The Yankees and their 27 World Championships demonstrate the fact that great pitching has taken them a long way. Seven Yankees pitchers are now in the Hall Of Fame. But of them all, who can be ranked as the Most Effective Yankees Pitchers In Franchise History?
If Yankees history tells us anything, it’s that greatness is defined in a number of ways. A moment in time, for instance, as in the case of Roger Maris, who defied all odds hitting 61 in 61, despite the fury of the media that aligned with Babe Ruth, can be defined as greatness. Similarly, the steady accumulation of base hits over a twenty-year career, as in the case of Derek Jeter, can, without question, be greatness.
If Yankees history tells us anything, it’s that greatness is defined in a number of ways.
To give an example, I will cherry pick the name of Wilbur Wood, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox in the early to mid-1970’s. On the surface, you can look at his record and note that he won 20 or more games four consecutive years, and say to yourself, huh, he was a dominant pitcher. But if you look closer, you’ll also note that his overall record was 24-20 in one year and 20-19 in the second season, raising the question of how effective was he, and what was his overall contribution to his team?
And so it is for that reason I choose a word other than “great,” in selecting the Five Most Effective Pitchers In Yankees History. Also, know in advance that this is for entertainment purposes. I have not performed a two-year empirical study a la Bill James, for instance, to arrive at the names of these pitchers. Having said that, though, I also believe that you will have little argument with any of the selections.
What I have done, though is eliminate any Yankees pitcher who pitched before 1950. Again, this is for entertainment purposes and based on the reason that few, if any, of us, remember the likes of Jack Chesbro, Red Ruffing, or Herb Pennock (to name a few) pitching for the Yankees.
I have also used the following stat categories as a gauge in making the selections, which seems to me to be as accurate as any, for these purposes. They are: Earned Run Average (ERA) Won-Lost Percentage Fewest Walks Walks Plus Hits Per Inning (WHIP)
Subjectively, I also eliminated pitchers who pitched for the Yankees, but not for any meaningful length of time. This means, for instance, that the likes of Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Jim “Catfish” Hunter are eliminated.
Mel Stottlemyre won only 164 games for the Yankees during the late 1960’s and early ’70’s. When he hit the low nineties on the radar gun, it was a rarity. And yet, he ranks eighth on the Yankees list for career strikeouts. He finished with an ERA under three (2.97) and is listed as 8th in WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
But the real effectiveness and value of Stottlemyre to the Yankees was his durability and consistency. Over his career, he completed 152 games, including 24 of his 39 starts in 1969, a year in which he logged 303 innings. By comparison, in 2016, the Yankees did not have a single complete game.
“[He was] a throwback to a winning tradition in those years of mediocrity.” (Phil Pepe)
Stottlemyre also tossed 40 shutouts, including a two-hit gem in which he went 5-5 at the plate with a grand slam home run.
Stottlemyre was the “epitome of Yankee class and dignity,” wrote longtime New York sportswriter Phil Pepe. “[He was] a throwback to a winning tradition in those years of mediocrity.”
Stottlemyre’s career was cut short by rotator cuff issues that forced his retirement from the game in 1974, at the age of only 32. He embarked on a second career, though, as a pitching coach with both the Yankees and New York Mets. Denied a championship as a player, he garnered five as a coach.
Stottlemyre made his major league debut in 1964 and as Wolf notes:
“Stottlemyre’s debut on August 12 was “movie script stuff,” wrote New York spor[nextslide teaser=”The Stopper #46″ slider=”true”/]he Yankees recorded 19 groundouts”
Stottlemyre was also a thinking man’s pitcher, and that was probably a big reason for his later success as a pitching coach. Wolf writes:
” Stottlemyre also succeeded because of his ability to adjust over time. Around 1962 he took pitching coach Johnny Sain’s advice and began gripping the ball with the seams instead of across them in order to get a bigger break.14 This change made his fastball as effective as his sinker. “I created some movement with my delivery and the way I held the ball, but mostly it was just natural.”15 Often touted for his good control (2.7 walks per nine innings in his career), Stottlemyre himself admitted, “I couldn’t throw the ball straight if I wanted to.”
More recently in 1999, Stottlemyre was diagnosed with multiple myelomas, a cancer of plasma cells, and ultimately recovered after intensive chemotherapy. An even more recent incident was reported to the New York Daily News by his son Todd, who told the News that his dad was “fighting for his life.”
Recovering from that scare, it’s likely that Stottlemyre will do whatever he has to travel from his home state of Washington to be present at the annual Old Timers Day celebration in 2017.
Yankees fans will always remember the image of Andy Pettitte with that black glove up to the bridge of his nose, cap down, his eyes drawn in a menacing stare, looking in to get the sign from his catcher before delivering his next pitched to the batter.
Standing tall at 6’5″, Andy Pettitte was ice on the pitching mound. The stopper, the man who could be counted on to deliver the goods whenever the Yankees needed a solidly pitched game.
