Dodgers Dugout: Who are the eight greatest right-handed starters 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, right-handed starting pitchers
I called an audible and separated the starting pitchers into left-handed and right-handed. It makes the voting a little easier, plus you don’t have to wade through a list of 30 starting pitchers. I don’t want this to be a chore, it’s supposed to be fun.
The ground rules for how pitchers made the selection list:
First, we are counting only what a pitcher 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.
Third, the pitcher had to start at least 150 games with the Dodgers.
Finally, you can vote for eight right-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 19 right-handed starters who meet the criteria for the Dodgers.
Let’s look at them using three statistics: 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 over 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 you how many base runners they allowed per inning). Those three stats don’t give a complete picture, but it should give an overall sense of the value of each player. I encourage you to do further research on each player if you are unsure.
Dazzy Vance, 129
Jeff Pfeffer, 125
Don Drysdale, 121
Orel Hershiser, 116
Don Newcombe, 116
Ismael Valdez, 115
Bob Welch, 114
Van Lingle Mungo, 114
Burt Hooton, 113
Don Sutton, 110
Chad Billingsley, 110
Ramon Martinez, 109
Chan Ho Park, 108
Ralph Branca, 107
Bill Singer, 106
Tom Candiotti, 106
Burleigh Grimes, 105
Hideo Nomo, 104
Carl Erskine, 101
Dazzy Vance, 61.9
Don Drysdale, 61.4
Don Sutton, 50.6
Orel Hershiser, 39.8
Jeff Pfeffer, 32.7
Bob Welch, 32.7
Burleigh Grimes, 28.4
Van Lingle Mungo, 27.3
Burt Hooton, 26.2
Ramon Martinez, 25.9
Don Newcombe, 22.7
Ismael Valdez, 19.1
Chan Ho Park, 18.3
Chad Billingsley, 17.3
Carl Erskine, 16.6
Ralph Branca, 16.5
Hideo Nomo, 15.2
Tom Candiotti, 14.6
Bill Singer, 12.8
Don Sutton, 1.123
Jeff Pfeffer, 1.134
Don Drysdale, 1.148
Bill Singer, 1.167
Burt Hooton, 1.181
Don Newcombe, 1.191
Bob Welch, 1.206
Orel Hershiser, 1.212
Dazzy Vance, 1.212
Ismael Valdez, 1.235
Tom Candiotti, 1.273
Hideo Nomo, 1.279
Ramon Martinez, 1.283
Chan Ho Park, 1.324
Carl Erskine, 1.328
Van Lingle Mungo, 1.331
Ralph Branca, 1.353
Burleigh Grimes, 1.357
Chad Billingsley, 1.361
A closer look at the players (statistics are with Dodgers only):
Chad Billingsley (2006-13, 81-61, 3.65 ERA): He last pitched for the Dodgers only six years ago, but it’s hard to remember anything specific about Billingsley, isn’t it? His last couple of seasons were ruined by injuries, but he was a serviceable pitcher before that. He went 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA in 2008, his best season. At last report, he was the baseball coach at Conrad Weiser High in Pennsylvania.
Ralph Branca (1944-53, 1956, 80-58, 3.70 ERA): It’s a shame Branca is remembered for giving up the infamous homer to Bobby Thomson in 1951, because he was a good pitcher. He was a three-time all-star who went 21-12 with a 2.67 ERA in 1947 and twice received MVP votes. Branca always smiled and told the story of the home run at autograph shows and other appearances, many of them with Thomson by his side, all the while knowing the Giants had cheated and Thomson knew what pitch was coming. But Branca never complained publicly until Joshua Prager’s article detailing how the Giants stole signs was published in the Wall Street Journal in 2001. Branca died in 2016 at age 90.
Tom Candiotti (1992-97, 52-64, 3.57 ERA): Candiotti was a knuckleballer who pitched better than his record. From 1992-96, his ERA was fourth best in the NL among pitchers with 900 innings, trailing only Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. He also appeared in the Roger Maris-Mickey Mantle movie “61*” as knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm.
