This is the fifth and final article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Cincinnati Reds. In this installment are the right- and left-handed starters, as well as relief pitchers.
Cincinnati Reds fans have been treated to watching an overabundance of quality pitchers over their 142-year history, especially in the right-handed starter category. While only one player on this list has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, all of them have been a part of a championship team, a pennant winner, or a special moment.
The Best Pitchers in Cincinnati Reds History
Honorable Mentions – There might actually be too many pitchers to mention with the Reds. Ken Raffensberger went 89-99 in eight seasons with the Reds (1947-54). Although he led the league with 17 losses in 1951, he also topped the circuit in shutouts three times and sits in fourth place on the franchise list with 25. Aaron Harang spent eight seasons with Cincinnati (2003-10), finishing with a 75-80 record. He led the league with 16 wins, six complete games and 216 strikeouts in 2006, fanned more than 200 batters in a season twice, and currently sits seventh in franchise history with 1,125.
Pete Donohue spent 10 seasons with the Reds (1921-30), winning 20 games three times, including a league-high 20 in 1926. He is tied for tenth on the franchise list in victories (127-110) and is ninth in innings with 1,996 1/3 while leading the league twice in that category. Frank Dwyer had a 133-100 record in eight seasons in Cincinnati (1892-99). He won at least 15 games in seven straight seasons with a high mark of 24-11 in 1896. Dwyer ranks sixth on the all-time franchise list in complete games (188), eighth in wins, and tenth in innings (1,992 2/3).
Charles “Red” Lucas should be on this list for his nickname alone. The “Nashville Narcissus” had a 109-99 record in eight seasons (1926-33) which included seven double-digit win totals. He led the National League in complete games three times and ranks tenth in franchise history with 158. Gary Nolan went 110-67 in 10 seasons with the Reds (1967-73 and 75-77), reaching double figures in wins six times. He struck out 206 batters as a rookie and was selected to his only All-Star team in 1972 after going 15-5 with a 1.99 earned run average. Nolan missed the entire 1974 season after having a calcium spur removed from his throwing shoulder.
Bronson Arroyo went 108-100 in nine seasons with the Reds (2006-13 and 17), reaching double figures in wins six times. “Smokey” was a 2006 All-Star and a 2010 gold glove winner who ranks sixth in team history in strikeouts (1,157) and is tied for seventh in games started (279). Johnny Cueto went 19-9 in 2012 and was an All-Star and runner-up for the Cy Young Award two years later after going 20-9. “Johnny Beisbol” had a 92-63 record in eight seasons with Cincinnati (2008-15), and he ranks eighth in franchise history with 1,115 strikeouts.
Mario Soto was a three-time All-Star who spent his entire 12-year career with the Reds (1977-88). He reached double digits in victories six times, struck out more than 200 batters in a season three times and led the league in complete games twice. Overall, Soto went 100-92 and sits second on the franchise list in strikeouts with 1,449, including a team-record 274 in 1982). Not bad for someone who got no support from his manager, right?
Jose Rijo went 97-51 in 10 seasons with the Reds over two stints (1988-95 and 2001-02). Relying on a plus fastball and slider, Rijo reached double-digits in victories five times, led the league with 227 strikeouts in 1993, and made the All-Star team the following year in a strike-shortened season. His biggest accomplishment was earning MVP honors in the 1990 World Series victory over the Athletics after going 2-0 and giving up just one run in 15 1/3 innings.
However, continued injuries derailed Rijo’s career. He had Tommy John surgery in 1995, then suffered further arm issues that required four more surgeries and kept him out of baseball for five seasons. During this time, his marriage to Rosie, the daughter of Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal suffered as well. Rijo returned for two seasons at the start of the 21st century, but he was not as effective as he was before and retired in 2001. He ranks tied for fourth in franchise history with 1,251 strikeouts.
Will White played three seasons in Cincinnati before the official Reds franchise began play. He went 73-52 in 1879-79 with the National League’s Red Stockings, then led the league in losses with an 18-42 record in 1880 for the Cincinnati Stars, with the club folding at the end of the season. White joined the American Association franchise in its first year, winning 40 games, setting a franchise record with eight shutouts, and posting a 1.54 earned run average, which is the second-best single-season mark in team history (to Harry McCormick‘s 1.52 ERA that same year).
White had the nickname “Whoop-La” because that is what he shouted after his wins. Well, he shouted a lot in 1883, setting franchise records with 43 wins, 65 games started, 64 complete games, and 577 innings in the club’s second season. In five seasons (1882-86), White finished third in team history in complete games (205), sixth in wins (136-69), seventh in ERA (2.51) and tied for eighth in shutouts (23).
