O's Top 5 left-handed starters: Trezza's 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.

Here is Joe Trezza’s ranking of the top five left-handed starters in Orioles history. Next week: relievers.

Orioles' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RH SP

1. Dave McNally, 1962-74
Key fact: Orioles' all-time leader in wins, starts, shutouts and strikeouts among left-handers

Some context, to begin: Since the Orioles moved to Baltimore in 1954, no American League team can boast more left-handed 20-game winners than the Birds, whose 11 tie with the Yankees for the most. Wins aren’t everything, but they were a more reflective measure of a pitcher’s success at the time when the five southpaws responsible -- all ranked on this list -- pitched. And they help speak to what a packed and crowded category this is for the Orioles’ all-time team, maybe the most competitive in our entire exercise.

We begin with McNally, the best in an illustrious group of left-handers to choose from and arguably the club’s second-best all-time pitcher behind Jim Palmer. A stalwart of the vaunted O’s rotations of the late 1960s and early '70s, McNally recorded the final out of Baltimore’s first World Series victory in 1966. He blossomed into a star a few years later, compiling the first of four consecutive 20-win seasons in ’68. He began the next season with 15 consecutive victories, co-led the Majors with 24 wins the season after that, went 21-5 in 1971 and never posted an ERA below 3.22 during that stretch.

The O’s reached three more World Series and won another championship in ’70, when McNally became the only pitcher to hit a grand slam in a Series game. But in truth, he’d claim the top spot here on his regular-season resume alone. During his five-year peak from 1968-72, McNally averaged 20 victories, a 2.85 ERA and 14 complete games per year. He earned three All-Star selections and finished in the top five in AL Cy Young Award voting three times during that stretch.

2. , 1975-87, '91-92
Key fact: Ranks top five in Orioles history in wins, starts, innings, complete games and strikeouts

The 1979 AL Cy Young Award winner, Flanagan was the Orioles’ ace for a decade and one of their more complicated figures of the past half-century. His ’79 season was the finest in a seven-year peak that saw him go 108-68 with a 3.76 ERA, bookended by banner years the O’s parlayed into AL pennants.

Behind Flanagan’s AL-best 23 wins, five shutouts and sparkling 3.08 ERA, the Orioles reached the World Series in ’79, pushing the Pirates to seven games. He had arguably his second-most effective season during their championship year of ’83, going 12-4 with a 3.30 ERA despite missing time due to injury.

Flanagan went 141-116 with a 3.89 ERA across 15 seasons in Baltimore as a starter and reliever, was part of the club’s 1991 combined no-hitter and was the last Oriole to pitch at Memorial Stadium. After his retirement, Flanagan remained connected to the organization in various roles, including stints as head of baseball operations, pitching coach and broadcaster, until his death by suicide in 2011.

3. , 1969-76
Key fact: 133 complete games with O’s are most in club history among left-handers

A fixture with McNally on those great Orioles staffs of the early 70s, Cuellar was a screwballer who was known during his playing days as one of baseball’s most superstitious players. “Crazy Horse” wouldn’t step on the foul lines, wouldn’t sit on the same spit of the bench twice and wouldn’t pitch with a rosen bag present. And it all often worked.

Upon arriving via trade from the Astros in December 1968, Cuellar won a share of AL Cy Young honors (with Detroit’s Denny McLain) the following season. He tied McNally for the MLB wins crown with 24 in '70, pacing the AL with 21 complete games. Cuellar won 20 games again in ’71, then 18 each in ’72 and ’73 before capturing 22 victories at age 37 in '74. All told, Cuellar went 143-88 with a 3.18 ERA across eight seasons in Baltimore.

4. , 1976-88
Key fact: Ranks top five in Orioles history in starts, innings, complete games and shutouts

Part of the famous 10-player trade between the Yankees and Orioles in 1976, McGregor grew into one of the more durable and dependable starters in Orioles history and remains connected to the club in an advisory role to this day. He was a 20-game winner in 1980, an All-Star in ’81, and he coupled double-digit victories with sub-3.50 ERAs five times.

McGregor won two World Series rings along the way, ans his resume is bolstered by his October contributions to those last two truly great Orioles teams in 1979 and ’83. In ’79, McGregor threw an AL pennant-clinching shutout over the Angels in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series and earned a complete-game victory in World Series Game 3 against the Pirates. He followed that by tossing eight strong innings in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, but he took the loss. His complete-game shutout in Game 5 of the '83 World Series over the Phillies clinched Baltimore’s most recent title.

5. , 1960-67
Key fact: First 20-game winner in Orioles history (1963)

The hard-throwing local product (born in Takoma Park, Md., and graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring) came up as part of the O’s “Kiddie Korps” movement in 1960, jumping from the Class D Minors into a rotation with Jerry Walker, Chuck Estrada, Milt Pappas and Jack Fisher. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and spotty control, Barber quickly became known as one of the most uncomfortable at-bats in baseball, leading the Majors in walks and wild pitches that year.

"That spring, I got timed as the fastest pitcher in the Major Leagues,” Barber told The Baltimore Sun in 2001. “They used a high-speed camera and got a panoramic view and computed it mathematically ... turned out I was the fastest.”

Barber's flaws morphed into an asset once he learned to harness his plus stuff. He led the Majors with eight shutouts in 1961, became the club’s first 20-game winner in ’63 and was named an All-Star in ’63 and ’66. Barber went 95-75 with a 3.12 ERA across eight seasons in Baltimore, before going on to pitch for the Yankees and five other teams. He is still the Orioles’ leader in career starter ERA among left-handers.

Honorable mentions

We are only considering Orioles players for this exercise, but Carl Weilman was one of the St. Louis Browns’ first consistently effective lefties, winning 84 games in the 1910s. … Lefty Stewart was the Browns' first lefty 20-game winner in 1930. … Jeff Ballard earned cult hero status in Baltimore during the O’s “Why Not?” season of 1989, winning a career-high 18 games. … The Orioles parlayed two excellent Erik Bedard seasons in their most important trade this century, flipping him to Seattle for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and George Sherrill in February 2008. ... Joe Saunders made only nine starts with the O’s, but his performance in the 2012 AL Wild Card Game demands mention here. ... Wei-Yin Chen was a durable and dependable presence in the O’s rotation from 2012-15, making key postseason starts in ‘12 and ’14. ... John Means’ excellent 2019 season is worth noting, as it was arguably the best by a rookie left-hander in Orioles history.