MLB Top 5: Los Angeles Dodgers Pitchers

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

Similar to many other positions we have looked at, the Los Angeles Dodgers boast some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. There is fantastic depth among the right-handers, as well as two dominant closers. However, the cream of the crop is on the left side, with two of the greatest southpaws ever to stand on a mound, as well as a third who captivated fans in the 1980s.

The Best Pitchers in Los Angeles Dodgers History

Right-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – Henry Porter played just three seasons with Brooklyn (1885-87) during the club’s time in the American Association, but he was ridiculously durable. His 1885 seasons was the best, when he went 33-21 in 54 starts (both totals are the second-most in team history), and he threw 481 2/3 innings, a mark that tops the team list and will never come close to being in jeopardy. Overall, Porter went 75-64 with a 3.39 earned run average in 1,245 1/3 innings over 142 games, and he ranks tenth in franchise history with 139 complete games. He spent two seasons with the Kansas City Cowboys in the A. A. before he went the way of many pitchers of the era, retiring after just six seasons due to overwork. He worked in a shoe factory and died due to complications of pneumonia in 1906.

The top starter after Porter was Bob Caruthers, who went 110-51 with a 2.92 earned run average in four seasons with Brooklyn (1888-91). He had a phenomenal year in 1889, when he set a team record with a 40-11 record, tossed 445 innings (which was third-best in team history) and led the league with seven shutouts. Out of 175 starts with the Bridegrooms, he completed 147 of them, a total that ranks ninth in franchise history. Caruthers was a member of five pennant-winning teams in his nine-year career, and he went 0-2 with Brooklyn in the 1889 World Series. After his playing career ended, he was a major league umpire until he passed away in 1911 at age 47.

At times, William “Adonis” Terry was overshadowed by Porter and Caruthers, but he went 126-139 with a respectable 3.42 earned run average in eight seasons with Brooklyn (1884-91). His first season, he set team records with 55 starts and 54 complete games, while going 19-35 with a career-high 230 strikeouts in 476 innings (which ranks second in team history). Terry’s best season was 1890, when Brooklyn was new to the National League. He went 26-16 with a 2.94 ERA and struck out 185 batters in 370 innings. Overall, he ranks second in franchise history with 255 complete games and eighth with 2,376 1/3 innings. In two World Series, he went 3-4 in eight starts. He threw a disputed no-hitter against St. Louis in 1886.

Jeff Pfeffer appeared in 226 games during his nine-year run in Brooklyn (1913-21), amassing a 113-80 record with a 2.31 earned run average. He had two seasons in which he topped 20 wins and fell below a 2.00 ERA, with his best being 25-11 and 1.92 marks in 1916. Pfeffer ranks second in franchise history with a 2.21 ERA, and he is seventh with 157 complete games 157 and eighth with 25 shutouts. He appeared in two World Series, going 0-1 with a 1.98 ERA in four games.

One of the underrated starters of his era, Carl Erskine went 122-78 with an even 4.00 earned run average in 335 games over a 12-year career spent entirely with the Dodgers (1948-59). Although he went 20-6 in 1953, he earned his only All-Star selection the following year, thanks to an 18-15 record, a career-high 260 1/3 innings and 11 RBIs at the plate. Erskine appeared in five World Series with the franchise, going 2-2 in 11 games, including seven starts. He also threw a pair of no-hitters, one against the Cubs in 1952 and another four years later against the Giants.

Bob Welch went 115-86 in 10 seasons with the Dodgers (1978-87), winning 15 or more games three times. His only All-Star selection with Los Angeles came in 1980, when he went 14-9 with a 3.29 earned run average. Welch ranks tenth in franchise history with 1,292 strikeouts and is tied for tenth with 23 shutouts, including a league-high four in 1987. In 11 postseason games with the Dodgers, he went 1-3, but was a part of the team that won the World Series in 1981. He missed out on Los Angeles’ second title victory in the decade but was on the opposing bench since he had been traded to Oakland before the 1988 season. Two years later, he took home the Cy Young Award after winnings a career-high and league-best 27 games with the Athletics.

