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Building the best Yankees pitcher of all-time

In which I set out to stitch together the greatest Yankee pitcher of all-time from the best attributes of former and current Yankees.

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MLS: Chicago Fire at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I set out to build my version of the best possible Yankees hitter. Today, I’m here to try and build the best possible pitcher. I’ll save you the introductory spiel, but let’s just quickly revisit the three rules that guide my decision-making (adjusted for pitching):

  1. The Mariano Rivera Rule: I get it, he’s the G.O.A.T. But no matter how much you want this pitcher to be Mariano Rivera, only one of his attributes can be chosen. Choose wisely.
  2. The Babe Ruth Rule: You must have been alive to watch the players that you are choosing. I was born in 1992, so anyone from, say, 1997 and on is fair game for me.
  3. The Peak Player Rule: Borrowed directly from Shea Serrano’s Basketball and Other Things, this rule means that you will be getting the player you choose when they were in their prime — whether or not that coincides with their time on the Yankees.

Let’s get to it.


Repertoire

#1: 4-Seam Fastball

This was, by far, my toughest choice. While Aroldis Chapman and Roger Clemens both came to mind and would undoubtedly also be excellent choices, I’ve ultimately decided to settle on Gerrit Cole for one reason: movement.

In 2021, Cole’s four-seamer — a pitch that averaged out at 97.7 mph — had 10.9 inches of vertical drop and 12 inches of horizontal break, both of which placed him in the upper echelon for fastball movement in the league. In terms of run value, his four-seamer came in at -19 in 2021, which is a truly elite number but pales in comparison to his rates from 2019 (-22) and 2020 (-36). It’s hard to not choose a guy who has thrown 105 mph, but Cole’s ability to control his fastball, even in spite of having elite movement and velocity, is what gives him the slightest of edges here.

#2: Slider

While he may be remembered for being 6-foot-10 and throwing very hard, I’m taking Randy Johnson’s slider here. Although we don’t have the Statcast data to back up what I’m about to say, I honestly would not be surprised if The Big Unit’s slider was one of the most effective pitches in the history of the game.

Combined with his lanky frame and quasi-side-arm delivery, the movement that Prime Johnson got on his slider led to some of the ugliest swings I’ve ever seen. There have been a lot of exceptional pitchers throughout baseball history, but I genuinely don’t know how anyone got a hit off of Randy Johnson.

#3: Curveball

This is another choice where I’m relying on the eye test in the absence of available data. Much like Johnson’s slider, Mike Mussina’s knuckle curve was a work of art. While Mussina never really blew hitters away with velocity, he was an expert when it came to setting guys up for the slow knee buckler. When hitters got to two strikes, they knew exactly what pitch was coming next. The problem for them was that, even if you knew it was coming, it was still virtually unhittable.

#4: Changeup

This selection was, by far, my favourite to make. As soon as I got to this pitch, I jumped to Tommy Kahnle for the simple fact that his changeup was routinely thrown in the low-90s. After discussing my choices with my brother, however, he reminded me of an old relief arm that I had completely forgotten about: Edwar Ramírez. Though he never had much success at the MLB level, Ramírez elevated the changeup to an art form. The results may not have been there for Ramírez, but his changeup was downright nasty.

#5: Cutter

Duh.

Makeup

#6: Fielding

I’m of the belief that fielding is a very underrated aspect of any pitcher’s job—when done well, it’s hardly noticeable, but when done poorly, it’s next to impossible to look away (looking at you, Adam Ottavino). For this choice, I’m going with Masahiro Tanaka, who was quietly an excellent fielder for the Yankees. He was never the flashiest player on the mound, but, over the course of his career, Tanaka was good for 24 DRS.

#7: Poise

Truthfully, I wanted to save Mariano Rivera for this spot, but how can you build the best pitching repertoire of all-time when you’re excluding arguably the most dominant single pitch of all-time? As a result, my backup is big game Andy Pettitte.

Throughout his career, Pettitte earned a reputation for ace-like dominance come playoff time. While the stats don’t quite support that claim, Pettitte had a knack for stepping up in big moments, such as series clinchers, and always seemed to be an unshakeable force on the mound when the team needed him most.

#8: Leadership

Since the early ‘90s, the Yankees have been blessed with a number of passionate leaders. In terms of both presence in the clubhouse and on the mound, though, I’m not sure any pitcher outshines CC Sabathia’s contributions to this team. CC, the unquestioned ace of the team (and, in my estimation, one of the most underrated pitchers of my generation), was a vocal leader to anyone paying attention, and brought the flare that some of the late-2000s teams and beyond so desperately needed, even while injured. I mean, the dude literally pitched until his arm fell apart. You can’t ask for much more out of a guy than that.

#9: Mechanics

I have no reason for including this aside from the fact that I wanted to show Orlando Hernández some love. The leg kick that inspired a million kids, including myself, to try (and fail) to replicate his delivery, El Duque was the man and I just really wanted him included in this exercise.


There you have it: my Franken-Yankee pitcher. I can’t wait to see what other players you choose to stitch together to create yours.