The Cincinnati Reds are the oldest major league baseball franchise and, along with that, have a fantastic history of great hitters. Today we are going to look at the top ten starting pitchers in Reds history. You will notice that most of these top thirteen are from long ago. Mullane and White who were pre-1900 could easily be on this list also.
Vander Meer was a wild, left-handed fireballer who led the NL in strikeouts and walks three times and lost as many Reds games as he won. However, Vander Meer is still immortalized for throwing two consecutive no-hitters in 38, an achievement that has never been matched.
Vander Meer was a top prospect, earning much love from The Sporting News. In 1936, he was named the top minor league player. Two years later, he was named the top major league player in his second season with the Reds. His double no-no feat may have outperformed the extraordinary efforts of many more deserving players.
Vander Meer was a pitcher for two years, but his military service during World War II severely limited his potential. He also struggled to return to his best after the war ended, with only sporadic results throughout the 1940s. In 8.2 innings, Vander Meer struck out 11 and allowed no earned runs.
Athens, Texas, right-hander Donohue enjoyed a short but sweet stint with the Reds. He broke out in 1922 at 21 with an 18-9 record and with a 3.12 ERA. Pete followed up with 20-plus games the next four seasons, including a league-high 20 in 1926. After that, Donohue experienced a rapid decline, dropping to 6-16 in 1927. He did not recover enough to please the Reds, who traded him away midway through 1930. Donohue, who hit.246 and had 87 RBIs over 732 at-bats, was not an easy out.
Mario Soto came onto the scene in ’77. He featured great movement on his fastball and a very effective circle change-up. Like his predecessors, he posted very fine-quality stats until his arm wore down.
At his peak, he led the league in WHIP, and K/BB ratio and completed games twice. Soto was a great pitcher on some not-so-great Reds teams.
Soto struck out 1,063 batters from 1980 through 1985.
Soto was second in 1983’s voting for the National League Cy Young Award. Philadelphia’s John Denny won the award. 1983 and 1984 were Soto’s greatest seasons statistically. He had a record of 35-20 with a 2.92 earned-run average. If Soto had pitched in the mid-70s everybody would remember his name.
Blackwell, 6’6″, was nicknamed “The Whip” because of his fiery sidearm delivery. He also suffered from appendicitis, a kidney surgery, and arm injuries. Despite these interruptions, Blackwell appeared in six straight all-star games, getting the win in the 1950 game.
Blackwell is most remembered for almost matching Johnny Vander Meer’s feat of throwing two consecutive no-hitters. Vander Meer was watching from the sidelines, and Blackwell was just two outs from equaling it when Brooklyn’s Eddie Stanky made a sharp comebacker that Blackwell caught between his legs and into the outfield. Stanky scored a base hit. In 1947, Blackwell’s near-double no-no was the highlight of what was his best season. He won 22 games, lost eight and struck out 193. His 2.47 ERA was also a major factor.
The right-handed Dominican native Cueto was a star when he entered the scene in 2008. He struck out 18 batters and walked none over his first two outings. This feat was unmatched by any other major league pitcher. Cueto struggled the remainder of his rookie season, but those early signs of greatness would lead to future stardom.
Cueto used a variety of pitching motions to confuse hitters. He produced a record of 92-63 through seven seasons before the financially strapped Reds, wary about his impending free agency and dealt him to the eventual champ Kansas City Royals. Cueto was with Cincinnati ace in 2012 winning twenty games that season.
Cueto was almost impossible to steal a base on. Only 24 players stole bases in his 61 attempts to pitch.
Cueto’s reputation as a hothead was a problem. He was infamous for kicking St. Louis catcher Jason LaRue in the head during a brawl. LaRue was so severely concussed that he had to be forced to quit the game.
Don Gullett had been a high school sports hero in Kentucky, his home state. He joined Gary Nolan in the Reds rotation in 1970 and immediately made a difference. Over the next seven years, he won over 95 games. He became the face of the Reds’ successful pitching staff during the Big Red Machine years. After 1976 Gullett signed with the New York Yankees as one of baseball’s most sought-after free agents. Unfortunately Gullett was never the same in New York because of injuries.
Maloney was a pitcher often overlooked in a decade known for its spectacular pitching. He made just one NL All-Star team in 1965. Maloney was a right-hander who went 20-9 and had a 2.54 ERA. He also pitched 14 complete games and had five shutouts. He walked 110 batters over 255/3 innings and struck out 244.
Maloney struck out 18 batters on June 14, 1965, at Crosley Field against the Dodgers. He also took a no-hitter into inning 11. He allowed a home run in a 1-0 loss without any run support. Maloney’s no-hitter against the Cubs was achieved two months later at Wrigley Field. It earned him a 1-0 win in 10 innings. But it was also one of the most bizarre in history. Maloney walked ten batters, struck out 12, and threw 187 pitches.
The 20-year-old rookie southpaw was a workhorse. Hahn threw a no-hitter in his rookie year, was the NL’s top pitcher in the first three years, won more than 20 games in the next five seasons, and is now the second youngest pitcher to achieve 100 career wins (after Bob Feller). His omnipresence at the mound was at its highest in 1901, when he set career records in innings pitched (375.1) and complete games (41), respectively. He also won 22 games for a Cincinnati team that was bad winning one 52 games. It was the highest percentage of a team winning until Steve Carlton received credit for 27 out of Philadelphia’s 59 victories in 1972.
