Blue Jays' Top 5 righty starters: Matheson's take

May 25th, 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 favourite at this position.

Here is Keegan Matheson’s ranking of the top five right-handed starters in Blue Jays history. Next week: Left-handed starters.

Blue Jays' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH

1) , 1998-2009
Key fact: Won the '03 Cy Young Award after posting a 3.25 ERA in 36 starts totaling 266 innings

Halladay checks off every box when we try to define greatness in sports. His career featured both extended dominance and noteworthy peaks, while his dedication to his craft and his early-career turnaround endeared him to Blue Jays fans on a more human level. Doc was the best that Toronto has seen, and now he’s the model pitcher for those who come after him.

Halladay went from top prospect to baseball’s worst pitcher and back to dominating the league … all before he turned 25. The stories of Halladay rebuilding his game after opening 2000 with a 10.64 ERA over 67 2/3 innings are some of the most interesting pieces of Blue Jays history, and what he did over the remainder of his career in Toronto and Philadelphia made him worthy of his Hall of Fame status.

Much like Carlos Delgado on many of those same teams, Halladay’s talent was never matched with the playoff success it deserved in Toronto. He later found that as a member of the Phillies, including some of his career’s finest moments, but his 2003 Cy Young Award and six All-Star appearances in Toronto only begin to scratch the surface on 12 seasons that came to define what an ace is.

2) , 1979-92, '98
Key fact: Blue Jays’ all-time leader in wins (175), starts (408) and innings pitched (2,873)

Stieb’s name feels unnatural anywhere other than No. 1 given his incredible career with the Blue Jays, but such is the nature of list-making. If anything, this is an opportunity for the younger generation of Toronto fans, or fans new to baseball, to appreciate just how talented he was.

Stieb was a true ace for the Blue Jays during the 1980s, appearing in seven All-Star Games and winning the AL ERA title in '85 (2.48). Frankly, it's surprising to look back on his career and not see more accolades, but it’s worth noting that most of his career came before the club reached its peak with the World Series campaigns of the early 90s.

On Sept. 2, 1990, Stieb got the moment he had been chasing for so long when he completed a no-hitter against the Indians. Three times prior, Stieb had taken a no-no into the ninth inning, and each time, he had fallen just short. That was Stieb’s last full season, at age 32, before injuries slowed him down over his last four. His surprise comeback at age 40, though, after four full seasons away from the game, remains one of the great stories in club history.

3) Jim Clancy, 1977-88
Key fact: Only Stieb threw more innings than Clancy (2,204 2/3) in Blue Jays history

Clancy was an original Blue Jay, selected from the Rangers in the 1976 Expansion Draft before making his MLB debut in July '77, Toronto’s inaugural season.

The six-foot-four right-hander ate some serious innings over the years, and while he endured the expected ups and downs, he was a steadying force for so many of those Blue Jays rotations. One of his best seasons came in 1982 and earned him his lone All-Star appearance in a career that deserved a few more. That season, Clancy made 40 starts, posting a 3.71 ERA over 266 2/3 innings.

“Clancy was one of the most unique guys I’ve ever met,” former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston told Sportsnet in 2017. “He was a tower of strength. Take the ball whenever you wanted him to, didn’t really care who he was playing.”

4) , 1991-99, 2004
Key fact: Won the '96 Cy Young Award, becoming the first pitcher in Blue Jays history to do so

Hentgen came to be synonymous with the Blue Jays through his playing career and the connection he has kept with the organization in retirement. He was just breaking through during the World Series years, truly stepping into the spotlight in 1993, his first full season in the Majors.

There were a couple of tough seasons along the way, but when Hentgen was on, he was one of the game’s best right-handers. His peak in 1996-97 saw him top 260 innings in each campaign, earning a Cy Young Award and All-Star nod along the way.

5) , 1997-98
Key fact: Won the Cy Young Award in each of his two seasons with the Blue Jays

There’s really no consensus for where or how Roger Clemens fits in Blue Jays history. He spent two years with Toronto that were, in every way, one of the best two-year stretches a pitcher has ever produced. That 1997 season, valued at 10.7 WAR by FanGraphs, saw Clemens post a 2.05 ERA while striking out 292 batters over 264 innings ... eye-popping numbers pulled straight from a video game.

But Clemens' 1997 production came on a team that finished dead last in the AL East, and the Blue Jays finished third in his second year. Clemens’ seasons have never been fully adopted into Blue Jays lore by the fan base and are completely unacknowledged by many, but any list excluding those numbers feels incomplete.

Honorable mentions:
Leaving ’s name off this list violates several Canadian laws, so I’m expecting that knock at my door any moment now. His peak seasons were brilliant, and his style of pitching could still fit in today’s game. Between him and Hentgen, you’re really splitting hairs. … played a valuable role on the World Series teams and made 175 career starts for the Blue Jays from 1988-94. … spent parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays and posted a 3.56 ERA over 750 innings. … is the great story of what could have been, pitching six seasons with a 4.83 ERA in Toronto before eventually finding his Cy Young form in St. Louis. … Luis Leal’s name deserves to be mentioned more often than it is. The Venezuelan right-hander played all six of his Major League seasons with the Blue Jays in the '80s, with a few very strong ones mixed in. … was, at times, a great 1-2 punch with Halladay and posted a 5.09 fWAR in 2008.