Dodgers Dugout: Who are the five best left-handed starting pitchers in team history?
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and it’s time to continue selecting the all-time 40-man roster for the Dodgers.
The all-time team, left-handed starting pitchers
I called an audible and separated the starting pitchers into left-handed and right-handed. It makes the voting a little more difficult, plus you don’t have to wade through the list of 30 starting pitchers this way. I don’t want this to be a chore, it’s supposed to be fun.
You will select five left-handed starters. The ground rules for how pitchers made this list:
First, we are counting only what they did as a Dodger. Greg Maddux is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but he made only 19 starts with the Dodgers, so he won’t be appearing here.
Second, only games played since 1901 count. My apologies to those who played before then.
Finally, you can vote for five left-handed starters. After the recaps of each pitcher, there will be a link to a site where you can make your selections. With that, let’s get to it. There are 11 left-handed starters who meet the criteria for the Dodgers.
Let’s look at them using three stats: ERA+ (This compares them to the league-average pitcher each season, making it easier for us to do cross-era comparisons; a league-average pitcher will have an ERA+ of 100. Anything above that is above average. The higher the number, the better), WAR (wins above placement, which shows career value with the Dodgers) and WHIP (which tells how many base runners they allowed per inning). Those three stats don’t give a complete picture, but it should give you an overall sense of the value of each player. I encourage you to do further research on each player if you are unsure.
Clayton Kershaw, 159
Sandy Koufax, 131
Preacher Roe, 124
Nap Rucker, 119
Tommy John, 118
Watty Clark, 117
Jerry Reuss, 113
Fernando Valenzuela, 107
Johnny Podres, 107
Claude Osteen, 106
Doug Rau, 106
Clayton Kershaw, 62.1
Sandy Koufax, 53.2
Nap Rucker, 47.4
Fernando Valenzuela, 33.1
Watty Clark, 28.4
Johnny Podres, 27.8
Claude Osteen, 26.4
Preacher Roe, 25.6
Jerry Reuss, 18.4
Tommy John, 15.1
Doug Rau, 12.9
Clayton Kershaw, 1.005
Sandy Koufax, 1.106
Nap Rucker, 1.175
Claude Osteen, 1.217
Jerry Reuss, 1.220
Preacher Roe, 1.222
Tommy John, 1.223
Fernando Valenzuela, 1.283
Watty Clark, 1.285
Doug Rau, 1.298
Johnny Podres, 1.320
A closer look at the players (statistics are with Dodgers only):
Watty Clark (1927-37, 106-88, 3.55 ERA): We start the list with probably the least-familiar pitcher on this ballot. There’s not a lot of biographical information out there about Clark, who pitched well for the Dodgers, winning 20 games in 1932. He had amazing control and is second on the Dodgers’ career list with 1.915 walks per nine innings.
Tommy John (1972-78, 87-42, 2.97 ERA): He had a surgery named after him. What more do you need to know? After an elbow injury shortened his 1974 season and it didn’t seem to be getting any better, John agreed to what was basically experimental surgery. On Sept. 25, 1974, Dr. Frank Jobe took a ligament from John’s right wrist and transplanted it to replace a ruptured ligament in John’s left elbow. “When I went to repair [the ligament],” Jobe said in 1978, “there was nothing left to repair. I had to look elsewhere for a substitute.” John rehabbed relentlessly for the next 18 months and returned to the majors in 1976, again becoming one of the Dodgers’ best pitchers. He finished his career with 288 victories, the most for any post-1900 pitcher not in the Hall of Fame. Of those victories, 164 came after the surgery that bears his name.
Clayton Kershaw (2008-current, 153-69, 2.39 ERA): See Koufax comment.
Sandy Koufax (1955-66, 165-87, 2.76 ERA): There’s nothing I can write about either Kershaw or Koufax that you don’t already know.
Claude Osteen (1965-73, 147-126, 3.09 ERA): Osteen is remembered best for the 1965 World Series, during his first season as a Dodger. Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax had lost Games 1 and 2, which seemed impossible, so the Dodgers turned to Osteen to right the ship against the Minnesota Twins. Osteen pitched a five-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory. Osteen became a valuable pitcher for the team, but unfortunately pitched during a time when the team wasn’t as dominant. He won 20 games twice with the team and made the All-Star team three times. Here’s a good bit of trivia for you: Remember when Pete Rose barreled over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game? That made Claude Osteen the winning pitcher. He was traded to the Houston Astros after the 1973 season for Jim Wynn. He later served as Dodger pitching coach from 1999-2000. He will turn 80 this year and at last report was living in Arlington, Texas.
Johnny Podres (1953-55, 1957-66, 136-104, 3.66 ERA): Podres pitched for four of the Dodgers’ World Series title teams (1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965, though he didn’t pitch in the ’65 World Series) and was MVP of the 1955 World Series, the first title for the Dodgers, when he went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA, good for two complete-game victories over the New York Yankees, including a 2-0 shutout in the decisive Game 7. He was often overlooked on the team, overshadowed by Koufax or Don Newcombe or Drysdale, but he was a key pitcher for the team for 12 years. After his playing days ended, Podres became a pitching coach for a number of years. He died in 2008 at 75.
