Greatest Yankees seasons by age: Pitchers

Two of the best. - Nick Laham

Who was the best pitcher for the Yankees at each age? What would this theoretical "Jimmy Yankee" produce over a career? What 2013 Yankee made the list?

Previously, I looked at the best seasons, ranked by fWAR, for position players at each age in Yankees history. Today, I present to you the best seasons at each age by Yankees pitchers. They are again ranked by fWAR, although some judgment calls were made in situations where the fWAR was close.

From ages 18-20, the best pitcher in Yankees history was Ray Keating, who also happens to be the second-youngest player in Yankees history. Over those three seasons, from 1912 to 1914, Keating went 14-26, with a 3.31 ERA and 89 ERA+ over 68 games, 51 starts, and 397 innings. He was actually a young fireballer, with a 4.83 K/9 that ranked 16th among pitchers with at least 350 innings pitched in that time period. He was worth 5.4 fWAR over those three years, fourth among Yankees pitchers. He pitched more than half of his career innings during these three years. He had three more seasons with the Yankees, and one final season with the Boston Braves, and was out of the major leagues after his age-25 season.

At age 21, we get our first Hall of Famer, Waite Hoyt. This is the only season Hoyt shows up, and it was a good one. He pitched 43 times, including 32 starts, and went 19-13 over 282.1 innings. His 3.09 ERA and 3.43 FIP produced 5.8 fWAR for the American League champion (and 98 win) 1921 Yankees. He would never again be as good as he was as a 21 year old, and is one of the weaker selections to the Hall of Fame, but he is also one of the better pitchers in Yankees history.

We see another Hall of Fame pitcher at age 22, one Lefty Gomez. He was another all-time Yankees great, and also a dubious Hall of Famer. In 1931, he went 21-9 over 40 games and 26 starts, totaling 243 innings. His 2.67 ERA and 3.35 FIP produced a 4.6 fWAR. Lefty appears twice more, for his age 28 and 29 seasons. Over those two seasons, he went 39-23 in 66 starts and 517.1 innings, with a 2.80 ERA, 3.29 FIP, and 13.8 fWAR. He, like the young Keating, was a prominent strikeout artist, leading the league for a third time as a 28-year-old (194 strikeouts, 6.3 K/9), before a steep drop off as a 29 year old (129 strikeouts, 4.9 K/9).

Age-23 belongs to Mel Stottlemyre. Mel holds a special place for many Yankees fans, as he was a bridge between the success of the early 1960s and mid-1970s. Because of when he pitched, he pitched for some pretty bad Yankee teams. His career was limited to 11 seasons due to arm issues, ending what many thought was a career on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He is also well known as the pitching coach for Joe Torre during the dynasty years. During 1965, his first full season in the big leagues, Mel went 20-9 over 37 starts and 291 innings. He put up a 2.63 ERA, 3.24 FIP, and 4.5 fWAR. He would be that good in two other seasons, but he does not make this list again.

Current San Francisco Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti shows up as the best age-24 Yankees pitcher. Known more as a relief pitcher, Dave was a very good starter for the Yankees when he first came into the league. In 1983, he went 14-8, with a 3.44 ERA, 2.87 FIP, and 5.4 fWAR over 31 starts and 217 innings. This was the best season of his career, and also his last season as a starter. One wonders what he could've done as a starting pitcher for his entire career. Like Stottlemyre, he is a one and done on this list.

Recently retired Andy Pettitte was the best 25-year-old pitcher in Yankees history. In 1997, he went 18-7, with a 2.88 ERA, 2.96 FIP and 7.1 fWAR over 35 starts and 240.1 innings pitched. This would be the best season of his career, a career which has a good argument to join Hoyt and Gomez in the Hall of Fame. However, he did make this list one more time, in 2003 as a 31-year-old. This was the season before he took his three year journey to Houston. Andy went 21-8 that season, with a 4.02 ERA, 3.35 FIP, and 5.2 fWAR over 33 starts and 208.1 innings pitched. He ended his career as perhaps the best pitcher in Yankees history - he is first in fWAR, and third in rWAR, among Yankees pitchers. The argument boils down to who you think is best among Pettitte, Whitey Ford, Mariano Rivera, Red Ruffing, and Ron Guidry.

