MLB Top 5: Chicago White Sox Pitchers

This is the fifth and final article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Chicago White Sox. In this installment are right- and left-handed starters as well as relief pitchers. 

The Chicago White Sox have had quite a depth of starting pitchers through the years. From the early era, including the three World Series appearances and one of baseball’s lowest moments, to the lean years, with multiple long-term playoff droughts, to the modern era and a rise back to the top in 2005, the one thing the South Siders haven’t lacked is quality pitching.

The Best Pitchers in Chicago White Sox History

Right-Handed Starting Pitchers

Honorable Mentions – Roy Patterson started off strong in the early years of the franchise, winning 54 games in his first three seasons, including a 20-15 mark as a rookie in 1901. He started coming out of the bullpen more and finished with an 81-72 record and a 2.75 record in seven seasons (1901-07). Patterson did not pitch in the 1906 World Series.

Dickey Kerr was the lone bright spot as a starter for the “Black Sox” in the 1919 World Series. While his rotation-mates Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams were in on the fix, Kerr single-handedly kept his team in the series, winning Games 3 and 6 and posting a 1.42 ERA (he was also scheduled to pitch in the deciding game had Chicago gotten there). He had three fantastic seasons, going 53-33 from 1919-21, including a 21-9 mark in 1920. He was out of the majors for three years due to a contract dispute, holdout, and suspension (because … Charles Comiskey) and returned to pitch 12 games in 1925 but lost his only decision.

Jim Scott spent nine seasons in Chicago (1909-17), going 107-114. He won 20 games twice, in 1913, when he had a 1.90 ERA and a career-high 158 strikeouts but also led the league with 21 losses. In 1915, he went 24-11 with a 2.03 earned run average and a league-leading seven shutouts. “Death Valley Jim” (nicknamed for his mistaken offseason home) tied for fifth in franchise history with a 2.30 ERA, and he also ranks seventh in shutouts (27), ninth in complete games (123), and tenth in innings (1,892). Scott did not pitch in the 1917 World Series.

Joe Horlen was nicknamed “Hard Luck” due to the team’s lack of run support during his starts. He had a 3.11 ERA during his 11 seasons with the White Sox (1961-71), but only had a 113-113 record. Horlen’s best season was 1967 when he was an All-Star after going 19-7 and leading the league with a 2.06 ERA and six shutouts. He ranks eighth on the franchise list in games started (284) and ninth in both wins and innings (1,918).

Richard Dotson spent ten seasons with Chicago in two stints (1979-87 and 89), amassing a 111-113 record. He was an All-Star in 1984 when he had a 14-15 record, but his best season was the one prior when he set career highs with a 22-7 record, a 3.23 ERA, and 137 strikeouts. Dotson ranks tenth in team history with 250 games started. He lost his only postseason start after giving up six runs in five innings against the Orioles in the 1983 ALCS.

Jack McDowell – After a lackluster season in 1988, he returned to the minors for a year. When he returned to the big leagues, he won 83 games over the next five seasons and was selected to the All-Star Game three times. “Black Jack” finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1992, when he went 20-10 with a 3.18 earned run average and 178 strikeouts. The following year, he won the award after leading the league with a 22-10 record and four shutouts. After a down year in 1994, he was traded to the Yankees. In seven seasons with Chicago (1987-88 and 90-94), he went 91-58 with a 3.58 ERA and 918 strikeouts in 1,343 2/3 innings.

5. Frank Smith – He joined the White Sox in time to help them win their first championship. Smith amassed a 108-80 record in seven seasons (1904-10), which includes two seasons with at least 20 wins. He won 23 games in 1907, but his best total came two years later, when he went 25-17 with a 1.80 ERA and league-leading totals of 40 games started, 37 complete games, 177 strikeouts, and 365 innings.