Ramon Martinez started 262 games in 11 seasons with Los Angeles (1988-98). Although he reached 15 wins four times in his career, his only All-Star selection came in 1990, when he went a career-best 20-6 with 223 strikeouts and a league-high 12 complete games. In 1995, Martinez went 17-7 and threw a 7-0 no-hitter against the Marlins. He went 123-77 with a 3.45 earned run average, and he ranks ninth in franchise history with 1,314 strikeouts in 1,731 2/3 innings.

Zack Greinke spent just three seasons with the Dodgers (2013-15), but he definitely made his mark. He went 51-15, won at least 15 games in each season, earned two All-Star selections and struck out at least 200 batters twice. His best season was his last with Los Angeles, going 19-3 with a league-leading 1.66 earned run average, which is the second-best in team history. Greinke is the franchise record-holder with a 2.30 ERA overall. He went to the Diamondbacks and Astros before returning to the Royals (where he began his career) in 2022.

Don Newcombe began his career with two seasons in the Negro Leagues as a teenager. He signed with the Dodgers and joined fellow Negro League alumni with the minor league team in Montreal. Newcombe joined the big-league club in Brooklyn in 1949, earning All-Star and Rookie of the Year honors after going 17-8 with a 3.17 earned run average and a league-leading five shutouts. His win total improved and he earned All-Star selections in each of the next two seasons before he spent the following two years in military service during the Korean War.

Newcombe returned in 1954, and he made the All-Star team for the fourth time the following year after going 20-5. In 1956, he had the best season of his 10-year career, winning both the MVP and Cy Young Awards after posting a league-best 27-7 record with a 3.06 ERA, 18 complete games and five shutouts. He finished his Dodgers career with a 123-66 record, a 3.51 ERA, 111 complete games, 22 shutouts and 913 strikeouts in 1,662 2/3 innings. Newcombe appeared in three World Series against the Yankees but, despite being part of the 1955 title team, he had no personal success, going 0-4 with an 8.59 ERA in five starts.

“Newk” had his playing career derailed by alcoholism. He was traded to the Reds in 1958 and to the Indians two years later before finding himself out of the league. Newcombe tried to play in Japan, but his condition caused more problems there as well. After more personal issues arose due to alcohol (divorce, a bad car accident and the near drowning of his son in a pool), his second wife took his children and left. That was what caused Newcombe to change. He stopped drinking and was eventually hired by the Dodgers to be a substance abuse counselor for younger players.

William “Brickyard” Kennedy ranks fifth in franchise history with 177 wins. In 10 seasons with Brooklyn (1892-1901), he won at least 15 games eight times and topped 20 four times. He was a workhorse who threw at least 300 innings five times and had more than 25 complete games in eight seasons. Nicknamed for his hometown of Bellaire, Ohio, which was home to a brick manufacturer, Kennedy is the all-time franchise leader with 280 complete games. In addition to his 177-149 record, he also ranks third in innings (2,866) and fifth in games stated (333).

Kennedy fell off in 1901 and was released. After a year with the Giants, he had a resurgence with the Pirates in 1903. He went 9-6 and pitched Game 5 of the first modern World Series against Cy Young, which was his last major league game. He passed away in 1915.

5. Burleigh Grimes – After his father died when he was young, he worked in a lumber camp during the winter to help support his mother and siblings. He turned to baseball and worked on a spitball, which helped him stand out and get signed by the Pirates in 1916. Two years, later, he was with the Robins, going 19-9 and posting a 2.13 earned run average. In nine seasons with Brooklyn (1918-26), Grimes won at least 20 games, including a league-best 22 in 1921. He also led the league in complete games three times, with his 33 in 1923 being the most by anyone in franchise history since the start of the 20th century.

The spitball was popular pitch in baseball during Grimes’ heyday, but after the death of Ray Chapman when he was hit by spitballer Carl Mays, the pitch was outlawed, with Grimes being one of a select few pitchers who could still throw one. He ranks fourth in franchise history in complete games (205), sixth in innings (2,426) and seventh in wins (158-121). A champion with the Cardinals in 1931, he went 1-2 with a 4.19 ERA with the Robins in the 1920 World Series.

