The Houston Astros are fortunate to have had a plethora of dominant starting pitchers during their fifty years as an organization. When you think from a broader perspective, it is difficult to think of a position where the Astros have had more success in the long run and more quality depth at a position.
Throughout most if not all of their deep runs into the postseason, the Astros were always known for getting wins from their pitching and defense. The Astrodome certainly helped build that reputation in the early years, but then the 2005 team had a dominant pitching staff and they went further than any Astros team in franchise history.
Due to the fact that the Astros have had so much success on the mound in franchise history, we are going to lengthen this All-Time Rankings piece. As always, keep in mind that these rankings are based on a player's stint in Houston only. Without further ado, here are the top 10 Houston Astros starting pitchers of all time:
Honorable Mention: Dallas Keuchel
Although some may believe that it is too early to name Dallas Keuchel as one of the ten best Astros starting pitchers of all time, we believe that you cannot have this list without including the Bearded One.
In 2015, Keuchel put together one of the most remarkable seasons ever by an Astros pitcher. And yes, while he may have faltered a bit in 2016 due to injury or other issues, Keuchel's 2015 performance must be recognized on this list. That year, Keuchel posted a 2.48 ERA, was a 20-game winner, pitched 232.0 innings, and struck out 216 opposing hitters while allowing free passes to first base only 51 times. His ERA+ was a staggering 157 and he also finished with a 7.2 WAR.
Many Astros fans will want to see Keuchel climb higher on this list through the coming years, and there's no doubt that he has the potential to do so. Keuchel could never replicate his 2015 season again and still make waves on this list by keeping an ERA around 3.00 and maintaining a 200 inning count for the next couple of seasons or so. Here are some highlights from Keuchel's time in Houston thus far:
- 2015 American League Cy Young Award Winner
- American League Gold Glove Award Winner for Pitchers (2014, 2015, 2016)
- 2015 American League All Star
- Top 5 in American League WAR for Pitchers (2014, 2015)
- Threw Five Complete Games in 2014
10.) Mike Hampton
The ninth best pitcher in Houston Astros franchise history was another member of the late 1990s Astros teams that produced some great runs in the regular season. Mike Hampton, like Shane Reynolds, was crucial to the success of the 1998 and 1999 Houston Astros.
Hampton, unlike many of his peers, could absolutely rake as a hitter and be one of the best pitchers in the league. In 1999, Hampton finished with a .311 (yes .311!!!) batting average, 10 runs batted in, and even drew seven walks. As you could imagine, Hampton ran away with the National League Silver Slugger Award for pitchers that season.
As a pitcher, Hampton was pretty good as well. His best season came in 1999, when he finished with an unbelievable 22-4 record, 2.90 ERA, 155 ERA+, and added 177 strikeouts. In his five full seasons pitching for the Astros, Hampton had a productive 3.39 ERA and totaled almost 1,000 total innings. On top of all that, Hampton delivered a clutch postseason performance in 1998 when he threw six shutout innings in San Diego in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Overall, Hampton did not put enough great seasons on the board to climb up this list, as there is some tough competition ahead of him that includes many Hall of Fame caliber players. Here are some highlights from Mike Hampton's time with the Astros:
- 1999 National League All Star
- 1999 National League Silver Slugger Award Winner for Pitchers
- 22-Game Winner in 1999, an Astros Franchise Record
- 2nd in Cy Young Voting in 1999
9.) Don Wilson
Alright now we're going to reach back a bit to find the seventh best pitcher in Astros franchise history. Don Wilson was a starting pitcher for the Houston Astros from 1967-1974 and had some stellar seasons pitching in the cavernous Astrodome.
Wilson was steady on the mound, starting more than 26 games for the Astros in each season from 1967 to 1974 and was very productive as well. His best season came in 1971, when he finished with a 16-10 record, 2.45 ERA, and 180 strikeouts compared to 79 walks. His 6.1 WAR was the highest out of all of his teammates, hitters or pitchers, that season as well.
As an encore, Wilson had another stellar season in 1972, when his ERA rose just a bit to 2.68 but walked 13 less hitters and pitched another 228.1 innings throughout the season. It is so very tragic that we lost Don Wilson so young, as he was an amazing pitcher for the Astros who never missed a game.