If I were to tell you a pitcher from the 1992 Yankees made this list, would that surprise you? It sure surprised me, but Melido Perez was the best age-26 pitcher in Yankees history. Perez only went 13-16 that year, but in a textbook case of why wins are not the best way to measure a pitcher's value, he also had a 2.87 ERA, 3.05 FIP, and 5.6 fWAR in the 247.2 innings he pitched over 33 starts. Perez was part of a great trade by the Yankees, who sent Steve Sax to the White Sox for Perez, Domingo Jean (a very nice prospect who never panned out), and Bob Wickman. However, Perez's early success would not prove to be sustainable, and he succumbed to arm issues after 1992. He pitched less than 400 innings over the next three years with the Yankees (the final three of his career), with a 4.83 ERA.

Ron Guidry, a borderline Hall of Famer and one of the Yankees best pitchers ever, only had one season show up on this list, and that was his age-27 season in 1978. This was one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time, and the greatest season ever by a Yankees pitcher. Gator threw 273.2 innings over 35 starts, going 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA, 2.19 FIP, and 8.8 fWAR. He deservedly won the Cy Young award, and came in second in the MVP race to Jim Rice, whom he beat quite handedly by both versions of WAR. Guidry would remain a top pitcher in the league through 1987, but he retired in 1988 with less than 2400 innings pitched, thanks to arm injuries. Guidry would replace Stottlemyre as pitching coach following the 2005 season, joining Joe Torre for his final two seasons as Yankees manager.

The Yankee pitcher with the most seasons on this list is - surprise - Mike Mussina, with four seasons. The first of these is his age-32 season in 2001, his first season as a Yankee. In that season, he went 17-11 over 228.2 innings and 34 starts, with a 3.15 ERA, 2.92 FIP, and 6.8 fWAR. His age-34 season also shows up: 17-8, 214.2 innings, 31 starts, 3.40 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 6.2 fWAR. The next season to show up is his age-37 season: 15-7, 197.1 innings, 32 starts, 3.51 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 5.4 fWAR. The final season of his to show up was his age-39 season, the final one of his career: 20-9, 211.2 innings, 34 starts, 3.37 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 4.9 fWAR. Overall, he accounts for 13.8% of the seasons on the list, but 16% of the total fWAR. Mussina was a great pitcher, one of the best all-time. He is 19th in fWAR all-time for pitchers, and 24th in rWAR. He should be an easy choice for the Hall of Fame and is eligible for the first time this offseason. However, he is running into a stacked ballot, and will fall prey to the same traps that Bert Blyleven did, as someone who was sneaky-great and under-appreciated during his playing career. I have hopes that he will be elected by 2020, and although he will go in as an Oriole, Yankees fans will still celebrate a great career.

Probably the most unknown name on the list, at least to me, is Al Orth, the best age-33 Yankees pitcher of all time. Orth, known as "The Curveless Wonder", had a long and valuable career, finishing with 204 wins, 42.5 fWAR, and 44.1 rWAR over a 15-year career. But I have no recollection of ever hearing about him. In 1906, as a teammate of Jack Chesbro on the Highlanders, he had a 27-17 record over 45 games, 39 starts, and 338.2 innings pitched. Thanks to a 2.34 ERA and 2.24 FIP, he produced 6.4 fWAR over the season. He had one more decent season, followed by a terrible season, and was out of major league baseball by 1909, following one lousy three inning appearance.

At age-35, we find Spud Chandler as the best Yankees pitcher ever. Chandler also shows up with this age-38 season. In 1943, when many of the games greats were off to war, Chandler posted a 20-4 record over 30 starts and 253 innings, with a 1.64 ERA, 2.30 FIP, and 6.7 fWAR. In 1946, he went 20-8 over 34 games, 32 starts, and 257.1 innings, with a 2.10 ERA, 2.73 FIP, and 6.0 fWAR, the last 6.0 fWAR on the list. Chandler didn't debut until his age-29 season, 109 wins, a .717 winning percentage (the best ever for pitchers with at least 100 wins), and 29.3 fWAR over his 11-year career. As a 39-year old, he led the league in ERA, with a 2.46 mark, but he did not return to the majors. He gets penalized for his performance during WWII, but his work before and after the war showed that he was a very good pitcher, one who could've been great had he made it to the majors before he was 29 years old.