Grimes was the last spitball pitcher in major league history, surviving 14 seasons after the pitch was banned. He spent time with the Pirates (two more stints), Braves, Cardinals (two stints), Cubs and Yankees and retired with Pittsburgh, where he began his career. Grimes was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1964 and died at age 92 in 1985.

4. Orel Hershiser – The Dodgers brought him up as a reliever in 1983, converted him to a starter midway through the following season, and he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting after going 11-8 with a 2.66 earned run average and a league-leading four shutouts. Hershiser went 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA, his first of four seasons topping 15 wins.

The three-time All-Star had by far his finest year in 1988, when he won the Cy Young Award after leading the league with a 23-8 record, 15 complete games, eight shutouts and 267 innings to go along with 178 strikeouts. He ended the season by breaking the major league record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, went 3-0 with two shutouts and a save in six postseason outings and was named MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series. In addition, he was named Major League Player of the Year, The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year, won the Babe Ruth Award (outstanding playoff performance) and earned a gold glove.

Known as “The Bulldog” because of his tenacity, Hershiser ranks seventh in franchise history in strikeouts (1,456), ninth in shutouts (24), tenth in games started (309) and 11th in wins (135-107). Early in 1990, he felt stiffness in his right shoulder, which turned out to be tears in his tissue that required reconstructive surgery. Hershiser was not quite the same pitcher after surgery. He signed with the Indians and played in two World Series with Cleveland, including 1995, when he was named MVP of the ALCS.

After stints with the Giants and Mets, Hershiser returned to the Dodgers for his final campaign, spending a total of 13 seasons in Los Angeles (1983-94 and 2000). After his playing career, he was the pitching coach for the Rangers and was an analyst for ABC, ESPN and now SportsNet LA.

3. Charles “Dazzy” Vance – He had stints with the Pirates and Yankees, but mostly toiled in the minor leagues before joining the Robins as a 31-year-old in 1922. Vance joined Burleigh Grimes as a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Brooklyn rotation, with Vance topping 15 wins seven times in 12 seasons (1922-32 and ’35). In 1924, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby batted .424 and still was not the MVP. The award instead went to Vance, who won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league with a 28-6 record, a 2.16 earned run average and 262 strikeouts (as well as 30 complete games).

The following year, Vance had a league-leading 22 wins, which included a 17-strikeout performance in July and no-hitter against the Phillies in September. He led the league in strikeouts for seven straight seasons and also topped the N. L. in shutouts four times, ERA three times and wins and complete games twice each.

Nicknamed “Dazzy” for a term he used often as a child, Vance ranks third in franchise history in complete games (213), fourth in wins (190-131, including the team’s post-World War I record 28 in 1924) and innings (2,757 2/3), fifth in strikeouts (1,918), sixth in games started (328) and tied for sixth in shutouts (29). He spent time with the Reds and Cardinals and won a World Series with St. Louis in 1934 before returning to Brooklyn for one final season at age 44. He also owned and ran several camps for sportsmen, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955 and passed away after a heart attack in 1961 at age 69.

2. Don Drysdale – He joined the Dodgers as a 19-year-old and spent the next 14 seasons as one of the most tenacious and intimidating pitchers in baseball (1956-69). Drysdale earned nine All-Star selections and won the Cy Young Award in 1962, when he led the league with a 25-9 record, 232 strikeouts and 314 1/3 innings to go with a 2.83 earned run average and 19 complete games.

Drysdale led the league in games started four times, strikeouts three times and innings twice. He also loved to dominate the plate, leading the league in hit batsmen five times, including four years in a row. In his final full season, Drysdale broke the National League and major league records for consecutive scoreless innings, throwing 56 2/3, a mark that included six straight shutouts and held the top spot for two decades. He was also a more than capable hitter, knocking 29 career home runs and batting .300 in 1965.

Drysdale ranks second in franchise history in games started (465), innings (3,432) and shutouts (49), third in wins (209-166), games pitched (518) and strikeouts (2,486) and sixth in complete games (167) to go with a 2.95 ERA. His career ended when he tore his rotator cuff in 1969, since the procedure to fix that injury did not exist at that time. He pitched in five World Series, going 3-3 with a 2.95 ERA in seven appearances.