Nicknamed “Piano Mover” after boasting he could carry one, Smith ranks third in team history in ERA (2.18), seventh in complete games (156), eighth in shutouts (25), and tenth in wins. He only pitched in 20 games in the 1906 championship season while he perfected his use of the spitball and did not appear in the World Series. Smith is one of 35 pitchers in Major League history to throw multiple complete-game no-hitters. He shut down the Tigers in September 1905 and the Athletics a little more than three years later.

4. Eddie Cicotte – No matter his ties to the “Black Sox” Scandal, he was one of the greatest pitchers of his era and possibly could have gotten some Hall of Fame consideration had his choices been different. Instead, he lost his first two starts in the 1919 World Series (although the second one had some pretty poor fielding by the other “fixers’ behind him) before getting fed up with the gamblers’ lack of payment and winning in Game 7.

“Knuckles” (known for the pitch, which he is said to have used 75 percent of the time) went 18-11 with a 1.58 earned run average in his first full season with the White Sox in 1913, and he won 20 games in three of his final four seasons. During Chicago’s title campaign in 1917, he led the league with a 28-12 record, a 1.53 ERA, and 346 2/3 innings, and he set a career-best with 150 strikeouts.

After leading the league with 19 losses the following season, Cicotte returned to form in 1919, leading the American League with a 29-6 mark to go along with a 1.82 ERA. His overall numbers dropped the year after the scandal, but he still went 21-10 in 1920 before getting his lifetime ban. In nine seasons with the White Sox (1912-20), Cicotte ranks fourth in franchise history in ERA (2.25), fifth in shutouts (28), tied for fifth in complete games (183), eighth in wins (156-101) and innings (2,322 1/3) and ninth in games started (258).

3. Urban “Red” Faber – He spent his entire 20-year career with the White Sox (1914-33), winning at least 20 games four times, including three straight years from 1920-22. Faber went 3-1 against the Giants during the 1917 World Series and did not pitch in the problematic series two years later (he only pitched 36 games in 1918-19 due to Navy service in World War I and illness when he returned home).

During his long career, he led the American League in ERA twice and completed games twice. His best year was 1922 when he posted a 21-17 record and league-leading marks of 352 innings, 31 complete games, and a 2.81 earned run average. Faber is the club’s all-time leader with 669 games pitched, and he ranks second in wins (254-213), games started (483), complete games (273), and innings (4,086 2/3), third in strikeouts (1,471) and fourth in shutouts (29). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1964.

2. Ted Lyons – Like Faber, he had a long career spent entirely with the White Sox. He called Chicago his place of employment for 21 seasons (1923-42 and ’46) and returned after missing three years while serving in World War II. He led the league in wins, innings, and complete games two times each and won at least 15 games six times. Although he wasn’t a high strikeout pitcher (he didn’t come close to 100 in a season), Lyons used his control to get fool opposing hitters. His best season was 1927 when he had a 2.84 ERA and led the league with a 22-14 record, 307 2/3 innings, and 30 complete games.

The 1939 All-Star is the all-time franchise leader in wins (260-230), games started (484), complete games (356), and innings (4,161), and also ranks second in games pitched (594), sixth in shutouts (27) and ninth in strikeouts (1,073). “Sunday Teddy” (nicknamed because he only started once a week for most of his career, usually on Sunday) was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

1. Ed Walsh – While he doesn’t have the win totals of the previous two pitchers, he was much more dominant during his 13 seasons in Chicago (1904-16). “Big Ed” won 15 or more games in seven straight seasons, with four seasons of 20 or more and a franchise-record 40 in 1908 (he is the last pitcher in Major League history to win that many in a season). That season was otherworldly by today’s standards. Walsh had a 1.42 ERA and lead the league in wins (40-15), games started (49), complete games (42), shutouts (11), saves (six), innings (464), and strikeouts (269), with each of those totals other than ERA also being a career-best mark.

In addition to the wins, Walsh also set single-season team records in complete games, shutouts, and innings. Joe Horlen was nicknamed “Hard Luck,” but that was Walsh in 1910. That season, he set a franchise record with a 1.28 ERA and struck out 258 batters, but he also went 18-20, with his loss total leading the American League.