It speaks volumes about Wilson's career that he is able to stay on this list at #9 despite pitching his last game for the Astros more than 40 years ago. He set the foundation for many great Astros pitchers after him and will be remembered as a great pitcher for the Houston Astros. Here are some highlights from Wilson's career:
- 1971 National League All Star
- 6.1 WAR in 1971 was 4th Highest among all pitchers
- 235 Strikeouts in 1969 was 4th Highest among all NL pitchers
- 3.15 Career ERA is 8th Best in Houston Astros Franchise History
8.) Randy Johnson
There was no way I wasn’t putting Randy Johnson on this list. When you have one of the greatest pitchers of all time put together the best stretch of his career on your team, you put him on the All-Time Great list. I don’t care if it was less than half a season. This is Houston sports after all. When you have guys like Bob Aspromonte and Lee May on your all-time athlete lists, you sure as hell don’t exclude Randy-fucking-Johnson While many will say trading so much for Randy Johnson in 1998 was a mistake. Yes, its true the Astros gave up two future All-Stars, but Houston made a statement with that trade.
They absolutely sent it for a World-Series ring, which is the mentality a franchise should always have. This was the definition of a “shoot-your-shot” type of trade, and its hard to call it a failure when Johnson’s 10-1 record, 1.28 ERA, and116 strikeouts in just over 84 innings helped the ‘Stros win their second straight NL Central division title. All of the Big Units starts were packed to the brim, and his 2-month stint with the team was legendary.
However, the Astros didn’t win a ring. The Stros lost in the NLDS to the Padres, and Randy Johnson received two losses in two starts despite only giving up three runs total. Had the Astros received a little run support during the 1998 playoffs, perhaps they win a title and Randy Johnson is undoubtedly (and un-controversially) higher on this list. Maybe he signs long-term with the Astros coming off a championship high, and he becomes the undoubted greatest starting pitcher the Astros have ever had. Who knows.
Regardless, I had to include one of baseball’s GOATs on this list. According to the Big Unit, he gave Houston “the best two months of my career”, and he wasn’t wrong. Randy Johnson is an interesting piece in Houston sports-lore, and gets the nod for top-10 starting pitchers.
7.) Joe Niekro
Joe, the knuckle-baller, Niekro had 11 very productive seasons with the Astros. Niekro played 22 seasons in the Majors, but his best ball easily came in Houston.
Niekro adopted his high-heat knuckle-ball when joining the Astros in 1975, and the rest is history. Niekro finished his Astros career with a 144-116 record, with a 3.22 ERA.
Niekro was the brother of Phil Niekro, another highly successful knuckleball pitcher. The brothers have combined for the most wins all-time for a combo of brother pitchers, but that doesn't mean there wasn't some rivalry; Joe's hit his only career home-run off of his brother in 1976.
- Astros Career-Leader in Wins (144)
- All-Star 1979
- 2nd in Cy-Young voting 1979
- 6th in Career WAR among Astros Starting Pitchers
- 2-Straight 20-win seasons (1979-1980)
6.) Larry Dierker
Dierker was perhaps the first great Astros pitcher, as he made his Major League debut with the Colt .45's on his 18th birthday and spent almost all of his career Houston.
Dierker's best season came in 1969, in which he compiled a 20-13 record with a 2.33 ERA, making the All-Stars and being named the team's MVP. Dierker finished his career with an 137-117 record and a 3.28 ERA.
The fact that Dierker went on to become one of the team's broadcasters, and then one of the team's best managers in history only cemented his legacy with the Astros. He is one of the top starting pitchers the Astros have ever had, and there are many great ones.
- Club-Record for games-started, complete-games, innings-pitched, and shut-outs.
- 2x All-Star 1969, 1971
- Highest Single-Season WAR of any Astros SP (8.6 in 1969)
- Astros MVP 1969
- 2nd in Career WAR among Astros starting pitchers
5.) Roger Clemens
"The Rocket" chose to come out of retirement to join the 'Stros, and was absolutely brilliant in his few seasons in Houston. In 2004, his first season with the team, went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA, winning the Cy-Young award in the process.
He was even better in 2005, but lack of run support caused his career and Major League season low ERA of 1.87 not quiet match his 13-8 record. Clemens came out of retirement again in 2006 to pitchout an injury-riddled season, and finished his 3 season career with the Astros 38-18 record and 2.40 ERA.
While Clemens is a controversial figure, he was dominant for the Astros during a very important time. The Rocket helped the Astros reach their first ever World-Series birth, and will go down as one of the best to ever don an Astros jersey.