After his playing career, Drysdale was a radio and television baseball analyst with the Expos, Rangers, Angels, White Sox and Dodgers, as well as for national telecasts for ABC and NBC. He was in the booth when Orel Hershiser broke his record for consecutive scoreless innings in 1988. Drysdale was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984 and passed away after suffering a heart attack in 1993, a few months after his wife, Ann Meyers, was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

1. Don Sutton – He was known for his longevity and consistency during his 23-year career, with 16 of those seasons spent wearing Dodger Blue (1966-80 and ’88). Sutton was a four-time All-Star who posted a double-digit win total and threw at least 200 innings in all 15 seasons of his initial run in Los Angeles. Although the spitball had long been outlawed, “The Mechanic” had mastered the art of doctoring the baseball. When he was asked if he used any foreign substances on the ball, he answered, “It’s not true, Vaseline is made right here in the USA.”

Sutton finished in the Top five of the Cy Young voting five times, won at least 15 games nine times, including eight in a row, posted an ERA below 3.00 seven times (including a league-leading 2.20 in 1980), topped 200 strikeouts five times and led the league with nine shutouts in 1972. He had 324 wins during his career, but only posted one 20-win season, going 21-10 in 1976 (which did not include an All-Star selection).

Sutton is the all-time franchise leader in wins (233-181), games started (533), innings (3,816 1/3) and shutouts (52), ranks second in games pitched (550) and strikeouts (2,696) and eighth in complete games (156) to go with a 3.09 ERA and 156 complete games. He was on four pennant-winning teams, going 5-3 in 10 postseason appearances. He also won the Lou Gehrig Award in 1976 and was named MVP of the All-Star Game the following year. After leaving the Dodgers, Sutton pitched with four other teams. He helped the Brewers win the pennant in 1982 and pitched for the Angels in the 1986 ALCS.

He won his 300th game with California in 1986 and ended his career with Los Angeles two years later. Sutton had been a disc jockey and television sports commentator during his playing career, and the experience helped create a smooth transition to the broadcast booth after he retired. He spent one year with the Dodgers and two with the Nationals later, but most of his three decades in broadcasting has been spent with the Braves. Sutton was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, his fifth year on the ballot. He passed away in 2021 at age 75.

Left-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – Richard “Rube” Marquard had his best years with the Giants, but also put together five solid years with the Robins out of six years with the club (1915-20), although his 56-48 record might not show it. Marquard set a franchise record with a 1.58 earned run average in 1916, but he was edged by fellow future Hall of Famer Grover Alexander‘s 1.55. Marquard ranks eighth in team history with a 2.58 ERA, and he also had 61 complete games and 950 innings. He spent time with the Reds and Braves before retiring in 1925, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1971 and passed away at age 93 in 1980.

The 1955 championship, the only title the Dodgers won while in Brooklyn, does not happen without Johnny Podres, who won both his starts and allowed the Yankees to score just two runs in 18 innings. He went 4-1 in six World Series appearances, with his only blemish coming in 1953, when Mickey Mantle took him deep for a grand slam. Podres spent 13 seasons with the franchise (1953-55 and 57-66) with one missed season due to service during the Korean War. He never reached the 20-win plateau but went 18-5 in 1961. The four-time All-Star led the league with a 2.66 earned run average and six shutouts in 1957.

Podres ranks eighth in franchise history in strikeouts (1,331), ninth in games started (310), tenth in wins (136-104) and tied for tenth in shutouts (23). He was hit by pitch in 1964, which created bone chips in his elbow and affected him the rest of his career. Podres was sent to Detroit in 1966 and, after two years with the Tigers, he took a year off before trying to come back with the expansion Padres in 1969. After retiring as a player, he served as a pitching coach for multiple teams for more than two decades. Podres passed away in 2008 at age 75.

5. George “Nap” Rucker – The son of a Confederate soldier during the Civil War got the idea to become a pitcher when he was working in a printing office and had to typeset a headline about the subject. However, baseball was not always a glamorous lifestyle for Rucker, who was nearly strangled by his minor league roommate Ty Cobb after he decided to take a bath before the future Hall of Famer.