Tommy John – the pitcher, not the surgery – was the greatest age-36 Yankee ever. He was also the best age-44 Yankee. In 1979, four years after his eponymous surgery, he had a 21-9 record over 37 games, 36 starts, and 276.1 innings, with a 2.96 ERA, 3.10 FIP, and 6.8 fWAR. Nine years later, in 1987, he was 13-6 in 33 starts and 187.2 innings, with a 4.03 ERA, 3.88 FIP, and 3.4 fWAR as a 44-year old. That would be his last moment of success, as he spent two more mediocre years with the Yankees before retiring in 1989 as a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. Some would give him a boost into the Hall of Fame, given his connection to a vital surgery in modern sports medicine, while others say that credit should go to Dr. Frank Jobe. Whatever the case, his name is familiar with casual fans more than almost any other player in baseball history.

Five pitchers show up on this list in the 40+ years, including the aforementioned Tommy John. The first is Roger Clemens. Clemens's age-40 season in 2003 was the final of his first tour in the pinstripes. He went 17-9 in 33 starts and 211.2 innings, with a 3.91 ERA, 3.60 FIP, and 4.6 fWAR. Clemens would then go on to do ridiculous things with the Astros, before a mediocre return to the Yankees as a 44-year-old in 2007. He is the greatest pitcher of all time, but steroid accusations have haunted him in his post-career years, and they blocked him from being elected his first year eligible for the Hall of Fame. He will be inducted eventually, and will go in with a Red Sox cap. It will be interesting to see how he is welcomed by current Hall of Famers, and by fans of major league baseball, especially Red Sox and Yankees fans.

Randy Johnson shows up for both ages 41-42, his only two with the club. Over his two years with the Yankees, he went 34-19 in 67 starts and 430.2 innings, with a 4.37 ERA, 4.01 FIP, and 7.8 fWAR. Johnson is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and unlike Clemens has not been tied to steroids. He has one more season before he is eligible for the Hall of Fame, and the most-recent 300-game winner should sail into Cooperstown. He did not have the best seasons of his career in New York, and is not a beloved player in Yankees history, but he was a very good pitcher for the team, the best in team history for a pitcher his age.

So what 2013 Yankee holds a spot on this list? Yes, Andy Pettitte is on this list, but not for his 2013 season. That honor goes to the one and only Mariano Rivera, whose age-43 season was the best in Yankees history. In his final season, Rivera had a 6-2 record, with 44 saves, a 2.11 ERA, 3.05 FIP, and 1.5 fWAR. In fact, the Yankees have only had two pitchers pitch for them in their age-43 season: Mo and Tommy John, who had 0.8 fWAR in six more innings than Mo. So once again, Mo amazes. We'll miss you, great one.

The final member of this list is Phil Niekro, who shows up for his age 45 and 46 seasons. Over those two years, the Hall of Famer went 32-20 over 65 games, 64 starts, and 435.2 innings, producing a 3.59 ERA, 4.12 FIP, and 4.5 fWAR. He was great in 1984 as a 45 year old, but below-average in 1985. His final win in pinstripes was his 300th, and he would go on to pitch two more seasons with Cleveland, Toronto, and Atlanta before calling it quits at 48 years old.

So what do the final career numbers of a hypothetical "Jimmy Yankee" look like? How about a 503-263 record, with 4385 strikeouts over 6668.1 innings, producing a 2.98 ERA, 3.09 FIP, and 145.5 fWAR. That would have an argument as the greatest pitcher of all time. You can see the entire list below.

So, what do you think? Any names surprise you? Any names that are missing that you thought would be on this list?

