the majority of the decade with the Seattle Mariners, left-hander Randy Johnson absolutely dominated toward the end of the ’90s. His best season came in 1995, the first year he won a Cy Young award, in which he lead the league in both ERA (2.48) and FIP (2.08). He also won another Cy Young in 1999 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which was the first of four consecutive he won. In total, Johnson had a 3.14 ERA in 290 games started with 52.6 WAR.
2. Roger Clemens
It was close with the top two, but Clemens comes in second here. He began the decade with the Boston Red Sox, moved on briefly to the Blue Jays, and then headed to the Yankees for the final season of the decade. All in all, Clemens’ ERA for the ’90s was 3.02, with a 3.03 FIP. His best season came in 1990 when he posted a 1.93 ERA, leading the league and actually coming in second in the Cy Young. He did, however, win the award three times in the decade and compiled a league-best 68.5 WAR.
1. Greg Maddux
Greg Maddux is unequivocally the best starting pitcher of the 1990s. He pitched for both the Chicago Cubs and the Braves in the decade, winning four consecutive Cy Young awards from 1992–95. Like Glavine and Smoltz, he was a huge part of the Braves winning the World Series in 1995, allowing just five earned runs in 24 innings pitched in the NLCS and World Series. Maddux posted 65.2 WAR in the decade and a 2.54 ERA over 331 games started.
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