The Yankees’ 50 best starting pitchers

19 10 2015

As we approach the end of my series on Yankee starting pitchers, I have ranked the pitchers I regard as the 50 best Yankee starters.

I will explain my selection criteria after the list, but I don’t elaborate on the choices individually in the list. Links are to earlier posts in which I address those pitchers (most of them in this series): Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




Other notable Yankee starting pitchers: Al Downing, Don Gullett, Jim Beattie …

18 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

This is the potpourri installment in this series. These guys didn’t make the Hall of Fame, win 300 games (or even 200), don’t have a strong case for the Hall of Fame (or even a long shot), didn’t win a Cy Young Award, pitch a no-hitter, win 20 games, have a great nickname or have a relative in the big leagues. But they made notable contributions to Yankee teams. Or maybe they got a lot of attention despite not making much contribution. Or maybe I just found them interesting.

Al Downing

Downing had five straight seasons in double figures in wins for the Yankees, including an All-Star appearance in 1967. His best season, 20-9 and third place in the Cy Young voting, came in 1971 for the Dodgers. All in all, he had a successful career, 123-107.

But Downing is best remembered for a pitch he served up to Hank Aaron in 1974, the 715th homer of Hammerin’ Hank’s career, breaking Babe Ruth’s career record.

Don Gullett

Gullett was one of the Yankees’ first big-name free-agent pitchers. You can’t call him a bust, because he contributed to their 1977 championship with a solid 14-4 season. But a shoulder injury the next year ended his career at age 27.

Jim Beattie

Jim Beattie had a more successful career as a baseball executive than as a pitcher. Still, he got 35 starts (only nine wins) for the Yankees in 1978-79. But he won an ALCS game over the Royals and pitched a complete-game World Series win over the Dodgers.

I argued in a post about Guidry’s performance that year that Beattie was the R in WAR, a replacement player against whom another pitcher’s hypothetical wins are measured. (I’m not a fan of hypothetical stats.)

The rookie-year post-season wins were the highlights of a replacement-player career. Beattie finished 52-87, with losing seasons (for the Mariners) in his only two years with double-digit wins.

He held various front-office jobs, including general manager, with the Orioles, Expos and Mariners.

Well-timed career peaks

Beattie was one of several Yankee starting pitchers with unremarkable careers who timed their best years or best games perfectly to contribute to championships:

  • Bill Stafford pitched only eight years and retired with a 43-40 record. But he was 14-9 back-to-back years for the 1961-62 World Series champions, mostly as a starter. He pitched five shutouts those two seasons and pitched a complete game to beat the Giants, 3-2 in Game Three of the 1962 World Series.
  • Rollie Sheldon‘s career was even less distinguished than Stafford’s but also well-timed. He was 11-5 as a rookie in 1961, mostly as a starter, with two shutouts. That was the high mark of a five-year, 38-36 career. He was far down enough on the Yankees’ staff that he appeared only twice in the World Series, both in relief roles in 1964.
  • Art Ditmar had his best year, 15-9, for the 1960 Yankees. He pitched horribly in the World Series, though, starting and losing Game One and Game Five to the Pirates, not making it out of the second inning in either game. He also was 13-9 for the 1959 Yankees, the high points of a 72-77, nine-year career.
  • Tom Sturdivant had only two seasons in his career with double figures in wins. But they were 16-win seasons for the 1956-7 Yankees. He won Game Four of the ’56 World Series, pitching a complete game. He won 59 career games, pitching mostly in mop-up relief toward the end of his 10-year career.
  • Johnny Kucks won 18 at age 23 for the 1956 Yankees, topping the season with a Game Seven shutout over the Dodgers to clinch the world championship. And he never won more than eight games again in a six-year career, retiring at 54-56.
  • Tommy Byrne had only three notable years in a 13-year career. He was 15-7 for the 1949 Yankees (the first of a record five straight world champions) and 15-9 and an All-Star the next year. After some mediocre seasons with the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox, he returned to the Yankees. In 1955, Byrne led the league in winning percentage, going 16-5 for a team that won the American League but lost to the Dodgers in the World Series. He was 1-1 in six World Series appearances.
  • Atley Donald pitched his full eight-year career for the Yankees, half of it during World War II. His 13-3 year for the 1939 world champions, leading the league in winning percentage, might have been his best season, but his 3.71 ERA was nothing special. He had two other seasons with double-digit wins and retired 65-33. He lost Game Four of the 1942 World Series.
  • Tom Gorman signed this ball right above the autograph of his manager, Casey Stengel. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