Don Drysdale (1956-69, 209-166, 2.95 ERA): I don’t think there’s much I can write about Don Drysdale you don’t already know, and with all due respect, if you don’t think he’s easily one of the top eight right-handers then you probably shouldn’t be voting. Instead, I am going to share a personal story. I was about 10 or 11 years old, and my older brother is a big Angels fan. At the time, Drysdale was broadcasting Angels games with Dick Enberg. Even though I was young, I knew who Drysdale was and that he was one of the greatest pitchers in Dodgers history. My brother liked to get to games when batting practice began, and we frequently were some of the few people there that early, before the stadium gates even opened. One day we were waiting near the media entrance and we see Drysdale walking our way in the distance. I was thrilled. My brother gave me paper and a pen and told me to go ask for his autograph. I was painfully shy when I was little (still am, actually) and was scared. I finally got up the courage and ran up to him. I didn’t even remember what I was asking for. I may not have said anything. He took the paper and pen and signed. I was so excited, I ran off to show my brother, but forgot to say thank you. As I was running away, I heard Drysdale shout out to me, “Don’t say thanks, you little punk!” And he was absolutely correct. I should have said thanks. But it sure gave me a great story.
Carl Erskine (1948-59, 122-78, 4.00 ERA): “Oisk” is what he was called, and “Oisk” was known for his big overhand curve. But what I love about Erskine is the fact he became a staunch supporter of Jackie Robinson from the day Erskine joined the team as a rookie in 1948, one year after Robinson broke the color barrier. As Erskine relates in “The Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn: “One Negro boy grew up in my neighborhood, Johnny Wilson. We played grade school basketball together; he made all-state in high school and went on to the Harlem Globetrotters. He’s a high school coach today. Jumpin’ Johnny Wilson ate maybe as many meals at my home as he did at his own. With a background like that, the Robinson experience simply was no problem. It was really beautiful in a way.” At one point during the 1948 season, Erskine left the clubhouse after a game to talk to Rachel Robinson and Jackie Robinson Jr. Fans filed by and stared at this white man talking to these two non-whites. Some didn’t care. Some were taken aback. Some shook their head. The next day, Jackie came up to Erskine and thanked him for talking to his family in the open, which was quite a thing for a rookie to do in those days. He said, “You know, you stopped out there in front of all those fans and talked with Rachel and little Jack.” Erskine replied, “Hey Jackie, you can congratulate me on a well-pitched game, but not for that.” In 2005, he wrote a book titled “What I learned from Jackie Robinson.” For a great bio of Erskine, read this.
Burleigh Grimes (1918-26, 158-121, 3.46 ERA): Grimes was extremely durable, leading the league in starts twice with the Dodgers and in complete games three times. In 1923, he made 38 starts and completed 33 of them. He threw a spitball. In 1920, the major leagues banned the spitball but allowed pitchers who were currently throwing it to continue to use it until they retired. Grimes retired in 1934, making him the last major-league pitcher to throw a legal spitball. He was a good pitcher for many years, with his best season coming after the Dodgers traded him in 1927. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964 and in 1985 died of cancer at age 92.
Orel Hershiser (1983-94, 2000, 135-107, 3.12 ERA): In all the talk about the amazing 1988 season Hershiser had, people often overlook that he was just as good in 1989. Let’s compare the two seasons.
Category: 1988 / 1989
ERA: 2.26 / 2.31
FIP: 3.18 / 2.77
IP: 267 / 256.2
WHIP: 1.052 / 1.181
K/9IP: 6.0 / 6.2
BB/9IP: 2.5 / 2.7
The biggest difference, of course, was that 1988 was a World Series year, he had the consecutive innings streak and he went 23-8 in 1988 and 15-15 in 1989.
So, 1988 is perceived as a much greater year when both seasons were almost equally great.
Burt Hooton (1975-84, 112-84, 3.14 ERA): Nicknamed “Happy” because of his perpetually dour expression, Hooton was a revelation when the Dodgers acquired him from the Cubs for Eddie Solomon and Geoff Zahn in May 1975. Hooton was 0-2 with an 8.18 ERA at the time, but with the Dodgers, he went 18-7 with a 2.82 ERA. The Dodgers acquired him thanks to the recommendation of Tommy Lasorda. Hooton pitched in the Dominican Republic between the 1974 and 1975 MLB seasons, and Lasorda was his manager then. Realizing that Hooton was out of shape, Lasorda ran him ragged and tinkered with his delivery a bit. By the time the season was over and spring training began, Hooton was exhausted. When he got off to a poor start with the Cubs, Lasorda told Dodgers management that the pitcher was still recovering from all the extra work he put in during the offseason, and that he guaranteed Hooton would be in shape and start pitching better soon. The Dodgers listened, and Hooton became one of their best pitchers for the next several seasons, finishing second in Cy Young voting in 1978 after going 19-10 with a 2.71 ERA.