- Cy-Young Winner 2004
- 2x All-Star 2004, 2005
- MLB ERA leader in 2005
- 3rd highest single-season WAR of any Astros Pitcher (7.8)
4.) Mike Scott
It is safe to say that the Houston Astros would not have their amazing run in the mid 1980s without the miraculous pitching efforts that Mike Scott was able to produce on a consistent basis. For eight seasons from 1983 to 1990, there was no one more dominant in an Astros uniform than Scott.
In 1986, Scott helped the Astros reach the postseason by finishing with a 2.22 ERA, 18-10 record, and compiling 306 total strikeouts while only walking 72 hitters. This season has pretty much never been paralleled by any pitcher in Astros franchise history.
Not only did Scott finish with these outstanding numbers, he also threw a no hitter on September 25, 1986 to clinch the National League West division and send the Astros to the postseason.
Even though Scott later admitted some of his success to scuffing the baseball, we're going to leave that aside for now. We are not putting him in our top three because of these less than ethical actions, but he was still one of the best pitchers in Astros history and must be remembered as such. Here are some highlights from Mike Scott's time in Houston:
- National League All Star (1986, 1987, 1989)
- 1986 National League Cy Young Award Winner
- 8.4 WAR was 1st for all pitchers in1986
- Fifth All-Time in Astros Strikeout Leaders with 1,318
- 110 Career Wins with Houston is Fourth in Astros History
3.) J.R. Richard
During his hay-day, J.R. Richard was a monster for the Astros. Standing at 6'8", opposing hitters cowered at the high-powered fast-balls Richard routinely uncorked.
The Astros took Richard with the second overall pick of the 1969 draft, and it wasn't long before he was one of the most intimidating pitchers in the majors. Richard was on his way to being perhaps the greatest Astros pitcher of all-time before a devestating stroke in 1980. Richard attempted to comeback, but the toll was too much and he was never able to pitch again.
Despite that, Richard still finishes as one of the greatest Astros pitchers of All-Time. In 10 seasons Richard compiled a 107-71 record, 3.15 ERA, and 1493 strikeouts. He was part of a famous rotation that included Nolan Ryan and Joe Niekro, and its not unlikely that the Astros go all-the-way in 1980 if it isn't for his stroke.
- All-Star 1980
- 2x Top-5 in Cy-Young voting (1978-1979)
- 4th Lowest Club Single-Season ERA (1.90 in 1980)
- 7th in Career WAR among Astros Starting Pitchers
2.) Roy Oswalt
Oswalt was small in stature, but his grit and determination was unmatched. Originally a 23rd round pick out of Holmes Community College, Roy Oswalt worked his way up to be one of the best pitchers in Astros history.
Despite pitching in a much more hitters-friendly park than most of the other guys on this list, Oswalt is one of the best pitchers statistically the Astros have ever had. He finished his dominant Astros career with a 143-82 record and a 3.24 ERA, and helped the Astros reach their first ever World-Series birth in 2005.
Though the rebuilding Astros traded Oswalt to the Phillies in 2010, his legacy with Houston has lived on. He is very deserving as our #2 starting pitcher in MLB history, and you could argue that he should be #1.
- #1 in Career WAR for Astros Pitchers
- 3x All-Star (2004-2006)
- Finished Top 5 in Cy-Young Voting 5x
- 2nd in Club Wins
- 2nd in Club Career W-L%
1.) Nolan Ryan
Our #1 pitcher in Astros history (and perhaps MLB history) is the Ryan Express. It wasn't an easy decision, considering how many deserving aces the Astros have had in their history, but we ultimately came down to decide Ryan was the best.
Ryan spent 9 years with the Astros, more than any other team, and finished his career with an 106-94 record and 3.13 ERA. He is one of the most intimidating pitchers of All-Time, as his regular 100+ MPH fastballs matched with his high-powered curve-ball helped him dominate throughout his entire career.
The Astros signing Ryan may still to this day be the biggest offseason acquisition in Astros history. Nolan Ryan grew up just south of Houston, and it seemed he was destined to be an Astro, and it finally happened in 1979 when the Astros made Ryan the first player in history to make over $1 million in a single season.
If Ryan had received more run-support during his days, he would be more widely remembered as an Astro. Still, Ryan is the best Astros pitcher of All-Time.
- 2x All-Star 1980, 1985
- Led League in ERA 1981 (1.69) and 1987 (2.76)
- #1 in Career and Single-Season K/9 amongst Astros Starting Pitchers
- Career Leader in Club Strikeouts (1866)
- #4 in Career WAR for Astros pitchers
- Lowest Single-Season ERA amongst Astros pitchers (1.69 in 1981)