(Editor’s Note: To commemorate the great Sandy Koufax’s 83rd birthday, we decided that December 30 was the perfect day to share a little Dodgers history. Portions of this story are reprinted from a previous post from April 2016)
Surprisingly, amidst the Dodgers’ rich pitching heritage that spans more than 130 years, very few left-handed starting pitchers have experienced any kind of dominating, consistent success. While we found it relatively effortless to list upwards of 40 right-handed elite starters, the undaunted task of naming ten premier southpaw starters was a bit difficult.
Regardless, after hours of contemplation, we were able to form a rough list of a dozen lefty starters who should be considered among the greatest in Dodgers history, and from there, we narrowed the group to just five pitchers. At that point, the most challenging decision remaining was determining which pitcher would fill the first and second ranked spots.
Before we dive headfirst into the top five, let’s take a look at the lefties who didn’t make the list but deserve very honorable mentions.
Doug Rau tallied a 80-58 overall record with a 3.35 ERA during his eight years in Los Angeles. He appeared in a total of 219 games for the Dodgers and logged over 1250 innings of work. Rau is tied for 33rd in Dodgers history with 11 career shutouts, and is tied for 28th for career wins. His 694 strikeouts as a Dodger also rank him tied for 28th.
Rau’s signature season with the Dodgers came in 1976, when he posted a 16-12 record with a 2.57 ERA while notching eight complete games and three shutouts.
In 1947, Elwin Charles Preacher Roe (1916-2008) was acquired in a deal by Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey that saw the Dodgers trade Hal Gregg, Vic Lombardi and Dixie Walker to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Roe, Gene Mauch and Billy Cox.
In six seasons with Brooklyn, Roe tallied a 93-37 record with a 3.43 ERA. He was selected to four consecutive National League All-Star teams from 1949-1952 while with the Dodgers. His 93 career wins as a Dodger rank him 22nd all-time, while his 1277 innings pitched place him 27th in the Dodgers history books.
(PHOTO VIA FLICKR)
Jerry Reuss’ best year in a Dodgers uniform came in 1980, when he posted a 18-6 record with a 2.51 ERA and a 1.016 WHIP. That same year, Reuss led the National League with six shutouts, was selected as a member of the All-Star squad, finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting, and won the MLB Comeback Player of the Year Award.
His 86 wins rank him 25th all-time in Dodgers history, while his 16 shutouts tie him for 19th. Reuss threw a total of 44 complete games as a Dodger.
Tommy John posted a 87-42 record with a 2.97 ERA in his six-year tenure with the Dodgers. In the process, he recorded 649 strikeouts and 37 complete games — 11 of which were shutouts. He ranks 25th in Dodgers history for wins, 20th for overall ERA and 33rd for total number of strikeouts.
His best year wearing a Dodgers uniform came in 1977, when he finished 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA. During that season he registered 11 complete games — three of which were shutouts — while logging over 220 innings of work.
George Nap Rucker (1884-1970) threw his first no-hitter as a Dodger at 25-years of age in 1910, and went on to compile a 17-18 record with a 2.57 ERA. The same year he notched 27 complete games and six shutouts while logging over 320 innings pitched — all of which were the best in the National League.
His benchmark year in Brooklyn came the following season, when he posted a 22-18 record with a 2.71 ERA and five shutouts. Over the course of his career in the franchise, he put together a 134-134 record with a career ERA of 2.42 and a career WHIP of 1.175.
And finally moving on to the top five…
#5 — Johnny Podres
Johnny Podres’ 18-5 record in 1961 seemed to be his best on paper, but his performance during the 1955 campaign proved to be his most valuable. Despite a 9-10 regular season record and only being 22 years old heading into the World Series, Podres was nothing short of a miracle worker in the Dodgers’ run to a world championship.
After the Dodgers lost the first two games to the New York Yankees, Podres pitched a complete-game, seven-hit victory on his birthday in Game 3, propelling the Dodgers to an 8-3 victory. In the climactic Game 7, Podres pitched a 2-0 shutout to bring Brooklyn its only World Series championship in team history, while winning the first-ever World Series MVP award in the process.
Over the course of his 13-year career with the Dodgers, Podres compiled a 136-104 record with a 3.66 ERA. His 1,331 strikeouts rank seventh, while his 136 career wins place him ninth among all Dodgers starting pitchers. He was also selected as an All-Star three times while wearing Dodger Blue.
(PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES)
#4 — Claude Osteen
Claude Osteen’s career as a starter began to blossom during his last season with the Washington Senators, despite primarily being a reliever early in his career. By the end of his first year as a Dodger he became one of the premier left-handed starters in the majors.