Once he reached the major leagues with Brooklyn, he won 15 or more games five times with the Superbas/Dodgers/Robins franchise. He threw a no-hitter against the Braves in 1908 and won 22 games three years later. However, his best season may just have been 1910, when he went 17-18, but posted a 2.58 earned run average and led the league with 320 1/3 innings, 27 complete games and six shutouts. Rucker finished his career with a 134-134 record and ranks fourth in franchise history in ERA (2.42) and shutouts (38), fifth in complete games (186) and ninth in innings (2,375 1/3). He developed a sore arm in 1914, which shortened his career to 10 seasons, spent entirely with Brooklyn (1907-16). His final appearance was two innings in relief during the 1916 World Series loss to Boston.

Rucker had quite a busy life after baseball. He returned to his native Georgia, where he owned a wheat mill and two cotton plantations, invested in the town bank, later served as water commissioner and mayor, worked in Panama for the U. S. government during World War II and was a scout for the Dodgers. He passed away in 1970 at age 86.

4. Claude Osteen – You would think being in a rotation that included names such as Koufax, Drysdale, Podres and Sutton would leave someone feeling under appreciated. However, Osteen earned three All-Star selections in nine seasons in Los Angeles (1965-73) and kept up with his well-known teammates. He came to the Dodgers after seven seasons with the Reds and Senators and won 15 or more games eight times, reaching 20 on two occasions. His best season was in 1969, when he went 20-15 with a 2.66 earned run average and career-highs with 183 strikeouts and 321 innings.

Osteen ranks fourth on the franchise list in games started (335), fifth in shutouts (34), seventh in innings (2,397) and eighth in wins (147-126). Despite posting a 1-2 record in three World Series starts, he threw a shutout against the Twins in 1965 and gave up just two earned runs in 21 innings, which amounted to a 0.86 ERA. Osteen struggled in stints with the Astros, Cardinals and White Sox later in his career and retired after Chicago released him in 1975. His attention to detail served him well as a pitching coach, a position he held at multiple levels for half a dozen teams over the next 35 years before leaving baseball for good in 2009.

3. Fernando Valenzuela“Fernandomania” arrived late in the 1980 season, when the pudgy lefty from Mexico pitched 10 scoreless relief outings. The following year, he was even better, going 13-7 as a starter in a strike-shortened season while leading the league with 180 strikeouts, 192 1/3 innings, 11 complete games and eight shutouts, which tied the National League rookie record. The screwball specialist also won his first eight decisions, threw 36 consecutive scoreless innings, earned his first of six straight All-Star selections and won both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards while also finishing fifth in the MVP voting. He followed his amazing regular season by going 3-1 in the playoffs and helping the Dodgers win the World Series.

Valenzuela finished in the top five in the Cy Young race three other times and also won two silver sluggers and a gold glove during his 11-year run in Los Angeles (1980-90). He was the Cy Young runner-up in 1986 when he posted a league-leading 21-11 record and 20 complete games, marking the fourth time he topped the 15-win mark in his career.

“El Toro” was a hit with the Hispanic fanbase in Southern California, but his dominance could not last forever. He suffered a shoulder injury in 1988 that broke his streak of 255 consecutive starts, and a hip injury caused his velocity to drop. Valenzuela threw a no-hitter against the Cardinals in 1990, but he was not the same pitcher he was at the start of the decade. He played with five teams over his final six major league seasons and spent 1992 in Mexico. Although his skills were in decline, he was chosen to pitch for the Padres in the first major league game in his home country in 1996.

Valenzuela ranks sixth in franchise history in strikeouts (1,759), tied for sixth in shutouts (29), seventh in games started (320), ninth in wins (141-116) and tenth in innings (2,348 2/3). Following his playing career, he became a Spanish analyst for Dodger games and was a coach for Mexico during the World Baseball Classic in both 2006 and 2009.

2. Clayton Kershaw – He is one of only two players who appeared with the team in the past decade on this list and the only one of his still with the Dodgers. His resume includes three Cy Young Awards, an MVP Award, 10 All-Star selections and a gold glove. In addition to his hardware, Kershaw has also led the league in earned run average five times (including four years in a row from 2011-14), wins, strikeouts and shutouts three times each and innings once.