Ramon Martinez (1988-98, 123-77, 3.45 ERA): Martinez had the misfortune of being the Dodgers’ ace during the 1990s, when the team failed to win a playoff game. He was never truly outstanding, but he did pitch a no-hitter and also struck out 18 batters in a game once. His younger brother, Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, has talked often about how much he learned from Ramon, and when the Dodgers traded Pedro, Ramon said Pedro would end up being a better pitcher that he was. And he was right. Ramon seems to be almost forgotten in Dodgers history, but he deserves to be remembered.
Van Lingle Mungo (1931-41, 102-99, 3.47 ERA): Now that’s a great baseball name, a name Vin Scully would mention at least a couple of times a season. Mungo pitched during a time when starters finished games and then pitched out of the bullpen when needed. In 1934, the first of four straight all-star seasons, Mungo made 38 starts, had 22 complete games, pitched 315.1 innings and went 18-16 with a 3.37 ERA. He also relieved seven times and had three saves. Of course, that takes a toll on an arm and Mungo was effectively finished as a pitcher when he was only 25. In 1985, Mungo died of a heart attack at age 73. You can read a great bio of him here.
Don Newcombe (1949-51, 1954-58, 123-66, 3.51 ERA): Don Newcombe could have been a two-way player if the Dodgers would have let him. In 1956, he went 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 38 games, 36 starts and 268 innings with 15 complete games. At the plate, he hit .234 with six doubles, two homers and 16 RBIs. He won the Cy Young and MVP awards after the season. He was Rookie of the Year in 1949 and was the first player to win all three major baseball awards. He went 20-5 during the Dodgers’ World Series championship season in 1955. That year, he hit .259 with nine doubles, seven homers and 23 RBIs. How good a hitter was Newcombe? He pinch-hit 88 times in his career. In 1962, he signed with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, as a hitter, not as a pitcher. In 81 games, he hit .262 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs. Newcombe struggled with alcoholism for years but has been sober since 1967. He has worked for the Dodgers for years, helping athletes and others across the country in their struggles with sobriety. “What I have done after my baseball career and being able to help people with their lives and getting their lives back on track and they become human beings again means more to me than all the things I did in baseball,” Newcombe said in 2008. Maury Wills, who Newcombe helped deal with his own substance abuse problems, once said, “Don Newcombe saved my life. He was a channel for God’s love for me because he chased me all over Los Angeles trying to help me and I just couldn’t understand that — but he persevered — he wouldn’t give in and my life is wonderful today because of Don Newcombe.” Should Don Newcombe be in the Hall of Fame? If you go strictly by the numbers, no. But if you consider he missed part of his career because of the ban against African American players, and part of his career because he served two years in Korea during the Korean War, and you consider all the baseball players he has helped since retirement, then a strong case can be made for Newcombe.
Hideo Nomo (1995-98, 2002-04, 3.74 ERA): Nomomania was brief, but memorable. With his tornado windup, Nomo captured Dodgers fans in 1995 when he went 13-6 with a 2.54, giving up only 124 hits in 191.1 innings and striking out 236 to lead the league. He won the Rookie of the Year award and finished fourth in Cy Young voting. He had a good 1996 season too, going 16-11 with a 3.19 ERA, finishing fourth in Cy Young voting again. He amazingly pitched a no-hitter in Denver. But it went downhill quickly after that. He was 2-7 with a 5.05 ERA in 1998 when the Dodgers traded him to the New York Mets for pitchers Greg McMichael and Dave Mlicki. The Dodgers brought him back in 2002 as a free agent and he had two good seasons with the team before collapsing once again.
Chan Ho Park (1994-2001, 2008, 84-58, 3.77 ERA): Park never quite lived up to his billing, but he was a solid pitcher. His best year was 2000, when he went 18-10 with a 3.27 ERA. He is probably best remembered for giving up two grand slams in the same inning to the same batter, but the less said about that the better. He had a reputation among fans for being too timid when it came to sending message pitches, but he got the job done and from 1997 to 2001 was one of the Dodgers’ best pitchers.
Jeff Pfeffer (1913-1921, 113-80, 2.31 ERA): Pfeffer has the second-best career ERA among Dodgers starters, minimum 700 innings pitched. And that wasn’t entirely due to the era he pitched in, as his ERA+ is second among pitchers on this ballot. He was a precursor to Drysdale in that he was a big man who liked to throw inside and didn’t mind hitting a batter or two. His best season was 1916, when he went 25-11 with a 1.92 ERA. Almost every season, he held out for more money, causing Dodgers management to get frustrated with him and eventually deal him to St. Louis in 1921.