The only problem with White’s resume is the era in which he played. During the 1870s and early 1880s, batters could actually tell the pitcher whether they wanted a high or low pitch, the number of balls and strikes for walks and strikeouts varied and the pitcher’s mound (or “box” as it was frequently called) was just 50 feet from home plate. Pitchers had to throw underhand for most of White’s career, with a sidearm delivery allowed in 1882 and overhand finally becoming the norm two years later.
5. Jim Maloney – He spent 11 seasons with Cincinnati (1960-70), going 134-81 and winning 15 or more games six times. He went 20-9 in 1965, his lone All-Star season, and he struck out at least 200 batters four times. Maloney is the all-time franchise leader with 1,592 strikeouts, including 265 in 1963 (when he also won a career-high 23 games). He also ranks second in shutouts (30), seventh in wins, and tenth in games started (258). Maloney is known for throwing three nine-inning no-hitters with the Reds (although he lost one in the tenth inning) and striking out eight straight Braves in a 1963 game to tie the Major League record at the time.
4. Tony Mullane – Like many pitchers in the late 1800s, he was a journeyman, playing with seven teams in his 13-year career. Mullane spent eight of those seasons with Cincinnati (1886-93), going 163-124 with a 3.15 ERA. The Ireland-born pitcher was known by two nicknames, “The Count” and “The Apollo of the Box,” and he was the first ambidextrous pitcher in Major League history. However, he was also underhanded, constantly holding out and even signing contracts for teams in rival leagues in the same season.
Mullane won 20 or more games five times with the Red Stockings, with a career-best 33 in 1886 to go along with 55 complete games, 529 2/3 innings, and 250 strikeouts. He is the all-time franchise leader with 264 complete games, and he also ranks second in wins, fourth in innings (2,599), and sixth in games started (285). His 284 career wins are the fourth most by a player not currently in the Hall of Fame (behind Roger Clemens with 354, Bobby Mathews with 297, and Tommy John with 288).
3. Dolf Luque – The “Pride of Havana” went 154-152 in 12 seasons with the Reds (1918-29). The durable Luque was the lone Cuban success story in the Major Leagues in the first half of the 20th century. He reached double-digit victories 10 times in his run with Cincinnati, but he was a bit inconsistent. He led the league with 23 losses in 1922, then put together an all-time season the following year, using his top-notch curveball to lead the league with a 27-8 mark (tied for the highest single-season win total for the Reds since 1900), a 1.93 earned run average and six shutouts.
Luque ranks second in franchise history in innings (2,668 2/3), third in games started (321), fifth in wins, tied for fifth in shutouts (24), and eighth in games pitched (395) and complete games (183). He came out of the bullpen for two appearances in the 1919 World Series, helping the Reds to beat the “Black Sox” for the championship.
2. Paul Derringer – He was a star for the Reds in the 1930s, going 161-150 in 10 seasons (1933-42). Derringer went from leading the league with 27 losses in 1933 (including 25 with Cincinnati after being traded from St. Louis) to being a four-time 20-game winner. He also had the honor of starting the first night game in Major League history, beating the Phillies on May 24, 1935. “Duke” located his fastball, curve, and occasional knuckleball so well he earned six All-Star selections and led the league with 26 complete games and 307 innings in 1938.
The next two seasons, Derringer helped the Reds reach the World Series. He went 25-7 in 1939 and pitched well in the loss to the Yankees. He went 2-1 against the Tigers the following year as Cincinnati won its first championship since 1919. Derringer ranks second in franchise history in games started (322), third in wins and innings (2,615 1/3), fifth in complete games (189), tied for fifth in shutouts (24), ninth in games pitched (393) and tied for ninth in strikeouts (1,062).
1.William “Bucky” Walters – He was the National League’s best pitcher for the better part of a decade surrounding World War II. Walters was traded from the Phillies to the Reds in 1938, and the following year, he showed why Cincinnati acquired him. He won pitching’s Triple Crown and the MVP award after leading the league with a 27-11 record (tied for the most with the franchise in the modern era), a 2.29 earned run average, and 137 strikeouts (as well as 319 innings, and 31 complete games). The following year, he led the National League with a 22-10 mark, a 2.48 ERA, 305 innings, and 29 complete games, then joined Derringer in winning two games to give the Reds the title.
Walters also led the league with 302 innings and 27 complete games in 1941 topped the circuit with 23 wins in 1944. The sinker specialist is the all-time franchise leader in shutouts (32), and he ranks fourth in wins (160-107, including six seasons with 15 or more) and complete games (195) and fifth in games started (296) and innings (2,355 2/3). Walters passed away due to kidney failure in 1991, one day after his 82nd birthday.