    Tom Gorman signed this ball right above the autograph of his manager, Casey Stengel. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

    Tom Gorman had a promising rookie season for the Yankees in 1952, going 6-2, with half of his wins coming in his six starts, including a 5-0 shutout over the Red Sox. He lasted just three seasons with the Yankees before going to Kansas City. He relieved more than he started, but never excelled at either pursuit. He had an eight-year career, finishing 36-36 with 33 starts (seven for the Yankees) and 44 saves. But he autographed a ball for my wife’s uncle, so I gotta include him, right?

  • Marius Russo pitched six seasons, all for the Yankees. He won 14 games twice, earning an All-Star selection in 1941. He also won 2-1 complete games in the 1941 and ’43 World Series.
  • Johnny Broaca mysteriously left the Yankees (possibly because of a crumbling marriage) early in his fourth season, 1937. He pitched 22 games, mostly in relief, for the 1939 Indians and then was done with baseball at age 29. But his three full seasons for the Yankees were notable: 12-9, 15-7 and 12-7 in 1934-36. He never pitched in a World Series.

Asian pitchers

Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ fourth Japanese starter, is finishing his second strong season with the Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda gave the Yankees a nice three-year run, going 38-33. Earlier Japanese free agents Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu were disappointments. Irabu was a fifth starter on the 1998-99 championship teams, but got only one start in the post-season either year (and the Red Sox pounded him for eight runs in less than five innings of relief).

Chien-Ming Wang, from Taiwan, had a spectacular start for the Yankees, with back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006-7. At age 26, he was second in the Cy Young Award voting to Johan Santana, tied for the league lead in wins.

He should have won 20 that year. On Father’s Day, playing the Nationals in old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, he took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. I was in the ballpark with my family, cheering Wang on to victory. Mariano Rivera had pitched the previous two nights, getting a win and a loss, and Joe Torre didn’t want to go to him again. Torre felt more confident in Wang, who had given up only four hits, than his other relievers, such as Kyle Farnsworth or Scott Proctor. It was Wang’s game to lose. And he did. Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off homer.

A foot injury in 2008 started a succession of health issues for Wang and he never returned to his early form.

You can’t be disappointed with a pitcher who gave you two great seasons. But you can’t help wishing for more.

Other tantalizing pitchers

It wouldn’t be fair to call Phil Hughes a disappointment. He gave the Yankees an 18-8 All-Star season in 2010 and a solid 16-13 season two years later. I hoped for more, and I’m sure he did, too. But he wasn’t a bust as a Yankee.

A.J. Burnett had a losing record, 34-35, in three years as a Yankee. But he won Game Five of the 2009 World Series, the last time we won a championship. I’ll take that.

Javier Vazquez was an All-Star in a 14-10 2004 season, and actually beat the Red Sox before that series turned around. I didn’t want to trade him (at age 27) for 40-year-old Randy Johnson. He did have more good years left in him than Johnson, but I’m not sure he ever got as good as an aging Johnson. He finished his career 165-160, and his return to the Yankees was forgettable, 10-10 in 2010.

Cory Lidle

Lidle was an average pitcher who made only nine starts for the Yankees after joining them in a 2006 trade-deadline deal. He died just four days after the season ended, when a small plane he was flying crashed into a Manhattan building.

Mike Kekich

I already mentioned the Fritz Peterson/Mike Kekich wife swap in the post on 20-game winners (which Peterson was). But that bit of 1970s culture is worth another mention here. As a pitcher, Kekich was otherwise forgettable, 39-51 for his career with just two 10-win seasons, both with the Yankees. (And note that Peterson commented on that post. Wonder if I can get a Kekich comment here?)

Hank Borowy

Players whose best years came during World War II never get much credit, and probably for valid reasons. Many of the best major leaguers were off in the military.

