Dodgers' Top 5 lefty starters: Gurnick's take

June 2nd, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- 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 their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is our ranking of the top five left-handed starting pitchers in Dodgers history. Next week: relief pitchers.

• Dodgers' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | UTL | RHP

1. Sandy Koufax, 1955-66
Key fact: The only Dodgers lefty with more wins than Koufax’s 165 is Clayton Kershaw with 169.

Let’s cut to the chase: has four World Series rings and two World Series MVPs. A case can be made with analytics that he should be No. 2 on this list, but for six years, he was the most dominant pitcher the organization (if not the game) has ever seen.

“Only twice in my life did the hair on my arms raise up -- when I saw Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the first time I saw Koufax throw,” said Al Campanis, who signed Koufax after an Ebbets Field workout.

Koufax’s Game 7 masterpiece in the 1965 World Series -- a three-hit shutout on two days’ rest after having already thrown 350 innings that year -- might be the most underappreciated and selfless postseason effort ever. He retired after pitching 54 complete games over his final two regular seasons. That’s not a typo -- 54. And he pitched in constant pain, leading to retirement at age 30, walking away despite winning 27 games and the National League Cy Young Award that year.

1a. Clayton Kershaw, 2008-present
Key fact: The only Dodger with more strikeouts in a season than Kershaw’s 301 is Koufax (382, 317, 306).

If you pick the best of the two based on wins above replacement, wins. He was better faster and has just as many Cy Young Awards (three), ERA titles (five) and MVP Awards (one). Except for three seasons with Zack Greinke, Kershaw hasn’t had the Don Drysdale co-ace that Koufax had, so he has carried a heavier burden. Kershaw has arguably been the best pitcher of his generation, and he remains in the upper echelon despite less velocity, through adjustments in pitch mix and location. He’s even trekked up to Driveline in Washington over the winter, open to technological advancements if it means an incremental improvement. In 2008, after Kershaw’s first Spring Training with the Major League team, then-manager Joe Torre compared the 19-year-old Kershaw to Koufax. He wasn’t wrong.

3. Fernando Valenzuela, 1980-90
Key fact: His postseason record was 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA.

If there was a Hall of Fame for players who make as much of a social impact as one on the field, would have followed Jackie Robinson into it. Born in Mexico, Valenzuela opened MLB to the Latino fan, a dream-come-true to the Dodgers in a city of Spanish-speaking immigrants. On the mound, he was a true phenom, winning the NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards in the same season. He went to six consecutive All-Star Games and won two NL Silver Slugger Awards and an NL Gold Glove. No telling how good he might have been had the immense workload he accepted not taken its toll in the form of a blown shoulder.

“I truly believe that there is no other player in Major League history who created more new fans than Fernando Valenzuela,” said Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrin. “Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Joe DiMaggio, even Babe Ruth did not. Fernando turned so many people from Mexico, Central America, South America into fans. He created interest in baseball among people who did not care about baseball.”

4. Johnny Podres, 1953-55, ’57-66
Key fact: The 1955 World Series MVP, Podres missed the '56 season while serving in the Navy.

makes the list off his clutch virtuoso performance in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, giving Brooklyn its first championship after decades of frustration. But he was more than that, with eight seasons of double-digit victories, three All-Star seasons, an NL ERA title and a Major League shutout title. Podres had a career World Series mark of 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA. Often overlooked being in a starting rotation with Koufax and Drysdale, it was Podres who started the first game played at Dodger Stadium in 1962.

5. Claude Osteen, 1965-73
Key fact: Osteen mde his MLB debut at age 17 after a 16-0 senior season in high school.

If Podres was overlooked, how about Claude Osteen? In nine Dodgers seasons, Osteen won double digits every year, including a pair of 20-win seasons. A thinking man’s control pitcher, Osteen started from 33 to 40 games in each of those seasons, with five to 16 complete games and never fewer than 236 2/3 innings. He was an All-Star three times and was the winning pitcher in the 1970 game when Pete Rose bowled over catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run.