The Top 10 Greatest Pitchers in Boston Red Sox History

This list of the greatest pitchers in Red Sox history includes a pair of Cy Young winners, in addition to Cy Young himself.

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens walks on the field after being inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame before a game between the Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park.
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 14: Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens walks on the field after being inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame before a game between the Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 14, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here at Just Baseball, we recently completed a series ranking the top 10 pitchers in the history of each of the five NL East franchises, the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and Florida/Miami Marlins.

Next, our focus will shift to the AL East, beginning with the Boston Red Sox. The franchise began play as the Boston Americans in 1901 and has had the nickname Red Sox continuously since 1908. Since the franchise’s inception, Boston has won nine World Series titles, which is tied with the Oakland Athletics for the third most among all teams in the sport.

With five Hall of Famers as part of the group, here’s our countdown of the 10 greatest pitchers in Red Sox history.

10. Babe Ruth (1914-1919)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1916 – 23-12 with a 1.75 ERA, 158 ERA+, 2.43 FIP, 1.075 WHIP, 170 strikeouts, 23 complete games and a 4.5 fWAR

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Career Stats With The Red Sox: 89-46 with a 2.28 ERA, 125 ERA+, 2.76 FIP, 1.142 WHIP, 483 strikeouts, 105 complete games and 12.3 WAR

Ruth is certainly most remembered for the 714 home runs he hit in his career, only 49 of which came with the Red Sox. However, before becoming Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in fWAR (179.4), Ruth was quite the pitcher for Boston.

Across parts of six seasons with the Red Sox, Ruth won 89 games and logged 1,190 1/3 innings pitched. As a 21-year-old in 1916, Ruth led the AL in ERA (1.75), ERA+ (158), H/9 (6.4) and complete-game shutouts. He also managed to not allow a single home run over 323 2/3 innings pitched, a remarkable accomplishment even for the Dead Ball Era.

Obviously, Ruth made the correct decision to eventually focus primarily on hitting. But it is interesting to imagine how great of a legacy he could have built on the mound if he continued to be a full-time starting pitcher.

To claim the final spot on this list, Ruth edged out Bill Monbouquette, Joe Dobson, Tim Wakefield, Tex Hughson, Craig Kimbrel, Frank Sullivan and Curt Schilling.

9. Jonathan Papelbon (2005-2011)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 2006 – 4-2 with an 0.92 ERA, 517 ERA+, 2.14 FIP, 0.776 WHIP, 75 strikeouts, 35/41 (85.4%) on save attempts and a 3.1 fWAR

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Career Stats With The Red Sox: 23-19 with a 2.33 ERA, 197 ERA+, 2.60 FIP, 1.018 WHIP, 509 strikeouts, 219/247 (89%) on save attempts and 14.0 fWAR

Whether you liked Papelbon’s persona or not, it’s almost impossible to argue with how dominant he was during his seven seasons in Boston.

Papelbon finished runner-up to Justin Verlander in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2006, the first of four consecutive seasons in which he represented the Red Sox in the All-Star Game.

During Papelbon’s time in Boston, he racked up a franchise record 219 saves, and a 14.0 fWAR that was second among relievers during the period to only Mariano Rivera.

The defining moment of Papelbon’s time with the Red Sox came in 2007, when he struck out Colorado Rockies outfielder Seth Smith to save a World Series sweep.

8. Jon Lester (2006-2014)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 2010 – 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 134 ERA+, 3.13 FIP, 1.202 WHIP, 225 strikeouts, two complete games and a 4.9 fWAR

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Career Stats With The Red Sox: 110-63 with a 3.64 ERA, 120 ERA+, 3.60 FIP, 1.287 WHIP, 1,386 strikeouts, 10 complete games and 27.7 fWAR

Lester overcame a battle with anaplastic large cell lymphoma early in his career to become one of the greatest pitchers in Red Sox history and one of the better pitchers of his era.

Across parts of nine seasons with the Red Sox, Lester made three All-Star Game appearances, leading the AL with two complete-game shutouts in 2008 and racking up five seasons with 200+ innings pitched (2008-2010; 2012-2013). He even threw a no-hitter on May 19, 2008.

Lester was part of World Series runs in 2007 and 2013. He was particularly effective in the playoffs during the latter run, posting a 4-1 record with a 1.56 ERA across five postseason starts.

Had Boston’s plan of trying to re-sign Lester in free agency after trading him to the A’s in July of 2014 worked out, he would have been even higher on this list.

Instead, Lester opted to sign a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs ahead of the 2015 season, ultimately becoming part of the 2016 team that snapped a 108-year World Series drought.

