Yanks' Top 5 left-handed starters: Hoch's take

June 1st, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Bryan Hoch’s ranking of the top five left-handed starting pitchers in Yankees history. All statistical rankings are based upon a minimum of 500 innings with the franchise. Next week: Relief pitchers.

Yankees' all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RH SP

1. Whitey Ford, 1950, ‘53-67
No modern pitcher has won a higher percentage of his decisions than Ford (236-106, .690), who was the ace of the Yankees during his time in pinstripes. “The Chairman of the Board” celebrated six World Series championships and 11 American League pennants during his tenure, winning two ERA titles (1956, ’58) and the 1961 AL Cy Young Award.

“You kind of took it for granted around the Yankees,” Ford once said, “that there was always going to be baseball in October.”

A 10-time All-Star, Ford paced the league in victories three times, including a 25-4 mark for the 1961 Bombers, a season in which he earned the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. Ford pitched to a 10-8 record with a 2.71 ERA in 22 Fall Classic starts overall, including a stretch of 33 1/3 scoreless innings that remains a record. Ford was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

Among Yankees left-handed starting pitchers, Ford ranks first in bWAR (53.6), innings (3,170 1/3), games (498), shutouts (45), wins (236), ERA+ (133) and batters faced (13,036). He is tied for first in starts (438) and is second in strikeouts (2,020) and ERA (2.75). Ford is third in complete games (156).

2. , 1995-2003, ’07-13
A member of the “Core Four” that celebrated five World Series titles from 1996-2009, Pettitte excelled over his two stints with the club, interrupted only by a three-year detour in order to pitch closer to his Houston-area home. A reliable and consistent performer throughout his career, Pettitte is the Yanks’ franchise leader in strikeouts (2,020) and is tied with Ford for the most starts (438).

"I just don't remember ever going out there and feeling like, 'I'm going to step on this mound and I'm going to absolutely dominate this team because I am so good,"' Pettitte said in 2015, when his uniform No. 46 was retired. "I felt like I needed every ounce of focus, every ounce of energy in every start to be successful."

A three-time All-Star, Pettitte is the only pitcher drafted by the Yankees (1990) to win 200 Major League games, having gone 219-127 with a 3.94 ERA (115 ERA+). Pettitte went 18-10 with a 3.76 ERA in 40 career postseason starts as a Yankee, and he owns the Major League record for postseason wins with 19. The MVP of the 2001 AL Championship Series, he started and won all three series-clinching contests in the 2009 postseason, including Game 6 of the World Series against the Phillies.

Among Yankees left-handed starters, Pettitte is second in bWAR (51.3), games (447), wins (219) and batters faced (11,924). He is fourth in strikeout percentage (16.9 percent).

3. Ron Guidry, 1975-88
Known as “Gator” and “Louisiana Lightning,” Guidry was a four-time All-Star and a three-time 20-game winner whose 1978 season was one of the most electric by a pitcher in Major League history. That season, Guidry went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA (208 ERA+), earning unanimous selection as the AL’s Cy Young Award winner and helping the Yankees overcome a 14 1/2-game deficit in the AL East.

"Every time that I'd take the mound, they would look at me knowing we were going to win," Guidry said in 2018. "They knew all they had to do was score one or two runs and the game was over, because that's how well I was pitching. I never thought about what I was actually doing in terms of me having a great year; it was about the impact I was having on my team."

That year, Guidry also set still-standing franchise records with nine shutouts, 248 strikeouts and 18 strikeouts in a single game (June 17, vs. the Angels) -- a performance that gave birth to the “two strike clap.” He was 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 career postseason starts, including three World Series victories. A five-time Gold Glover, Guidry served as a Yankees co-captain from 1985 through his retirement, and his uniform No. 49 was retired in 2003.

Among Yankees left-handed starters, Guidry is third in bWAR (47.8), games (368), starts (323), shutouts (26), strikeouts (1,778) and strikeout percentage (18.2 percent). Guidry is fourth in innings (2,392), complete games (95), wins (170) and batters faced (9,794).

