A's Top 5 lefty starters: Gallegos' take

June 1st, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on each player's career while with that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don't agree with the order, vote in the Twitter poll for your favorite at this position.

• A's All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP

Here is MLB.com's ranking of the top five left-handed starters in A's history, as selected by Martín Gallegos. Next week: relievers.

1. Eddie Plank, 1901-14
Key fact: A's all-time wins leader with 284

One of 24 pitchers in MLB history with 300 career wins, Plank is one of the greatest left-handers to ever pick up a baseball, with a majority of his success coming as a member of the Philadelphia A's.

Plank holds the Major League record for complete games (410) and shutouts (69) by a left-hander. Most of Plank's franchise records are also untouchable for the foreseeable future. He ranks first among all A's pitchers in wins, fWAR (57.8), strikeouts (1,985), games started (458), complete games (362), shutouts (59), and innings pitched (3,860 2/3). Plank's 2.39 ERA with the A's is also second-lowest among left-handers in club history.

Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946, Plank built up a legendary resumé in his time with the A's. He helped them capture four AL pennants, including World Series titles in 1911 and '13. Plank was dominant in those postseasons, tossing complete games in six of his seven World Series appearances while posting a 1.32 ERA.

2. Lefty Grove, 1925-33
Key fact: One of eight players in MLB history to win multiple pitching triple crowns

Grove's run of dominance with the A's is rivaled by few in club history. Over his nine seasons with the A's, Grove was arguably the best pitcher in baseball, leading the league in strikeouts seven times and wins four times and winning the ERA title five times. He won the pitchers' triple crown in back-to-back campaigns from 1930-31, with the latter also earning him the AL MVP Award after going 31-4 with a career-best 2.06 ERA and 175 strikeouts.

Playing on teams stacked with Hall of Famers on offense such as Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane, it was Grove who anchored the pitching of those great clubs to help the A's to consecutive World Series titles in '29-30 and another AL pennant in '31. Grove's performance in each World Series was nothing short of remarkable as he tallied a 1.75 ERA (51 1/3 innings) over eight World Series games.

Grove went on to play eight seasons with the Red Sox to finish his career with exactly 300 wins (300-141). One has to wonder what his final numbers could have been had Grove been pitching in the Majors earlier. His rookie season did not come until age 25 as he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Orioles during their time as a Minor League club. Still, Grove is an all-time great who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947. He ranks second among A's pitchers in wins (195), fWAR (54.3) and fourth in strikeouts (1,523).

3. Vida Blue, 1969-77
Key fact: Won AL Cy Young and MVP Award in 1971

Blue was part of a dominant starting rotation that helped form a dynasty in the 1970s with three straight World Series titles from '72-74. He became one of just 11 pitchers who have won both the Cy Young and MVP Award in the same year for his stellar '71 campaign that saw him set Oakland single-season records for ERA, shutouts and strikeouts, going 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA while tossing eight shutouts and striking out 301 batters.

After tossing a no-hitter against the Twins in 1970, Blue contributed to another on the final day of the '75 regular season when he started the first five innings of a combined no-hitter against the Angels that also involved Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers closing it out.

After nine seasons with the A's that also included three All-Star selections, Blue was traded across the Bay to the Giants following the '77 season and continued to perform at a high level with three more All-Star selections. But Blue remains one of the most beloved players in Oakland history after going 124-86 with a 2.95 ERA in his time with the A's. His 36.6 fWAR and 1,315 strikeouts are tops among A's left-handers in the Oakland era, and he was elected to the Oakland A's Hall of Fame in 2019.

4. Rube Waddell, 1902-07
Key fact: Led the AL in strikeouts each year he pitched for the A's

In an era where strikeout numbers were low throughout baseball, Waddell was striking out batters at an absurd rate. His 349 strikeouts over the 1904 season set a franchise record and were over 100 more than the league's second-highest mark that year by Jack Chesbro. While the '04 campaign was his career high for strikeouts, Waddell's finest season came the next year when he won the pitching triple crown, going 27-10 with a 1.48 ERA and 287 punchouts.

Despite playing only six seasons with the A's, Waddell was dominant as he went 131-82 with a 1.97 ERA and amassed 1,576 strikeouts in that stint, which remains second-most by a pitcher in A's history. His 7.59 strikeouts per nine innings also ranks as the highest among A's pitchers with at least 750 innings pitched. Playing for five teams over a 13-year career, Waddell was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

5. Barry Zito, 2000-06, 2015
Key fact: 23.8 fWAR is second-highest among A's left-handers in the Oakland era

Drafted ninth overall in 1999, Zito was fast-tracked to Oakland after only 31 Minor League starts. Making a solid first impression by finishing sixth in AL Rookie of The Year voting in 2000, Zito soon blossomed into one of the top pitchers in the league, compiling a 102-63 record with a 3.55 ERA over seven seasons with the A's.

A part of the heralded “Big Three,” Zito managed to separate himself in 2002 by winning the AL Cy Young Award after a strong campaign that saw him go 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA. Zito reached the postseason five times with the A's. Though Oakland struggled to get past the American League Division Series, getting eliminated in the first round for four of those postseasons, Zito pitched well, going 4-2 with a 2.43 ERA over six ALDS starts.

After the '06 season, Zito went on to sign across the Bay with the Giants to a seven-year, $126 million deal, which at the time was the richest contract for a pitcher in Major League history. Winning two World Series titles in San Francisco, Zito had a short homecoming in 2015, signing a Minor League deal with the A's. He reached the Majors in September and appeared in three games before officially retiring later that October.

Honorable mention
Mark Mulder went 81-42 with a 3.92 ERA over five seasons with the A's, earning two All-Star selections and a second-place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting for the '01 campaign. Though the strong A's clubs of the early 2000s struggled to get over the hump in the playoffs, Mulder was at his best in October with Oakland, posting a 2.25 ERA over four postseason starts.