(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.
25 thoughts on “Ranking the 5 Greatest Lefty Starters in Dodgers History”
Cannot argue with Sandy at #1. Considering the teams he pitched for, I would think Nap Rucker would get a special mention. He was just a .500 pitcher in his entire career which was all spent as a Dodger. But he had 7 consecutive seasons in double figure wins with a team that was really terrible.
What about Carlos Perez?
No problem with your choices. I can remember some heated debates about this issue, but Koufax was the best pitcher I ever saw. If Kershaw was asked to do what Koufax did his career would have ended after 40 starts and 311 innings at age 27.
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I should have read the article better. Rucker is on there. But no Geoff Zahn?
Taylor in 2017. Muncy in 2018. Who do you guys think could be the mysterious Dodger breakout star of 2019. I think it could be Rios!
Rios may have a breakout year in 2019 but I really don’t think it will be for the Dodgers. I don’t see any room on the 25-man for him at this point. On the other hand I could certainly see him included in a deal for Kluber/Castellanos/Realmuto.
I think it will be Will Smith.
I have a feeling about Smith, too.
So I take it that you guys don’t expect Mr. Smith goes to Washington……………………………or Cleveland or Miami or Detroit.
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You are saved Jefe! Dodgers just signed Shane Peterson to a minor league contract with a spring invite……oh by the way, he is a LH hitting outfielder who was with the….you guessed it, Rays last season.
Hah! Of course this is a larger deal than I had expected. But the main thing is we now have a LH hitting outfielder because we were short on those………………………………..oh, wait a minute. I think this must just be another one of those deals which will set up another deal. I’m guessing we trade Joc, Toles, Bellinger and Verdugo for Castellanos at which point we’ll need a lefty outfielder. I just checked Peterson’s stats. Interesting thing is he only seems to appear in the majors in odd numbered years. This is just too good to pass up. Now that you realize my predictive powers Bear, I’m going to be the first to pick Shane Peterson as the 2019 breakout Dodger star.
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Now that we have Shane Peterson, we’re absolutely trading Joc Pederson. Not because we don’t want him any more. Not because someone else wants him. We have to trade him because of the potential spelling confusion. Just think of it, uniforms totally screwed up, problems with room service orders on the road. The confusion would be endless. And then on Family Weekend this year, they’ll mess with us and Joc will become Joc Peterson while Shane becomes Shane Pederson.
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I think Pederson is being traded. Verdugo is our starting right fielder, or centerfielder if we sign Harper, and Peterson is organizational outfield depth. I think Pederson to the Yankees for Stanton is fair considering the salary relief it gives the Yankees so they can sign Harper. Stanton, Bellinger, Verdugo.
Do I believe any of that? Hell no. But it makes little sense to add another left hand hitting outfielder at this point so there has to be a follow up move. It will big. Or, maybe relatively big.
Maybe the next big move will be bringing Scott Van Slyke back from Korea to have Von Scoyoc straighten out his swing mechanics.
Good idea Dennis. After all, Scott did have some power at one time and he is right handed. While we’re at it we can bring back Trayce Thompson also.
I heard that Brett Eibner and Ike Davis started up their own security company this past fall in Southern Texas.
Van Slyke is 6’4” and about 220. That’s relatively big.
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Although I haven’t studied the numbers carefully, I would say from a cursory glance that Shane Peterson is of substantially less value than Bellinger, Verdugo, Pederson, Toles, Kike, CT3, Kemp, Puig and, of course, Harper. If Mr. Peterson appears in a Los Angeles Dodger uniform this year during the regular season or playoffs it won’t be a good thing. Unless my ludicrous prediction of his being the mystery Dodger breakout star this year turns out to be correct. I believe he has been signed for minor league depth. I hope he has been signed for minor league depth. I am confident he has been signed for minor league depth.
There aren’t that many numbers to study Jefe but those that are there add up to AAA depth….. you know, just in case one of our remaining left handed outfielders, after the upcoming trade, strains a quadraplesiac muscle trying to manufacture launch angle. You can’t have too many LH LA LA hitters. (see what I did there?) It should be noted that in 322 ML plate appearances this cat has OPS’d .677, with a meager .359 slg%. If Tampa can’t use him how good can he be? Maybe Van Skyhack can learn him some launch savvy and save his career. He’s 30, so there’s still time. About 30 minutes.
Maybe there will be a move today for tax purposes.
Yes, I see what you did there Scoop. I always like to review your AM posts. It gets the brain in gear, almost better than that first cup of java. Also lovin’ the moniker Van Skyhack. You should copyright that one. For those who may have forgotten, Wednesday is the posting deadline for Kikuchi. If he doesn’t sign with an MLB team, it’s back to Japan. That won’t happen. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Farhan get this prize. He needs to do something, somehow at some point. If not the Giants, I’m pretty sure it will be one of the other West Coast teams (Seattle, SD, Angels or possibly but not too likely the Friedmans).
You are out of luck with Trayce Jefe…or should we call you JeffFAFA like Jeff Dunham? He signed a minor league deal. I had forgotten about Kikuchi. You are right about Farhan. Giants fans are getting restless. It is kind of fun to go read other teams websites sometimes. The panic levels are hilarious.
You have a point there Bear. That second F is definitely redundant. Dunham is a funny guy.
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I have a few of Dunham’s DVD’s. I love Walter and Achmed. Peanut is a little irritating, but still funny, and of course everyone loves Jose Jalapeno. On a stick.
Claude Osteen. Obtained from the Senators in the trade that sent Frank Howard to DC. A lot of people forget that in the 65 World Series with the Twins, Koufax and Drysdale lost games 1 & 2. Osteen won game 3 and lost game 6. Koufax won his last 2 starts to lead the Dodgers to their 4th Championship. Game 7 a shutout on 2 days rest. Hero of that game, Sweet Lou Johnson. Pitchers today are paid a lot more, but do not have close to the workload guys like Koufax, Drysdale and Osteen had.
I played against Claude’s son, Gavin, when I was in high school. He pitched for Annville-Cleona in the LL League. Best pitcher in the area, believe it or not.
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When I was a kid living in Highland Park at a home for kids, Larry and Norm Sherry moved into the new housing built where there used to be a huge canyon. They were 3 and 5 houses from where the home was. When they were getting ready to head to spring training, this would have been 1961, they had a bunch of us kids shagging balls for them down at Arroyo Seco Park. When the home opened it’s rec center, Norm, Larry and Tommy Davis all showed up for the opening. It was so cool. I went to Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach. One of our alumni was Joe Moeller. He pitched batting practice to us when I was playing ball there. When I was in the Army and stationed in El Paso, Norm was managing the Angels AA farm team, the Diablos. He and I talked about the old days a few times. One of his players there was Kurt Russell who was a 2nd base prospect. Good player until he hurt his arm, and that pretty much ended his career.
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