Greatest Yankee Seasons: Pitching Edition

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As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the greatest Yankee seasons of all time by position, I wanted to take a look at the top pitching seasons in Yankees history.

Starting Pitchers

1.  Ron Guidry, 1978.  Traditionalists will love Gator’s 25-3 record, but that in itself doesn’t show just how great Guidry was in 1978.  Guidry’s ERA of 1.74 led the league in  by an amazing 0.53 and he became the only Yankee starter in history (min. 160 IP) with an ERA+ greater than 200, landing at 208. He was 2nd in the league in Ks and K/9, only behind Nolan Ryan, while giving up just 6.1 hits/9 and 13 HRs all season in a whopping 273.2 innings pitched.  Guidry’s FIP was 2.19, leading the league by 0.52.  He was flat out dominant in 1978, leading the league, batters included, in bWAR by a full win.

2.  Lefty Gomez, 1937. Gomez with 8.9 bWAR was the most valuable pitcher and 2nd most valuable player in the AL in 1937.  He led the league in wins, ERA, SHO, K’s, H/9, K/9 and K/BB.  His 21-11 record doesn’t do him justice.  Despite playing for a Yankee team that scored 979 runs, Gomez had 7 starts (21% of his total) in which they scored 2 runs or fewer.  His 191 ERA+ is the third best in Yankee history and one of only three to even top 180.

3.  Lefty Gomez 1934. Run support wasn’t an issues for Gomez in 1934 as he led the league with 26 wins (vs. 5 losses) while leading the league in ERA, CG, SHO, IP, K’s, WHIP, ERA+ and H/9. Per bWAR he was the most valuable pitcher in the league and 4th most valuable player, behind just Gehrig, Gehringer and Foxx, all fellow Hall of Famers.

4.  Spud Chandler, 1943.  Chandler was a decent pitcher who had just 809.2 career innings pitched through age 34.  then, a,t 35 he had a season for the ages, winning the league MVP while leading the league in wins, ERA, CG, SHO, ERA+, WHIP and K/BB. He also OPS’d .658 in 98 AB’s for what it’s worth.  His MVP was pretty legit too, as per bWAR he was tied for 2nd as most valuable player in the league.  His ERA+ of 198 was 2nd in Yankee history. There is a major asterisk next to Chandler’s season, however, as in 1943 several great players, including Joe Dimaggio, Ted Wiliams and Bob Feller were off fighting in World War II.

5.  Whitey Ford, 1964.  Ford may have been a little better in 1958 but I’m putting his ’64 season here in part because he threw an extra 25.2 innings.  His ERA was 2.13 and his FIP of 2.45 was the best of his career by 0.42.  Despite leading the league in nothing, this was the best season of Ford’s career. It was the only season he cracked a bWAR of at least 6 (6.3), placing second in the league in that category (behind Dean Chance who had an amazing year).

Middle Reliever

Mariano Rivera, 1996.  This was an easy one.  As great as Mo has been as a closer, this was the most valuable season in his career.  In his first full season in the majors, Rivera took the league by storm.  He put up career highs in K/9 and allowed a career low 1 HR despite throwing 27 more innings than in any other season. While FIP has always been unkind to Mo, this was the only season of his career with a FIP under 2 (at 1.88).  Despite throwing just 107.2 innings, Rivera was 9th in the league in bWAR for pitchers at 5.4.

Closer

Mariano Rivera,  2008.  This of course was just an exercise in picking out Mo’s best year as a closer (though go check out what Steve Farr did in 1992, sneaky good).  Though he’s had many off the charts years, I had to go with Mo’s 2008.  His 12.83 K/BB ratio looks like a typo but it was legit.  He also gave up just 0.5 HR/9, which is special for anyone but Mo, for him it’s average.  You could easily argue about 5 of Mo’s seasons are his best and get no argument from me.

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  • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

    You forgot Dellin Betances 2013 season where he struck out 312 and pitched to a 1.42 ERA (the 42 in honor of Mo), and Manny Banuelos 2015 season as Closer, where he pitched to an ERA+ of 408.