An original member of the Yankees Core Four, Pettitte was drafted in the 22nd round of the June 1990 amateur draft. Highlighting his stats, they show that he places third in both wins and WAR. He logged nearly 2,800 innings, facing 11,924 batters over the course of his career. He also has the most strikeouts of any Yankee with 2,020.
But Andy Pettitte’s story is not about the numbers. It’s about Derek Jeter always referring to him as the “Big Guy,” which at a Texas tall 6’5″ he certainly was. And
If Paul O’Neill, The Warrior as George Steinbrenner tagged him, was the heart of those great Yankees teams, then Pettitte was their soul.
And nothing points to that being true more than his 19-11 record in the Postseason. No one in the history of baseball has more. Over eighteen years in a big league uniform, Andy Pettitte never had a losing season. That, too, is a major league record.
And it was that attitude as a winner that he brought to the mound in every start he made, once saying (az quotes):
“I feel like I should go out there and throw a shutout every time I pitch. If we score one [run] and I give up two, then I didn’t do my job as far as I’m concerned.”
As a pitcher, he believed that if you put the ball in the right place, you don’t have to throw hard. Which might be a reason for current Yankees like Michael Pineda and Luis Severino to perk up and listen. At times, Pettitte might notch a tick a 91 or 92 on the radar gun. But more often than not, he was throwing that nasty cutter of his an inch or two off the plate, enticing ground outs or lazy fly balls to the outfield.
A deeply religious and family man, Pettitte left the Yankees on his accord to be closer to his wife and kids in the Houston area for three seasons, before returning to the Yankees in 2007 en route to finishing out his career with his first baseball love and a fifth World Championship in 2009.
Pettitte’s career contains some controversy revolving around the steroid era in baseball. Not one to lie, Pettitte admitted to the use of HGH substances. But, as a feature story in the Atlantic Magazine points out, HGH (human growth hormone “is not a steroid, and there’s no evidence it enhances performance.”
The same article goes on to further substantiate by noting that “on the two occasions Pettitte admitted to HGH use, 2002 and 2004, the substance was not banned by Major League Baseball”. Nevertheless, what amounts to a bona fide Hall Of Fame candidacy is now tied up in the courts of human judgment.
Typically, Pettitte himself takes a philosophical (read religious) view of the matter, telling the Huffington Post:
“Do I feel like I’ve dominated this sport as a pitcher? No,” said Pettitte of his resume, via the Associated Press. “Every outing for me, I feel like has been an absolute grind, to tell you the truth. I mean, when I look at lineups and teams that I’m facing, it seems like every hitter is hitting .300 off of me. So for people to bring that up and for me to know that there’s even a chance at that, it’s just an honor and it’s a blessing to me. And I’m not worried about that.”
Yes, it was, an absolute grind. Pettitte fought, he scraped, he cajoled, and he manipulated batters. And one other thing, he won critical ballgames for the Yankees time after time.
In much the same way as Sandy Koufax, Ron Guidry dominated baseball for a brief, but memorable, period. Weighing in at less than 200 lbs and standing a mere 5’11” tall, Guidry pounded the strike zone with fastball after fastball, daring hitters to lay their bat on his pitches
Lighting up Yankees Stadium every game he pitched at home, Guidry earned not one, but two nicknames. More familiarly known as Lousiana Lightning, he also answered to (simply) Gator.
Guidry can be credited with the revival of the Yankees that began in 1977 with the arrival of Reggie Jackson, and a team that would later become known as the Bronx Zoo. Guidry spearheaded a pitching staff to consecutive World Championships in 1977 and 1978, winning both games he started.
Standing only 5’11” tall, Guidry pounded the strike zone with fast ball after fast ball, daring hitters to lay their bat on his pitches
He saved his best season, and what some argue is the best season ever for a starting pitching, for 1978 going 25-3. Over those two brilliant seasons, he went 41-10, with 25 complete games, and 14 shutouts. In 1878, Guidry swept the Cy Young Award and finished second in the Most Valuable Player balloting.
Depicted in the above video, strikeouts (18) represented two-thirds of the outs he recorded in a complete game shutout.
A good ole boy from Cajun country, Guidry appeared fascinated by the drama and bright lights of the New York Yankees, explaining to the Washington Times:
“That era there was the best soap opera in the country,” Guidry said, “because everybody that I would speak to on the street, they couldn’t wait to pick up a paper every morning and see what happened to the Yankees last night.”
Asked to comment on teammate Reggie Jackson while speaking at a dinner in Syracuse, New York recently, Guidry put it this way:
“Reggie’s Reggie. He’s not like you or I. He’s flamboyant. He just liked the big stage, and I always felt like he had to have that. There’s a lot of us, we don’t need it. We can perform on the big stage, but we don’t have to have it. I would rather you not know who I am when I go out. Reggie wants everybody to know who he is, and he liked that.”
41-10 over two successive years and back-to-back World Championships. That about sums up Ron Guidry, doesn’t it?
