Although the Yankees have been known more for their hitting exploits throughout their history, they have featured some of the greatest pitchers of all time at various points as well. These dynamic arms featured an array of pitches that made opposing hitters look absolutely foolish on a fairly regular basis. While some of these pitches are sadly lost to history due to there being no video (Jack Chesbro's diving spitball) or highly limited film quality (Whitey Ford's pinpoint changeup and curve), there is still a decent collection of footage available to create a GIF tribute to some of the best.
"Boomer's" 10-to-4 curve seemed to be effortlessly thrown, but it often baffled hitters when they saw that the pitch that was once far outside suddenly came across the strike zone. It was never better for the Yankees than in 1998, when the All-Star Wells featured it in his May perfect game against the Twins and in an two performances against the Indians that helped the Yankees clinch the pennant and earn Wells the ALCS MVP. Although some pitchers face challenges to throw their curves for strikes, Wells mastered it and owned a staggering 1.2 BB/9 in '98 and 0.8 BB/9 in '03, both in pinstripes.
Perhaps the most underrated pitcher of his generation, "Moose" fanned 2,813 batters during his 18-year career, and many of those Ks came via a pitch that was unlike any other in the majors: the knuckle-curve. Mussina had excellent control, and its sharp contrast to his fastball is demonstrated in this GIF. How any hitter did anything with it is beyond me.
The modern contenders
Both Nova and D-Rob feature nasty 12-to-6 curves, albeit in different pitching roles. When Nova has his curve working, he is dominant, like in his three-hit shutout last year against the Orioles. Similarly, since joining the Yankees' bullpen in 2008, D-Rob has mastered his breaking pitch and currently holds the greatest strikeout rate of any pitcher in Yankees history with at least 300 innings. Perhaps most startling is that it's an 11.63 K/9, and the next-closest, Jeff Nelson (whose slider probably should have been included), is almost two full strikeouts off at 9.67 K/9. Ridiculous.
After guiding the Oakland Athletics to three straight World Series titles in the early '70s, Jim "Catfish" Hunter became the first high-profile free agent and George Steinbrenner won the bidding for him with a then-record five-year, $3.35 million deal. He immediately rewarded the Boss with a crazy 328-inning, 1.009 WHIP season in '75 that featured 30 complete games and seven shutouts, thanks in no small part to his snappy slider. This huge season probably hurt his arm and led to an earlier demise than expected, but Catfish had two more solid seasons in '76 and '78 as the Yankees won three straight AL pennants and back-to-back World Series titles.
This story has been told countless times and I'm sure I've written about it more than once on this blog, but when Sparky Lyle was a young pitcher with the Red Sox, Ted Williams told him the one pitch he could never hit was the slider. Sparky took the advice to heart and built a 16-year career in the bullpen throwing almost exclusively sliders. Opposing batters could just never hit it. When he was traded to the Yankees, he became a three-time All-Star closer for them and won the '77 AL Cy Young Award, the first ever given to a reliever.
A couple years ago, MLB Network did a show called "Prime 9" wherein they ranked the top nine whatevers in baseball history. They did an episode on the best sliders, and they named Guidry's devastating slider the greatest ever. Not bad praise at all. "Gator" was the Yankees' most consistent starting pitcher in the long period between Whitey Ford and Andy Pettitte, and he earned Cy Young Award votes in six of his 10 seasons of at least 20 starts. The slider led him to perhaps the most dominant pitching season ever recorded by a Yankee, 1978, when he set a franchise record with 18 strikeouts in a game against the Angels that began the "two-strike clap" Yankee Stadium tradition and pitched to an amazing 1.74 ERA and 0.946 WHIP, earning him the Cy Young Award and a second-place AL MVP finish.
If it seems like Coney has a very thorough understanding of the movement on Michael Pineda's slider, it's because the very same pitch served as his not-so-secret weapon throughout his excellent career, which included a Cy Young Award, five All-Star berths, 2,668 strikeouts (19 in one game with the Mets), and five World Series rings. When he twirled a perfect game against the Montreal Expos in '99, it was even more sinister than normal, as the young Expos batters could not help but chase it.
The modern contender: Michael Pineda
We waited over two years to finally see Michael Pineda's slider in action, and holy crap is it nasty. Pleasestayhealthy, pleasestayhealthy, pleasestayhealthy.
Depending on whether or not you care about PEDs, "the Rocket" had a legitimate argument to be the greatest pitcher of his generation (him or Greg Maddux) and maybe the best of all-time. When he was a Yankee from 1999-2003, he brought his strikeout stuff to the Yankees and utilized a pitch he called "Mr. Splitty" to make baseball's best hitters look awful. During the 2000, he was just filthy, striking out 15 Mariners during a one-hit ALCS Game 4 shutout and fanning nine Mets in a controversial World Series Game 2 victory.
The modern contender: Masahiro Tanaka
Tanaka's most well-discussed pitch when coming over from Japan was his splitter, and the early results indicate that MLB hitters might have as many problems with Ma-Kun as their NPB counterparts.
Much like Sparky, the masterful Mo baffled big league hitters for almost two decades with basically one pitch. No one could hit the cutter due its very late break, as evinced in the slow-mo above. The hitters thought the pitch would to a particular location, but the last second, it disappeared. We may never see a pitch as dominant as Mo's cutter ever again.
The southpaw sometimes used his fastball as his best pitch, but most often, it was a late-breaking cutter that fooled Pettitte's opponents for 18 years. Even 15 years apart in the GIF above, great hitters like Ken Caminiti and Hunter Pence were helpless.
Goose Gossage - Fastball
No Yankees pitcher has ever thrown as hard as Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, who relied on pure heat to become arguably the Yankees' best pre-Mo closer. Maybe one day the Yankees will find someone who rivals Goose in velocity, but that day has yet to arrive.
Steve Hamilton - Folly Floater
This GIF and the next two are just for fun because there is nothing more entertaining than watching major league hitters, like Tony Horton, look helpless against a beer league pitch.
Orlando Hernandez - Eephus
For a little while, "El Duque" featured an eephus pitch. Of course one time, he tried to challenge Alex Rodriguez twice in a row with it. That did not end well.
Dave LaRoche - La Lob
My personal favorite beer league-type pitch, Adam LaRoche's father Dave did this to Brewers slugger Gorman Thomas in 1981. He mentioned to his new manager, Bob Lemon, that he had a curve. Lem probably didn't expect this, but my God was it fun.
Which pitch is your favorite? Did I miss any good ones? Post in the comments. I'll be here watching La Lob over and over again.