Ranking the top 10 MLB rotations of all time: Zack Greinke gives Astros one of the best in baseball history

The Houston Astros' acquisition of six-time All Star Zack Greinke at the final buzzer of the 2019 trade deadline turned the baseball world upside down. Heading into July 31, Houston already owned the best record in the American League and featured one of the best rotations in baseball. With the addition of Greinke and Aaron Sanchez, the Stros went from being tops in the league to, arguably, having one of the greatest rotations in baseball history.

The city known for being the nerve center of space exploration now holds a pitching staff that truly is out of this world.

While the sample size is minuscule, the argument for the Astros having the most talented rotation of all time is not so far-fetched. The recent acquisitions sparked our interest to research and find out who in history had the most dominant staff.

Our list is subjective and based on, but not limited to, the following criteria: combined starters statistics, team and individual accolades, and postseason success for all of the top five starters in their respective rotations. Due to differences in pitching and managing strategies, we have limited our list to the live-ball era (1920-present).

So, where will baseball's most dominant rotation today land among the all-time greats? Let's find out.

(*signifies All Star)

10. 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers

Recency bias? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the Dodgers currently have the greatest regular season pitcher of our generation in Clayton Kershaw, one of the best young arms in recent years in Walker Buehler, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is currently a strong candidate to win the NL Cy Young award this year. Rich Hill is on his way back and Dustin "Gyngergaard" May has shown glimpses of serious stuff. A pretty little World Series ring would, without a doubt, push this squad up the all-time ranks.

9. 2010 San Francisco Giants

  • Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14 ERA)
  • Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43 ERA)*
  • Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07 ERA)
  • Madison Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00 ERA)
  • Barry Zito (9-14, 4.15 ERA)

One could argue the 2011 Giants rotation put up better numbers and were more dominant. Nevertheless, 2010 is when the dynasty began. Matt Cain was his horse-like self, Tim Lincecum was fresh off back-to-back Cy Young awards, and the legacy of playoff Madison Bumgarner made his debut at 19. The core of this staff went on to win another ring two seasons later with a sweep over Detroit.

8. 1972 Oakland Athletics

  • Catfish Hunter (21-7, 2.04 ERA)*
  • Ken Holtzman (19-11, 2.51 ERA)*
  • Blue Moon Odem (15-6, 2.50 ERA)*
  • Vida Blue (6-10, 2.80 ERA)
  • Dave Hamilton (6-6, 2.93 ERA)

Talk about a dynasty. With Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter leading the charge, the Oakland A's went on to win three consecutive World Series from 1972-74. The Oakland staff led the league in total innings pitched (1,417 2/3) and remarkably, all five starters sported a sub-3.00 ERA.

7. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies

  • Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA)*
  • Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA)*
  • Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA)*
  • Roy Oswalt (9-10, 3.69 ERA)
  • Vance Worley (11-3, 3.01 ERA)

Roy, Cliff and Cole were the early 2010s version of this year's Astros. The staff led the league in ERA, and Halladay, Lee and Hamels finished top-five in voting for the NL Cy Young. The most iconic of moments for this group is Doc's NLDS no-hitter, just the second in postseason history.

6. 1971 Baltimore Orioles 

  • Mike Cueller (20-9, 3.08 ERA)*
  • Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90 ERA)
  • Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68 ERA)*
  • Dave McNally (21-5, 2.68 ERA)

Baltimore during the early 1970s was a place few hitters wanted to visit. The O's became the first starting staff since the 1920 White Sox to have four starters with 20 or more wins in a single season. Although wins for starting pitchers should almost always be taken with a grain of salt, the Orioles also led the league with a 2.99 ERA and tossed a combined 71 complete games. That's impressive.

5. 1954 Cleveland Indians

  • Early Wynn (23-11, 2.73 ERA)
  • Mike Garcia (19-8, 2.64 ERA)*
  • Bob Lemon (23-7, 2.72 ERA)*
  • Art Houtteman (15-7, 3.55 ERA)
  • Bob Feller (13-3, 3.09 ERA)

With a staff that featured three Hall of Famers in Wynn, Lemon and Feller, the Indians held three of the top four AL leaders in ERA. Garcia led all American League pitchers with his 2.64 ERA, while Lemon and Wynn finished third and fourth. The team finished second in total strikeouts and pitched its way to the AL pennant. 

4. 1988 New York Mets

  • Dwight Gooden (18-9, 3.19 ERA)*
  • Ron Darling (17-9, 3.25 ERA)
  • David Cone (20-3, 2.22 ERA)*
  • Bob Ojeda (10-13, 2.88 ERA)
  • Sid Fernandez (12-10, 3.03 ERA)

Although the Mets would come up short against Orel Hershiser's Dodgers in the NLCS, this rotation was full of star power in a New York market that loves big names. Dwight Gooden and company led all of baseball in ERA (2.91), strikeouts (1,100), WHIP (1.15) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.72). If not for "The Bulldog" out in Los Angeles, David Cone likely would have run away with the NL Cy Young.

3. 2019 Houston Astros

Priding themselves on spin rate, pitching coach Brent Strom and the Astros' analytical team have taken many of their starting pitchers -- Verlander, Cole, Charlie Morton, Wade Miley -- and guided them to a whole new level of dominance in recent years. Whether Houston is able to take Greinke to another level is uncertain. Even if they don't, the Greinke we have seen today is still one of the most efficient pitchers of this era. The Astros have two likely future Hall of Famers in Verlander and Greinke. Cole is following the same path. While it might be early to compare this squad to the others on our list, based on potential and individual past success, the Astros are without a doubt one of the most talented rotations to ever assemble.

2. 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Sandy Koufax (27-9, 1.73 ERA)*
  • Don Drysdale (13-16, 3.42 ERA)
  • Claude Osteen (17-14, 2.85 ERA)
  • Don Sutton (12-12, 2.99 ERA)

We would not be doing our due diligence if we left out a Sandy Koufax-led rotation in any starting pitching rankings. As if Koufax wasn't enough, the Dodgers ran out two more Hall of Fame arms in Don Drysdale and Don Sutton. The four-man rotation featured three of the very best pitchers to ever play the game. Los Angeles' staff led all of baseball with a combined 2.62 ERA.

1. 1998 Atlanta Braves

  • Greg Maddux (18-9, 2.22 ERA)*
  • Tom Glavine (20-6, 2.47 ERA)*
  • Denny Neagle (16-11, 3.55 ERA)
  • Kevin Millwood (17-8, 4.08 ERA)
  • John Smoltz (17-3, 2.90 ERA)

It will be incredibly difficult to knock off any of the 1990s Braves starting staffs for this spot that featured the three-headed monster that was Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. The starting rotation, highlighted by its three Hall of Famers, led the league in just about every category: ERA (3.25), strikeouts (1,232), WHIP (1.22), shutouts (14) and ERA+ (128). Though Glavine walked away with the Cy, both Maddux and Smoltz finished in the top five for the award. This rotation was the best to ever do it, bar none. 

Honorable Mention:

  • 2019 New York Mets
  • 2013 Detroit Tigers
  • 2003 Oakland Athletics
  • 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks
  • 1986 Houston Astros
  • 1985 Los Angeles Dodgers
  • 1968 St. Louis Cardinals
  • 1959 Chicago White Sox
  • 1948 Cleveland Indians
  • 1945 Detroit Tigers
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