25 Greatest Pitchers in New York Yankees History

Josh SchermerhornContributor IINovember 3, 2011

25 Greatest Pitchers in New York Yankees History

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    The New York Yankees have been recognized for their championships and superstars over the past 100 years. Babe Ruth hit booming home runs and set eternal records and Mickey Mantle dashed across the outfield, dazzling the world with his effortless ability.

    What can sometimes go unnoticed are the pitchers in pinstripes. Unlike the Atlanta Braves, who built their current legacy on Hall-of-Fame pitching, the Yankees have done it with their bats. Without their pitching, however, the Bombers would have significantly fewer championships. 

    The question is, who is the best of all time? 

    Well, here they are, the 25 greatest pitchers the Yankees have ever had, ordered from back to front. 

25. Carl Mays

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    As Babe Ruth became the most famous trade in baseball history, Carl Mays also made his move from Boston to New York. Though he didn’t draw Ruth’s spotlight (who did, really), Mays was very effective for the Yankees.

    Mays compiled an 80-39 record with a 3.25 ERA from 1919 to 1923, leading the American League in wins in 1921 with a 27-9 record.

24. Mike Stanton

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    Amidst the Yankees' 1990s dynasty was a group of unsung heroes, and Mike Stanton may have been their leader. Stanton was a middle-relief pitcher for the Bombers from 1997-2002, with a 31-14 record and a 3.25 ERA. 

    Though he did not start, Stanton did his part to help the Yankees win three World Series in a row. The lefty was part of a tandem of pitchers, like Ramiro Mendoza or Jeff Nelson, who helped get the ball to Mariano Rivera to close the deal. 

    In those six seasons in New York, Stanton actually appeared in 456 games, the fourth-highest total in Yankees history.  

23. Fritz Peterson

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    The late 1960s and early 1970s were the doldrums of the Yankees’ history, when consistently bad teams made annual appearances near the bottom of the standings. In the middle of this disaster was Fritz Peterson, a left-handed starter who pitched nine seasons for the Yankees from 1966-74 (he only played three games for them in 1974). 

    Though his record was only 109-106, Peterson managed to only have two losing seasons while in New York, and never had an ERA over 4.00. Peterson retired shortly after leaving the Yankees, and it would have been interesting to see how effective he would have been on the more successful teams that followed him.

22. Jack Chesbro

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    John “Happy Jack” Chesbro may be lost in the obscurity of time, but his stats have not been. Chesbro pitched for the New York Highlanders from 1903-1909, the first years of the Yankees’ existence. 

    His career with the Highlanders was very good, with a 128-93 record and a 2.58 ERA, but it was one season in particular that was frankly incredible. In 55 starts for the team in 1904, Chesbro managed an astounding 41-12 record, a 1.82 ERA and 48 complete games, simply one of the greatest seasons in baseball history.  

21. Orlando Hernandez

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    His age: unknown. His throwing style: unconventional. His will to win in big games: unbelievable. 

    Known also as El Duque during his Yankee career, Orlando Hernandez was one of the most trusted pitchers Joe Torre had at his disposal. 

    His statistics weren’t all that bad, either, as he posted a 61-40 regular season record. It was his postseason performances, however, that may have made Hernandez’ legacy. 

    From 1998-2001, the four consecutive years in which the Yankees made the World Series, Hernandez went 9-2 en route to three titles. He is not a Hall-of-Famer, but Hernandez is most certainly worthy of an all-time mentioning.

20. Spud Chandler

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    Possibly one of the quietest stories in Yankees history, Spud Chandler was one of their most successful pitchers. His career spanned from 1937-47, playing along greats like Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto. 

    Chandler helped the Yankees win three World Series (1941, ’43, ’47), and won the 1943 American League MVP award with a 20-4, 1.64 ERA line. He did not record a losing season in his career, going 109-43 with a 2.84 ERA, being as big a player as any who won multiple championships with the Yankees.

19. David Wells

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    Left-hander David Wells was potentially the most flawed pitcher in Yankees history. He didn’t follow the rules, partied too much and was constantly overweight and out of shape. He was, however, a crowd favorite and a winner for New York.

