In the past two winters two of the top pitchers of the past twenty years have retired. Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson could not have had more opposite styles or personalities on the mound. Effectiveness, however, is something they shared. A player not far behind them and also likely to retire in the next few seasons is Pedro Martinez. These are the three best pitchers of this generation(Clemens and his steroid use voids his argument). They will go down as three of the top pitchers of all time and will easily be first ballot Hall of Famers.
Maddux did it with intelligence and movement. He was able to put break on his pitches with only the pressure of his fingers. Maddux was always so many steps in front of the hitters and he has the best pitching mind to ever step on a mound. Throughout his career he earned four straight Cy Young awards and put together a streak of seven seasons with an ERA+ over 162. During those 226 games, Maddux posted a 2.15 ERA and a sub 1.00 WHIP. The most intriguing stat during those seven seasons is that he managed to only walk 269 batters over the course of 1,675 innings. He could put his backdoor two seamer and changeup exactly where he wanted it nearly every time.
Johnson did it with power and intimidation. The 6"10 southpaw was the tallest pitcher to ever step on a major league mound and retires as one of the top two left handed pitchers to ever live. Left handed batters never stood a chance against "The Big Unit's" side-arm delivery and devastating slider. Throughout his career lefties had an OPS of .571 and hit only 25 home runs off him. 25 home runs in 21 seasons, impressive to say the least. He retires with the second most strikeouts behind only Nolan Ryan and the top K/9 of any pitcher, ever.
Pedro did it with electricity and charisma. His years with Boston were incredible. Five times he had an ERA+ over 200 and four were with the Red Sox. He won three Cy Young Awards and lead Boston to its first world series in over 80 years. Pedro was not there to be anyones friend and his feud with the Yankees is one of the most memorable rivalries to ever culminate in baseball. His strikeout numbers, while not as lofty as Johnson's, were still inexplicable to come from a man of such small stature. Baseball-Reference has Pedro listed at 5"11 and 170 lbs, the smallest man to strike out 300 batters in the live ball era. In a generation fueled by steroids, one of its most prolific and dominant players was the size of most high schoolers.
So who is the best? As a Braves blogger it would be expected for me to chose Maddux and be done with it. However I have a very difficult time saying that any pitcher since Kofax is as good as Pedro Martinez. His career ERA, ERA+, and WHIP are substantially lower than his two competitors. Although his wins total is only at 219 compared to Johnson's 303 and Maddux's 355, most of that is due to injury in his latter years. Pedro at his best was better than Maddux and Johnson at their best, simple as that.