Walsh pitched less and less during his final four seasons with the White Sox due to a “misplaced tendon” in his right shoulder, and he went to the Braves for his final year in 1917. He had three seasons with an ERA below 1.50 and his career mark of 1.82 is the lowest in Major League history among qualified pitchers. Walsh also holds the all-time franchise record in shutouts (57), and he ranks second in strikeouts (1,732, which includes four seasons with at least 250), third in wins (195-126), innings (2,946 1/3) and complete games (249), fifth in games started (312) and sixth in games pitched (426). He went 2-0 to help the “Hitless Wonders” win the 1906 World Series. Walsh was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the Old Timers ballot in 1946.

Left-Handed Starting Pitchers

Honorable Mentions – Claude “Lefty” Williams played his part in the “Black Sox” Scandal because it wasn’t obvious that he would be a choice to throw the series. He was 26 and coming off what would be his best season, which included a 23-11 record and a 2.64 earned run average. However, he was very effective at being ineffective in the World Series. He lost all three of his starts (including the final game after he and his wife allegedly received a death threat in their hotel room) and gave up 12 runs in 16 1/3 innings. Williams followed that up with a 22-14 record and a career-high 128 strikeouts in 1920, but he soon found himself banned from baseball along with eight of his teammates. In five seasons (1916-20), he went 81-44 with a 3.09 ERA.

Ewell “Reb” Russell played seven seasons with the White Sox (1913-19). He was there just before the “Black Sox” Scandal but was ineffective in his only appearance in 1919 and released. He went back to the minors and converted to the outfield but never returned to the major leagues. He won 22 games with a 1.90 earned run average as a rookie and added 18 more wins in 1916 and 15 the following year. Russell went 80-59 overall, and he ranks seventh in team history with a 2.33 ERA and is tied for ninth with 24 shutouts. He started one game in the 1917 World Series and gave up two runs without retiring a batter.

Thornton Lee was a two-time All-Star who went 104-104 with a 3.33 ERA and 142 complete games (which ranks eighth in team history). The best of his 11 seasons with Chicago (1937-47) was 1941 when he was selected to his first All-Star Game after posting career highs with a 22-11 record, a 2.37 ERA, 30 complete games, 130 strikeouts, and 300 1/3 innings (the ERA and complete games both led the league). After his numbers started to decline, Lee went to the Giants for one final season in 1948.

After making minimal appearances in his first four seasons, Gary Peters burst onto the scene in 1963, going 19-8 with 189 strikeouts and a league-leading 2.33 earned run average and winning the Rooke of the Year award. The following year, he earned his first of two All-Star selections with a league-best 20-8 record to go along with a 2.50 ERA and 205 strikeouts. He also led the American League with a 1.98 ERA in 1966 and was an All-Star again the following year. In 11 seasons with the White Sox (1959-69), Peters went 91-78 with a 2.92 ERA and 1,098 strikeouts, which ranks eighth in franchise history.

Just above him on that list is John Danks, who had 1,102 strikeouts in a ten-year career (2007-16) spent entirely with the White Sox. Danks had a 79-104 overall record and won his only career postseason start against the Rays in the 2008 Division Series.

5. Chris Sale – His dominant fastball helped him become a five-time All-Star selection during his seven seasons with the White Sox (2010-16). Sale reached double-digits in wins five times with a high of 17, which he attained twice. However, his forte was striking out hitters, which he did better than anyone during his prime. “The Condor” struck out at least 200 batters four times with Chicago and his overall rate of 11.1 per nine innings is the best in Major League history among qualified pitchers.

His total of 1,244 ranks sixth in team history, and he also holds the single-season franchise mark of 274 in 2015 (a total that also led the American League). Sale was traded to the Red Sox in 2016 in the deal that brought Yoan Moncada to Chicago. Sale has been dominant for Boston as well, but he has had trouble staying on the field due to multiple injuries.