    In two stints with the Yankees (1997-98, 2002-03), wells compiled a 68-28 record, a 3.90 ERA and a tremendous 6-1 postseason record. Wells also had one of three perfect games for the Yankees, thrown amidst his 18-4 1998 campaign. He was regarded as the game’s best pitcher after throwing the perfect game in mid-June. 

    The Yankees were just a stop on Wells’ way to a 239-win career, but certainly his best one.

18. David Cone

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    Right next to David Wells on many escapades (and admittedly so) was David Cone, a rare mix of a right-handed pitcher and the “crafty” term. His velocity was very good, but his ability to mix and match pitches was outstanding.

    Like Wells, Cone pitched a perfect game for the Yankees (in 1999), but he helped the team win four World Series instead of one. He went 64-40 with the Yankees with a 3.91 ERA and a 6-1 record in the playoffs. 

    Cone was a leader in the clubhouse, and will go down as one of the more winning-oriented pitchers ever to wear pinstripes.

17. Waite Hoyt

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    When baseball historians hear the year 1927, their first thought might be the Yankees and one of the best teams of all time. The team was led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who hit a combined 107 home runs. 

    What might be hidden behind this firepower is starter Waite Hoyt, who put together one of the better careers in pinstripes. 

    Hoyt went 157-98 with the Yankees, winning three World Series (1923, '27, '28). His most known role might have been as the best pitcher on that 1927 team, leading the staff to a title. His win total is ninth on the team’s all-time list, and being in the top 10 in any Yankees statistic is superb.  

16. Catfish Hunter

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    If we could count Jim “Catfish” Hunter’s entire career, he would be much higher on this list. However, his Yankees career does not earn him that mark. He was very good regardless of his position, though. 

    Hunter was signed by George Steinbrenner in 1975 after his remarkable run with the three-time defending champion Oakland Athletics. Hunter proceeded to go 25-14 with a 2.58 ERA that season and was an All-Star. 

    His career with the Yankees never improved, though he was still vital in helping the Yankees win two World Series rings in 1977-78. He finished 63-53 after five seasons with the Bombers, which doesn’t reflect his career record of 224-166. 

15. Mike Mussina

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    Maybe considered the best Yankee pitcher to never win a World Series, Mike Mussina came one year after their 2000 championship and retired one year before their 2009 ring. 

    Their lack of World Series titles was far from his responsibility.

    In those eight seasons, Mussina compiled a 123-72 record and a 3.88 ERA, and was most likely the best pitcher on the team in that time period (2001-08).

    "The Moose" was oh-so-close to many milestones. He was one out away from a perfect game in 2001, one win away from a World Series title in that same year and was one win away from a 20-win season twice.

    Thankfully for Mussina, he reached 20 wins in his final season, which was arguably his best. He finished his career with 270 wins and only 153 losses. If he is not elected to the Hall of Fame, he will have the best winning percentage of any pitcher who is not in Cooperstown. 

14. Sparky Lyle

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    There are many revolutionary moments in sports. Sparky Lyle was definitely part of one, turning the reliever into an asset that could be called upon out of desire, not necessity. 

    Lyle appeared in at least 50 games in almost every season for the Yankees (he was on the team from 1972-78, but appeared in 49 games in ’75). 

    Lyle ended up going 57-40 with a 2.14 ERA in 420 appearances, helping the team win two World Series titles in 1977-78. He was part of the Bronx Zoo, but was a calming presence in the middle and end of games for the team for many years.

13. C.C. Sabathia

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    If we could look ten years into the future, C.C. Sabathia would probably be near the top of this list. In just three seasons with the team Sabathia has accomplished so much, throwing his way to a 59-28 record and winning one title.

    Assuming he will continue a similar pace for years to come, it is hard to not put Sabathia higher on the Yankees’ all time leader board. If he plays for 10 more seasons with the team, the big lefty will more-than-likely eclipse 300 wins with the Yankees, making him one of the team’s greatest pitchers ever.