    • SS

      This is, of course, the non-Melvin edition.

    • http://RAB Nuke LaDoosh

      no love for ABrack ??

  • Xstar7

    Oh yeah I remember that

  • Ivan

    In 2008, Mo had only 6 walks. 6 WALKS ALL YEAR THAT SEASON!!!!!

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      /nuts

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      “Pshhhhh”

      – 2010 Cliff Lee

  • Reggie C.

    Left Gomez? Spud Chandler?

    CC Sabathia 2009 should be on that list.

    • Xstar7

      If your gonna put CC 2009 you should include CC 2010 too.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      CC Sabathia is awesome. Awesome.

      That said, Lefty Gomez >>>>>>>>> CC Sabathia

      #retirenumber11now

      • http://twitter.com/firstheart42 seimiya

        Does Brett get to keep wearing it due to grandfather clause?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Let Brett have #18.

    • MikeD

      CC is fine, but there have been other very good to great seasons in Yankee history that are on par with CC’s 2009. Tommy John’s 1979 ranks with CC’s season. Catfish Hunter 1975 was better than both, and he paid for that season with the rest of his career as Virdon and then Martin grinded Catfish’s shoulder into raw meat with his 328 innings and 30 complete games, the first to do both in a season since Bob Feller in 1946. Feller was never the same after that season either, but unlike Hunter, he was still effective.

      • kosmo

        Actually Catfish was OK in 1976 and for half a season in 1978 when he had his right arm manipulated by a specialist .
        I remember listening to a game in 1976 when ol Catfish pitched 13 innings of shutout baseball only to be granted a ND for his efforts.Ya don´t see that anymore !He pitched well in the 1976 WS with a sore arm and won the deciding game in the 1978 WS.
        In 1975 if I remember Catfish lost his first 4 decisions although he pitched OK baseball in all of them.

        Whitey Ford my all-time favorite Yankee.I saw him pitch in the 1964 season hurling a 3 hit shutout against a young Dave McNally and the Orioles.He missed a chunk of time in 1964 because of a sore arm which makes the 64 season standout.He did lose the 1st game of the 64 WS because Berra thought it wise to start his ace even though Whitey´s arm was about to fall off.Of course his 61 season was great .

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    If you eliminate Spud Chandler’s 1943 WWII campaign, here’s the top 5 pitching seasons in Yankee history by ERA+:

    208 – Guidry, 1978
    191 – Gomez, 1937
    177 – Ford, 1958
    176 – Gomez, 1934
    170 – Ford, 1964

    #retirenumber11now

  • larryf

    I remember the Guidry 78 quite well. Tremendous velocity on the fastball and a slider that nobody could touch. Sparky Lyle had a similar unhittable slider back in the day. Guidry was a smaller/skinny guy with great mechanics and a great arm. He may also have been the pitcher first associated with the 2 strike strikeout clap/ovation prior to strike three…he delivered the K alot more than others have since that year.

    • Xstar7

      Louisiana Lightning was an awesome nickname for Ron. Ironically Andy Pettite is from Louisiana too.

    • jim p

      Correct on the 2 strike/clap. It never happened before that year, and it only happened with Guidry on the mound. Still get chills thinking of Ron on the mound, the crowd clapping and cheering, and knowing that strike 3 was on its way.

      • http://RAB Nuke LaDoosh

        Confirmed and thirded on the Clap.
        But geez, 278 innings was just too much for Gator…he wasn’t the same in the one game playoff with Boston and then again in the W.S. vs the Dodgers. He needed an unconscious Nettles to save him in the W.S. but would have been run from that start with any other 3B in baseball. I’d even say he was never the same again as a pitcher, although I guess that’s why you call them “career years.”