Age Name W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 BB K ERA FIP fWAR
18 Ray Keating 0 3 0 6 5 35.7 5.3 4.5 1.17 0.0 18 21 5.80 3.19 0.5
19 Ray Keating 6 12 0 28 21 151.3 4.9 3.0 1.63 0.2 51 83 3.21 2.73 2.1
20 Ray Keating 7 11 1 34 25 210.0 4.7 2.9 1.63 0.0 67 109 2.96 2.42 2.8
21 Waite Hoyt 19 13 3 43 32 282.3 3.3 2.6 1.26 0.1 81 102 3.09 3.43 5.8
22 Lefty Gomez 21 9 3 40 26 243.0 5.6 3.2 1.76 0.3 85 150 2.67 3.35 4.6
23 Mel Stottlemyre 20 9 0 37 37 291.0 4.8 2.7 1.76 0.6 88 155 2.63 3.24 4.5
24 Dave Righetti 14 8 0 31 31 217.0 7.0 2.8 2.52 0.5 67 169 3.44 2.87 5.4
25 Andy Pettitte 18 7 0 35 35 240.3 6.2 2.4 2.55 0.3 65 166 2.88 2.96 7.1
26 Melido Perez 13 16 0 33 33 247.7 7.9 3.4 2.34 0.6 93 218 2.87 3.05 5.6
27 Ron Guidry 25 3 0 35 35 273.7 8.2 2.4 3.44 0.4 72 248 1.74 2.19 8.8
28 Lefty Gomez 21 11 0 34 34 278.3 6.3 3.0 2.09 0.3 93 194 2.33 3.13 7.7
29 Lefty Gomez 18 12 0 32 32 239.0 4.9 3.7 1.30 0.3 99 129 3.35 3.48 6.1
30 Jack Chesbro 41 12 0 55 51 454.7 4.7 1.7 2.72 0.1 88 239 1.82 2.11 8.3
31 Andy Pettitte 21 8 0 33 33 208.3 7.8 2.2 3.60 0.9 50 180 4.02 3.35 5.2
32 Mike Mussina 17 11 0 34 34 228.7 8.4 1.7 5.10 0.8 42 214 3.15 2.92 6.8
33 Al Orth 27 17 0 45 39 338.7 3.5 1.8 2.02 0.1 66 133 2.34 2.24 6.4
34 Mike Mussina 17 8 0 31 31 214.7 8.2 1.7 4.88 0.9 40 195 3.40 3.09 6.2
35 Spud Chandler 20 4 0 30 30 253.0 4.8 1.9 2.48 0.2 54 134 1.64 2.30 6.7
36 Tommy John 21 9 0 37 36 276.3 3.6 2.1 1.71 0.3 65 111 2.96 3.10 6.8
37 Mike Mussina 15 7 0 32 32 197.3 7.8 1.6 4.91 1.0 35 172 3.51 3.46 5.4
38 Spud Chandler 20 8 2 34 32 257.3 4.8 3.2 1.53 0.2 90 138 2.10 2.73 6.0
39 Mike Mussina 20 9 0 34 34 200.3 6.7 1.4 4.84 0.8 31 150 3.37 3.32 4.9
40 Roger Clemens 17 9 0 33 33 211.7 8.1 2.5 3.28 1.0 58 190 3.91 3.60 4.6
41 Randy Johnson 17 8 0 34 34 225.7 8.4 1.9 4.49 1.3 47 211 3.79 3.78 4.3
42 Randy Johnson 17 11 0 33 33 205.0 7.6 2.6 2.87 1.2 60 172 5.00 4.27 3.5
43 Mariano Rivera 6 2 44 64 0 64.0 7.6 1.3 0.84 0.9 9 54 2.11 3.05 1.5
44 Tommy John 13 6 0 33 33 187.7 3.0 2.3 1.34 0.6 47 63 4.03 3.88 3.4
45 Phil Niekro 16 8 0 32 31 215.7 5.7 3.2 1.79 0.6 76 136 3.09 3.51 3.5
46 Phil Niekro 16 12 0 33 33 220.0 6.1 4.9 1.24 1.2 120 149 4.09 4.71 1.0

Total 503 263 53 1015 895 6668.3 5.9 2.5 2.36 0.5 1857 4385 2.98 3.09 145.5

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