Hahn was wise enough to notice the excessive use of his arm before it became a problem and used his spare time training as a veterinarian, a post-baseball occupation that would be very useful for him long after his playing days.
Jose Rijo, a fastball artist, is fondly remembered in Cincinnati because of his outstanding pitching during the 1990 World Series. He earned MVP honors against the Oakland A’s team that traded him to the Reds.
Rijo, a top prospect in baseball, was introduced to the game by George Steinbrenner and his New York Yankees. They hoped Rijo would be a big hit and take the spotlight away from the crosstown Mets’ teenage pitching sensation, Dwight Gooden. Rijo could not handle the weight and was transferred to the A’s, where he struggled for three more years. Rijo was dealt to the Reds and found his rhythm, producing winning records, sub-3.00 ERAs, and a total of six successful years in Cincinnati. After suffering from elbow problems in 1995, Rijo retired. He then made a two-year return to the Reds between 2001 and 2002 to mixed results. He became the first player to make a legitimate comeback after receiving a vote for the hall of fame.
The Cuban-born native was one of few Latinos, and indeed the best, to populate the majors in the first three decades. He probably wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity if he hadn’t been lighter-skinned. Luque was having his best year in 1923. He became fed up with the Giants’ racist baiting and stormed over to take on the Giants’ entire staff.
Luque ended that year as the majors’ leader with 27 victories and a 1.93 ERA. This was after Pete Alexander’s 1.91 mark in 2021, the highest in baseball in the 1920s. Despite his consistently solid ERAs against the jack-rabbit offense in the 1920s, Luque finished that year as a.500 hitter. He ended the year at 16-18. Luque was traded to Brooklyn in 1930 and two years later to New York, where he assumed the role of a relief pitcher. He appeared in the 1933 World Series for the Giants at 43. His pitching in Game Five, which saw the Giants win in 10 innings, helped ice the title over Washington.
The Kentucky native was a victim of the Reds’ up-and-down fortunes in the 1930s. He lost over 20 games in Cincinnati his first two seasons (despite having respectable ERAs). Walters joined him to create baseball’s greatest one-two pitching team and helped win consecutive NL pennants.
In 1935, Derringer proved he was ahead of the curve by winning 20 games. No one else on the staff had more than eight. From 1938-40, Derringer would win three more 20-win seasons. He capped the drive with a spectacular World Series performance, winning the classic seven-game match against Detroit, winning 2-1 on only two days’ rest in game 7. Derringer’s run support dropped after the Reds’ pennant win. This was evident in his wins-loss totals. He was sent to the Chicago Cubs, where he would continue playing for three more seasons.
Rixet was tall (6’5″), and the Virginian native was an exceptional case of a pitcher whose earned run averages improved after the Deadball era ended. It is possible that Rixey considered Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl his home before the 1920s. After his arrival with Cincinnati, Rixey saw his fortunes turn. He spent the remainder of his career in Cincinnati, with rarely a losing record, postgame tantrum or off-year. Those tantrums earned him a notorious reputation as a Philadelphia clubhouse destroyer.
Rixey, unlike most other ballplayers at the time, came from a family of money and chose baseball over chemistry in college. While it is unclear if pitching made him more money, he earned more fame. In his first five seasons with the Reds, he won 100 games, an average of 20 per season. This was capped by 25 league wins in 1922. Rixey’s success was due to his combination of fine pitches that outlasted opponents and kept them in knots. Rixey was 42 when his career ended. He held the title of the game’s winningest lefthanded pitcher until Warren Spahn.
Walters, like Rixey, was also a refugee from Philadelphia who arrived at the Reds in a time of more significant disparity in fortune between the two franchises. Walters escaped the bankrupt Phillies and found a Cincinnati team on the rise towards total success.
Walters was an infielder when he arrived on the Boston major league scene. He worked hard with the Braves and Red Sox but had little success at his position or at the plate. He was encouraged by the Phillies to try pitching, and it wasn’t until he created a slider that went with a sharp fastball that he became an unexpected ace.
Walters was an instant star with the Reds. Walters was the NL’s leader in almost every category in 1939, his first season in Cincinnati. Walters completed 31 of 39 starts and posted a 27-11 record with a 2.29 ERA in 319 innings. He had his best year in batting, batting.325 over 129 at-bats. This helped him win the MVP award in the National League and lifted the Reds to their first NL pennant in 20 years. A year later, he did a not-so-modest encore, leading the NL with 22 wins against only ten losses and a 2.48 ERA. The Reds were again league champions, beating Detroit in a seven-game World Series this time. Walters, who had struggled at the 1939 Fall Classic against New York Yankees, was sharp in his performance against the Tigers. He won two complete games and added a double on offense.
Walters fought through World War II without being drafted or enlisted. Despite the weak competition, Walters’ effectiveness fell a notch. He returned to glory in 1944 with another great effort, compiling a 23-8 record and a 2.40 ERA. Walters suffered arm problems one year later, and his life was never the same.
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