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7. Smoky Joe Wood (1908-1915)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1912 – 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA, 177 ERA+, 2.25 FIP, 1.015 WHIP, 258 strikeouts, 35 complete games and a 7.6 fWAR

Career Stats With The Red Sox: 117-56 with a 1.99 ERA, 149 ERA+, 2.24 FIP, 1.080 WHIP, 986 strikeouts, 121 complete games and 26.2 fWAR

In an era before internal braces and Tommy John surgery, Wood fired almost all of his bullets by the time he had hit his mid-twenties. But, when you consider he made his MLB debut at the age of 18 with the Red Sox in 1908, he still packed plenty into eight seasons in Boston.

Wood was particularly dominant over the two-year stretch between 1911 and 1912, a period in which he pitched 60 complete games, 15 of which were shutouts. During that pair of seasons, Wood posted a minuscule 1.96 ERA, a mark bested by only Walter Johnson, who is arguably the greatest pitcher in MLB history.

Of course, logging 619 2/3 innings over a two-year period isn’t good for your elbow, shoulder nor any part of your body, really.

Yet, while Wood’s career fell short of being Hall of Fame-worthy, there’s no doubt that he was that level of good at the height of his powers. More than a century after throwing his last pitch for the team, Wood is still the Red Sox’s all-time leader in career ERA at 1.99.

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6. Mel Parnell (1947-1956)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1949 – 25-7 with a 2.77 ERA, 158 ERA+, 3.45 FIP, 1.327 WHIP, 122 strikeouts, 27 complete games and a 6.9 fWAR

Career Stats With The Red Sox: 123-75 with a 3.50 ERA, 125 ERA+, 3.81 FIP, 1.411 WHIP, 732 strikeouts, 113 complete games and 31.4 fWAR

Parnell’s career only lasted 10 years, but during that decade, the lefty made his mark in Red Sox history.

The greatest season of Parnell’s career came in 1949, when he led the AL in wins (25), ERA (2.77), complete games (27), innings pitched (295 1/3), batters faced (1,240) and HR/9 (0.2). It was the second of six consecutive seasons where Parnell logged more than 210 innings pitched.

Parnell was an All-Star twice as a Red Sox (1949 and 1951) and finished fourth in AL MVP voting in 1949. The Cy Young Award wasn’t given out until 1956, but had it been around in the aforementioned 1949 campaign, Parnell may very well have won it.

In Red Sox history, Parnell ranks in the top six in wins (123), innings pitched (1,752 2/3), complete games (113) and complete-game shutouts (20).

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5. Luis Tiant (1971-1978)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1972 – 15-6 with a 1.91 ERA, 169 ERA+, 2.62 FIP, 1.078 WHIP, 123 strikeouts, 12 complete games and a 3.6 fWAR

Career Stats With The Red Sox: 122-81 with a 3.36 ERA, 118 ERA+, 3.51 FIP, 1.201 WHIP, 1,075 strikeouts, 113 complete games and 28.4 fWAR

“El Tiante” didn’t join the Red Sox until his age-30 season in 1972, but he still managed to spend the largest chunk of his career, parts of eight seasons, in Boston.

The Cuban-born righty led baseball with a 1.91 ERA in 1972, but in part because he “only” threw 179 innings that season — which was tied for 60th in baseball — he had to settle for a sixth-place finish in AL Cy Young voting. It was one of three top-six finishes for Tiant as a Red Sox, as he finished fourth in 1974 and fifth in 1976.

A relative lack of innings pitched may have cost Tiant the AL Cy Young in 1974, but he went on to throw 210 or more innings on five occasions with Boston, including a staggering 311 1/3 in 1974.

Not surprisingly then, Tiant is fourth in Red Sox history in innings pitched (1,774 2/3). He also ranks in the top five for the franchise in games started (238), wins (122) and complete-game shutouts (26).

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4. Lefty Grove (1934-1941)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1935 – 20-12 with a 2.70 ERA, 175 ERA+, 3.33 FIP, 1.223 WHIP, 121 strikeouts, 23 complete games and a 7.1 fWAR

Career Stats With The Red Sox: 105-62 with a 3.34 ERA, 143 ERA+, 3.66 FIP, 1.321 WHIP, 743 strikeouts, 119 complete games and 34.1 fWAR

After spending the first half of his Hall of Fame career with the Philadelphia Athletics, Grove was traded to the Red Sox in 1934, where he would have quite the second act.

During his eight seasons with the Red Sox, Grove led the AL in ERA and ERA+ on four occasions (1935-1936; 1938-1939), while also taking home the junior circuit’s top mark in terms of FIP (1935 and 1938), WHIP (1935-1936) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (1936 and 1938) multiple times.

What’s crazy is that the bulk of Grove’s best years came with the A’s, but he still managed to push his way into the Red Sox record books, where he’s fourth in fWAR (34.1) among pitchers. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947, he went in with a Boston cap on his plaque.