Borowy started his career in 1942 with the Yankees. He went 15-4, 14-9 and 17-12, with one All-Star selection, then won 21 games in 1945, splitting the year between the Yankees and Cubs. He never won more than 12 games in a season when the nation wasn’t at war.

He won a game for the Yankees in the 1943 World Series and went 2-2 for the Cubs in 1945, their most recent World Series appearance.

Tim Leary

Leary merits mention only briefly. He did not pitch well or long for the Yankees, but his nine wins for the last-place Yankees in 1990 were the most of any starter in perhaps the worst rotation the Yankees ever sent to the mound. He led the league with 19 losses, too. He wasn’t the more famous Timothy Leary of an earlier generation.

Gave up too soon

Several pitchers who broke in with the Yankees went on to greater things elsewhere, often traded for older, established players (some of them past their primes):

  • Larry Gura gave the Yankees two inconsequential years, and they traded him for inconsequential catcher Fran Healy after the 1975 season, at age 27. Gura developed into a strong starter for the Royals, winning 111 games in 10 years. Twice he won 18, and he had a reputation as a “Yankee killer,” but he was only 2-2 against New York in four playoff series.
  • One of these things is not like the others. Mickey Mantle's a Hall of Famer. Allie Reynolds should be. Gene Woodling was an All-Star. Bob Kuzava was just a big-leaguer. My wife's uncle got all their autographs on this ball, belonging to my son Mike.

    One of these things is not like the others. Mickey Mantle’s a Hall of Famer. Allie Reynolds should be. Gene Woodling was an All-Star. Bob Kuzava was just a big-leaguer. My wife’s uncle got all their autographs on this ball, belonging to my son Mike.

    Stan Bahnsen was Rookie of the Year as a Yankee, going 17-12 in 1968. After four solid seasons, the Yankees traded him to the White Sox for Rich McKinney, an inconsequential infielder who got only 26 of his 199 career hits for the Yankees. Bahnsen would get 91 more wins in his career, including 21 for the White Sox in 1972.

  • Bob Porterfield started just 22 games for the Yankees before being traded in 1951 to the Senators at age 27 along with two other players for Bob Kuzava, a pitcher who made little difference for the Yankees in four years, but was kind enough to sign an autograph for my wife’s uncle. Porterfield led the American League two years later with 22 wins, 24 complete games and nine shutouts for the fifth-place Senators. Could the Yankees’ dynasty of the 1950s have been even better if they’d hung onto Porterfield.

Just passing through

Some pitchers didn’t spend long with the Yankees, but made notable contributions. Or improved after leaving:

  • Bill Gullickson pitched only eight games for the Yankees before moving on as a free agent. After playing two years in Japan, he returned to the majors and became a 20-game winner for the Tigers in 1991.
  • Doyle Alexander had two unremarkable hitches with the Yankees, winning just 11 games and losing the 1976 World Series opener. He won 194 games in a respectable career, three times reaching 17 wins. But he stands as one of the ultimate cautionary tales about trading a promising prospect for a wily veteran. On Aug. 12, 1987, the Braves traded him to the Tigers, who were in a pennant race and hoping for a big post-season. Alexander delivered a brilliant stretch run, going 9-0 and finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting, even though he only had 11 American League starts. He did lose two ALCS starts to the Twins, though. And that prospect the Tigers gave up, John Smoltz, turned out to be a Hall of Famer for the Braves.
  • Pat Dobson won 20 games for the Orioles in 1971 (one of four Oriole starters with 20 or more that year) and 19 for the Yankees in 1974. Those were the high points of an 11-year career with a losing record, 122-129. He spent three years with the Yankees, one of five teams he played for.
  • Jack Quinn started his career with the New York Highlanders and later joined the Yankees. He played seven of his 23 seasons and won 81 of his 247 games for New York. His two-year stint in the Federal League, 1914-15, presented quite a contrast, winning 26 games his first year and losing 22 the second.

