Last Saturday, Dallas Keuchel took the mound against the Yankees and did what he tends to do against them. The White Sox starter shut them out for five innings, keeping them off the scoreboard despite four hits and three walks. That outing took Keuchel to a 2.06 ERA in 65.2 innings for his career against the Yankees.
A former Cy Young winner like Keuchel putting up good numbers for his career against the Yankees isn’t that shocking, the fact that he’s still doing it is. Over his last two seasons with the White Sox, he has a 5.31 ERA and a WHIP nearing 1.6. Yet only one earned run and a handful of hits in that came have come from the Yankees.
Despite that, it’s somewhat understandable that Keuchel can still do that against an offense like the Yankees because of his pedigree. Similarly, three-time All-Star Frank Lary earned the nickname “Yankee Killer” for his excellent reputation against Casey Stengel’s dynastic ‘50s club. What’s less understandable is a pitcher doing it despite having basically no other success in the big leagues. Let’s dig into the history books and look at a couple pitchers who dominated the Yankees despite otherwise not very notable careers.
The wonderfully named Grover Loudermilk had a nine-year major league career from 1909-1920, with a couple year or longer gaps mixed in there. He played for six teams in that time, six coming while in the AL, giving him plenty of chances to mix it up with the Yankees.
His first ever meeting with the Yankees came on May 21st, 1915, when he allowed two runs in seven innings, helping his St. Louis Browns team to a win. He put up a 2.06 ERA against them, striking out 31 batters in 26 innings. His best ever game against them came on September 22nd, 1917, when he threw a complete game shutout, allowing just four hits.
While he had a decent season here or there, Loudermilk was a below average pitcher for his career with a 3.58 ERA. That might not sound awful, but it wasn’t great for the era, equating to a 83 ERA+ as he put up -3.1 WAR for his career. Yet against the Yankees, his ERA was just 1.78 in 81 innings pitched. Take them out, and his career ERA goes up by nearly three-tenths of a point.
While he didn’t have as long a career against the Yankees or in general as Loudermilk, Billy Rohr’s splits are even more stark, and in one big way, was way more notable.
Rohr made four career appearances against the Yankees, two as a starter with the 1967 Red Sox and two as a reliever with Cleveland in ‘68. Those two starts came in his first two ever MLB appearances and he was excellent. The first was a complete-game, one-hit shutout, where — with an assist from Carl Yastrzemski — he was one strike away from a no-hitter. Former MVP Elston Howard broke it up with a single, saving the Yankees from an ignominious fate:
To Howard’s astonishment, the fans at Yankee Stadium actually booed him for breaking up Rohr’s no-hitter.
Rohr followed that effort in his second career start, also against the Yankees, with a complete game where he allowed just one run. The next year, he had moved to Cleveland and combined to throw two more scoreless innings out of the bullpen against the Yankees.
That ended up being the extend of Rohr’s action against the Yankees. All that adds up to a 0.45 ERA in 20 innings, as he allowed Yankees’ hitters just a .379 OPS against him. The reason those are his only four appearances is that 1967-68 were his only career MLB seasons. The reason for that is also the reason he was available to be picked up by Cleveland and why he switched between starter and bullpen: the rest of his career wasn’t great. His overall ERA was 5.64 in 60.2 innings. Nearly one third of his career came against the Yankees and was great, but basically nothing else was. Remove the Yankees’ performances and that ERA would be over a full run higher. After those two wins against them in his first two starts against the Yankees, he recorded just one more total in his career.
On the flip side of things, there are plenty of great pitchers from baseball history who put up less than stellar numbers against the Yankees. David Price is a name from recent years that might come to mind (shoutout to this moment), but even Hall of Famers could fall victim. Fergie Jenkins, who admittedly didn’t play in the AL until the second half of his career, had an ERA just under five against the Yankees, the worst record the Hall of Famer had against any team he pitched over 100 innings against.
There are undoubtedly others with just as strange Yankee-specific splits that could be uncovered. Baseball is a weird sport, and sometimes your team just gets owned by someone not very good.