The Diamondbacks’ Five Greatest Pitchers
Randy Johnson (1999-2004, 2007-08)
Tall, tense and equipped with a fiery fastball, the Big Unit was an impressive but raw talent in his early years with Seattle—but by the time he signed with Arizona in 1999, he had mastered the combination of 100-MPH fastballs and sliders that would unleash him into one of the most remarkable stretches of pitching yet seen in baseball.
In his first four years with the Diamondbacks, Johnson won 81 games (31 of them complete, 11 by shutout) and lost just 27; struck out 1,417 batters, the most by any pitcher in a four-year period; and became only the second pitcher ever to win four straight Cy Young Awards. His 2001 campaign was especially noteworthy; among his 372 strikeouts (11 shy of Nolan Ryan’s all-time mark), 20 came in one game and another 16 in a seven-inning relief appearance. He also killed a bird with a fastball in spring training (the poor thing literally exploded into a cloud of feathers) and won three games in the World Series against the New York Yankees, the last in an effective Game Seven relief appearance just one day after throwing seven solid innings in Game Six.
A knee injury curtailed his run in 2003, but he returned to top form a year later at age 40, highlighting the season by becoming the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game. Despite a 2.60 ERA that year, Johnson could only compile a 16-14 record as he was rarely supported by a badly weakened (51-111) Diamondback team. After an unpleasant two-year stay with the Yankees, Johnson returned to Arizona—but he couldn’t recapture the magic of his first tour of desert duty, with a bad back largely to blame.
Brandon Webb (2003-10)
Webb assumed the role of staff ace from Johnson and established a first-rate presence of his own in the late 2000s, racking up a 56-25 record over a three-year period (2006-08) dotted with a myriad of accomplishments. In 2006, Webb became the first Arizona pitcher not named Randy Johnson to win the NL Cy Young Award; in 2007, he strung together 42 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest seen in the majors since Orel Hershiser’s all-time mark of 59 in 1988; and he led the majors in 2008 with 22 wins but lost that year’s Cy to San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, who won four fewer games yet had a superior ERA.
Visions of prolonged greatness for Webb were shattered in his first start of 2009 when he succumbed to a major shoulder injury; after three years and numerous comeback attempts with a number of teams, he gave up and announced his retirement in early 2013.
Curt Schilling (2000-03)
The outspoken Alaska native joined the Diamondbacks from Philadelphia a year after Johnson arrived and paired with the Big Unit to form baseball’s most dominating 1-2 pitching punch since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the 1960s.
In his first full year with Arizona in 2001, Schilling led the NL in wins (22) and innings (256.2) and was brilliant in the postseason for the eventual world champion D-Backs, going 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA and striking out 56 batters (while walking just six) in 48.1 innings. Schilling shared not only the World Series MVP with Johnson (who was equally brilliant) but also the prestigious Sportsman of the Year honor from Sports Illustrated.
Schilling remained superb a year later, winning more games (23), throwing more innings (259.1) and striking out more batters (316) but led the league in neither category and finished runner-up for the second straight year in the NL Cy Young vote—to Johnson. In 2003, his final year in Arizona, Schilling lowered his ERA (to 2.95) but could only manage an 8-9 record, missing a month and a half to a hand injury. He signed after the season with Boston, where he regained the spotlight during the Red Sox’ magnificent 2004 postseason rally; he remained in it after his playing days, and not always for the right reason—running a video game company he started into bankruptcy, and having his job as on-air analyst for ESPN terminated after the left-leaning sports network found his right-leaning social media posts to be leaning too far to the right.
Ian Kennedy (2010-2013)
After two brief, spotty stints followed by a year off recovering from an aneurysm in his arm, the right-hander from USC wasn’t so much traded to the Diamondbacks as he was dumped upon them, part of a mammoth three-team deal that would end up working for everyone involved; the Tigers got Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson, the Yankees received Curtis Granderson, and the Diamondbacks highly benefitted from the presence of Kennedy, whose solid fastball and strong accompaniment of off-speed pitches briefly made him a prime component in the Diamondbacks’ rotation.
After a blasé 9-10 record and 3.80 ERA in his 2010 Arizona debut, Kennedy broke out in 2011, leading the NL with 21 wins and an .840 winning percentage (losing just four times) to help the Diamondbacks nab an unexpected NL West title. His ERA retracted back to 4.02 in 2012, but his 15-12 record suggested that he had a strong knack for sniffing out wins. That vanished a year later when a rotten start precipitated a midseason trade to San Diego.
Dan Haren (2008-10)
The reliable innings-eating specialist had a short but solid stay with the Diamondbacks, complimenting Webb in the rotation and taking the role of staff ace when Webb’s shoulder failed him. In his two full years at Arizona, Haren was 30-18 with a 3.23 ERA, and as tough as he was to hit, he also didn’t waste pitches, allowing just 1.75 walks per nine innings. Haren lost his groove in 2010, as opponents hammered him and his ERA sharply rose; in a cost-cutting move, the Diamondbacks sent him to Los Angeles of Anaheim at the trading deadline.
Arizona Diamondbacks' Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Diamondbacks, decade by decade.
The Diamondbacks' Five Greatest Hitters: A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Diamondbacks' Five Greatest Games: A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Diamondbacks' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Diamondbacks' five greatest hitters? Find out here.
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