Ed Whitson

Yankee fans don’t remember Whitson fondly. He epitomized George Steinbrenner‘s willingness to overpay for an overrated free agent. Whitson had a respectable year, but nothing special, for the Padres in 1984, going 14-8. He beat the Cubs in a playoff game, but didn’t make it out of the first inning in a World Series start against the Tigers.

That was his best season at age 29. Realistically, the 10-8 season he gave the Yankees in ’85 was at least as likely a next season as matching 14-8 or even improving it. Whitson lasted less than two years with the Yankees and had an undistinguished but respectable career, going 126-123 in 15 years.

Other disappointments

I am certain I have (mercifully) forgotten some of the pitchers who disappointed Yankee fans. Whitson is one of many who played their best years before arriving in New York (and in some cases after they left, too):

  • Denny Neagle was a 20-game winner for the Braves and 124-game winner for his career, but went 7-7 in a forgettable turn for the 2000 Yankees. He took both losses in the ALCS against the Mariners.
  • Freddy Garcia was a two-time All-Star and an ERA champ for the Mariners in the early 2000s. But he was a pretty average pitcher when he joined the Yankees in 2011 at age 34. He gave New York seasons of 12-8 and 7-6.
  • Carl Pavano was a bigger free-agent bust than Whitson, signing with the Yankees at age 29, following an 18-8 season for the Marlins. He won just nine games in three injury-plagued seasons in New York. He started and stank in the worst Yankee game I ever watched (maybe the worst anyone ever watched).
  • Jaret Wright signed with the Yankees at age 29. His 15-8 season for the Braves the year before was one of only three decent seasons he’d had in the majors. He went 5-5 and 11-7 in two forgettable seasons for the Yankees and retired without reaching 100 wins.
  • Richard Dotson won 22 games for the White Sox in 1983, 10 more than he won for the Yankees five years later, his only full season in New York.
  • John Candelaria was a 20-game winner for the Pirates in 1977, 11 years before becoming a Yankee. He gave New York a decent 13-7 year before moving on.
  • Jose Contreras was 31 when he joined the Yankees as a free agent from Cuba. He evoked memories of El Duque, but didn’t reach Hernandez’s level of excellence (and perhaps the Yankees gave up on him too quickly). After Contreras went 7-2 in 2003, the Yankees traded him, with an 8-5 record, at the 2004 trading deadline, for Estaban Loaiza. Contreras had two strong years for the White Sox but didn’t win 100 major league games. Loaiza, who had won 21 games for the White Sox in 2003, won only one for the Yankees before leaving as a free agent in the off-season.
  • Ken Holtzman, a 20-game winner who was part of the dominant A’s rotation of the early 1970s and pitched two no-hitters for the Cubs, had little left when he joined the Yankees in 1976. He won just 12 games in three years.
  • Andy Messersmith was a 20-game winner for the Angels and Dodgers, and won 130 career games, but was 0-3 for the 1978 Yankees.
  • Sam McDowell had a great first half to a Hall of Fame career, leading the American League in strikeouts five times in his 20s, including two 300-K seasons. He also had a 20-win season and an ERA crown. At age 29, after six All-Star selections in seven years, the Indians traded McDowell to the Giants for 32-year-old Gaylord Perry. Few would have guessed that Perry had 180 wins and two Cy Youngs in his future, and McDowell had only 19 wins left in him. “Sudden Sam” joined the Yankees at age 30, midway through the 1973 season. He was 6-14 in less than two seasons in New York and retired after the 1975 season.
  • Steve Barber won 20 games in 1963, one of two All-Star seasons in his seven years with the Orioles. He didn’t have much left when he joined the Yankees at age 29 in 1967. He won only 12 games in less than two seasons for New York. He never had another good year and retired in 1974 at 121-106.
  • Bob Friend was another former 20-game winner who joined the Yankees at the end of his career. He was a three-time All-Star who won 191 games for the Pirates, but he had nine losing seasons, twice leading the National League in losses. He retired with a losing record, 197-230.
  • Wes Ferrell gets some Hall of Fame love and will get some consideration this year by the Hall’s Pre-Integration Era Committee. But at least a half-dozen Yankee pitchers belong in the Hall of Fame before he does. He did win 20-games six times, but in an era of lots of 20-game winners. (In four of those seasons, he was one of five 20-game winners in the eight-team American League.) By the time he joined the Yankees in 1938 at age 30, he had nothing left. He won three games in parts of two seasons and retired at age 33 with a 194-128 record. He was a good hitter, though, belting 38 homers and batting .280 for his career.
  • How could a pitcher of the 1920s win 20 games four straight years for the St. Louis Browns and never do it after joining the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees? Well, Urban Shocker did. He had three strong seasons for the Yankees, 12-12, 19-11 and 18-6 in 1925-7. His only World Series decision was a 1926 loss.
  • Dutch Ruether was another pitcher on the Murderers’ Row Yankees who didn’t live up to his performance with other teams. Ruether won 21 games for the 1922 Dodgers. He was a respectable 13-6 in 26 starts for the 1927 Yankees, his final season at age 33. Ruether also lost a 1926 World Series game.
  • Kenny Rogers, Brown, Gaylord Perry and Randy Johnson belong on this list of disappointments (all acquired when past their primes), but I dealt with them in other installments in this series.