4. Guy “Doc” White – He spent 11 of his 13 seasons with the White Sox (1903-13) and went 1-1 with a save to help beat the crosstown rival Cubs in the 1906 World Series. White won 15 or more games seven times with Chicago, including six in a row from 1903-08. He went 18-6 with a league-leading 1.52 earned run average in 1907 and followed that with an AL-best 27-13 mark and a 2.26 ERA. Overall, White ranks second in franchise history in shutouts (42), fourth in complete games (206), tied for fifth in ERA (2.30), sixth in games started (301) and innings (2,498 1/3), seventh in wins (159-123) and tenth in games pitched (360) and strikeouts (1,067).

3. Mark Buehrle – He spent 12 of his 16 seasons with the White Sox (2000-11) and reached double-digits in victories 11 times. Buehrle was a four-time All-Star and three-time gold glove winner, but he is best known for being one of 35 pitchers in baseball history to throw multiple no-hitters. He shut down the Rangers in April 2007 and threw the 20th perfect game in Major League history in a 5-0 victory against the Rays on July 23, 2009. Buehrle was named to his first All-Star team in 2002 when he had a career-best 19-12 record.

Overall, he ranks fourth in team history in games started (365), fifth in strikeouts (1,396), sixth in wins (161-119), seventh in innings (2,476 2/3), and eighth in games pitched (390). Buehrle went 2-1 in six career postseason appearances, and he picked up a save in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series, which the White Sox won over the Astros 7-5 in 14 innings.

2. Wilbur Wood – He was a three-time All-Star during his 12 seasons with Chicago (1967-78), and he won at least 20 games in four straight campaigns. He had career-bests with a 1.91 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 1971. The following year, he finished second in the Cy Young voting after posting league-highs with a 24-17 record, 49 starts, and 376 2/3 innings to go along with a 2.51 earned run average and 193 strikeouts. Wood led the American League in games started four times, games pitched three times (including a franchise record 88 games in 1968), wins twice, and innings twice. Overall, he ranks third in games pitched (578), fifth in wins (163-148) and innings (2,524 1/3), seventh in games started (286), and tied for ninth in shutouts (24).

1. Billy Pierce – He spent 13 seasons with the White Sox (1949-61) and helped the team get back to respectability in the 1950s. Walter William Pierce was a seven-time All-Star who was selected to start for the American League in the Midsummer Classic three times. He won at least 15 games seven times with Chicago, including back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1956-57.

After leading the league with 14 losses in 1951, Pierce topped the A.L. in some more positive categories. He earned his first All-Star nod in 1953 when he went 18-12 with a 2.72 earned run average and a league-high 186 strikeouts. Wood posted a league-best 1.97 ERA in 1955, and he also led the league in complete games three times.

One of those seasons with 1957, when he completed 16 games and led the American League with a 20-12 record. Pierce is the all-time franchise leader in strikeouts (1,796), and he also ranks third in games started (391) and shutouts (35), fourth in wins (186-152) and innings (2,931), fifth in games pitched (456) and tied for fifth in complete games (183). He came out of the bullpen for three scoreless relief appearances in the 1959 World Series, in which the White Sox fell to the Dodgers.

Relief Pitchers

Honorable Mentions – Addison Reed started his career with three seasons in Chicago (2011-13). After a brief call-up his first year, he had 29 saves in 2012 and 40 in the following campaign. Despite 69 saves with the White Sox, Reed was a bit unpredictable, going 8-6 with a 4.17 earned run average in 136 games.

Matt Thornton spent eight seasons in Chicago (2006-13), arriving just after the team’s championship factory. He was a solid setup man, and he was selected to his lone All-Star team in 2010 when he had a 2.67 ERA and struck out 81 batters in 60 2/3 innings (for a career-best 12 batters per nine innings). “Thorny” went 31-35 with a 3.28 ERA and 486 strikeouts in 463 1/3 innings. He ranks fourth in team history with 512 games pitched. Thornton appeared in three games against the Rays in the 2008 American League Division Series.