His first Cy Young came in 2011, when he won the pitching triple crown after leading the league with a 21-5 record, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts. Two years later, he went 16-9 with a phenomenal 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts, leading the circuit in the final two categories. In 2015, Kershaw bettered his performance and added an MVP to his Cy Young after posting league-bests with a 21-3 record and a 1.77 ERA while striking out 239.

The following year, Kershaw’s ERA “slipped” to 2.13, but he went 16-7 and led the league with four complete games, three shutouts, 232 2/3 innings and 301 strikeouts, a total that ranks fourth in team history. He has been with the team for 16 seasons (2008-present), topping 15 wins six times, fanning at least 200 batters in a season seven times and posting an ERA under 2.00 twice. Kershaw is the all-time franchise leader in strikeouts (2,939), ranks second in wins (210-92), third in games started (421), fifth in innings (2,707 1/3), sixth in ERA (2.48) and seventh in games pitched (424).

You would think with those numbers, Kershaw would take the top spot, even over Koufax. However, you have to factor in his injury history and postseason performance, which are his main drawbacks. He has made several trips to the injured last over the past few seasons, with trouble spots being his shoulder (in 2023) forearm and elbow (2021) and back (three times in the past four years). Kershaw is 13-13 in 39 postseason appearances, but his 4.49 ERA is not what fans have come to expect from the dominant lefty. His best performance came in the 2020 World Series, when he won a pair of games and helped the Dodgers win their first championship in 33 years. Even with the playoff hiccups and injuries, Kershaw is pretty much a lock for the Hall of Fame when he retires and gets on the ballot.

1. Sandy Koufax – The man who had arguably the greatest five-year run of any pitcher in baseball history was almost not a part of the game at all. Although he played baseball as a child, Koufax was planning on becoming an architect like his uncles and playing basketball after he earned a scholarship for his hoop abilities at the University of Cincinnati. The school’s basketball coach also managed the baseball team and urged Koufax to join. The change allowed him to become one of the greats of the game and a hero to the Jewish community.

The three New York teams (as well as the Pirates and Braves) all wanted Koufax’s services, but the Dodgers won, and he came to Brooklyn in 1955. However, his early career saw him struggle with his mechanics and control, issues that took nearly five years to fix. Finally in 1960, Koufax started putting things together, even though he finished with an 8-13 record. He improved to 18-13 the following year, leading the league with 269 strikeouts and being selected to both All-Star Games.

In 1962, Koufax embarked on a five-year run that included All-Star selections each season, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP Award and two other second-place finishes. He led the league in ERA all five years, topped the league in wins, strikeouts and shutouts three times each, and complete games and inning twice in that span. In addition, Koufax threw four no-hitters, one each year from 1962-65, including a 1-0 perfect game against the Cubs in 1965. He also won the pitching Triple Crown three times, the first in 1963, when he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts, and he also led the league (and set a team record) with 11 shutouts, which earned him both the Cy Young and the MVP.

After a 1964 season in which he went 19-5 and led the N. L. with a 1.74 ERA and seven shutouts, Koufax had an all-time great season the following year. He won the Triple Crown and Cy Young for a second time at 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA. He also led the league with 27 complete games, 335 2/3 innings (the most in team history since 1904), and he set a major league record with 382 strikeouts. Koufax continued his dominance in 1966, winning another Triple Crown and Cy Young with a 27-9 record, 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts, while also leading the league with 41 starts, 27 complete games, five shutouts and 323 innings.

Koufax ranks third in franchise history in shutouts (40), fourth in strikeouts (2,396, including three seasons with 300 or more), sixth in wins (165-87), eighth in games started (314) and ninth in games pitched (397). He went 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA in eight World Series appearances and earned MVP Awards in both 1963 and ’65, even though he made headlines for declining to pitch in Game 1 when it fell on Yom Kippur, a major Jewish holiday. Behind the scenes, he was in near unbearable pain from arthritis in his left elbow, possibly caused by hitting it on a metal support post during his basketball days as a youth. He was often seen with ice on the elbow and received regular cortisone shots.

Koufax wanted to avoid a more serious injury, so he retired at age 30 after the 1966 season and spent most of his time in the broadcast booth, on the golf course or tinkering in electronics or carpentry. He was also married three times, instructed prospects at Dodgers spring training and gave money to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme at the urging of Fred Wilpon, his former high school baseball teammate who later became owner of the Mets. Koufax became the youngest player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when he joined in 1972 at age 36.