Bill Zuber

Zuber was hardly a notable Yankee starter, though he did start 40 games for the Yankees and went 18-23 in four years in New York, mostly during World War II. Zuber’s 11 years in the majors were unremarkable, finishing with a 43-42 record and only six saves (except with the Yankees, he pitched mostly in relief). He never won more than nine games in a season and retired with an ERA of 4.28.

So why do I mention Zuber here at all? Because I ate in his restaurant in Homestead, Iowa, back in 1978. And news clippings and photos around the restaurant paid tribute to Zuber’s Yankee career. Yeah, he wasn’t a much of a major leaguer, and he might not make the top 200, 300 or even 400 Yankee pitchers (I won’t bother to rank them that deep). But he pitched in the big leagues, for the Yankees even. And that’s worth bragging about on the walls of your restaurant for the rest of your life.

Too soon to say

I like what I’ve seen of Nathan Eovaldi, Michael PinedaIvan Nova and Luis Severino (ranging in age from 21 to 28), but I hope their best days as Yankees lie ahead. Maybe I’ll update sometime (perhaps this October) with more on one or all of them.

I wouldn’t mind if they develop, along with Tanaka and/or CC Sabathia, if he has anything left, into the best Yankee rotation ever. But they’re not there yet.

Who else?

I’ve written about dozens of Yankees in this series. Did I miss anyone you consider notable? Do you have memories or tidbits to add about any of the pitchers I’ve discussed here?

Also in this series

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.





Yankee starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame: Ford, Gomez, Ruffing, Pennock, Hoyt, Chesbro

22 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Six starting pitchers who threw mostly for the Yankees have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Whitey Ford

One of my prized autographs

One of my prized autographs

Whitey probably doesn’t rank high enough on lists of greatest pitchers ever.

You don’t have to win 300 to rank high among the best pitchers ever. Sandy Koufax didn’t make it to 200 wins, and some consider him the best ever. Others who didn’t make it to 300 who rank high on best-ever lists include Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Pedro Martinez, Juan Marichal and Jim Palmer. Of course Satchel Paige belongs on any greatest-pitchers list, and he pitched 18 seasons in the Negro Leagues before being allowed to pitch in the majors.

But you’ll seldom find the winningest pitcher in World Series history, and the pitcher with the third-highest career winning percentage, on anyone’s top-20 list.

The highest ranking I could find for Ford among all-time pitchers was 17th by Bleacher ReportFansided ranks Whitey 20th all-time and Ranker.com places him 21st, Bill James 22nd, The Baseball Page 25thHardball Times 36th (Red Ruffing ranks 21st on this list) and Ford didn’t get a mention in ESPN’s Hall of 100 (which includes more than pitchers).

If Cy Young Awards had been given out by league for his full career, Ford might have won three of the trophies. He won the Cy Young for all of baseball in 1961 and lost to Koufax in 1963. If one award had been given out for each league (that started in 1967), Ford and Camilo Pascual would have dueled for the American League honors in ’63. Ford led the league in wins, winning percentage, starts and innings pitched. Pascual was second in wins and led the league in strikeouts and complete games (Ford was fourth and sixth in those categories). Pascual ranked third and Ford seventh in ERA. ERA champ Gary Peters won 19 and tied Ford for fourth in strikeouts, but probably wouldn’t have contested Ford and Pascual for the Cy Young.