Honorable Mention – “Long Bob” Ewing – He starred for the Reds in the first decade of the 20th century, going 108-103 over eight seasons (1902-09). He used the spitball to reach double figures in wins seven times, and his best year was 1905 when he had a 20-11 record with a 2.51 earned run average. Ewing had a 1.73 ERA two years later but went just 17-19. He ranks seventh in franchise history in complete games (184) and eighth in innings (2,020 1/3).
5. Frank “Noodles” Hahn – He was Ewing’s teammate around the turn of the century, and he amassed a 127-92 record in seven years with Cincinnati (1899-1905). Hahn used his “jump ball” to win at least 15 games in his first six seasons with the Reds, and also tossed a no-hitter against the Phillies in 1900 before an arm injury caused his production to drop off considerably. He earned his nickname as a boy bringing his father his lunch (usually noodle soup) to his job at a piano factory. Hahn ranks second in team history in complete games (209), tied for fifth in shutouts (24), eighth in earned run average (2.52), and tied for tenth in wins.
4. Tom Browning – He spent 11 seasons in Cincinnati (1984-94), posting a 123-99 record and winning at least 10 games in seven straight years. Browing went 20-9 and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1985, becoming the first rookie to win 20 games in 31 years. He made his lone All-Star team in 1991, but his greatest moment came three years prior. On September 16, 1988, Browning waited out a 2 1/2-hour rain delay and stymied the Dodgers 1-0 for the only perfect game in Reds history. In the 1990 playoffs, he went 2-1 and won his only start of the World Series in the sweep of the Athletics. Browning, who ranks fourth in team history with 298 games started, passed away in 2022 at the age of 62.
3. Johnny Vander Meer – Would you rather throw a perfect game or back-to-back no-hitters? The first one is rare, only happening 24 times in Major League history. The second one only occurred once. In 1938, the 23-year-old Vander Meer went 15-10 and earned his first of four All-Star selections. On June 11, he shut down the woeful Boston Bees 3-0. Four days later, there was much fanfare when 1936 Summer Olympics star runner Jesse Owens came to Brooklyn to race against some of the ballplayers. After the game, which was the first night contest in the history of Ebbets Field, there was fanfare for a different reason. The “Dutch Master” had thrown his second straight no-hitter, this one ending in a 6-0 score.
Vander Meer eventually ran his no-hit streak to 21 2/3 innings and also threw three scoreless frames as the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game in his home park of Crosley Field. He had a double-digit win total six times in 11 seasons (1937-43 and 46-49, with two years of military service during World War II in between), and he led the league in strikeouts three straight years from 1941-43. Vander Meer went 116-116, and he sits third on the franchise list in shutouts (29), tied for fourth in strikeouts (1,289), seventh in innings (2,028), and tied for seventh in games started (279). He did not pitch in the 1939 World Series and threw three scoreless innings out of the bullpen during his only outing in the 1940 Fall Classic.
2. Joe Nuxhall – From one record to another totally different one. On June 10, 1944, the Cardinals were beating the Reds 13-0, but any fans who left early missed baseball history. Joe Nuxhall, who was 15 years and 316 days old, became the youngest player to appear in a Major League game. He got the first two outs before coming unraveled, walking five and giving up two hits and allowing five earned runs.
Nuxhall returned to the majors in 1952 and spent 15 of his 16 seasons with the Reds (1944, 52-60 and 62-66). He went from being the youngest in the game’s history to being nicknamed “Ol’ Lefthander” and pitching until age 37. The two-time All-Star had double-digit wins seven times, and he ranks ninth in team history in that category (130-109). Nuxhall also ranks third in strikeouts (1,289), fourth in games pitched (484), sixth in innings (2,169 1/3), ninth in games started (274), and tenth in shutouts (20).
1. Eppa Rixey – After eight inconsistent seasons with the Phillies (including two in which he led the National League in losses), Rixey was traded to the Reds in 1921 for outfielder and future Philadelphia Eagles head coach Alfred “Greasy” Neale. He responded by posting double figures in victories in his first nine seasons, topping the 20-win mark three times. Rixey led the league with a 25-13 record, 38 starts, and 313 1/3 innings in 1922 and he topped the league leaders with four shutouts in 1924. He spent 13 seasons in Cincinnati (1921-33)
Rixey spent 13 seasons in Cincinnati (1921-33), and he is the all-time Reds leader in wins (179-148), games started (357) and innings (2,890 2/3). He also ranks seventh in games pitched (440), tied for eighth in shutouts (23), and ninth in complete games (180). In the offseason, he worked at the insurance agency that his father-in-law, Charles Meyers, founded in 1888. The business was in the Rixey family until 2003 when it was bought out by the Berry Insurance Group. Rixey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1963, but he suffered a heart attack and passed away on February 28 becoming the first player to be elected and pass away before being inducted.
