At the close of the 2015 season, many thought that the Yankees would look to improve their starting rotation heading into 2016. Yet Brian Cashman has virtually sat on his hands this offseason. The Yankees haven't signed a single major league free agent, and didn't bolster their rotation via trade. They'll be relying on the same group that underwhelmed down the stretch a year ago, so it's safe to say that none of their starters will be vying for the AL Cy Young or even the AL strikeout crown. The latter is nothing new.
In fact, the Yankees haven't employed an AL strikeout king since 1964 when 23-year old Al Downing accomplished the feat for the AL pennant winners. In 113 seasons of Yankee baseball there have only been seven which ended with a Yankee ranking at the top in AL strikeouts. Here's a look back at those pitchers who occupy a barren page in Yankee history.
Red Ruffing - 190 K's in 1932
One would think that the Red Sox would avoid making deals with the Yankees after how badly the Babe Ruth sale went for them. However, in 1930 they made another clunker of a trade with the Yankees sending Ruffing to the Bronx in exchange for outfielder Cedric Durst. Durst played one disappointing season in Boston whereas Ruffing became a Hall of Fame pitcher with his new club. The difference is staggering. With the Red Sox Ruffing was 39-96 with a 4.61 ERA. In New York he went 231-124 with a 3.47 ERA and earned six World Series rings. It's no surprise that this 1932 season was arguably the best of his career as in addition to leading the AL in strikeouts, he was second in ERA and third in winning percentage.
Lefty Gomez - 163 K's in 1933, 158 K's in 1934, and 194 K's in 1937
Gomez piggy backed Ruffing as the AL strikeout king in both 1933 and 1934, then added a third crown for good measure in 1937. That 1933 season was the first of seven straight All-Star seasons for the future Hall of Famer that included four World Series rings. His performance in 1934 and 1937 was otherworldly. In those two seasons combined he won 47 games, posted a 2.33 ERA and was worth 17.6 total WAR. After the great success of his baseball career, the colorful Gomez was even more successful as a public speaker. He spent his retirement entertaining crowds with stories highlighting the antics of his playing days.
Vic Raschi - 164 K's in 1951
In his relatively brief Yankee career Vic Raschi accomplished an awful lot. He earned six World Series rings across his eight Yankee seasons. From 1948 to 1952 he received MVP consideration each year and made four All-Star appearances. In reality, though, Raschi was a pretty ordinary pitcher that happened to play on some great teams. Even in his 1951 season that resulted in the AL strikeout crown, he was worth only 2.6 WAR. For his career, he never topped 3.0 WAR but still racked up some impressive win totals when with the Yankees.
Allie Reynolds - 160 K's in 1952
Allie Reynolds completed another back-to-back strikeout title run for Yankee pitchers in 1952. Like Raschi, he also earned six World Series rings with the Yankees, including five straight from 1949 through 1953. However, Reynolds was probably a more effective part of the rotation than Raschi was during those years. This 1952 season was certainly the best of Reynolds' career. In addition to being the AL strikeout king, he also led the MLB in ERA, ERA+, and shutouts. He would pass the torch as the Yankees' ace on to a young Whitey Ford in the coming years.
Al Downing - 217 K's in 1964
On the surface, Al Downing put up some impressive numbers in his career. However, the bulk of his career took place in an era that was very much dominated by pitching. In that context, he was pretty average. In his early years with the Yankees he did show flashes of brilliance as evidenced by his 217 strikeouts to lead the AL in 1964. Unfortunately, he also led the league in walks and struggled with control for the rest of his career. Still, he put together a solid 17-year career and remains as the last Yankee to earn the title of strikeout king.