12. Allie Reynolds

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    Winning five straight World Series is somewhat of a phenomenon in baseball history, and Allie Reynolds is certainly a part of it. In eight seasons with the team, he won six titles including the five in a row from 1949-53, compiling a 131-60 record and a 3.30 ERA.

    “Superchief,” as he was called, may not have been in the lime light like his teammates Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, but he was a major role in nearly 25 percent of the Yankees’ all-time championship total.

11. Dave Righetti

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    If it were not for one Mariano Rivera, Dave Righetti would be the most productive closer in Yankees history. After winning Rookie of the Year in 1981, Righetti pitched his way to a 74-61 record and a 3.11 ERA with the team over the course of the decade, recording 224 saves.

    Righetti also started for the team, and even recorded a no-hitter in 1983. Unfortunately for him and the team, they were not successful during the 1980s, and he never obtained a ring. If they were more successful, his legacy would be even better.

10. Roger Clemens

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    His name may now be tarnished and his legacy broken, but Roger Clemens will still go down as one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game.

    On the way to his 354-184 career record, “The Rocket” spent five-plus seasons with the Yankees (1999-2003, '07), getting 83 of those wins and only 42 losses.

    He helped the team to two titles in 1999 and 2000, and nearly a third in 2003. That season also marked his 300th win, and his alleged retirement after a glorious career. He did, however, return to baseball for three seasons with the Houston Astros

    In 2007, Clemens came back to the Yankees in grand fashion mid-way through the year. The savior was nothing special, and was linked shortly after to many allegations of steroid use, of which he is still a part. 

    Regardless of his poor image today, he was still a tremendous pitcher for the Yankees during their most recent dynasty.

9. Vic Raschi

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    If Allie Reynolds can say he was a part of five straight World Series championships, so can right-hander Vic Raschi, and he might have been even better.

    Shadowed behind Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto and Joe DiMaggio, Raschi put together one of the more impressive careers in Yankees history.

    He pitched eight seasons with the Yankees (1946-53), with a 120-50 record and a 3.58 ERA, never charting a losing season for the team. 

    His rookie year, 1946, and 1948 were the only two seasons in which Raschi didn’t win the World Series.  And, as mentioned before, the righty was part of the five-peat from 1949-53. During that time he went 90-40, including three 21-win seasons in a row from ’49-’51, an extremely impressive tally. 

8. Rich "Goose" Gossage

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    Sparky Lyle may have revolutionized a reliever’s position, but Goose Gossage perfected it. Gossage was both effective and frightening on the mound, mixing a quirky and distracting wind-up with electric pitches.

    Goose recorded 151 saves with the Yankees and won the 1978 championship with an ERA of just 2.14 in six seasons with the team. He bounced around with many teams, but still assembled a great career. 

    Sadly, it took until 2008 for him to be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, where he went in as a Yankee.

7. Ron Guidry

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    Ever wondered why crowds clap with two strikes on a batter?  The answer would be because of Ron Guidry. 

    As he compiled strikeout after strikeout one game, the crowd grew anxious for the next one and began cheering him on. He didn’t disappoint, finishing with 18, an all-time Yankees record for one game.

    Named “Louisiana Lightning,” Guidry spent his entire career with the Yankees. He went 170-92 with a 3.29 ERA from 1975-88, leading the team to two championships in ’77 and ’78. Many of his seasons were great, but none compare to his 1978 season, in which he went an incredible 25-3 with an almost-invisible 1.88 ERA. 

    The lefty’s mix of a strong fastball and one of the best sliders ever made him a devastating pitcher.  Though he didn’t make the Hall of Fame, he was promptly honored in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park with a plaque and a retired number. 

6. Mel Stottlemyre

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    He may have won four rings as a coach in the 1990s with the Yankees, but Mel Stottlemyre was a great pitcher decades before that. 

    He was one of the youngest pitchers to ever start a Game 7 of the World Series (1964). It was the closest he got to a championship, losing to legendary hurler Bob Gibson in St. Louis.

    Stottlemyre was part of some of the worst Yankees’ teams ever, but still managed to assemble a great career.