Relief Pitchers

Honorable Mentions – Mike Marshall was an incredibly durable reliever who played for nine teams during a 14-year career. His best moments came with the Expos and Dodgers. He earned both of his All-Star Selections during a three-year stint in Los Angeles (1974-76), but his best performance came in 1974, when he won the Cy Young Award after going 15-12, leading the league with 21 saves and setting a major league record by appearing in 106 games. Overall, he went 28-29 with a 3.01 earned run average and 42 saves in 194 games.

During Jim Brewer‘s career, the closer role started to become more specialized.  In 12 seasons with the Dodgers (1964-75), he went 61-51 with 672 strikeouts in 822 innings. He ranks fourth in franchise history in games pitched (474), fifth in saves (126) and tied ninth in ERA (2.62). Brewer finished his career with the Angels then spent three seasons as pitching coach with the Expos. He pitched in three World Series, winning a title with the Dodgers against the Twins in 1965.

Jeff Shaw was traded from the Reds to the Dodgers just before the 1998 All-Star Game, and he spent the final four years of his career in Los Angeles (1998-2001), amassing at least 25 saves each season. He went 9-17 with a 3.37 earned run average and 166 strikeouts in 235 1/3 innings. Shaw ranks third in franchise history with 129 saves, including 43 in 2001, when he was selected to his only All-Star Game with the Dodgers.

Jonathan Broxton started his seven-year run in Los Angeles (2005-11) as a setup man before becoming a closer in his final three seasons with the team. His best season by far was 2009, when he earned his first of two straight All-Star selections after going 7-2 with a 2.61 earned run average, a career-high 36 saves and 115 strikeouts in just 76 innings. Broxton went 25-20 with a 3.19 ERA and 503 strikeouts in 392 innings with the Dodgers. He ranks eighth in franchise history with 84 saves and tenth with 386 games pitched 386. In the postseason, he went 0-2 with three saves in 13 appearances.

5. Todd Worrell – He started his career with the Cardinals, winning the Rookie of the Year Award after leading the league with 36 saves in 1986. Worrell was also an All-Star in 1988 and missed all of the 1990-91 seasons after a tear in his medial collateral ligament required two surgeries. He came to the Dodgers in 1993 and earned two All-Star selections in five seasons (1993-97).

Worrell finished fifth in the Cy Young voting in 1996, when he went 4-6 with a league-leading 44 saves and 66 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings. Overall, he went 17-19 with a 3.93 earned run average, 263 strikeouts in 268 innings and 127 saves, which ranks fourth in franchise history. Worrell threw one scoreless inning against the Braves in the 1996 Division Series in his only playoff appearance for the Dodgers.

4. Ron Perranoski – He used his curve and sinking fastball to become one of the best late-inning pitchers in the 1960s. The lefty came from an era where “closers” routinely pitched multiple innings, and he threw more than 100 five times in eight seasons with Los Angeles (1961-67 and ’72). His best season was 1963, when he went 16-3 with a 1.67 earned run average and 21 saves.

Perranoski went 54-51 with 461 strikeouts in 766 2/3 innings. He ranks fifth in franchise history in games pitched (457), sixth in saves (100) and seventh in ERA (2.56). In the postseason, he pitched in three World Series and had one save in five appearances. Perranoski also played with the Twins, Tigers and Angels, leading the league twice in saves with Minnesota. He survived losing part of a bone in his shoulder after being hit by a falling board in early 1970 and played three more seasons. After his playing career, he spent the next 40 years as a pitching instructor, coach and front office executive with the Dodgers and Giants.

3. Clem Labine – He spent 11 seasons with the Dodgers (1950-60) in every role from closer, setup, long relief and spot starter. He led the league in saves twice and both times he earned an All-Star selection. Overall, he went 70-52 with a 3.63 ERA and 473 strikeouts in 933 1/3 innings. He ranks sixth in franchise history with 425 games and is tied for ninth with 81 saves.