Honorable Mentions – Pedro Borbon Sr. was a stalwart in the bullpen for the “Big Red Machine.” He holds the franchise record with 531 games pitched over 10 seasons (1970-79), and he threw 100 or more innings six times and 99 1/3 in 1978. Borbon has a 62-33 record with a 3.32 earned run average and 76 saves. The two-time champion went 1-1 with three saves in 20 postseason appearances.
Rob Dibble was a key member of the “Nasty Boys” bullpen that was dominant in 1990 and was part of the three-person closer committee that also included Norm Charlton and Randy Myers. Dibble was an All-Star as a setup man on that 1990 club (8-3 with a 1.74 earned run average) and was selected the following year as a closer (a career-high 31 saves). He was named MVP of the NLCS after getting a save and shutting down the Pirates for five innings during the series. In the World Series, he picked up a win in relief and had three scoreless outings against the Athletics. In six seasons with the Reds (1988-93), he went 26-23 and had 88 saves. He missed the 1994 season after having surgery on a torn rotator cuff and never returned to the Reds.
Jeff Brantley pitched just four seasons with Cincinnati, but he went 11-11 with a 2.64 earned run average and 88 saves, including a team record and league-leading 44 in 1996. Following Brantley was Jeff Shaw, who went 14-12 with a 2.31 ERA in three seasons (1996-98). He led the league with 42 saves in 1997 and added 23 more in half a season the following year before being traded to the Dodgers. Raisel Iglesias had an 18-32 record in six seasons with the Reds (2015-2020). “El Ciclon” had 92 saves from 2017-19 and ranks sixth in franchise history with 106.
5. Clay Carroll – He was a two-time All-Star who got the Cy Young award and MVP votes in 1972 after leading the league with 37 saves. In his eight-year Reds career (1968-75), he had a 71-43 record, a 2.73 ERA, and 119 saves (fifth in franchise history) in 486 games pitched (third), while also throwing more than 100 innings four times. “Hawk” went 4-2 with two saves in 22 postseason outings, and he was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.
4. Francisco Cordero – He spent four seasons with the Reds (2008-11), amassing at least 34 in each season with a high of 40 in 2010. Cordero was selected as an All-Star in 2009, and he went 18-18 with a 2.96 earned run average and 150 saves, second most in team history.
3. Danny Graves – The only player of Vietnamese descent in Major League history was born in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Graves is the all-time franchise leader with 182, reaching 25 or more five times with a high of 41 in 2004. He spent nine seasons with the Reds (1997-2005), posting a 39-43 record with a 3.94 ERA in 465 games (fifth in team history. Graves was released in mid-2005 after making upsetting comments and gestures directed at Reds fans.
2. Aroldis Chapman – The Cuban-born lefty spent his first six seasons with the Reds (2010-15), totaling more than 30 saves four straight years and being selected to the All-Star team in each of those years. “The Missile” went 19-20 with a 2.17 ERA and 546 strikeouts in just 319 innings. Chapman ranks fourth in franchise history with 146 saves. He pitched in five postseason games with the Reds and helped the Cubs break their 108-year championship drought in 2016.
1. John Franco – Although he is best known for his time with his hometown Mets, the Brooklyn-born left-hander worked to become one the best closers in the game during his six-year run with Cincinnati (1984-89). Franco was a three-time All-Star who had 30 or more saves three times with the Reds, including a league-leading and career-high 39 in 1988 when he won the Rolaids Relief Man Award (Brantley won the award in 1996 and Shaw won it the following year).
Franco went 42-30 with the Reds, but he was traded to New York the year before Cincinnati won the World Series for Randy Myers, who became a key member of the “Nasty Boys” bullpen crew. Franco ranks third in franchise history in saves (148), sixth in earned run average (2.49), and tied for eighth in games pitched (393).
In the next series, the Cleveland Indians/Guardians.
A look back at the Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox Catchers and Managers
Chicago White Sox First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Chicago White Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago White Sox Outfielders
Chicago White Sox Pitchers
A look back at the Chicago Cubs
A look back at the Boston Red Sox
A look back at the Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers
A look back at the Atlanta Braves
A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks