The New York Yankees are the most prestigious franchise in baseball. They have won an unprecedented 27 World Series championships, and 40 American League Pennants. Therefore, it is safe to assume that an enormous amount of talented pitchers have donned the pinstripes over the years. So, how do we separate the good from the great, or the great from the elite? Should we base our opinions on each pitcher's statistics with the club? Should longevity with the club be a factor? How about their impact on any of the 27 World Series runs?
I took all of these factors into account when constructing this list. However, please keep in mind that I am a 16 year-old Yankee fan, and despite my constant research on the club, my knowledge is limited. So, if I leave any pitcher off that any of you feel deserves a spot on this list over another pitcher, please leave a comment below, as I always value any input. But for now, here is my list of the 25 greatest pitchers in Yankee history.
Oh, how soon we forget about a pitcher after his downfall. Many of us forget that Chien-Ming Wang was once a bright young star in the Yankees' rotation from 2005-2008. The man had back-to-back 19 win seasons in 2006 and 2007, and was such a great pitcher that the Yankees actually gave him the honor of tossing the first pitch at the new Yankee Stadium in 2009 in a preseason exhibition game.
He fell apart after some unfortunate injuries and has since moved on to pitch for the Nationals, but will always be remembered by Yankees fans and will undoubtedly have an invitation to an Old Timers' Day somewhere down the road.
Prior to the 1998 season, right in the midst of what would go down as one of the great Yankee dynasties in the late '90s, the Yankees signed a free agent Cuban-defect pitcher named Orlando Hernandez.
Commonly referred to as "El Duque," Hernandez helped the Yankees win three consecutive World Series titles from 1998-2000. "El Duque" pitched six seasons for the Yankees from 1998-2004 (he did not pitch in 2003), and over that span he posted a 61-40 record with a 3.96 ERA and 703 strikeouts. Although his tenure with the Bombers was short-lived, his impact on those three World Series runs earns him a place amongst the Yankees' best.
David Wells is one of the shortest tenured Yankees on this list, however during his time in New York, he made sure he would not be forgotten. In four seasons with the Yankees (1997, 1998, 2002, and 2003), he posted a superb 68-28 record with a 3.90 ERA and 557 strikeouts.
Who could forget that fateful day on May 17, 1998, when Wells reached the pinnacle of his career, retiring each and every one of the 27 Minnesota Twins he faced, recording the fifteenth perfect game in MLB history. Later that year, Wells led the '98 Yankees through the playoffs as the ace of the staff, pitching Game 1 of the ALDS, Games 1 and 5 of the ALCS, and Game 1 of the World Series, winning each and every decision as the Yankees went on to win the 1998 World Series. That would be Wells' only title as a Yankee as, following the conclusion of the season, the Yankees traded him to the Blue Jays for another pitcher on this list....
How could I not include the current ace of the staff, the big man himself? CC Sabathia may have only signed with the Yankees two years ago, but he has already proven himself worth every cent of that seven year, $161 million deal he signed. With a fourth and third place finish in the Cy Young voting the past two years, as well as being named the 2009 ALCS MVP, Sabathia will undoubtedly go down as one of the best hurlers to put on the pinstripes.
Al Downing is another one of those unfortunate Yankee pitchers who did not win a World Series with the Yankees, as the team did not capture a title while he was a true member of the team. Although he made his major league debut in 1961, a title year, he only made five appearances and pitched a total of nine innings. In 1962, another title year, he only played in one game.
He became a full time pitcher for the Yankees the next season in 1963 and stayed with the team through the 1969 season, but the Bombers would not win another World Series until 1977, one of the longest droughts in team history. Tough luck for Downing, but he was still great in the time he spent with the Yankees. In seven full seasons with the club, he posted a 72-56 record with a 3.23 ERA and 1,028 strikeouts (good for ninth place in franchise history). Unfortunately, his poor performance in the 1963 and 1964 World Series holds him back on this list.
David Cone was a huge part of the late '90s Yankee dynasty. He helped lead the Yankee rotation to four World Series title in five years from 1996-2000. During his tenure with the Yankees from 1995-2000, he posted a 64-40 record with a 3.91 ERA and 888 strikeouts. More importantly, however, was his 8-3 postseason record over 21 starts with a 3.80 ERA.
His most famous moment came on July 18, 1999, when Cone etched his name into the record books, tossing the sixteenth perfect game in MLB history against the Montreal Expos. David Cone may not have had a long tenure with the Yankees, but he definitely left his mark, and will not soon be forgotten.
Catfish Hunter was one of the earliest "record-setting" Yankees, the record being "highest-paid pitcher in baseball."
He signed with the Yankees prior to the 1975 season, and stayed with the club through the 1979 season. In his five seasons with the Yankees, Catfish posted a 63-53 record with a 3.58 ERA and 492 strikeouts. However, what was more important was the role he played in ending the second-longest World Series drought in Yankees history to date, as Hunter led the rotation to both the 1977 and 1978 World Series, the franchise's first two titles under the ownership of George Steinbrenner.
Sparky Lyle was once one of the greatest closers in baseball. He was also a Yankee during his best years, 1972-1978. Lyle became the second relief pitcher ever to win a Cy Young Award when he brought home the honor in 1977, posting a 13-5 record with a 2.17 ERA.
In his seven seasons with the Yankees, Lyle put up a 57-40 record with a 2.41 ERA and 454 strikeouts, saving 141 games over that span. Sparky Lyle was one of the best closers to ever don the pinstripes, and also one of the greatest overall pitchers in franchise history.
Dave Righetti is one of the most unfortunate Yankee pitchers on this list, as his pinstriped career spanned a nine year era in which the Yankees didn't win a World Series.
In 1981, his rookie year, he made 15 starts for the Yankees, posting an 8-4 record with a major league-best 2.05 ERA, earning him Rookie of the Year honors in the American League. Over nine full seasons with the Yankees, Righetti posted a 74-60 record with a 3.11 ERA with 940 strikeouts.
Today, Righetti serves as the pitching coach for the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and has been essential in the early success of young star pitchers like two time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner.
The Rocket was one of the best pitchers to ever play the game. However, his rank on this list is hurt by the fact that the majority of his playing years were not spent with the Yankees, but with their rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
He played 13 season with the Red Sox (1984-1996), but only six with the Yankees (1999-2003, 2007). Still, he won a Cy Young Award in 2001 for the Bombers, and helped them to two World Series titles in the two years prior (1999, 2000). Clemens also hit major milestones in New York, recording his 300th win and 4,000th strikeout in the same game on June 13, 2003.
Eddie Lopat was the third of a famous Yankee pitching trio known as the "Big Three" (similar to Philadelphia's modern-day "Phab Phour"). Along with two other pitchers (who we'll get to later), Lopat led the Yankees to an MLB record five consecutive World Series championships from 1949-1953. But his success did not just come during the postseason. In eight seasons in New York, Lopat posted a 113-59 record with a 3.19 ERA and 502 strikeouts. Great numbers, but it's the five titles he helped nail down that landed him this spot on the list.
Who didn't love the "Moose?" Mussina was unfortunate enough to pitch for the Yankees in between title years, during the span of 2001-2009. It really does break my heart that he never reached the summit of the baseball world and got to put a championship ring around his finger, as he is one of the nicest guys I have ever seen play the game.
With a near perfect game, a record of 123-72, 3.88 ERA, and 1,278 strikeouts over his eight year tenure with the Yankees, Mike Mussina has definitely earned his place on this list.
Vic Raschi was a member of the Yankees from 1946-1953, and was the second of the previously mentioned "Big Three" that won the MLB record five consecutive World Series championships from 1949-1953.
Raschi also won an additional championship along with the ace of that "Big Three" (who will be mentioned later) in 1947, before Eddie Lopat's arrival. To go along with the six titles, Raschi posted a 120-50 record with a 3.47 ERA and 832 strikeouts over his eight seasons in New York, easily establishing himself as one of the greatest Yankee right handers of all-time.
Mel Stottlemyre might be the best pitcher in Yankee history to never win a World Series as a player. In 11 seasons with the Yankees, Stottlemyre posted a 164-139 record with a 2.97 ERA and 1,257 strikeouts. He was a five time All-Star (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970) and won 20 games three times (1965, 1968, and 1969), but also lost 20 games in 1966, as the decade following Stottlemyre's rookie year was the worst in Yankees history, the Yankees did not even reach the postseason. Stottlemyre did return to the Yankees as pitching coach, and retained that role through the Yankees late '90s dynasty, finally winning the World Series as a Yankee, and doing so four times.
Bob Shawkey was one of the earliest pitchers to call himself a "Yankee," as he joined the club just two years after they had changed their name from the "New York Highlanders" to the "New York Yankees."
Shawkey was one of the best pitchers to call himself a Yankee. Over 13 seasons with the Yankees, Shawkey posted a 168-131 record with a 3.12 ERA and 1,163 strikeouts. He had three 20-win seasons and helped the Yankees win their very first World Series championship in 1923, as well as their second in the final year of his career in 1927. Shawkey helped show the Yankees what it was like to win, and as we all know, they have never looked back.
The ace of the "Big Three," Allie Reynolds was the main driving force for the Yankees' dynasty of the late '40s and early '50s, helping the Bombers to six World Series titles, including the previously mentioned five straight from 1949-53.
The man known as "Superchief" also became the first pitcher to toss two no-hitters in a single season when he did so for the Yankees in 1951. He posted a 131-60 record with a 3.30 ERA and 967 strikeouts over his eight seasons with the Yankees from 1947-1954. As you can see, his success in pinstripes earned him a plaque in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium in his honor.
Before there was Mariano Rivera, there was the "Goose." Rich Gossage is one of the games all-time best closers and, not too surprisingly, is one of the best pitchers to wear the pinstripes.
Goose closed games for the Yankees for seven seasons of his illustrious 22-season career. During those years (1978-1983, 1989), Gossage posted a 42-28 record with a 2.14 ERA (lowest in franchise history) and 512 strikeouts. As the Yankees' closer during those years, Gossage converted 151 of his 310 career saves. Those numbers helped earn him a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, a distinction not too many pitchers on this list have earned.
Spud Chandler was a Yankee throughout his entire 11 season career, from 1937-1947. During that span, Chandler posted a 109-43 record with a 2.84 ERA, leading the Yankees to three World Series titles in 1941, 1943, and 1947.
Chandler had one of the best seasons ever for a pitcher in 1943, when he went 20-4 with a 1.64 ERA and 134 strikeouts, pitching 20 complete games and five shutouts. That year, he accomplished a feat that no other Yankee pitcher has to date, winning the Most Valuable Player award. The number one pitcher on this list made his case with a couple of ninth place finishes, but so far, Chandler stands alone when it comes to MVPs among pinstriped pitchers.
So, technically, Chesbro wasn't a "Yankee," he was a "Highlander," but he still pitched for the franchise, and when you hear his numbers, you might not agree with him being ranked out of the top three on this list. Over seven seasons with the "Highlanders," Chesbro posted a 128-93 record with an amazing 2.58 ERA.
To really get a feel for how good Chesbro was, however, one must look at his best season, which was in 1904. That year, Chesbro came one game away from carrying the Highlanders on his shoulders to the AL Pennant (there was no World Series that year), when he went 41-12, with a 1.82 ERA, pitching 454.2 innings, with 48 complete games. To this day, it was one of the best seasons for a pitcher in the history of baseball. Unbelievable, right? Unfortunately, all that is tainted now, as it is illegal to pitch in the way Chesbro did back then. You see, Chesbro was a spitballer, a pitcher whose primary pitch, the spitball, was a ball tampered with saliva or petroleum jelly, causing the ball to move abnormally due to its different weight distribution and wind resistance. Without this pitch, Chesbro most likely would not have been nearly as successful, so even awarding him the seventh spot on this list is generous, in my opinion.
