Mariners' Top 5 left-handed starters: Johns' 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 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.

Mariners' all-time best: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP

Here is Greg Johns' ranking of the top five left-handed starters in Mariners history. Next week: relievers.

1) , 1989-98
Key fact: Became Mariners’ first American League Cy Young Award winner in ‘95

One of the fiercest competitors ever to wear a Mariners uniform, the 6-foot-10 southpaw grew into a Major League pitcher and five-time All-Star during his 10 years in Seattle. After being acquired as a gangly prospect from the Expos as part of a three-player package for Mark Langston in 1988, Johnson developed into one of the premier power pitchers in MLB history and a feared presence on the mound.

Though he went into Cooperstown in 2015 wearing a D-backs cap on his plaque, the “Big Unit” laid the foundation for that Hall of Fame career by going 130-74 with a 3.42 ERA and 2,162 strikeouts in 1,838 1/3 innings while with the Mariners. He also won the first of his five Cy Young Awards and threw the first of his two no-hitters for the Mariners in 1990.

“My time in Seattle was really my apprenticeship," Johnson said after being elected to the Hall of Fame. “That's where I learned how to pitch and go out there every fifth day, good, bad or indifferent. It wasn't always easy pitching in the Kingdome, which was a hitter's park. But Seattle was a wonderful time in my career. The ability to play with Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner and Omar Vizquel and Ken Griffey Jr. and to finally do something in '95 was something special."

Though Johnson always featured a fastball in the upper 90s, it wasn’t until he started controlling that heater and complementing it with a nasty “Mr. Snappy” slider that he blossomed into a star. In 1993, at 29, he went 19-8 with a 3.24 ERA and struck out an MLB-leading 308 batters in 255 1/3 innings while finishing second in AL Cy Young voting.

But it was in the strike-shortened ’95 season that Johnson truly hit the big stage as he led the Mariners to their first AL West title by going 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 30 starts with 294 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings, then won a pair of games -- including a dramatic relief appearance in the deciding Game 5 victory -- as Seattle upset the Yankees in the AL Division Series.

Though back problems wiped out much of his ’96 season, Johnson bounced back to go 20-4 with a 2.28 ERA and 291 strikeouts in ’97 before being traded to the Astros midway through ’98 when it became clear he wasn’t likely to remain in Seattle when his contract expired at the end of the year.

Johnson concluded a 22-year MLB career in 2009 and was named to the Mariners Hall of Fame in '12. He ranks second in MLB history in strikeouts with 4,875 and 22nd in wins with 303.

2) , 1996-2006
Key fact: Only two-time 20-game winner in Mariners history and did it at age 38 and 40

While it’s tough to compete with Johnson as the No. 1 lefty in franchise history, the age-less wonder won more games for the Mariners than the Big Unit, going 145-87 with a 3.97 ERA in 11 seasons.

Moyer couldn’t have been more opposite of Johnson in pitching style as he used command and finesse -- along with a wicked changeup -- to befuddle opposing batters with an assortment of pitches that topped out with a mid-80s fastball. His strikeout rate of 14.1 percent was almost half of Johnson’s 28 percent -- he totaled 1,239 whiffs in 2,093 innings -- but Moyer limited walks and kept opponents off balance so well that he won more games than any Mariners pitcher other than Félix Hernández.

Moyer went 20-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 33 starts for Seattle’s 116-win team in 2001 and 21-7 with a 3.27 ERA in ’03, when he earned the lone All-Star berth in his 25-year career. While Moyer’s subtle pitching style made him oft-overlooked on the national stage, his story stands as a testament to the value of persistence as the 6-foot, 170-pounder from Pennsylvania won 203 MLB games in his career after being acquired by the Mariners at age 33.

After retiring from the Rockies in '12 at 49, Moyer was elected to the Mariners Hall of Fame in '15.

"I kiddingly and lovingly called him Coach Moyer,” said his longtime Mariners manager Lou Piniella. “What he accomplished here in Seattle was simply amazing.”

3) , 1984-89
Key fact: Led the AL in strikeouts in 1984, ’86 and ‘87

Langston was establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in Mariners history until he was traded in 1989 to the Expos, for Johnson and two other prospects as Langston approached free agency. Johnson eventually supplanted Langston’s legacy -- and beat him in the critical one-game playoff with the Angels that gave Seattle its first AL West title in ’95 -- but what the youngster from Southern California accomplished shouldn’t be overlooked.

Langston was the top rookie pitcher in the AL in 1984 when he went 17-10 with a 3.40 ERA and an AL-leading 204 strikeouts in 225 innings. He went 19-13 with a 3.84 ERA in ’87 while striking out a career-best 262 in 272 innings and earning his first AL All-Star bid and the first of two Gold Glove Awards. Langston wound up an impressive 74-67 with a 4.01 ERA in six seasons in Seattle -- all while pitching on teams with losing records -- before being dealt to the Expos and going on to a 16-year MLB career that included three more All-Star appearances and five more Gold Gloves with the Angels.

4) , 2013-18
Key fact: Threw no-hitter in 2018

Paxton teased the Mariners with his potential for much of his six seasons in Seattle, and while injuries limited his production, the lanky Canadian was very impressive when healthy. Though he never made an All-Star team, Paxton went 41-26 in 102 starts and his 3.42 ERA is tied with Johnson for the best in franchise history for any lefty with 100-plus starts.

Paxton racked up 617 strikeouts in 582 1/3 innings and his 25.7 strikeout percentage is second only to Johnson’s 28.0 among Mariners’ southpaws. The British Columbia native became the fifth Mariner starter to throw a no-hitter when he blanked the Blue Jays in Toronto in 2018 and the second Canadian in MLB history to throw a no-no.

5) Floyd Bannister, 1979-82
Key fact: AL All-Star in 1982

Bannister, a product of Seattle’s Kennedy High School, put together four strong seasons for his hometown club after being acquired from the Astros in a trade prior to the 1979 season. While Bannister’s record was just 40-50 while pitching for four teams that finished well below .500, he posted a 3.75 ERA and 124 ERA+ in 118 games (117 starts).

Bannister earned AL All-Star honors in ’82 when he went 12-13 with a 3.43 ERA and led the AL with 209 strikeouts in 35 starts before signing with the White Sox as a free agent the following year.

Honorable mention

Matt Young earned AL All-Star honors in 1983 when he posted a 3.27 ERA and 11-15 record in 33 games (32 starts) as a 24-year-old rookie for a 102-loss club.

was the Mariners’ All-Star representative in 1980 when he went 10-17 with a 3.94 ERA in 30 starts for a 103-loss team.

has gone 30-23 with a 4.12 ERA in his first 2 1/2 seasons with Seattle.

• Though he made just 13 starts with Seattle, was 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA before being flipped to the Rangers prior to hitting free agency in 2010.