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Clayton Kershaw, Mariano Rivera and the 20 Hardest Active Pitchers to Hit

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw Is the Hardest Pitcher To Hit in Baseball

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw Is the Hardest Pitcher To Hit in Baseball

What makes a great pitcher? ERA is one thing – giving up the fewest runs – but how about giving up the fewest hits in the first place?

These 20 pitchers are the hardest to hit in baseball today – they have given up the fewest hits per nine innings pitched, lifetime.

Lefty Clayton Kershaw, who won the Cy Young award in 2011, is having an even better 2013 (1.80 ERA, 0.851 WHIP, 182 K). Kershaw is also the hardest to hit of all active pitchers – the only one who has given up fewer than seven hits per nine innings over the course of his career.

Mariano Rivera, who has played three times as many years as Kershaw, is second. Amazing. Just over seven hits per nine innings over 19 years.

Some will say “unfair” – Mariano is a reliever, not a real pitcher – not a starting pitcher. Then again, he is the only reliever amongst the top 20. Another impressive feat by the Sandman.

The other 18 pitchers are all pretty impressive, too – the best pitchers of the century so far? Yes.

1. Clayton Kershaw 6.78 Los Angeles Dodgers L
2. Mariano Rivera 7.02 New York Yankees R
3. Matt Cain 7.47 San Francisco Giants R
4. Johan Santana 7.67 New York Mets L
5. Tim Lincecum 7.69 San Francisco Giants R
6. Jake Peavy 7.91 Boston Red Sox R
7. Jered Weaver 7.93 Los Angeles Angels R
8. Justin Verlander 7.94 Detroit Tigers R
9. C.J. Wilson 8.04 Los Angeles Angels L
10. Cole Hamels 8.05 Philadelphia Phillies L
11. Ubaldo Jimenez 8.08 Cleveland Indians R
12. A.J. Burnett 8.19 Pittsburgh Pirates R
13. Felix Hernandez 8.22 Seattle Mariners R
14. Barry Zito 8.27 San Francisco Giants L
15. Ted Lilly 8.29 Los Angeles Dodgers L
16. Oliver Perez 8.30 Seattle Mariners L
17. Yovani Gallardo 8.33 Milwaukee Brewers R
18. Adam Wainwright 8.35 St. Louis Cardinals R
19. CC Sabathia 8.37 New York Yankees L
20. Josh Beckett 8.38 Los Angeles Dodgers R


MLB: Relief Pitchers with the Most Career Blown Saves

The Goose - Hall of Famer, Rich "Goose" Gossage - Has More Blown Saves Than Any Other Reliever

The Goose – Hall of Famer, Rich “Goose” Gossage – Has More Blown Saves Than Any Other Reliever

The very nature of being a reliever, or the closer, puts him at risk of accumulating blown saves. It is hard to be perfect all the time, especially with the game on the line (condensed into one or two innings). And if you’re the closer, you’re the guy. That’s it.

So it happens, if you’re great at saves, chances are you’re at least pretty good at blown saves, too.

This makes Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time, even more remarkable. Not only is he the all-time leader in saves with 627 (as of the date of this post) but he’s only got 74 blown saves (the latest one being the no-out loss to the New York Mets).

So, Rivera just missed today’s list: the top 20 relievers with the most career blown saves.

The role of reliever or “fireman” has changed over the years. Today’s closers usually pitch only one inning at the end of the game, or at most two. Back in the 1970s and 1980s most relievers came in whenever his team was in trouble, and often pitched two, three or even four innings or more.

The closer has become a much more specialized role. As a result, there is less chance of picking up that blown save – he pitches a lot fewer innings per situation than he used to.

That has some to do with why Rich “Goose” Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Jeff Reardon and Lee Smith top the rankings, and many others from those decades populate the list all around.

How about Trevor Hoffman, by the way – second all-time in saves with 601 and just 76 blown saves – mostly with the San Diego Padres! Impressive.

But nobody – nobody – has ever been more impressive from the late inning mound than Mariano.

And that’s it.

1. Goose Gossage 112  310 1,809.1 R
2. Rollie Fingers 109  341 1,701.1 R
3. Jeff Reardon 106  367 1,132.1 R
4. Lee Smith 103  478 1,289.1 R
5. John Franco 101  424 1,245.2 L
5. Bruce Sutter 101  300 1,042.0 R
7. Sparky Lyle 95  238 1,390.1 L
8. Roberto Hernandez 94  326 1,071.1 R
9. Gene Garber 82  218 1,510.0 R
10. Kent Tekulve  81  184 1,436.2 R
10. Gary Lavelle  81  136 1,085.0 L
12. Mike Timlin  80  141 1,204.1 R
13. Doug Jones  78  303 1,128.1 R
14. Jesse Orosco  77  144 1,295.1 L
14. Mike Marshall  77  188 1,386.2 R
14. Rick Aguilera  77  318 1,291.1 R
17. Lindy McDaniel  76  172 2,139.1 R
17. Trevor Hoffman  76  601 1,089.1 R
17. Francisco Cordero  76  329 824.2 R
20. Todd Jones  75  319 1,072.0 R