One of the best pitchers to ever don the pinstripes was the man fondly known as "Louisiana Lightning."
Ron Guidry spent his entire career with the Yankees, from 1975-1988, and over that span he posted a career 170-91 record with a 3.29 ERA and 1,778 strikeouts. Guidry helped lead the Yankees to two World Series championships in 1977 and 1978, and also won the 1978 AL Cy Young Award. Guidry also earned himself the exclusive honor of serving as the Yankees' team captain from 1986 until his retirement following the 1988 season.
After his retirement, Guidry's No. 49 was retired by the Yankees, and a plaque was also built in his honor in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.
The description on his plaque from Monument Park in Yankee Stadium really says it all in regards to Lefty Gomez.
Gomez pitched 13 seasons for the Yankees, winning 189 games, and posting a 3.34 ERA with 1,468 strikeouts. He helped the Yankees to six World Series titles, including four straight from 1936-1939 (the other being in 1932) with a career 6-0 record with a 2.86 record in seven World Series starts. Lefty Gomez was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 by the Veteran's Committee.
Red Ruffing was for a long time considered the best Yankee pitcher of all time. In 15 seasons with the Yankees from 1930-1946, interrupted by three years of military service from 1943-1945, Ruffing compiled 231 wins with 1,526 strikeouts, both Yankee records at the time. He also led the Yankees to six World Series championships in 1932, 1936-1939, and 1941 seasons, posting a 7-2 record with a 2.63 ERA in 10 World Series starts. Red Ruffing was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.
It still doesn't feel right to say that Andy Pettitte was one of the greatest pitchers to ever wear the Yankee pinstripes. Pettitte officially retired from baseball last Friday, stunning all of the fans still hoping for his return. Nevertheless, Andy will go down as one of the absolute greatest Yankee pitchers of all time.
Pettitte had a record of 203-112, a 3.98 ERA, and 1,823 strikeouts as a Yankee from 1995-2003 and 2007-2010, and helped lead the Yankees to five World Series championships in 1996, 1998-2000, and 2009. It's hard to believe he isn't even the best lefty to pitch for the Yankees.
Whitey Ford, the "Chairman of the Board." Ford is the Yankees' all-time leader in strikeouts with 1,956,
wins with 236, and winning percentage with a .690 mark (which is also a MLB record). Whitey Ford was a 10-time All-Star, as well as an important piece of six World Series championship teams in 1950, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962.
In 1961, he won the Cy Young Award and garnered World Series MVP honors after going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA against the NL Champion Cincinnati Reds. Whitey is one of the most legendary Yankees of all time, evidenced with his #16 having been retired, and a monument having been built in Monument Park in his honor.
As you can see in the picture, Whitey Ford is still a well-respected member of the Yankee community, and was present for the Yankees' 2009 World Series ring ceremony at Yankee Stadium in April 2010. Therefore, I feel comfortable deeming Ford the greatest New York Yankees starting pitcher in team history.
But he is not greatest pitcher on this list....
Mariano Rivera is undoubtedly the greatest closer in the history of baseball. His 559 saves rank second all-time, only behind Trevor Hoffman's 601. With his new two-year contract with the Yankees coupled with Hoffman's retirement, there is almost no question that "Mo" will pass him and finally be the "undisputed" best closer ever.
It may seem odd that a relief pitcher, even a closer, could be the greatest Yankee pitcher of all time, but it's true. Mariano Rivera is seemingly ageless on the mound, almost "machine-like" in his delivery. His cutter is arguably the best pitch ever thrown, and hitters still have trouble with it to this day. Many people believe that 2012 will be Mo's final year, but I'm not so sure. Unlike Andy Pettitte, I don't think Rivera will hang it up until he's exhausted every last ounce of energy that he has left in his tank. When all is said and done, Mariano Rivera could go down as the best pitcher to ever play the game. Until then, he is definitely the greatest Yankee pitcher of all time.