The Yankees have been after Jay Bruce for a few years. He was nearly dealt to the Yankees in 2017 from the Mets, but ownership didn’t want to trade him across town. Instead, he went to Cleveland, and did his best to try and prevent the Yankees from winning the ALDS. Bruce had five hits in the five games, including two home runs, four RBI and a 1.000 OPS.
For his career, Bruce was far from a “Yankee Killer” though, only slashing .116/.215/.211 against the Bombers in 28 regular season games. However, his signing prompted a thought – how have other Yankee Killers fared as Bronx Bombers after joining the team?
To qualify for this list, the player had to have really pounded the Yankees before arriving in the Bronx. So, although Mike Mussina, Johnny Damon, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Jacoby Ellsbury were division rivals who came to the Yankees, they didn’t particularly light it up against New York on their old teams.
Perhaps the best-known Yankee Killer who donned the pinstripes is Randy Johnson. He terrorized the Yankees in the playoffs, going 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA for the Mariners and Diamondbacks across two playoff series. He struck out 35 Yankees in 27.1 postseason innings, outperforming his regular season numbers against the team, and twice eliminating them.
Motivated to bring their nemesis aboard, the Yankees traded for Johnson prior to the 2005 season. However, he was in his forties by then, and while decent in his first year, he just wasn’t the same overpowering southpaw anymore. Johnson’s strikeouts declined, his home run rate jumped, he feuded with Jorge Posada, and he got rocked in some abysmal postseason appearances before being sent back to Arizona in 2007. A Yankee Killer in more ways than one, indeed.
Johnson’s teammate in Seattle for parts of five seasons, Alex Rodriguez, also lit up the Yankees before coming aboard. A-Rod played 82 games against the Yankees, and hit 28 home runs for the Mariners and Rangers, a 50+ homer pace over a full season. His 1.037 OPS against the Bombers is his best against any AL team other than the Kansas City Royals, and that’s not counting his monster 2000 ALCS.
Unlike Johnson though, Rodriguez more than held up his end of the bargain when he became a Yankee.
The signing of A.J. Burnett was hailed as the ultimate “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” move in the 2008 offseason. Burnett was 6-3 with a 2.43 ERA in his career when facing the Bombers, dominating them in particular in 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Burnett had an up-and-down stint as a Yankee, but was an integral part of the 2009 World Series champion team. If only he had pitched as consistently well as a Yankee as he did against them.
The team’s 2013 acquisition of Kevin Youkilis was also done in a similar ilk. Youkilis was more than just a standard Red Sox thorn in the Yankees’ side. He hit .300 with 13 home runs and 66 RBI in 104 games against New York, and posted a positively ridiculous .432 on-base percentage. He too failed to replicate these numbers as a Yankee, only posting a .305 OBP and launching two home runs before succumbing to injury in 2013.
His 2013 Yankees teammates Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells also had great career numbers against the Yankees. Ichiro hit .320 against New York and stole 28 bases, while Wells slashed .301/.352/.516 with 29 home runs and 106 RBI in essentially a full season’s worth of games.
While Ichiro provided some value in pinstripes with 3.3 rWAR, Wells was an unmitigated disaster outside of an oddly-resurgent April.
Although several of the players in this group weren’t as good in pinstripes as they were against them, some players buck that trend. The Yankees didn’t score off Zack Britton for 24 straight games from 2015-2018 when he was the Orioles, saving 14 straight opportunities. But since joining the Yankees, Britton has pitched to a 2.14 ERA and is a lockdown setup man.
The Yankees checked off two boxes when they acquired Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson from the Mariners before the 1996 season. Martinez hit 17 home runs in 63 career games when facing New York and posted a .968 OPS, his highest against any AL club. Like Johnson, he was a big reason why the 1995 Yankees went home early in the ALDS.
Nelson’s tricky slider also helped him notch a 1.13 career ERA against the Yankees, so getting them both for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis was an absolute steal. Of course, Martinez and Nelson became four-time champions in pinstripes, giving them the best of both worlds.
Finally, some of David Wells’s best numbers have come both for and against the Yankees. “Boomer” won a World Series and threw a perfect game as a Yankee, but also went 19-11 with a 3.09 ERA against them. The one game that the eventual champion 1996 squad lost to the Orioles in the ALCS was to Wells, too. Over his career, Wells struck out more Bombers (175) than he did any other team.
Who is the next “Yankee Killer” you’d like to see ditch their current uniform and come to the Bronx?