    The righty finished his 11-season career with a 164-139 record, including three 20-win seasons (’65, ’68, ’69). He is high on many all-time pitching charts for the Bombers, including seventh in wins, tenth in ERA, fourth in starts and third in innings pitched. 

    He is one of the better pitchers to never win a ring for the team, but that doesn’t diminish his great career.

5. Lefty Gomez

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    The Yankees had Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. All played behind Lefty Gomez. 

    Named Veron Gomez, the left-hander was one of the biggest winners for the team, leading them to five World Series titles (1932, '36-'39) and compiling a 189-102 record.

    Gomez received seven straight All-Star bids from 1933-39 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972. The four-time 20-game winner may have been in an era far behind ours, but his importance cannot be under-appreciated in Yankees history.

4. Andy Pettitte

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    In the most recent generation of the Yankees, Andy Pettitte is the most beloved Yankee starter. Since 1995, no Yankee has compiled more than his 203 wins.  No starter in baseball has won as many rings as Pettitte has (five). 

    His borderline Hall-of-Fame career began in 1995, but he was quickly etched higher on the team’s respect list. When he out-dueled John Smoltz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, winning the game 1-0, it was apparent he had arrived as a big-game pitcher for the team.

    That mantra carried with him throughout his career, as he won 18 postseason games for the Yankees in his career. He was reliable even in his older years, pitching to a 4-0, 3.52 ERA line in the 2009 postseason as the team went on to win the title. 

    Whether he lands in Cooperstown, Monument Park or both, Pettitte will always be considered one of the greatest pitchers to ever wear pinstripes.

3. Red Ruffing

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    It took until the 21st century for Red Ruffing’s number to be retired by the Yankees, and that was frankly 50 years too long. Charles Ruffing was undoubtedly the best pitcher in the team’s first five decades, leading the team to six titles during his career with the Bombers (1931-'46). 

    Ruffing is second all-time in wins at 231, third in starts, fifth in appearances and second in innings pitched. The shoo-in Hall-of-Famer was a tremendous talent for New York for many seasons, which makes it hard to not give Ruffing the bronze one the all-time list.

2. Whitey Ford

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    Simply put, Edward Charles “Whitey” Ford was the best starter the Yankees ever had, and one of the best pitchers to ever live. His numbers speak for themselves. During his career, which lasted from 1950-'66 (excluding the ’51 and ’52 seasons), Ford was consistently the best pitcher in the world.

    Excepting his rookie season and final year, Ford won at least 10 games each season. His highest ERA was 3.24 in 1965, one of only four seasons in which he rose above 3.00. Ford lost 10 or more games only twice (1959, '65), and had as many 20-win seasons. 

    “The Chairman of the Board” won six titles with the team, and it would have been eight if he were on the team in 1951-52.

    His 10-8, 2.71 ERA postseason career is impressive, but more impressive still because it was only in World Series games. Ford had a career worthy of any all-time award, and a second-place rank on this list.

1. Mariano Rivera

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    It is tough to limit Mariano Rivera to the best pitcher in Yankees history because he might be the best pitcher in all of baseball history.

    Granted, he does not have the most wins or innings, and never had the best stuff, but Rivera changed the game like no other player before him. Like Michael Jordan in basketball, he made teams adjust to him, forcing them to find a player of a similar caliber to compete with him. 

    Behind Rivera's humble nature and big smile is in fact the Yankees’ greatest pitcher ever. 

    He holds records for both the team and the sport, some of which may never be broken. His 603 saves are the most all-time in the major leagues, and nearly 400 more than Dave Righetti, who ranks second in that category for the Yankees. 

    His career 2.21 ERA is by far the team’s best number ever, as are his 1,042 appearances, more than double Righetti’s 522 in second place. 

    What makes Rivera even more legendary is his postseason career. He is 8-1, which is very good, but is pedestrian compared to his other statistics. His 42 career postseason saves are easily the most ever, and his 0.70 ERA is the lowest ever. 

    Unlike most every other pitcher on this list, Rivera is still going. He posted 44 saves in 2011 with a 1.91 ERA at 41 years old. When he retires, he will be considered the best player ever to play his position, something only he can say in baseball history. 

    Way to go, Mo.