Yankee bias in voting wasn’t as strong then as now (Elston Howard was the fourth straight Yankee that year to win the MVP; only four times have Yankees won MVPs in the 51 seasons since, though they have won 12 American League pennants in that time). I think Pascual had a strong case, but Ford should have edged him for the 1963 AL Cy Young Award.

Voting for an AL Cy Young Award in 1955 also would have been close. Ford led the league with 18 wins and 18 complete games and was second in winning percentage and ERA and fourth in strikeouts. He threw back-to-back one-hitters. ERA champ Billy Pierce won only 15 games and strikeout leader Herb Score won 16. Bob Lemon and Frank Sullivan tied Ford with 18 wins, but neither of them pitched better than Ford in other important statistical measures. That’s probably another AL Cy Young Ford would have had (the award started the next year).

Ford also might have won a fourth Cy Young Award in 1956, when he finished third and was the only AL pitcher to receive votes for the award, won by the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe. Ford won 19 games that year and led the league in ERA (2.47), winning percentage. I think Score, with 20 wins, second to Ford in ERA and leading the league in strikeouts and shutouts, would have won the Cy Young if the AL had one, but it might have been close. (It’s worth noting that Ford also had a save that year, making his sole relief appearance on June 20 against the Tigers, bailing Johnny Kucks out of an eighth-inning jam, leading 4-1 with two men on.)

After a stellar 9-1 rookie season in 1950, Ford served two years in the military before returning to go 18-6 in 1953. Another two years and perhaps 25-30 more wins might have pushed him higher on the all-time-best lists, but still would have left him well short of 300.

It seems odd to say that the Yankees’ best pitcher ever was underrated, but Ford truly was.

Lefty Gomez


Gomez illustrated three leading biases of the baseball writers who control the keys to Cooperstown: They’re biased against the Yankees and in favor of longevity and they place no value on post-season performance (or they’d have to let more Yankees in).

Gomez peaked at 46 percent of the writers’ votes, but finally made the Hall of Fame in 1972 on a Veteran’s Committee selection. As with Bernie Williams, you simply can’t imagine a football or basketball player who played as critical a role on a championship dynasty not making the Hall of Fame. But Lefty had to wait a long time.

Here are his Hall of Fame credentials:

  • A 6-0 record in World Series play. That’s tied for fifth in career World Series wins, and no one ahead of him or tied with him is undefeated. He might have won more World Series games (or finally lost one), but his Yankees swept three World Series.
  • He anchored the Yankee pitching staff for a dynasty that won six world championships, including four in a row from 1936 to 1939, a record at the time.
  • Four 20-win seasons (each with 11 or fewer losses).
  • In 1934, he led the league with 26 wins, an .839 winning percentage, 2.33 ERA, 25 complete games, six shutouts, 281.2 innings pitched and 158 strikeouts. He was third in the MVP voting and certainly would have won a Cy Young Award if the prize went back that far.
  • He won pitching’s “Triple Crown” again in 1937, leading the league with 21 wins, a 2.33 ERA and 194 strikeouts. He definitely would have been a two-time Cy Young winner.
  • He led the league twice more in shutouts and one more time each in strikeouts and winning percentage, leading the league in some key stat in five different seasons.
  • He’s 25th all-time in winning percentage, at .649.
  • He was a seven-time All-Star.

So why did Gomez wait so long to get into the Hall of Fame? Well, beyond the Yankee thing, he played only 14 seasons, winning only 189 games (very few pitchers get into the Hall of Fame with less than 200). Of the Hall of Fame pitchers with fewer than 200 wins, only Koufax, at .655, had a better winning percentage.

If any Yankee starter was a better pitcher than Ford, it was Gomez.

Red Ruffing

Hall of Fame election rules were different in Ruffing’s day. He made it to Cooperstown in 1967 on his 15th time on the writers’ ballot, in a run-off election (which I hadn’t heard of before).

