Greatest Yankee Seasons: Pitching Edition

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.


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.

Open Thread: An RAB Thank You

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees’ season ended with disappointment last night, but Ben, Joe, and myself want to take a second to thank everyone for another great year at RAB. The readers and commentors are what makes the site go, and we’re thankful for you guys. A big league season features far too many ups-and-downs to count, but having such a kick-ass readership makes it easier to tolerate. So thank you, and here’s to 2011.

Oh, and don’t forget, RAB doesn’t go anywhere in the winter. We’ll still be around to cover the hot stove action, winter meetings, trade rumors, and free agent talk, as well as offer speculation, analysis, dumb ideas and the like. The Yankees are a 12-months a year kind of team, and we’ll be around for all of it. Hopefully you all will be as well.

Anyway, here is your open thread for this fine evening. The Giants and Phillies resume the NLCS at 8pm ET on FOX (Jonathan Sanchez vs. Roy Oswalt), plus all of the hockey locals are in action. Talk about whatever you want here, just be cool.

Pettitte will base retirement decision on family

Much like the last three offseasons, Andy Pettitte will spend this one deciding whether or not to continue his playing career. Andy told reporters last night that he’s already accomplished everything he’s wanted to accomplish in his career, and that his decision will be based solely on his family. The Yankees, as they’ve done every year, will give him all the time he needs and of course welcome him back with open arms if he decides to give it another go.

Pettitte was stellar this year (3.28 ERA, 3.85 FIP), but he missed basically two months with a groin injury as well as two starts earlier in the year with an elbow issue. At 38-years-old, his physical state will always be a question. That said, please come back Andy.

Cashman: Starting pitching will be a priority

It’s no secret that the Yankees starting rotation was pretty dreadful beyond CC Sabathia in the second half, but that tends to happen when you have guys like Dustin Moseley, Javy Vazquez, Ivan Nova, and messed up A.J. Burnett going every fifth day. Unsurprisingly, Brian Cashman declared that starting pitching will be a priority this offseason following last night’s season-ending loss to the Rangers, and of course all eyes will soon be on Cliff Lee. I’m willing to bet it won’t end there though, I’m sure the Yankees will be in on all sorts of pitching this winter, and rightfully so.

Re-signing Girardi is the “first order of business”

After last night’s Game Six loss to the Rangers, Brian Cashman told the hordes of New York media that his “first order of business” this offseason is to re-sign manager Joe Girardi. Jon Heyman reported that the two sides were setup for a reunion just yesterday. Opinions are pretty split about Girardi on the heels of the ALCS loss, but the front office loves him and he’s experienced tremendous success during his first three years in New York. One playoff season doesn’t change that.

Greatest Yankee Seasons by Position

As I watched Robinson Cano hit another homerun on Wednesday night I wondered to myself, where does Cano’s season rank in history for Yankees second baseman?  Second base to the Yankees doesn’t have the tradition that some other positions do, so I thought Cano would have a chance to be near the top.  While I was looking I decided to take a look at the greatest seasons in Yankees history by position.  I didn’t want to put too much stock into defense with the historical players and I didn’t want to be totally WAR based because of the inconsistencies, so this is primarily offensively based.


Bill Dickey 1937:  Hall of Famer Dickey was even better in 1936 but only played in 112 games and didn’t have enough AB’s to qualify for the batting title.  His 1937 season was a monster as well.  In a career high 140 games Dickey put up a .332/.417/.570 line with a 144 OPS+ and .441 wOBA.

Runner Up: Jorge Posada 2007:  Posada actually had a higher OPS+ at 153 though with a slightly inferior .970 OPS and a .417 wOBA.  It was a tossup but Dickey’s reputation as a good defensive catcher gave him the edge.

First Base

Lou Gehrig 1927: Gehrig is the obvious choice, I just had to pick one of his several off the charts seasons.  The famous 1927 season was Gehrig’s best.  Gehrig had decent seasons in 1925 and 1926 but 1927 was his breakout with a .373/.474/.765 line.  The OPS, slugging percentage and 220 OPS+ were all career highs.  The perception is that Yankee Stadium’s short porch helped left handed hitters, and while it did, Gehrig was actually better on the road in 1927.  He hit 23 of his 47 HR’s on the road and had a .397/.492/.805 line on the road.  His OPS was more than 100 points higher than his home OPS.  Wow.

Runner Up: Gehrig 1934: Gehrig’s OPS was a little higher in 1930 than 1934, but in 1934 he won both the traditional triple crown and the triple slash triple crown.  Naturally he finished 5th in the MVP voting that year.  Wait, what?

Second Base

Tony Lazzeri 1929:  Lazzeri had a season in 1929 that even the best of sluggers would be proud of.  He had a .354/.429/561 line and a 159 OPS+.  In Lazzeri’s first three seasons in the league (1926-1928) he finished 10th, 11th and 3rd in the MVP ballot but in his best season there was no MVP award.  He wouldn’t have deserved to win, but certainly should have been top 3 again.

