Cy Young tops list of sharpshooters

Originally Published: January 25, 2005
By Rob Neyer | ESPN Insider
Who are the greatest control pitchers of all time? To find out, we could look at the ratio between a player's strikeouts and walks – cleverly known among aficionados as "strikeout-to-walk ratio" – and by that measure the greatest control pitchers are, interestingly enough, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Unfortunately, that list is absolutely dominated by modern pitchers; each of the top 11 on the list pitched in the 1990s (and would you believe that Shane Reynolds is No. 8 on the all-time list, just a tick ahead of Greg Maddux?).

More to the point, this is not about how many strikes you throw. It's about how many balls you don't throw.

So the next step is to look for pitchers who walked very few batters. Simple enough … except if you make a list of the six pitchers who walked the fewest batters per nine innings, you wind up with six pitchers who worked in the 19th century. Remove the 19th century from your search, and you wind up with six pitchers who worked in the first decade of the 20th century. We could begin with 1910 … but that's not only arbitrary, it's certainly unfair to Cy Young and his contemporaries.