Always getting lost in the shuffle when talking about great pitchers is the best submarine pitchers.
Naturally, submariners make up a small faction of MLB pitchers, and a rather unique one at that. But what submariners bring to the table is unique and difficult, which is why the greatest submarine pitchers in MLB history deserve a special mention just like everybody else.
Best submarine pitchers
The challenge is that the list of submarine pitchers in baseball history is somewhat short. It’s not like you’ll find one on every team. Plus submarine pitches usually fill more of a niche rather than being among the best pitchers in the league. However, plenty of side-armers and submariners have left a lasting mark on the game, which is why we wanted to create a list of the 10 best submarine pitchers in MLB history.
10. Joe Smith
Modern sports science tells us that Joe Smith’s release point is somewhere between a side-arm pitcher and a submariner. He also throws much harder than most side-arms, routinely sitting in the low 90s with his fastball.
Needless to say, that’s been a huge part of his success in the majors. Smith made his debut in 2007 and is still going strong more than 15 years later. He’s become a journeyman, pitching for eight different clubs. While he’s never earned an all-star selection or served as a closer, Smith has always been a reliable pitcher everywhere he’s gone with a career ERA of 3.14.
9. Chad Bradford
For a long time, Chad Bradford was one of the most well-known submarine pitchers, largely because he was mentioned in the book Moneyball and the subsequent movie. Of course, he also had a more than respectable career, pitching for six teams between 1998 and 2009.
He was often considered a specialist, as his release point was so close to the ground that he tended to struggle against left-handed hitters. Also, while Bradford didn’t throw particularly hard, he excelled at pitching to contact and getting ground balls. That helped to give him a career ERA of 3.26 ERA, which isn’t bad for a reliever who spent more than a decade in the majors.
8. Ted Abernathy
In many ways, Ted Abernathy was a classic submarine pitcher, becoming a journeyman reliever who pitched for seven different teams. But he carved out a long career, pitching from 1955 to 1972.
However, he spent the early part of his career as a starter. Abernathy started 34 games over a three-year span, including seven complete games and two shutouts. He later served as a closer, finishing his career with 149 saves and a 3.46 ERA.
7. Mark Eichhorn
After suffering a shoulder injury as a rookie, Mark Eichhorn spent three years away from the majors before returning as a side-arm pitcher. The injury deprived Eichhorn of his velocity, but his side-arm delivery gave him a fighting chance against hitters, making him a rather inspirational story for submariners.
He ended up pitching 11 seasons in the majors, collecting 32 saves and pitching to an ERA of 3.00. Eichhorn also won two World Series rings with the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.
6. Darren O’Day
As a submarine pitcher, Darren O’Day was frequently overlooked, especially early in his career.
He was a Rule 5 pick at one point and didn’t find any traction until he was in the big leagues with his fourth team. But things finally turned around for him in 2012 when the Orioles gave him a chance, as O’Day was 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA that season.
He continued to be one of Baltimore’s best relievers for several years, earning an All-Star selection in 2015 and signing a four-year, $31 million deal the following year. Even in his late 30s, O’Day continues to be a valuable commodity and a reliable pitcher, now spending well over a decade in the majors.
5. Kent Tekulve
Not only was Kent Tekulve a side-arm pitcher but he also had an incredible ability to bounce back quickly and throw as often as his team needed him. He is one of two pitchers to make at least 90 appearances in three different seasons.
Tekulve once pitched on nine straight days to set a record and also retired with the most appearances in MLB history. Of course, Tekulve was also an effective pitcher, saving three games for the Pirates during the 1979 World Series. He finished his career with a 2.85 ERA and also earned an all-star selection in 1980.
4. Brad Ziegler
Brad Ziegler’s unique delivery helped to make him a competent reliever for a decade and one of the best submarine pitchers in baseball history. Early in his career, hitters couldn’t do anything against Ziegler’s stuff. He set a major league record by pitching 39 consecutive scoreless innings at the start of his career.
Ziegler didn’t even give up an extra-base hit for the first time until the inning that he allowed his first run. To date, that’s the second-longest scoreless streak by any rookie pitcher. Of course, Ziegler turned out to be anything but a one-season wonder. Over his 11 seasons, he produced an ERA of 3.07 or better seven times, finishing his career with a 2.75 ERA with 105 career saves.
3. Gene Garber
Gene Garber is undoubtedly one of the best submarine pitchers in baseball history, in part because of his impressive longevity. He spent 20 seasons in the majors between 1969 and 1988, pitching for four different teams.
While so many side-arm pitchers come out of the bullpen to give hitters a different look, Garber served as a closer for much of his career. His 20 seasons in the majors ended with a 3.34 ERA and 218 career saves. In fact, he’s third in Braves history in saves behind only the likes of John Smoltz and Craig Kimbrel.
He saved as many as 30 games one year, which was enough to put him seventh in Cy Young voting. Garber’s longevity also ranks him fifth on the all-time list of appearances by a pitcher, which is no small feat for a submarine pitcher.
2. Ewell Blackwell
Ewell Blackwell is an old-school submarine pitcher who was something of a trailblazer for others. Despite standing 6’6’’ tall, he used a sidearm delivery that earned him the nickname of “The Whip” and often confused batters.
Regardless of how he did it, Blackwell was effective, as hitters were afraid to step in the box against him. During his career, Blackwell was a six-time all-star and nearly won the Triple Crown in 1947 when he led the National League in both wins and strikeouts. He also pitched a no-hitter that season while pitching for the Reds.
Blackwell helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1952 but retired the following season amidst arm pain in addition to several other health ailments he suffered during his career. However, he should be remembered as one of the best side-arm pitchers of all time.
1. Dan Quisenberry
Dan Quisenberry had a career that would make most relievers jealous, much less submarine pitchers. His career spanned from 1979 to early in the 1990 season when a rotator cuff injury helped to end his career prematurely.
During that time, Quisenberry used his unique delivery to become one of the best closers in the majors. He led the American League in saves five times, including four straight seasons from 1982 to 1985.
As a result, Quisenberry was named the Relief Man of the Year in each of those five seasons and was even selected to the All-Star Team three times. Quisenberry never threw particularly hard as a side-armer, but he had excellent control and had a nice repertoire of pitchers, keeping opposing hitters off balance and never hurting himself with walks. He finished his career with a 2.76 ERA and 244 saves, which at the time ranked fifth on the all-time list.