Bill Singer (1964-72, 69-76, 3.03 ERA): Don’t let the W-L record fool you, “The Singer Throwing Machine” was a good pitcher. He went 20-12 with a 2.34 ERA in 1969, his best season and his only all-star season with L.A. That season he was also the first pitcher in history to be officially credited with a save. After he retired, he had an unfortunate incident when, in 2003, he mocked the Chinese heritage of then-Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng. Singer approached Ng as baseball people gathered in a hotel bar after attending an instructional league game. Here’s the verbal exchange:
Singer: “What are you doing here?”
Ng: “I’m working.”
Singer: “What are you doing here?”
Ng: “I’m working. I’m the Dodger assistant general manager.”
Singer: “Where are you from?”
Ng: “I was born in Indiana and grew up in New York.”
Singer: “Where are you from?”
Ng: “My family’s from China.”
Singer (in a mock Chinese accent): “What country in China?”
Singer later apologized and blamed the incident on a low-carb diet combined with alcohol.
Don Sutton (1966-80, 1988, 233-181, 3.09 ERA): “My mother used to worry about my imaginary friends ’cause I would be out in the yard playing ball,” Sutton said in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1998. “She worried because she didn’t know a Mickey, or a Whitey, or a Yogi, or a Moose, or an Elston, but I played with them every day.” Sutton was an amazingly durable pitcher. You knew he was going to make 30 to 35 starts every season and win 15 to 20 games. While that’s easy to dismiss, not many pitchers in history have been able to do that year after year. Sutton did.
Ismael Valdez (1994-2000, 61-57, 3.48 ERA): Valdez was a good pitcher who seemed to have trouble with his teammates at times. He once got into an argument with manager Bill Russell after he thought Russell was pulling him from a game too early, and he once got into a shoving match with Eric Karros after Karros criticized how he was pitching. What I remember about Valdez is that on days he was not starting, he would sit next to the Dodgers dugout before games and spend time talking to any kids who approached him, signing whatever they wanted and posing for pictures.
Dazzy Vance (1922-32, 1935, 3.17 ERA): Vance was the first true ace the Dodgers had and is still one of the greatest pitchers in their history. He led the league in wins twice, in ERA three times and in strikeouts seven consecutive seasons. He was the first player elected to the Hall of Fame mainly for what he did for the team. Vance’s actual first name was Arthur, but he was called Dazzy because of his dazzling fastball. Before Vance came to the Dodgers, he knocked around from team to team, always spending more time dealing with a bad elbow than pitching. He did not pitch in the majors in the three years before the Dodgers acquired him in a trade. That was because while he had been playing poker, he got frustrated and slammed his hand down on the table, catching his elbow on the edge. The resulting pain was excruciating, and he went to a doctor. According to stories from that time, an operation “cleaned out a lot of debris.” It is believed that knocking his elbow against the table jarred loose a bone spur, which the doctor removed. After Vance recovered, he suddenly had a blazing fastball and no pain. He pitched great for New Orleans in the minors after that. The Dodgers contacted New Orleans, interested in acquiring catcher Hank DeBerry. New Orleans, looking to clear some payroll, demanded they take a pitcher too. The scout for the Dodgers told them to take Vance. And that’s how Vance returned to the majors at age 31 and became a Hall of Famer.
Bob Welch (1978-87, 115-86, 3.14 ERA): Welch first burst onto the scene as a reliever, famously striking out Reggie Jackson in a key at-bat during the 1978 World Series. But he quickly settled in as a starter. He wore his cap the way it is supposed to be worn, with the brim pulled down low. I wore my cap the same way, so I always felt like Welch when I played. He was one of the first active athletes to announce he had an addiction problem when he said he had been battling alcoholism since he was 16. He wrote a great book about it, “Five O’Clock Comes Early,” which is well worth reading. He was traded to Oakland after the 1987 season in a three-team deal that brought Jay Howell, Jesse Orosco and Alfredo Griffin to the Dodgers. Welch was almost unbeatable at Dodger Stadium, but when the A’s faced the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series, Oakland manager Tony LaRussa for some reason had him make his only start in Oakland. It was the only game the A’s won in that Series. In 2014, Welch died at age 57 when he fell in his Seal Beach bathroom and broke his neck.
The 40-man roster so far:
Pee Wee Reese
Feb. 12: Relief pitchers
Feb. 19: Who do you cut?
Feb. 26: Managers
Carl Erskine plays “Georgia on My Mind” on the harmonica. Watch it here.
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