        • kosmo

          I have to say his game against the Dodgers was one of the gutsiest performances I´ve ever seen.A CG ,7 walks ,one run.Yes Nettles saved his ass on a number of great plays.
          Don´t forget he also pitched an 8 inning 1 run victory against KC in the playoffs prior to his WS appearance.

          Guidry could have gone 27-2 with a little luck.He was lifted from a game after 5 innings because he became nauseated after swallowing chewing tobacco.I believe the game was tied when he departed.
          Another game he lost 2-1 on an error by Nettles that resulted in an unearned run .

        • Kevin Ocala, Fl

          He wasn’t the same after ’78? Well maybe not, but check out the stats for the rest of his career. And CC is called a “Horse”?! http://www.baseball-reference......ro01.shtml

          He should be in the Hall along with Blyleven, no question…

      • Kevin Ocala, Fl

        If I’m not mistaken the “Tradition” started during the ’78 game when he K’d 18 (correct me if I’m wrong on the K’s).

    • http://RAB Nuke LaDoosh

      fun fact: Lyle taught Guidry the slider…

      • kosmo

        It was Dick Tidrow AND Sparky who taught Guidry the slider

        • I Am Not The Droids You’re Looking For

          Huh. Thought it was Crash Davis.

          • http://RAB Nuke LaDoosh

            he tought me the curveball…I just wanted to come in and “announce my presence with authority.”

  • YankeesJunkie

    Got throw out some love for Jack Chesbro in 1904. Maybe he does crack the top 5 for the Yankees in dominance, but he started 51 games with 48 CG and threw 452.2 IP. Too bad he will be remembered more for that wild pitch against Boston to lose the pennant even though he was probably the biggest reason they got so close.

  • Jerome S

    It really sucks that 2008 was literally the one year in Mo’s entire career in which the playoffs were cancelled.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Yeah, that player’s strike to happen just the day after the last game at Yankee Stadium was just awful, almost as bad as the WS strike of 2010.

      :(

    • Xstar7

      2008 was a sucky year in general. Yankees didn’t make postseason, Economy went to hell, and the Philidelphia Phillers won the world series.

  • http://twitter.com/Mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    For a while it looked like Mo might have his best season this year, at 40. Then September merely made it a fantastic season, but still.

  • CBean

    Whenever I watch another team’s closer, I am reminded how lucky we are to have Mo. Not that there aren’t other good closers out there. They just aren’t Mo.

  • bonestock94

    Wow, no wonder my dad always carries on about Guidry.

  • Claudell

    Steve Farr… Wow… Thanks for that blast from the past!!

  • kosmo

    Yankee closers time has forgotten:
    Johnny Murphy
    Joe Page

    certainly not in the same exalted place as Rivera,Gossage and Sparky but great in their own right.

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    It may surprise some of you young bucks but (and I’m not ‘dissing’ Sabathia at all) Gator had 7 seasons of >200 innings 7 times v. Sabathia coming in (so far) with 4. I saw a lot of those ’78 games on the tube, and I can say that I’ve never seen CC with the “stuff” that Guidry had. He was almost un-hittable while pitching 273.2 innings. Another thing, Guidry went 6 or 7 years w/o losing more than two in a row! Amazing…

  • http://riveravenueblues.com marty l

    whitey ford 1961, 25-4 pitching every 4th day.

    • Kevin Ocala, Fl

      I’ve read that Stengel would shuffle the rotation so that Ford more often than not faced the other team’s “ace”. Which would lend the question if today’s pitchers really aren’t overly coddled (too much rest, not enough rest, wrong phase of the moon, etc).

      • http://riveravenueblues.com marty l

        no, generally stengel pitched ford every fifth day, houk’s first year in 1961 he asked whitey about pitching every fourth day (on 3 days rest all year, today, its called short rest). ford responded with the best year of his career.

        stengel lost the 1960 world series for the yankees by starting art ditmar, a “decent” righty against the pirates rather than ford. yanks lost the openeer 6-4 and even though ford won game 2 and 6, he wasn’t of course available for game 7. stengel admiited a few years later he made a big mistake.