Runner Up: Joe Gordon 1942:  Gordon put up a .322/.409/491 line and a 154 OPS+.  The triple slash line is a little less impressive than Cano, but when put into context Gordon’s season was a little more impressive.  Cano’s 2010 definitely falls into the top 5 in seasons by a 2b in Yankee history though.


Derek Jeter 1999:  Jeter’s OPS+ of 153 blows away any other season by a SS in Yankees history.  He put up a .349/.438/.552 line and even put up some strong counting numbers with 24 HR’s and 102 RBI.  He was just 25 but never approached these numbers again.  He’s been great almost every season since, but his 1999 is completely unmatched.

Runner Up: Jeter 2006: This the only other season in his career that Jeter OPS’d at least .900 (.900 on the nose) and he had a 132 OPS+.  The 132 is the second highest in Yankee history at SS, which puts his 153 in 1999 into more context.  No other Yankee SS has ever had an OPS+ of 125.  Like Gehrig at 1B, Jeter owns the SS records when it comes to the Yankees.

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez 2007:  This was an easy one.  A-Rod’s 2007 was insane, .314/.422/.645 line with 54 HR’s and a 176 OPS+.  He even added 24 steals and was caught just 4 times.  Not much else to say about this one, we all remember it, it was real, and it was spectacular.

Runner Up: A-Rod 2005: A-Rod’s 2005 was almost as good as his 2007, putting up a .321/.421/.610 line with 48 HR’s and a 173 OPS+.  To put those two seasons into context, no other Yankee third baseman, ever, has put up an OPS+ north of 135 besides A-Rod.  He’s definitely no Scotty Bro, and that’s a good thing.

Left Field

Charlie Keller 1941:  Keller only had 5 full seasons in the majors but they were some of the best seasons ever by a Yankee LF.  I picked his 1941 season with a .298/.416/.580 line, 33 HR’s and a 162 OPS+.

Runner Up: Keller 1943: Keller’s seasons are really a tossup.  He would probably be more appreciated today as he was an on-base machine but didn’t hit for a great average (though very good).  In his 5 full seasons (>130 games) he never hit .300 but his OBP was over .400 4 times, and he was at .396 in his other season.  His career OPS+ of 152 is top 30 all time, and his wiki page even says he was feared.

Center Field

Mickey Mantle 1956:  The Yankees have had monster seasons in CF by vast number of players including Dimaggio, Bernie, Murcer and Henderson, but Mantle tops the list, and his 1956 was his best season.  He put up a .353/.464/.705 line with a 210 OPS+ while leading the league in HR and RBI.  This was the first of Mantle’s 3 MVP awards (he should have won more) and was even better than his famous 1961 season.

Runner Up: Mantle 1957: Mantle’s rate stats were even better in 1957 than 1956 but the increase in walks (he was really feared) led to 18 fewer HR’s in ’57.  He still hit 34 HR’s with a monster .365/.512/.665 line and a 221 OPS+. You could certainly argue this season was better than his ’56 season, but I gave ’56 the edge primarily due to the extra HR’s.

Right Field

Babe Ruth 1920:  This was another case of just figuring out which of Ruth’s years were the best as there is no one close in Yankee (or baseball) history in RF.  I went with his 1920 season in which he hit .376/.532/.847 in his first year with the team.  I’m guessing the Sox regretted that trade/sale pretty quickly. He broke his own record of 29 HR’s with an unheard of 54 (more than every other team).  His 1.379 OPS remained a record until 2002 (Bonds) and his 255 OPS+ was the greatest post 1900 OPS+ until surpassed by Bonds (that guy was pretty good) in 2001.

Runner Up: Ruth 1921: Ruth’s 1921 may even surpass his 1920 because of an extra 82 AB’s.  His rate stats were slightly better in 1920,  in 1921 he hit .378/.512/.846 with 59 HR’s (more than 5 of 7 teams).  Ruth’s ’27 season is his most famous season, but not his best.  You could even argue that it’s his 5th or 6th best season (head explodes).

Designated Hitter

Don Baylor 1983:  The Yankees haven’t had many full time DH’s in their history, so Baylor wins almost by default.  Since the DH was introduced the Yankees have had 6 players play at least 100 games at DH and have an OPS+ >120.  Baylor is at the top of that short list with his 138 in 1983 with a .301/.361/.494 and 21 HR’s. Baylor is the only Yankee DH to win a Silver Slugger, winning both in 1983 and 1985.

Runner Up: Hideki Matsui 2009: Matsui’s line of .274/.367/.509 is a little better than Baylor’s but 2009 was a much better year for offense than 1983 (.764 league OPS vs. .728).  Matsui’s 2009 and Baylor’s 1985 seasons are very similar but since 2009 ended with a title I gave Matsui the nod as runner up.

To second-guess or not to second-guess?

it’s 3 a.m and thoughts of the League Championship Series are dancing through my head. After a magical ride in 2009, this year’s early exit after a 5-4 postseason sure is a downer. We didn’t offer up much in the way of a recap, and I wanted to offering some of my own musings on the series here.

For much of the end of 2010, Joe Girardi came under the microscope. He knew the Yanks were going to make the playoffs, and instead of pushing hard for the division — and home-field advantage — he rested his regulars and tried to get his banged-up team healthy for the playoffs.