A Ruffing/Gomez comparison illustrates the writers’ preference for longevity over peak performance. Ruffing pitched 22 years and won 273 games, amassing substantially higher career totals than Gomez in wins, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts.

But Gomez was the better pitcher. Ruffing actually lost 20 games in two different seasons with the Red Sox, before blossoming as a Yankee. Gomez’s career winning percentage was 101 points higher, his ERA nearly half a run lower. Each had four 20-win seasons, but Gomez led the league in wins twice, to only once for Ruffing. Gomez peaked at 26 wins, Ruffing at 21. Ruffing never led the league in winning percentage or ERA. He led the league once each in strikeouts and shutouts (Gomez led in both three times). The only notable category where Ruffing led the league that Gomez never did was in home runs allowed.

Except for longevity, Gomez was the better pitcher in every respect. But he didn’t go into the Hall of Fame until five years after Ruffing.

Don’t get me wrong: Ruffing was a great pitcher and a bona fide Hall of Famer. He won 20 or 21 games for each of those four straight championship teams. He would have been a contender if they’d had a Cy Young Award in 1938 (so would Gomez), but young Bob Feller probably would have won.

Gomez and Ruffing have to be the best 1-2 starting punch over a sustained period in Yankee history, maybe baseball history. From 1931 to ’39, they averaged a combined 36 wins a year and topped 40 three times. In that stretch, they were 11-1 in World Series play and won five world championships.

For comparison, Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine (who both went into Cooperstown on the first ballot) averaged a combined 35 wins a year their best nine years together and topped 40 twice. They were 4-4 in World Series play in that stretch and won one championship.

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale averaged 35 wins a year over their best nine years together and topped 40 three times. They were 7-6 in World Series play and won three championships.

Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity were teammates in a time of much higher win totals, but they didn’t pitch together for nine years, and won one World Series.

Who else was a better 1-2 punch for longer than Ruffing and Gomez? Their long waits to get into the Hall of Fame were perhaps the first examples of the anti-Yankee bias in voting.

Herb Pennock

Gomez and Ruffing played in the prime of Lou Gehrig, the twilight of Babe Ruth and the dawning of Joe DiMaggio‘s career. Their own greatness might have been discounted because of they greatness of their teammates. Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt faced a similar situation, pitching in the prime of Ruth, Gehrig and the Murderer’s Row Yankees.

Pennock and Hoyt were great, but not as dominant as Gomez and Ruffing. Pennock and Hoyt were helped much more by their team than the later duo and didn’t stand out as much as pitchers.

Pennock had 241 wins, about midway between Gomez and Ruffing. But he won 20 games only twice and rarely led the league in anything: winning percentage (.760) in 1923 and shutouts (5) in 1928. He never would have been a lock for the Cy Young Award and seldom a contender.

I wouldn’t be outraged if Pennock hadn’t made the Hall of Fame. Among retired Yankee pitchers, Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds certainly have stronger cases to be in Cooperstown, maybe Andy Pettitte and David Cone, too.

But Pennock was elected to Cooperstown in 1948, 11 years after becoming eligible.

Waite Hoyt

The difference between Hall of Fame selection for Hoyt and Pennock is as baffling as the difference between Gomez and Ruffing, but for different reasons. Instead of the clearly better pitcher having to wait longer, you have two nearly identical pitchers. Pennock was elected by the writers, while Hoyt had to wait (pardon the pun) 20 years longer, entering the Hall in 1969, elected by the Veteran’s Committee. He never got more than 19 percent of the writers’ vote.

It’s not as baffling as the fact that Kirby Puckett and Don Mattingly had nearly identical careers, but one is a Hall of Famer and the other will probably never get in (unless he makes it as a manager). But it’s close.

