5 Roy Halladay (Toronto Blue Jays 2000-2009)
Despite being stuck on a terrible team,Halladay was still the fourth best pitcher in the 2000s. Lack of run support did not affect this work horse as he just continued to step on that mound and throw gems. He tossed countless complete games ensuring that his lackluster bullpen did not blow the wins that he worked so hard for. His work ethic is as legendary as is his competitiveness. Halladay went 139-69 with a 3.40 ERA and struck out 1,400 in 1,883.1 innings pitched, which he did that in the AL East where he was facing the best lineups in the MLB (The New York Yankees, Red Sox and even the Tampa Bay Rays had years of very efficient offense while his Blue Jays were stuck at the bottom of that division nearly every season). Amassing accolades was virtually impossible pitching for the Blue Jays, though Halladay did manage to win the 2003 AL Cy Young Award.
4 Mariano Rivera
Rivera is the G.O.A.T. when it comes to relievers or closers. Nobody is in the vicinity when it comes to dominance coming out of the bullpen, so it was extremely difficult having him this “low” on the list considering his significance to the New York Yankees his part in each of their wins. Rivera’s legend was built in the playoffs where he has been nearly untouchable. When the lights got brighter, Rivera still found a way to shine through them. In 141 career innings pitched in the playoffs, Rivera has a microscopic 0.70 ERA. In the 2000s, he compiled a 45-39 record with 397 saves and a 2.08 ERA, struck out 669 batters in 714.1 innings pitched and won championships in 2000 and 2009. He also led the league in saves in 2000 and 2004. “Mo” is a walking legend who will be back in 2013 after suffering a season-ending injury in 2012, and he will undoubtedly still be dominating hitters at the ripe age of 43. Through the years, “Mo” has certainly aged like fine wine.
3 Johan Santana (Minnesota Twins, New York Mets)
Santana was/is (he is still actively pitching for the Mets) one of those rare pitchers who dazzles you every time he steps on the mound. He has a huge personality and it shrines through when he’s pitching with a smile that can light up a stadium which he flashes almost every time out. The 6’0″ 195-pound lefty was as exciting as they come in the 2000s! He possessed a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a slider and a circle change-up that was known to embarrass even the most seasoned hitters. Santana had the best change-up in MLB during the 2000s, which looked like a fastball coming out of his hands then he would pull the string on it and it would completely die out leaving hitters leaning forward and perplexed. During the decade, Santana went 122-60 with a 3.12 ERA, striking out 1,733 in 1,709.2 innings pitched. He earned a Cy Young Award both 2004 and 2006, and won the NL ERA title in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Santana also led the AL in strikeouts in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
2 Pedro Martinez (Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies)
In Los Angeles, whenever the name Pedro Martinez come up, most automatically think of the worst trade in the city’s sports history. Thought to be too small to be a starting pitcher (he was approximately 5’9″ but listed as 5’11”, weighing 135 pounds at the time) by many in the organization, the Dodgers traded Martinez to the Montreal Expos for second baseman DelinoDeShields before the 1994 season. DeShields went on to do absolutely nothing with the Dodgers while Martinez developed into one of the best pitchers in the MLB. Although many will remember him for throwing a 72-year-old, overweight, raging Don Zimmer to the ground during an infamous Yankees/Red Sox bench clearing scuffle in the 2003 playoffs, he threw much more than that. He threw a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, a cutter, change-up and curveball while controlling every pitch masterfully. It was inspiring to watch a pitcher that was so small in stature dominate batters that were much taller and built like trucks, not to mention his dominant run occurred in the middle of the steroid era. He compiled a 112-50 record with a sparkling 3.01 ERA, throwing 1,468 innings and struck out 1,620. Martinez took home the AL Cy Young Award in 2000 and led the league in ERA in 2000, 2002 and 2003. He also led the AL in strikeouts in 2000 and 2002 and helped win the World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004, playing a major role in lifting the “Curse of the Bambino”.
1 Randy Johnson (Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants)
Johnson was the most intimidating pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. Nicknamed “The Big Unit,” (not a reference to his cup size!), Johnson stood at 6’10” and fired from the left-hand side. If you factor in the height of the pitcher’s mound, (which is ten inches high) Johnson stood close to eight feet tall; towering over hitters. From that height he was throwing 92-100 mph in a downward slope and threw the filthiest slider known to mankind! It was nearly impossible for left-handed hitters to be put in play. It started completely behind the batter and slid all the way across the hitter’s body until it eventually landed on the outside corner. That just sounds complicated! Now imagine trying to hit a ball that starts completely behind you but ends up a strike! That’s just insane and practically unfair. Well, that is what Johnson was when he was on the mound, unfair. Even those players that were taking performance enhancers had no chance! In the 2000s Johnson complied a 143-78 record and a 3.34 ERA, throwing 1,885.1 innings and striking out 2,182, andtook home the NL Cy Young in 2000, 20001 and 2002. Johnson won a World Series title in 2001 and he was voted the World Series MVP. He also had the lowest ERA in 2001 and 2002. He even led the NL in strikeouts in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004. That’s about as impressive a resume as a pitcher can get and certainly enough to get into the Hall of Fame. And this was all done in the tail end of “The Big Unit’s” career! He was already 36 years old when the 2000 season opened! His dominance combined with his longevity will always put him near the top of any lists featuring the best MLB pitchers of any era. Something tells me he might be in the Top 5 for the 1990s. Check back in for that.