By and large, it worked. Even though some of the crazed masses wanted the Yanks to take the meaningless AL East crown, the Wild Card Yankees swept through the ALDS and won Game 1 of the ALCS in dramatic fashion against the Texas Rangers. After that, it all fell apart. The Rangers simply outplayed the Yankees, and every move the team made backfired. So before we get to the real analysis, let’s get this second-guessing out of the way. What moves did Girardi make that raise some eyebrows and how much did they actually impact the team’s chances of winning the series?

Game 2: Phil Hughes gets the ball

The first decision of the series that involved some raised eyebrows came when the Yanks handed the ball to Phil Hughes instead of Andy Pettitte in Game 2. Based on the numbers — Hughes’ home/road splits and his short history of success in Texas — and the desire to have Pettitte go in a potential Game 7 instead of Hughes, it made some sense. Plus, the Yankees wanted to send their playoff best against Cliff Lee at home. Unfortunately, Hughes bombed. He gave up seven earned runs in 4+ innings, and the Yanks couldn’t overcome his ineffectiveness.

It’s easy to make the case for Pettitte here. He too has home/road splits that favor the road; he’s the team’s second best starter; and the club has to get to Game 7 before they start worrying about Game 7. The Yanks knew it would be tough beating Cliff Lee, and a 2-0 lead going home would have been far more comfortable than a split in Texas. Still, the team plated just a pair of runs in that game, and Pettitte would have needed to be perfect to win. I don’t hesitate to say that going with Hughes wasn’t a bad move, but I do wonder why Girardi left Hughes in long enough to give up seven runs in a pivotal playoff game.

Game 3: Turning the game over to lesser relievers

Even though it maybe shouldn’t have even happened, the Lee/Pettitte match-up lived up to its billing. Pettitte threw one bad pitch to Josh Hamilton, and Lee threw no bad pitches through eight innings of work. It all fell apart in the 9th, and it shouldn’t have. Kerry Wood, the Yanks’ set-up man pitched, the 8th, but then instead of going to Mariano Rivera to keep the game a bloop and a blast away from a tie, Joe Girardi went with Boone Logan and David Robertson. By the time Sergio Mitre came in to clean up the mess, it was 7-0 Texas.

Game 4: A.J. for too long

The Yankees had to start A.J. Burnett in Game 4 of the series. For good reasons, the club didn’t feel comfortable pushing Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes on three days’ rest, and Burnett drew the short straw. For five innings, he was fine, but things got dicey in the sixth. Vladimir Guerrero singled, but a Nelson Cruz fielder’s choice led to the first out. Ian Kinsler flied out, and for the second time in the series, the Yanks walked David Murphy intentionally. With Joba up in the pen and Burnett nearing 100 pitches, Girardi left his starter in. Bengie Molina took the first pitch over the wall, and the life sputtered out of the Yanks. The bullpen couldn’t keep the game close, and the Yanks lost 10-3. Another close game had gotten out of hand because Girardi didn’t pull his starter soon enough and didn’t go to his ace relievers.

Game 6: Who’s in the pen?

Last night, we again saw Girardi push his starter to far and go to the wrong reliever. This time, the damage came in the bottom of the 5th. Hughes had flittered with disaster all night, and with two outs and a runner on third, the Yanks opted to intentionally walk Josh Hamilton to face Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad blasted a two-run double to center, and the Yanks handed the ball over to David Robertson who promptly gave up a two-run jack to Nelson Cruz. Eventually, the Yankees used Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera, but they reportedly had CC Sabathia in the bullpen. Why do you go with your lesser arms in that situation? Is it even worth it to intentionally walk Hamilton to face Vlad?

The real problem: offense

Yet, despite all of these second-guesses, despite the way Girardi’s pitching moves made a bunch of close games seem like blowouts, the Yanks’ real problem was one of offense, and it isn’t fair to lay this on the feet of the club’s manager. The Yankees scored 19 runs in five games against the Rangers while giving up twice as many. As a team, they hit .201 and had an on-base percentage nearly .100 points lower than the Rangers did. They went 8 for 53 (.151) with runners in scoring position. They simply got outplayed, outpitched and outhit by a good Texas team that got hot at the right time.

In a way, the Mariners sealed the Yanks’ fate when, on July 9, they baked out of a trade that would have sent Cliff Lee to the Bronx. Lee instead went to the Rangers where he put a playoff-bound team over the top, and the Yanks had to contend with CC and Andy plus two guys who lost the ability to get outs and a youngster with a lively arm who had far surpassed his career high in innings pitched. They rode these guys all the way to Game 6 of the ALCS and deserve our appreciation.

By all accounts, Joe Girardi will be back in the Yanks’ dugout next year, and he should be. He’s managed this team to a World Series title and with a very successul regular season track record. He seemed to push all the wrong buttons this ALCS but should use it as a learning experience. What works in the regular season doesn’t quite work in the playoffs, and as the outs slip away, match-ups should take a back seat to urgency. He can’t, though, will the bats to hit, and the Yanks will just have to dust themselves off and do what 29 other teams have to do: Wait ’til next year.