3. Cy Young (1901-1908)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1901 – 33-10 with a 1.62 ERA, 219 ERA+, 2.64 FIP, 0.972 WHIP, 158 strikeouts, 38 complete games and a 7.8 fWAR

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Career Stats With The Red Sox: 192-112 with a 2.00 ERA, 147 ERA+, 2.08 FIP, 0.970 WHIP, 1,341 strikeouts, 275 complete games and 54.9 fWAR

It’s crazy, one of the metrics we’re going to cite for the two pitchers ranked above Cy Young is the amount of times they won an award named after him. But you’ll understand why the pitcher whose name has become synonymous with elite pitching was only at No. 3 in a minute.

First of all, Young spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Cleveland Spiders and then played two years with the St. Louis Cardinals before joining the Red Sox in 1901, his age-34 season. Make no mistake, though, Young made up for lost time rather quickly.

In each of his first three seasons with the Red Sox, Young led the AL in innings pitched. For good measure, he had multiple seasons where he topped the AL in complete games (1902-1903), complete-game shutouts (1903-1904), innings pitched (1902-1903), FIP (1905-1906), WHIP (1904-1905; 1907), BB/9 (1901; 1903-1906) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (1901; 1903-1906).

Young’s 1937 Hall of Fame plaque saw him go in with a Cleveland cap, but in today’s world, he likely would have gone in with a blank cap. After all, over eight seasons with the Red Sox, Young became the franchise’s leader in WHIP (0.970), BB/9 (0.986), complete games (275) and FIP (2.08), and is tied for the top marks in wins (192) and complete-game shutouts (38).

2. Pedro Martínez (1998-2004)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1999 – 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, 243 ERA+, 1.39 FIP, 0.923 WHIP, 313 strikeouts, five complete games and an 11.6 fWAR

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Career Stats With The Red Sox: 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA, 190 ERA+, 2.45 FIP, 0.978 WHIP, 1,683 strikeouts, 22 complete games and 51.9 fWAR

Martínez had one of the greatest peaks of any pitcher in MLB history. Part of that came with the Expos, which is why he checked in at No. 5 on the Expos/Nationals list. Here, he’s No. 2, and there’s plenty who would put him at the very top.

After winning the NL Cy Young Award in his final season with the Expos, Martínez finished runner-up to a certain pitcher on the Toronto Blue Jays (more on him in a minute) in the 1998 AL Cy Young race.

He would go on to win the AL Cy Young in consecutive seasons in 1999 and 2000, before finishing in the top four in voting for the award every year from 2002-2004. Martínez won the pitching triple crown in 1999, when he led the junior circuit in wins (23), ERA (2.07) and strikeouts (313). He even finished second in AL MVP voting in 1999, a remarkable accomplishment for a pitcher at the height of the Steroid Era.

In seven seasons with the Red Sox, Martínez won four ERA titles (1999-2000; 2002-2003), while leading the AL in FIP (1999-2000; 2002-2003), WHIP (1999-2000; 2002-2003), H/9 (1999-2000; 2002-2003), strikeouts per nine (1999-2000; 2002-2003) and strikeouts (1999-2000; 2002) on a slew of occasions.

Martínez helped the Red Sox to snap the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, winning the World Series in his final game with the team. The franchise’s all-time leader in win/loss percentage (.760) and ERA+ 190) was inducted into the Hall of Fame with a Boston cap on his plaque in 2015.

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The Red Sox retired his No. 45 that same summer.

1. Roger Clemens (1984-1996)

Best Season With The Red Sox: 1986 – 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA, 169 ERA+, 2.81 FIP, 0.969 WHIP, 238 strikeouts, 10 complete games and a 7.1 fWAR

Career Stats With The Red Sox: 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA, 144 ERA+, 2.94 FIP, 1.158 WHIP, 2,590 strikeouts, 100 complete games and 76.9 fWAR

Martínez may have had the best peak of any pitcher in Red Sox history, but Clemens’ prime was pretty damn special, and he spent six more seasons with the team.

“The Rocket” won three AL Cy Young Awards with the Red Sox (1986-1987; 1991); that first Cy Young season also saw him win AL MVP.

While with Boston, Clemens led baseball in FIP (1986-1988; 1990-1992), ERA (1986; 1990-1992), WHIP (1986; 1992), complete games (1987-88), complete-game shutouts (1987-1988; 1990-1992), strikeouts (1988, 1991; 1996), strikeout-to-walk ratio (1987-88; 1990; 1992) and H/9 (1986; 1994) all multiple times.

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On two occasions with the Red Sox — April 29, 1986 and Sept. 18, 1996 — Clemens struck out 20 batters in a game, a mark that’s been matched in a nine-inning game only by Max Scherzer and Kerry Wood.

Credible PED allegations have kept Clemens out of the Hall of Fame, although those instances are all said to have taken place after his time in Boston. There are other troubling allegations about Clemens off the field, however. Statistically, he’s one of baseball’s greatest pitchers ever. But alleged off-the-field conduct is part of his story without a doubt and won’t be whitewashed here.