Mariano Rivera and Major League Baseball’s All-Time ERA Leaders

Ed Walsh, Baseball's All-Time ERA Leader

Ed Walsh, Baseball’s All-Time ERA Leader

Baseball’s dead-ball era really ran from the game’s beginnings up until about 1919/1920, somewhere around when Babe Ruth went amok.

During the dead-ball era, ballplayers just couldn’t lay wood on the ball. Offensive numbers were anemic. “Sluggers” led the league with anywhere from four to, more rarely,  the low twenty-something home runs. Then came the Babe in 1919 with 29 homers and again in 1920 with an unheard of 54. He topped that in 1921 with 59.

In 1922 and 1923, Rogers Hornsby and Cy Williams emerged in the National League with 40-homer years themselves.

The dead-ball era was over.

But why the dead-ball era in the first place, and why did it give way so abruptly?

According to, “ironically given the Deadball name, dead baseballs probably were not the cause of low scoring.”  They list several causes, including spit- and defaced- baseballs, but also the rules of the day and poorly employed offensive strategies.

Anyway, all this talk about hitting and home runs and the dead-ball era in a pitching post: Baseball’s All-Time ERA Leaders. What’s the point? And what does Mariano Rivera have to do with all of this?

Well, 19 of the top 20 lifetime ERA leaders pitched all or most of their careers in the dead-ball era. That makes sense. And it’s Mariano Rivera who is the only modern pitcher on the list. He’s 13th all-time.

Ed Walsh, some say the greatest spitballer to wet the hide, sports the lowest ERA of all. Back then, the spitball was legal – another reason for the dead-ball era. From SABR:

“Not surprisingly, at the time Walsh’s spitball was considered the most effective pitch in baseball. Walsh disguised the pitch by going to his mouth before every delivery, regardless of what he was going to throw. When he did throw the spitter, according to Alfred Spink he moistened a spot on the ball between the seams an inch square.”

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1. Ed Walsh 1.816 R 1904-1917 Chicago White Sox; Boston Braves
2. Addie Joss 1.887 R 1902-1910 Cleveland Bronchos, Naps
3. Jim Devlin 1.896 R 1875-1877 Chicago White Stockings; Louisville Grays
4. Jack Pfiester 2.024 L 1903-1911 Pittsburgh Pirates; Chicago Cubs
5. Smoky Joe Wood 2.033 R 1908-1920 Boston Red Sox; Cleveland Indians
6. Mordecai Brown 2.057 R 1903-1916 St. Louis Cardinals; Chicago Cubs; St. Louis Terriers; Brooklyn Tip-Tops; Chicago Whales
7. Monte Ward 2.099 R 1878-1884 Providence Grays; New York Gothams
8. Christy Mathewson 2.133 R 1900-1916 New York Giants; Cincinnati Reds
8. Al Spalding 2.133 R 1871-1877 Boston Red Stockings; Chicago White Stockings
10. Tommy Bond 2.138 R 1874-1884 Brooklyn Atlantics; Hartford Dark Blues; Boston Red Stockings; Worcester Ruby Legs; Boston Reds; Indianapolis Hoosiers
11. Rube Waddell 2.161 L 1897-1910 Louisville Colonels; Pittsburgh Pirates; Chicago Orphans; Philadelphia Athletics; St. Louis Browns
12. Walter Johnson 2.167 R 1907-1927 Washington Senators
13. Mariano Rivera 2.214 R 1995-current New York Yankees
14. Jake Weimer 2.231 L 1903-1909 Chicago Cubs; Cincinnati Reds; New York Giants
15. Orval Overall 2.233 R 1905-1913 Cincinnati Reds; Chicago Cubs
16. Will White 2.276 R 1877-1886 Boston Red Stockings; Cincinnati Reds; Detroit Wolverines
17. Babe Ruth 2.277 L 1914-1933 Boston Red Sox; New York Yankees
18. Ed Reulbach 2.284 R 1905-1917 Chicago Cubs; Brooklyn Superbas; Brooklyn Robins; Newark Pepper; Boston Braves
19. Jim Scott 2.298 R 1909-1917 Chicago White Sox
20. Reb Russell 2.334 L 1913-1919 Chicago White Sox

– Minimum 1,000 IP

– Date is range over which player pitched in any games. For example, Babe Ruth only pitched five games for the Yankees, between 1920 and 1933.


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