5. Keith Foulke – He spent six seasons in Chicago (1997-2002), going 18-19 with 100 saves (fourth in team history), a 2.87 ERA, and 425 strikeouts in 446 innings. Foulke had 34 saves in 2000 and 42 the following year, but his best season was in 2003 with Oakland, when he earned his only All-Star selection after posting a league-best and career-high 43 saves. He went 0-1 in two appearances against the Mariners in the 2000 Division Series.

4. Bobby Jenks – He was with the White Sox for six of his seven big league seasons (2005-10) and had at least 25 saves five times. Jenks grew into the closer role late in his rookie season and earned four saves in the 2005 postseason, including two in the World Series sweep of the Astros. He went to the All-Star Game in each of the next two seasons after posting back-to-back 40-save campaigns. Overall, he went 14-18, and his 173 saves rank second in team history. However, he was inconsistent, posting a 3.40 ERA with Chicago and reaching the 4.00 mark twice. Jenks struck out 334 batters in 341 2/3 innings.

3. Roberto Hernandez – He played for 10 teams in his 17-year career, beginning with the White Sox for seven seasons (1991-97). His best season was his All-Star campaign in 1996 when he went 6-5 with a 1.91 earned run average, 38 saves, and 85 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings. Hernandez saved at least 30 games three times and totaled 161 with Chicago, which ranks third in team history. He went 29-24 with a 2.87 ERA and 411 strikeouts in 404 2/3 innings.

Like Reed and Jenks, Hernandez struggled with consistency, posting two high-ERA seasons in a row in 1994-95. However, he had four scoreless appearances with a save in the 1993 ALCS loss to the Blue Jays, and he had a resurgence in Tampa Bay later in the decade when he had a three-year run with the expansion Devil Rays.

2. Hoyt Wilhelm – In an era before specialized relievers, he might have been one of the best bullpen arms in baseball. James Hoyt Wilhelm played six seasons with the White Sox (1963-68), pitching at least 80 innings in each season and going over 100 three times. The knuckleballer also started 52 games in his career and, as a member of the Orioles, threw a no-hitter against the Yankees in his last start in 1958.

He was quite good at keeping opponents off the board out of the bullpen too, and he posted an ERA below 2.00 five times with Chicago. Overall, Wilhelm went 41-33 with 521 strikeouts in 675 2/3 innings. He ranks second in team history with a 1.92 ERA, fifth in saves (99), and ninth in games pitched (361). “Old Folks” spent 21 seasons in the Major League with nine teams, and he pitched until 1972 with the Dodgers when he was 49 years old. He was an eight-time All-Star who somehow was never selected as a member of the White Sox. Wilhelm had a save with the Giants in the 1954 World Series, and he also led the league in ERA twice. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.

1. Bobby Thigpen – He spent eight of his nine seasons with the White Sox (1986-93), and he was one of the better closers of his era. “Thiggy” had a fantastic season in 1990, earning his lone All-Star selection and the American League Rolaids Relief Award after posting a 4-6 record, a 1.83 earned run average, and 57 saves, which broke the Major League record of 46 set by Dave Righetti in 1986. Thigpen had at least 30 saves in three other seasons, but he no longer has the single-season record, which was broken by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim closer Francisco Rodriguez, who had 62 in 2008. Thigpen is the all-time leader in White Sox history with 201 saves, and he ranks seventh in team history with 424 games pitched. He had a 28-33 record with a 3.26 ERA and 362 strikeouts in 541 2/3 innings.

The next series will be on the Cincinnati Reds.

A look back at the Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs Catchers and Managers
Chicago Cubs First and Third Basemen
Chicago Cubs Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago Cubs Outfielders
Chicago Cubs Pitchers

A look back at the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Catchers and Managers
Boston Red Sox First and Third Basemen
Boston Red Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Boston Red Sox Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Boston Red Sox Pitchers

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

Catchers and Managers
First and Third Basemen
Second Basemen and Shortstops

A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks

Catchers and Managers
First and Third Basemen
Second Basemen and Shortstops

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