Red Sox's Top 5 righty starters: Browne'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 favorite at this position.

Here is Ian Browne’s ranking of the top 5 right-handed starting pitchers in Red Sox history. Next week: Left-handed starting pitchers.

Red Sox All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH

1) Pedro Martinez, 1998-04
Key fact: ERA-plus of 190 is tops in Red Sox history

Backed by an explosive fastball and a devastating changeup, Martinez was the most dominant pitcher to take the mound for the Red Sox. When Martinez arrived in 1998, his starts at Fenway Park quickly turned into must-see events. From the K-cards in the bleachers to the Dominican flags all over the park, there was an air of electricity.

“I think he’s the best I’ve ever seen for a period of time,” said Red Sox analyst Jerry Remy, who was in the booth for nearly all of Martinez’s 201 starts for Boston. “I guess if you went longevity-wise, you’d have to say Roger Clemens. But that stretch Pedro had, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”

The stretch included a record of 117-37, a 2.52 ERA and 1,683 strikeouts in 1,383 2/3 innings. For Red Sox pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, Martinez owns the best winning percentage (.760), strikeouts per nine innings (10.95) and opponents' batting average (.206).

His 1999 and 2000 seasons were both for the ages. Martinez went 23-4 in ’99 with a team-record 313 strikeouts. Not only did he lead the American League with a 2.07 ERA, but the margin he held over second-place finisher David Cone (3.44 ERA) was ridiculous. Some people think Martinez was even better in ’00, when he posted a 1.74 ERA and career-bests in ERA-plus (291) and WHIP (0.737). What Martinez is most proud of is the team accomplishment from his final season in Boston, when the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

2) Roger Clemens, 1984-96
Key fact: 80.7 bWAR is the best all time for a Red Sox pitcher

For years, the Red Sox relied heavily on their offense and lacked a stud starting pitcher. That all changed when they drafted this flame-thrower out of the University of Texas with the 19th overall pick in the 1983 MLB Draft. By the AL pennant-winning season of ’86, Clemens had developed into the best pitcher in baseball, going 24-4 with a league-leading 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts. His most unforgettable performance from that season came on April 29, when he set a Major League record by striking out 20 Seattle Mariners. Clemens won the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards in ’86.

Dubbed by teammate Bruce Hurst as “The Rocket,” Clemens won three of his record-setting seven Cy Young Awards while with the Red Sox. Clemens is among the all-time franchise leaders in most categories. He is tied with Cy Young for most wins (192) and shutouts (38) and leads in strikeouts (2,590).

In his final win (and shutout) for the Red Sox, Clemens tied his own record with 20 strikeouts in a start at Tiger Stadium. It is somewhat amazing that Clemens didn’t win the Cy Young Award in 1990, even though he led the league in ERA (1.93), shutouts (4), ERA-plus (211), FIP (2.18), homers per nine innings (0.3) and strikeouts per walk (3.87).

3) Cy Young, 1901-08
Key fact: Won 26 games or more in first four seasons with Boston

By the time Young arrived to the Red Sox (they were called the Americans at the time) at the turn of the 20th century, he was already a legend. He only added to it in Boston by leading the club to its first championship in 1903. In Young’s first two seasons with the Sox, he won 33 and 32 games respectively. Over eight seasons with Boston, Young went 192-112 with a 2.00 ERA.

The one team record Young has with the Red Sox that is sure to never be broken? The 275 complete games he compiled. Despite playing just eight seasons in Boston, Young ranks third on the team’s all-time list in starts (297) and innings (2,728 1/3). His 1.26 ERA in 1908 is the best by a righty in team history. Young had 41 complete games in '02 and another 40 in ’04.

Consider that those impressive Boston years are just a portion of his astoundingly successful career and it’s easy to realize why pitching’s most prized trophy is named after him.

4) “Smoky” Joe Wood, 1908-15
Key fact: Recorded a team-record 34 wins in 1912

At his best, Wood was an absolute force. Helping the Red Sox to their second World Series championship in 1912, Wood went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA, 35 complete games and 10 shutouts. In eight seasons for Boston, he won 117 games and his 1.99 ERA was the best in club history for anyone with 1,000 innings. His ERA-plus of 149 ranks second behind Martinez, as does his winning percentage (minimum of 100 decisions). He ranks ninth in strikeouts. Wood’s 10 shutouts in 1912 tie him with Young for the most in a season by a Boston pitcher.

It’s a shame Wood didn’t have a longer prime. In 1913, he broke his thumb while fielding a bunt and started spending more time as a position player. In fact, Wood became almost primarily a position player after moving on to the Indians and hitting .366 in 194 at-bats in 1921.

5) Luis Tiant, 1971-78
Key fact: Fourth all time in innings pitched for the Red Sox

Aside from Martinez, it’s hard to remember a pitcher who was as beloved by Red Sox fans as El Tiante. The crowd loved his twirling delivery and competitive fire. They loved to roar “Looie, Looie, Looie,” when he was on one of his patented rolls. Tiant became a household name during the 1975 World Series, when he fired a shutout against the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine in Game 1 and showed pure guts with a 163-pitch win in Game 4.

Tiant loved taking the ball in big games for Red Sox teams who were always in the hunt in the mid 1970s. In ’72, Tiant had one of the best seasons for a swingman in franchise history, going 15-6 with a 1.91 ERA. Of his 43 appearances that season, 19 were starts, yet he still had 12 complete games. He settled in as a starter for good the next season and won 20 or more games three times for Boston.

Honorable mentions
Picked up by general manager Dan Duquette after the Pirates released him, Tim Wakefield was an invaluable member of the Red Sox from 1995-2011. His 186 wins with the club is topped only by Young and Clemens. … Tex Hughson was a force before arm injuries ended his career prematurely. He won 22 games in 1942 and 20 for Boston’s AL pennant-winning team in ’46. … Joe Dobson was another key righty for the Sox teams of the ‘40s, going 106-72 over nine seasons. … The Red Sox would not have won the 2007 World Series without Josh Beckett. His postseason run that year (4-0, 1.20 ERA) is one of the most impressive in team history. Beckett went 89-58 for Boston overall. … Curt Schilling pitched just four seasons for the Sox, but he helped the team to a pair of World Series titles. In his eight postseason starts with Boston, Schilling was 6-1. His two bloody sock starts in the ’04 playoffs will never be forgotten.