Doug Rau (1972-79, 80-58, 3.30 ERA): People forget that Rau contributed greatly to the team’s success from 1974-78, when it reached three World Series. He had rotator cuff surgery in 1979, and it effectively ended his career. However, Rau will always have one moment people will remember: When Tommy Lasorda went to remove him from Game 4 of the 1977 World Series, the two men got into a profanity-laced discussion on whether he should come out of the game or not. Lasorda was wearing a microphone for the game. You can listen to it, but make sure there are no children around and if you have a problem with profanity, don’t click on this link.
Jerry Reuss (1979-87, 86-69, 3.11 ERA): Reuss was acquired from Pittsburgh near the start of the 1979 season for Rick Rhoden and soon established himself as one of the Dodgers’ best pitchers. He just missed a perfect game in 1980, with the only runner getting on base because of a Bill Russell throwing error. He went 18-6 with a 2.41 ERA that season and finished second in Cy Young voting to Steve Carlton. He was also a noted prankster who teamed up with Jay Johnstone to give Lasorda fits. He released a book “Bring in the Right-Hander” recently and is very active on Facebook, sharing old photos and stories as well as his love for music. He was also very gracious with me when I interviewed him for my book, so I will always appreciate that.
Preacher Roe (1948-54, 93-37, 3.26 ERA): Acquired from Pittsburgh before the 1948 season along with Billy Cox and Gene Mauch for Hal Gregg, Vic Lombardi and Dixie Walker, Roe had his best seasons with the Dodgers, including going 22-3 with a 3.04 ERA in 1951, the third of four consecutive All-Star seasons. He teamed with Newcombe to form one of the best left-right duos in baseball, but he constantly found heartbreak in the postseason, with his team losing despite Roe pitching well. Arm troubles limited him to 15 games in 1954 and the Dodgers traded him with Cox to Baltimore, but Roe decided to retire instead. Catcher Roy Campanella said that Roe was the best pitcher he ever caught. He ran a grocery store, cleverly named Preacher Roe’s Super Market in West Plains, Mo., after he retired. He died of colon cancer at age 92 in 2008.
Nap Rucker (1907-16, 134-134, 2.42 ERA): Nap Rucker left the majors 103 years ago. That’s amazing when you think about it. He played the game in a different era and a different world. He completed 186 of his 274 starts and also had 14 saves in 62 relief appearances. In 1910, he completed 27 of his 39 starts, and in 1911, he went 22-18 with 33 starts, 15 relieve appearances, 23 complete games and four saves. You may look at his record and think, “What’s the big deal about this guy?,” but he played on some really bad Brooklyn teams. While he was going 22-18 on 1911, the rest of the team was going 42-68. He struck out 16 Cardinals during a game in 1909, a record that stood until 1933. Unfortunately, all that pitching took a toll on his arm, and in his last three seasons he needed a lot of rest between starts to be effective. He pitched only one regular-season game in his final season and retired after pitching in the 1916 World Series. He moved to Roswell, Ga., and became a scout for the Dodgers, discovering future Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance, who will appear on the right-handed portion of the balloting. He ran for mayor in 1934 and won easily and died at age 86 in 1970.
Fernando Valenzuela (1981-90, 141-116, 3.31 ERA): It’s hard to explain to fans today exactly how much Fernando meant to the city, and the excitement he brought to the stadium when he pitched. There may not be a more loved player in Dodgers history, and he brought in a legion of Latino fans to the stadium, fans who remain dedicated to the team to this day. I was attending Carnegie Junior High in Carson when he first started pitching, and every student there, no matter what race they were, was talking about him and several of us would cut school during the playoffs to listen to the Dodgers on the radio.
Who were the two wild cards added to the team?
Here are the results, after receiving 15,692 ballots:
1. Kirk Gibson (named on 29% of ballots)
2. Pedro Guerrero (26.7%)
3. Eric Karros (22.8%)
4. John Roseboro (21.1%)
5. Adrian Gonzalez (18.5%)
6. Steve Yeager (15.7%)
7. Babe Herman (13.1%)
8. Pete Reiser (12.2%)
9. Shawn Green (10.4%)
10. Brett Butler (8.8%)
11. Yasiel Puig (6.9%)
12. Dixie Walker (5.6%)
13. Dolph Camilli (4.2%)
14. Jim Lefebvre (3.3%)
15. Rafael Furcal (1.7%)
The 40-man roster so far:
Pee Wee Reese
Jan. 29: Right-handed starters
Feb. 5: Relief pitchers
Feb. 12: Managers
Still some needs
Dave Roberts said the Dodgers need a right-handed bat to balance out their predominantly left-handed lineup. Speaking before he was the grand marshal of the Kingdom Day parade on Monday, Roberts told our own Jorge Castillo.
“The left-handed hitters that we have, the defense, with the addition of Seager with us, is going to be huge. But now to kind of balance out the lineup with a right-handed bat, probably makes it a little better.”
The Dodgers have been rumored to be among those in the hunt for free-agent outfielder A.J. Pollock. Of course, the Dodgers have been rumored to be among those in the hunt for a lot of people this offseason, and not much has happened yet.
Fernando Valenzuela pitches a no-hitter. Watch it here.
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