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O's Top 5 right-handed starters: Trezza's take

@JoeTrezz
May 25, 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

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 5 right-handed starters in Orioles history. Next week: Left-handed starters.

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

1. Jim Palmer, 1965-84
Key fact: First-ballot Hall of Famer owns the franchise record in nearly every major pitching category

No surprise here. Palmer isn’t just the best Orioles pitcher ever, he’s one of their all-time figures, having served the franchise for decades as both an enduring ace and respected broadcaster. If there was a Mount Rushmore of club legends, his face would be on it.

One of the game’s all-time great starters, Palmer is the franchise’s leader in wins (268), starts (521), complete games (211), shutouts (53), starter ERA (2.80) and strikeouts (2,212). The 19-year Oriole was a three-time Cy Young Award winner, eight-time 20-game winner, six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner. He paced the American League in wins three times and innings four times, twice winning the ERA crown on top of leading MLB hurlers in starts and shutouts twice and complete games once.

All he did was win: Palmer ruled the 1970s

It’s a largely peerless resume, capped by World Series titles in 1966, '70 and '83. Palmer is the only Oriole to pitch in all six of the franchise’s Fall Classic appearances and the only pitcher to record a World Series victory in three different decades.

2. Mike Mussina, 1991-2000
Key fact: Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019

A model of consistency over his 18-year career, Mussina went into the Hall of Fame with a blank cap because his career was split relatively evenly between Baltimore (10 seasons) and the Yankees (eight seasons). But one thing is not debatable: Mussina’s best statistical seasons came almost exclusively for the Orioles, who drafted him 20th overall in the 1990 MLB Draft and can claim him as their best homegrown arm of at least the last 35 years. He’s also the slam-dunk second best right-hander in their history.

Spearheading the O’s rotation throughout the 1990s, Mussina went 147-81 with a 3.53 ERA across a full decade in the Charm City. In Baltimore, he made all five of his career All-Star Games, won four of his eventual seven Gold Glove Awards and finished at least fifth in Cy Young Award voting five times. He claimed the league wins title in '95, led the Orioles to playoff appearances in '96 and '97 (especially excelling in the '97 postseason), and remains among the qualified franchise leaders in a slew of major statistical categories. His success is heightened by how it came in the hyper-competitive AL East, in a notoriously hitter-friendly home ballpark and at the height of the steroid era.

3. Mike Boddicker, 1980-88
Key fact: 1983 AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player

No Orioles pitcher has claimed a league ERA title since Boddicker -- the steady and sometimes brilliant ace of the mid-1980s -- captured both the AL ERA and wins crowns in '84. Fresh off his heroics in the ’83 postseason, Boddicker went 20-11 with a 2.79 ERA and 16 complete games, finishing fourth in Cy Young voting that year. It came on the back half of a two-year run so dominant that it alone would likely warrant a mention on this list.

But what buoys Boddicker this high is that spectacular October performance in 1983 and its impact on Orioles history. After idling for years at Triple-A despite obvious talent, Boddicker broke out with a 16-8 record and a 2.77 ERA as a rookie in '83, leading AL pitchers with five shutouts. He arrived in earnest that autumn, tossing a five-hit shutout in Game 2 of the ALCS against the White Sox, then twirling another complete-game victory in the World Series over the Phillies. It remains one of the greatest postseason performances by a rookie in MLB history.

4. Milt Pappas, 1957-65
Key fact: 3.28 ERA over 232 starts with the Orioles, sixth best in club history among starters (min. 50 starts)

It’s perhaps unfair Pappas is best remembered as what the Orioles gave up in the 1965 trade for Frank Robinson, given that he remains, five-plus decades later, objectively one of the best starters the O's have ever employed. Though his contributions could never match Robinson’s in Baltimore, Pappas still had more success with the Orioles than history tends to give him credit for.

Signed out of the Detroit high school circuit in 1957, Pappas debuted later that summer as an 18-year-old. He was part of Baltimore’s rotation a year later, posting double-digit victories in each of the next eight seasons. Pappas earned All-Star recognition in '62 and '65, and pitched to sub-3.00 ERAs in '64 and '65 before being sent to Cincinnati, then finished his career with stints in Atlanta and Chicago. He was a star-quality pitcher everywhere he went, ultimately retiring with a 209-164 record and 3.40 ERA across 520 games (465 starts).

Pappas went 110-74 with a 3.24 mark across 264 games (232 starts) for the Orioles, and still ranks among their all-time leaders in starts (eighth), wins (seventh) and complete games (sixth).

5. Dennis Martinez, 1976-86
Key fact: Held the MLB record for wins by a Latin-born pitcher for 20 years (1998-2018)

The first native of Nicaragua to play in the big leagues and the longtime record holder for most wins by a Latin pitcher, “El Presidente” left a mixed legacy in Baltimore, where he emerged in the late 1970s as one of the game’s most talented young pitchers. From '77-81, he was a rising star, capturing league wins, starts, complete games and innings titles along the way. When he finished fifth in Cy Young voting in '81, Martinez appeared poised for bigger things.

They eventually came, but elsewhere and not before significant hurdles. Problems with alcoholism derailed the prime years of his career, extending to being left off the 1983 World Series-winning roster. His career didn’t turn around until a June '86 trade to Montreal, where he would enjoy a late-career resurgence.

Still, Martinez makes this list largely due to volume. He still ranks among the franchise’s top 10 hurlers in wins, starts, innings and strikeouts.

Honorable mentions
We are only considering Orioles players for this exercise, but Harry Howell led the AL in complete games alongside a 1.98 ERA in 1905, and he owns the St. Louis Browns’ all-time ERA crown (2.06). ... Urban Shocker won 126 games over seven seasons with the Browns, including the AL wins title in '21. ... Ned Garver led AL pitchers in complete games in both '50 and ’51, but finished under .500 over five years with the Browns. ... Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm was an All-Star and won the league ERA crown in ’59, then made two more All-Star appearances as an Orioles reliever. ... Robin Roberts enjoyed a few strong late-career seasons with the Orioles, padding his Hall of Fame resume after 14 years in Philadelphia. ... Steve Stone won the Cy Young Award with an Orioles-record 25 wins in '80. ... Pat Dobson ('71), Mike Torrez ('75) and Wayne Garland ('76) were also 20-game winners with the club. ... Scott Erickson had three straight 15-plus win seasons from '97-99 and led the AL in starts, complete games and innings in ’98. ... Chris Tillman was the de facto ace of playoff-bound O’s teams of the mid-2010s and an All-Star in '14.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.