Osteen was twice a 20-game winner and three times an All-Star while with Los Angeles. His best year in a Dodgers uniform came in 1969 when he posted a 20-15 record with a 2.66 ERA while notching seven shutouts in 16 complete games. His 321 innings pitched that season were among the league leaders in that category.
Over the course of nine years with the Dodgers, Osteen compiled a 147-126 record with a 3.09 ERA. His 34 career shutouts rank fifth, his 1,162 strikeouts rank 14th, his 2,397 innings pitched rank sixth, and his 147 career wins rank seventh in the Dodgers history books.
(PHOTO CREDIT: HISPOLITICA.COM)
#3 — Fernando Valenzuela
Barely past the age of 18, Fernando Valenzuela spent about a year total between High-A Lodi and Double-A San Antonio before being called up to the Dodgers in 1980 to make a few appearances out of the bullpen.
After his Opening Day performance in 1981, “Fernandomania” officially broke loose. Against the Astros in the first game of the year, the rookie sensation threw a five-hit, complete game shutout, guiding the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory.
Over the course of the strike-shortened season, Valenzuela posted a 13-7 record with a 2.48 ERA. In the process, the 20-year-old was honored with the Rookie of the Year Award, the Cy Young Award and a trip to the All-Star Game. His 25 games started, 11 complete games, eight shutouts, 192 innings pitched and 180 strikeouts were all tops among National League pitchers.
In 1986, Valenzuela became a 20-game winner for the first time after compiling a 21-11 record with a 3.14 ERA and 20 complete games. To top off his career in a Dodger uniform, Valenzuela tossed a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals in June of 1990.
Over the course of his 11-year career with the Dodgers, Valenzuela compiled a 141-116 record with a 3.31 ERA. His 2,348 innings pitched rank ninth, his 1,759 strikeouts rank fifth, his 29 shutouts rank sixth, and his 141 wins rank eighth among all Dodgers starters. While wearing a Dodger uniform, Fernando was selected to a total of six All-Star teams.
(PHOTO CREDIT: ZIMBIO.COM)
#2 — Clayton Kershaw
Yes, I can telepathically hear all the boos and hisses from all the readers as they reach this point in the rankings. In recent years, I almost always say to myself, “This is the year that Kersh overtakes Sandy as not only the best lefty, but as the greatest pitcher in Dodgers’ history.” However, I honestly cannot make that declaration — not yet.
What’s to say about Clayton Kershaw that most don’t already know? He worked his way through the Dodgers’ farm system in just one full season. He won three Cy Young Awards over a four-year period and finished in the Top 3 in voting for five consecutive years. His career 2.39 ERA (the lowest among all starters in the live-ball era with a minimum of 1000 innings) and 1.005 WHIP are better than those of Koufax. He became the first pitcher in history to lead the MLB in ERA for four consecutive years.
CK pitched a no-hitter on June 18, 2014, becoming the 22nd Dodger ever to do so. Off the field, he has been honored with the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award for his humanitarian work. And the list goes on…
(PHOTO CREDIT: AP GRAPHICS BANK)
#1 — Sandy Koufax
After dabbling in writing for almost 30 years, it’s still difficult to put into words the type of impact Sandy Koufax has had not only on myself, but many, many Dodgers fans everywhere, both past and present.
Often referred to as “The Left Arm of God,” Koufax spent his entire 12-year career with the Dodgers. He earned six consecutive trips to the All-Star Game from 1961-1966 and was unanimously voted winner of the Cy Young Award three times — once in 1963 while also winning the league MVP, then again in both 1965 and 1966.
He was a four-time World Series champion, twice named MVP of the World Series, and earned the pitching Triple Crown three times. Koufax has four no-hitters to his credit, one which includes a perfect game on September 9, 1965, against the Chicago Cubs.
Despite having his career cut short due to an arthritic condition in his throwing arm, Koufax is still among the team leaders in a number of statistical categories. His 165 total wins rank fifth, his 2,396 strikeouts rank third, his career ERA of 2.76 ranks ninth, and his 40 shutouts rank third among all starters in Dodgers history.
Although playing in pain the entire season, 1966 could easily be considered the best year of Koufax’s career. In addition to being named the Cy Young Award winner, Koufax posted a 27-9 record with a 1.73 ERA and a .985 WHIP. He led the National League with 41 games started, 27 complete games, five shutouts, 323 innings pitched and 317 strikeouts.
Just days after his 36th birthday in 1972, Koufax was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was the youngest player ever to be enshrined in Cooperstown.