Edward Charles “Whitey Ford” earned the title as Chairman Of The Board based on his mastery of the art of pitching. Much like Ron Guidry, he is a small man of stature at only 5’10 and 178 lbs soaking wet; he pitched like he was in a hurry to get home for dinner. Or more likely in his case, to go out on the town with his buddies Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin.
Briefly going through the numbers, you’ll quickly see why he easily makes this list of Yankees greats. As Commissioner Bowie Kuhn notes in the above video, Whitey Ford finished his career with a .690 winning percentage, which for math majors means that he won seven out of every ten decisions.
He tossed 156 complete games, the most of any post-1950 Yankees pitcher and 45 of them were shutouts, again the most ever by a Yankee. Ford also allowed less than eight hits per nine innings, good for number nine in the all-time Yankees rankings.
He logged the most innings of any Yankee (3170) and ranks second in career strikeouts. And, he’s second in Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
But, it was in the Postseason that Whitey Ford excelled, hence his nickname as the take-charge guy on the Yankees pitching staff. In 1960 and 1961, he went undefeated in four starts against the Pirates and Reds, hurling complete games three times, while giving up zero runs.
But once again, we have a pitcher who was a pitcher’s pitcher, who only knew how to win.
Also, known as “Slick,” Ford was relentlessly accused of throwing a “spitter.” Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but the charge only adds to his legacy as a Yankee. If they had a radar gun when he pitched, he might, occasionally, touch 90. But as a lefty, he relied more on a sharp-breaking curveball to get hitters out.
Blessed with a lefty’s natural fastball movement, much like Warren Spahn, he hardly ever threw a straight fastball, his pitch acting more like a screwball with a fade-away action to right-handed batters.
But once again, we have a pitcher who was a pitcher’s pitcher, who only knew how to win.
And unlike teammates Mickey and Billy, Ford was able to separate himself from the fast life of New York City, and alcohol-fueled 24/7 party lifestyle, retiring quietly to his home on Long Island.
With the passing of Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford is now the main attraction of the “Old Guard” Yankees. Now 88, Whitey draws the loudest cheers at the annual Yankees Old Timers Day from fans who remember his brilliance in leading the Yankees to nearly one-quarter of their World Championships (6 of 27).
Hard to beat that, but it’s now time to unveil the Most Effective Pitcher In Yankees Franchise History……………..
With some expected controversy, Mariano Rivera receives the #1 Ranking as the Most Effective Yankees Pitcher in Franchise History. His inclusion as a closer, however, should fall beyond the scope of reasonable argument when you consider all that he meant to his team.
Seemingly constructed of ice, Rivera achieved his record number of saves, mainly, with the mastery of just one pitch, his cutter. Self-taught, the pitch looks like a fastball and is a fastball until the last possible millisecond as it crosses the plate with a “break” at the end that cut hundreds of bats in two pieces or more throughout his career.
With a delivery that never varied from one pitch to the next, Rivera almost seemed like a robot out there at times, as pitch after pitch crossed the strike zone, leaving batters paralyzed in the box.
Mariano Rivera had a 19-year career, all with the Yankees, and could have extended that time if he had wished to do so before retiring at the age of 43 in 2013. He will be eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 2019, and by all rights should be a unanimous selection, save for the old guard writers who (still) don’t believe that the game today is all about a team’s bullpen.
Hailing from the country of Panama, Rivera was selected as a free agent along with his cousin Ruben Rivera in the June 1990 amateur draft by the Yankees. An original member of the Yankees Core Four, Rivera rose slowly through the team’s minor league system and did not make the big league team until 1995 at the age of 25.
Ironically, Rivera wasn’t immediately installed as the Yankees closer. Instead, he became the set-up man for John Wetteland, logging a career-high 117 innings in 1996, earning his first Championship Ring, while Wetteland captured the World Series MVP award.
After that season, though, Rivera became the closer for the Yankees until his retirement, recording 40 or more saves in a season nine times, including a mind-boggling 44 saves in the year he chose to walk away from the game (2013).
Mariano Rivera defies all logic as to what a human being should be able to accomplish with a baseball in his hand.
But it’s when you scroll down his stats in Baseball Reference and reach the Postseason that Rivera takes on an aura that defies all logic as to what a human being should be able to accomplish with a baseball in his hand.
How is it possible, for instance, that a player can appear in as many as 96 Postseason games and record an ERA of 0.70, surrender only two home runs over 140 innings, and registering a WHIP under one (.759)?
Mariano Rivera may be underappreciated only because he made it look so easy. And everything he did on the mound was unceremonious, unlike, for example, Goose Gossage (a Yankees Hall Of Fame member), who almost fell off the mound when he unleashed one of his patented 95mph fastballs.
Instead, and not to take anything away from Gossage, Rivera was grace and style. He was the man who loped in when the bullpen doors opened to the unlikely roar of not only Yankees fans, but the pounding rhythm of Metallica.
And from there, it was as simple as one-two-three, followed by the first notes of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” and everybody goes home happy. It was magic, but it was never an illusion.