Nolan Ryan (1966-93, 324 wins, 3.19 ERA, 2.05 K/BB)
It’s shocking that the all-time strikeout leader and the man with seven no-hitters couldn’t statistically sneak into the top 10, but Ryan’s legacy was more about longevity than any particular stint of dominance. A career walk rate of 4.67 per nine innings doesn’t help Ryan’s case, but even if we had emphasized K/9—Ryan’s mark was 9.55—instead of K/BB, he still would have fallen a bit shy of 10th place.
Bert Blyleven (1970-92, 287 wins, 3.31 ERA, 2.80 K/BB)
Similar to Ryan, Blyleven was a workhorse who became revered for sticking around for as long as he did. He logged nearly 5,000 innings in a career that spanned more than two decades, but his ERA and strikeout rate weren’t anything special compared to those who made the cut. It took 14 years of eligibility before he got inducted into the Hall of Fame, which should serve as proof that he’s not one of the 10 greatest starting pitchers in the sport’s history. He’s not far from that list, though.
Tom Seaver (1967-86, 311 wins, 2.86 ERA, 2.61 K/BB)
Seaver wasn’t much better than league average for his final eight seasons, which ended up negatively impacting his career ERA and K/BB numbers. But his first 12 years (2.51 ERA, 3.10 K/BB) were nothing short of remarkable. Much (if not all) of that time overlapped with the careers of Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro and a few other Hall of Famers, yet Seaver was the best of the bunch.
Lefty Grove (1925-41, 300 wins, 3.06 ERA, 1.91 K/BB)
Grove had the misfortune of pitching during the hitter-friendly 1930s, making his ERA and K/BB pale in comparison to most of the other candidates for this list. It should be noted, however, that he’s the only guy anywhere close to our top 10 who appeared in a single game between 1931 and 1942. Save for an injury-caused blip in 1934, he was almost unhittable compared to other pitchers of that era. Grove led the American League in ERA nine times from 1926 to 1939.
Grover “Pete” Alexander (1911-30, 373 wins, 2.56 ERA, 2.31 K/BB)
Tied for third on MLB’s all-time wins list with 373, Alexander was dominant for a decade. Were it not for World War I limiting him to three appearances in 1918, he likely would have eclipsed 400 victories. However, his career K/BB ratio leaves something to be desired, and he never got much of a chance to pitch in the postseason.