Pitching is the name of the game. The New York Yankees have had more stellar position players than pitchers throughout their history, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some outstanding seasons from the mound.
We recently covered the Yankees’ most impressive individual position player seasons by fWAR. It’s time to focus on pitchers, and we will find a few surprises on the list.
5. Tommy John, 1979 (6.9 fWAR)
How times change: in 1979, Tommy John pitched 276.1 frames and struck out just 3.62 hitters per nine innings. That K/9 would have you kicked out of the league in a hurry these days, but back then, it didn’t stop the left-hander from putting a 2.96 ERA in 37 games (37 starts).
The “Bionic Man”, who pitched in 26 seasons, had quite a career, with a 288–231 record, a 3.34 ERA, and four All-Star berths. The 1979 campaign was the best of his career, at least by fWAR, and will go down as the fifth-best year by a Yankee pitcher in history.
4. Mike Mussina, 2001 (6.9 fWAR)
Mussina was very, very solid for the Yankees, especially in 2001. It was the best season of his career (which is really something, considering he had some excellent performances with the Baltimore Orioles), one in which he finished with 6.9 fWAR.
That year, Moose (a Hall of Famer since 2019) finished with a 17-11 record, a 3.15 ERA (2.92 FIP) in 228.2 frames. He struck out 8.42 hitters per nine innings and showed his trademark elite control, walking only 1.65 per nine.
Mussina pitched seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series, then allowed just a single run in six innings in his start against the powerful Seattle Mariners lineup in the Championship Series. After that, he took the ball in Games 1 and 5 of the World Series against Arizona, posting a 4.09 ERA in 11 frames.
3. Andy Pettitte, 1997 (7.2 fWAR)
Pettitte was obviously huge for the Yankees throughout the late-90s dynasty, and his best season came in 1997, the one year they didn’t win in the five seasons between 1996 and 2000. He finished 18-7 in 35 starts, covering 240.1 innings with a brilliant 2.88 ERA (2.96 FIP).
The big left-hander was incredibly stingy with the long ball that year, allowing only 0.26 per nine innings. He struck out 166 hitters and walked 65. It was just his third season in the major leagues, and he was well on his way to one of the best careers by a Yankee starter in history.
2. Jack Chesbro, 1904 (8.5 fWAR)
In 1904, when Chesbro finished with 8.5 fWAR, the Yankees were known as the Highlanders, and wouldn’t change their name for a few more years. It was a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that he doesn’t deserve praise for the year he had.
Of course, baseball was way different back then. Chesbro, who was 30 years old in 1904, started 51 games and was a reliever in another four. He won 41 (an American League record) and lost 12, and covered a whopping 454.2 innings, striking 4.73 hitters per nine and walking 1.74. Home runs were extremely rare (0.08 per nine).
His 1.82 ERA (2.11) was amazing, the lowest mark he earned in his career. “Happy Jack” had 48 complete games that year, a modern era record.
1. Ron Guidry, 1978 (9.1 fWAR)
The “Louisiana Lightning” was a beast in 1978, a year in which the Yankees won their second consecutive World Series title. He won 25 games (including the one-game playoff against the Red Sox) and lost only three, pitching 273.2 innings. He struck out 8.16 hitters per nine (really impressive considering his era), and walked just 2.37. He even fanned 18 batters in one game.
His 1.74 ERA and 2.19 FIP are both excellent marks. The left-hander won the American League Cy Young award that year, and it was only fair. He paced the junior circuit in wins and ERA, and he earned his first All-Star berth. He was second in the MVP voting behind Jim Rice. It was the best season by a Yankees’ starter in their rich history.
For reference, here are the top 20 individual seasons by a Yankees’ pitcher.