Here’s how close to identical Pennock and Hoyt were:

  • Pennock won 241 games, Hoyt 239.
  • Pennock started 419 games, Hoyt 425.
  • Each won 20 games in a season twice.
  • Each won 16 to 19 games in a season five times.
  • Pennock’s ERA was 3.60, Hoyt’s 3.59.
  • Pennock struck out 1,226 batters, Hoyt 1,207.
  • Pennock pitched 11 years for the Yankees, Hoyt 10. They both pitched by far their best years for the Yankees and overlapped from 1923 to 1930.
  • Each also pitched for the Red Sox and A’s. (Hoyt also pitched for the Giants, Dodgers, Pirates and Tigers.)
  • Pennock pitched 3,572 innings, Hoyt 3,762.
  • Pennock pitched 22 seasons, Hoyt 21.
  • Pennock pitched for four World Series champions, Hoyt for three.
  • Each led the league once in winning percentage and shutouts (Hoyt also led once in wins).
  • They were even similar batters, Pennock .191 with 103 RBI and Hoyt .198 with 100 RBI.

I’m not going to do as much research on this as I did in proclaiming Gomez and Ruffing the most dominant pitching duo, but I feel pretty confident saying their careers were closer to identical than any other pair of Hall of Fame teammate pitchers. Maybe more similar than any other pretty good pitchers.

A few numbers had bigger gaps than the ones listed above, but were still pretty close: Hoyt lost 20 more games, 182 to 162. Pennock also had the advantage in shutouts, 35-26, and complete games, 249-226. Pennock was probably a shade better, but you simply can’t find a reason that one guy got into Cooperstown 20 years after the other.

Ratings systems that I checked put Hoyt ahead of Pennock, 95 to 123 in the MLB EloRater and 94 to 92 in Hall of Fame Monitor and 118th to 143rd among starting pitchers in JAWS.

Pennock’s biggest advantage over Hoyt was in World Series play, where he was 5-0 and Hoyt 6-4. But if World Series play mattered, why was Gomez waiting so long to get into Cooperstown?

Hall of Fame voting is just strange and unexplainable. In fact, Hoyt and Pennock may be the exceptions to the consistent anti-Yankee bias in Hall of Fame voting. They certainly had better careers than some pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and similar pitchers of their day made it to Cooperstown. But they might be the best (only) examples of Yankees who made it into the Hall of Fame based on the strength of their teammates.

Still, I think they belong in Cooperstown. They were the best pitchers of a team often regarded as the best ever. Several dynasties with fewer championships than the Yankees of their days sent a pitcher or two to the Hall of Fame. (More on that in a later installment of this series.) Murderer’s Row deserved a couple pitchers there.

Jack Chesbro

I’m not sure Jack Chesbro belongs in a discussion of Yankee Hall of Famers. His last year, 1909, they were actually the New York Highlanders. And he predates the first of the championship dynasties.

But let’s give the old guy his due: Chesbro was one hell of a pitcher, back when pitchers threw one hell of a lot.

Check out this line for his 1904 season: He led the league with 41 wins, a .774 winning percentage (only 12 losses), 51 starts, 55 games (the guy started 51 times and still came out of the bullpen!), 48 complete games and 454 2/3 innings pitched. Those totals for wins, starts and complete games are the best figures for any pitcher since 1900. And innings pitched are second only to Ed Walsh. And Chesbro had a 1.82 ERA that year. Pitchers were dominant back then, but that was ridiculous. He won 15 more games than anyone else in the league.

His other best seasons were with the Pirates.

Of course, you can’t pitch like that forever. He retired after 11 seasons with a record of 198-132.

No question that guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Bob Lemon

Lem did all his pitching for the Cleveland Indians, so he doesn’t really belong in this list. But he’s a Hall of Fame pitcher who managed the Yankees to the 1978 World Series championship, so I thought he deserved a mention.

Read about other Yankee Hall of Famers

These pitchers, of course, are not all the Yankee starters in the Hall of Fame. Coming posts will review the Yankees’ 300-game pitchers (all of whom threw primarily for other teams) and other Hall of Famers who made it to Cooperstown mostly on their pitching for other teams.

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

Style note: The Hall of Fame has had various committees and rules through the years to elect players who were passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America as well as umpires, managers, executives and other baseball pioneers. I am referring to them all in this series as the Veterans Committee unless the specific context demands reference to specific committee such as the current era committees or the Special Committee on Negro Leagues. Baseball-Reference.com has a detailed history of the various committees.