However, his greatest moment came as a starter. One day after Don Larsen threw a perfect game to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the 1956 World Series, Labine took the mound in Game 6. He a New York’s Bob Turley engaged in a pitcher’s duel in which both hurlers put up zeroes into extra innings. Labine shut the Yankees down in the tenth and Jackie Robinson drove in Jim Gilliam with the winning run in the bottom of the inning to send the series to Game 7 (which the Yankees won). Labine went 2-2 with two saves in 10 World Series appearances. He won two titles with the Dodges and another with the Pirates in 1960.

After retiring as a player in 1962, Labine designed men’s athletic wear for Jacob Finklestein’s & Sons. He died in 2007 after suffering two strokes while he was in the hospital for pneumonia and brain surgery.

2. Eric Gagne – He spent his first three seasons as a starter before converting to the bullpen and having a three-year stretch in which he was arguably the best closer in baseball. From 2002-04, Gagne earned three All-Star selections, saved 152 games and posted an incredible 1.79 earned run average while striking out more than 13 batters per nine innings. He was so dominant that he won the Cy Young Award in 2003 after going 2-3 with a nearly unhittable 1.20 ERA, 137 strikeouts in just 82 1/3 innings and 55 saves without blowing one, which led the league and set a team record.

Gagne played eight seasons with the Dodgers (1999-2006), going 25-21 with a 3.27 ERA, 629 strikeouts and 545 1/3 innings. He ranks second in franchise history with 161 saves, including a major league record 84 in a row. A two-time Rolaids Relief Award winner, Gagne had two scoreless appearances in the 2004 Division Series with the Dodgers and also was a part of the Red Sox team that won the World Series in 2007.

The bespectacled, flame-throwing righty saw his career derailed due to elbow and back surgeries that cost him most of two seasons. He split 2007 between Texas and Boston and went to Milwaukee for a year before he was released due to rotator cuff issues. Gagne was also listed in the Mitchell Report and later detailed his used of performance-enhancing drugs in a book. He played in the independent Can-Am League in 2009 and retired after a failed comeback with the Dodgers the following year.

1. Kenley Jansen – While Gagne may have had a more dominant run, Jansen is the most consistent closer in team history. During his 12 seasons with Los Angeles (2010-21), he earned three All-Star selections, saved at least 30 games seven times and topped 40 three times. Jansen had 47 saves in 2016, which is the third-highest total in team history, and led the league with 41 the following year, which helped him finish fifth in the Cy Young voting.

Jansen is a two-time winner of the N. L. Hoffman Reliever Award. He went 37-26 with 1,022 strikeouts in 705 innings (13.0 per nine innings), and he is the all-time franchise leader with 701 games and 350 and ranks third with a 2.37 earned run average. Jansen’s 301 saves from 2010-19 is the second-most in the decade (behind Craig Kimbrel’s 346). He appeared in 57 postseason games, going 3-2 with 19 saves and helping the Dodgers reach the World Series three times.

Jansen led the league with 41 saves with the Braves in 2022 and was an All-Star for the Red Sox last season. He has one season left on his contract with Boston.

The next team to be featured will be the Miami Marlins.

Previous Series

A look back at the Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels Catchers and Managers
Los Angeles Angels First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Los Angeles Angels Second Basemen and Shortstops
Los Angeles Angels Outfielders
Los Angeles Angels Pitchers

A look back at the Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers
Kansas City Royals First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Kansas City Royals Second Basemen and Shortstops
Kansas City Royals Outfielders
Kansas City Royals Pitchers

A look back at the Houston Astros

Houston Astros Catchers and Managers
Houston Astros First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Houston Astros Second Basemen and Shortstops
Houston Astros Outfielders
Houston Astros Pitchers

A look back at the Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Detroit Tigers Outfielders
Detroit Tigers Pitchers

A look back at the Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies Catchers and Managers
Colorado Rockies First and Third Basemen
Colorado Rockies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Colorado Rockies Outfielders
Colorado Rockies Pitchers

A look back at the Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers

A look back at the Cincinnati Reds

A look back at the Chicago White Sox

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

Atlanta Braves Catchers and Managers
Atlanta Braves First and Third Basemen
Atlanta Braves Second Basemen and Shortstops
Atlanta Braves Outfielders
Atlanta Braves Pitchers

A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers

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