4. Lefty Gomez, 1930-42
Known for his powerful fastball and sharp wit, Gomez frequently remarked that he would “rather be lucky than good.” Fortunately for Gomez, he enjoyed both fortune and talent during an outstanding career that saw the lanky southpaw twice register the AL’s Triple Crown for pitchers, leading the circuit in victories, ERA and strikeouts (1934, ’37).

A 1972 inductee to the Hall of Fame, Gomez enjoyed seven consecutive All-Star selections during his career and was a three-time league leader in shutouts and strikeouts. He was at his finest in October, when Gomez helped the Yanks to five World Series titles by pitching to a 6-0 record with a 2.86 ERA in seven Fall Classic starts, including four complete games.

Among Yankees left-handed starters, Gomez is first in complete games (173) while ranking second in shutouts (28) and ERA+ (125). He is third in wins (189) and batters faced (10,706). Gomez places fourth in bWAR (43.3), games (367) and starts (319). He is fifth in strikeouts (1,468).

5. CC Sabathia, 2009-19
The prize of the 2008-09 offseason, Sabathia inked what was then the richest deal ever issued to a free-agent pitcher, then helped the Yankees inaugurate their new stadium with a 27th World Series championship. During his tenure in pinstripes, Sabathia transitioned from a fireballing ace into a more cerebral workhorse, battling a drop in velocity and a degenerative knee condition while continuing to serve as the heart of the club’s roster.

"All I ever wanted,” Sabathia said last year, “was to be a great teammate and win.”

The MVP of the 2009 ALCS, Sabathia led the Majors in victories during each of his first two seasons in pinstripes and represented the Yankees for three of his six career All-Star selections. During his time in New York, Sabathia won 134 of his 251 career victories, pitching to a 3.81 ERA (112 ERA+) while tallying 1,700 of his 3,093 career strikeouts.

Sabathia was 8-4 with a 3.42 ERA in 21 postseason games (18 starts) as a Yankee, and owns credentials that many believe will garner entry to the Hall of Fame. Among Yankees left-handed starters, Sabathia is first in strikeout rate (21 percent) and hit batsmen (73). Sabathia is fourth in strikeouts and fifth in starts (306).

Honorable mentions

(1979-82, ’86-89): Years after recovering from the groundbreaking surgery that now bears his name, John posted back-to-back seasons with at least 21 victories for the Yanks, with whom he tallied 91 of his 288 career wins while pitching to a 3.59 ERA (112 ERA+) and recording 19.8 bWAR.

Eddie Lopat (1948-55): A five-time World Series champion, Lopat paced the AL with a 2.42 ERA (152 ERA+) in 1953, a season in which he went 16-4 while limiting opponents to a league-leading 1.127 WHIP. Overall, the soft-tossing “Junkman” was 113-59 with a 3.19 ERA (121 ERA+) over his tenure in pinstripes, plus 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA and three complete games in seven October starts.

Herb Pennock (1923-33): Sold by the Red Sox prior to the ’23 season, Pennock helped the Yankees to three World Series titles, logging a 5-0 record in nine October contests. A 1948 inductee to the Hall of Fame, Pennock pitched to a 162-90 record with a 3.54 ERA (114 ERA+) over 11 seasons in the Bronx, tallying 33.9 bWAR and 165 complete games in 2,203 1/3 innings.

David Wells, 1997-98, 2002-03): The author of a May 1998 perfect game, “Boomer” was a boisterous strike-throwing presence during his four seasons in New York, where he pitched to a 68-28 record with a 3.90 ERA (114 ERA+) in 124 starts. Wells’ resulting .708 winning percentage edges even Ford’s .690, albeit in 374 fewer starts. He pitched to a 7-2 record in 11 postseason games, including wins in his first five playoff starts for the Yanks.