It’s no secret that Gerrit Cole is off to an incredible start in 2021. Through 10 starts, he is doing exactly what the Yankees acquired him to do and more – he’s currently 6-2 with a 1.81 ERA, 92 strikeouts in only 64.2 innings, and an incredible 226 ERA+. Even his bad starts are merely average. Although the true Gerrit Cole experience in New York may have been delayed, fans are finally hoping to see what a full season of ace pitching will look like from the team’s marquee 2019 signing, and so far we have not been disappointed.
If we were to project Cole’s early-season stats to an entire year, assuming he pitches approximately 200 innings, the results would be pretty mind-blowing; you would see something in the range of an 18-win season with over 270 strikeouts and 8+ WAR. Although the year is young, I couldn’t help but wonder – that would be the Yankees’ best starting pitching season in a really long time, right? Where could Gerrit Cole rank in the pantheon of recent Yankees’ aces when the book is closed on 2021?
Throughout their vaunted history, the Yankees have employed many great pitchers who have done many great things. However, most lists of the “greatest Yankees starting pitchers of all time” and “greatest single-season Yankees starting pitching performances” feature predominantly, if not exclusively, performances from before 1980. 1980 was a long time ago – Gerrit Cole, in fact, was not born until September 8, 1990. Cole is clearly poised to become the standard-bearer for a new era of Yankees pitching, but he may also be on his way to the best season the Yankees have seen since before his own birth. To contextualize, I bring you a few excellent seasons by Yankees starting pitching, post-1990 edition.
It’s January 5th and the Yankees have yet to do anything of significance to improve the current roster. Perhaps now that the holiday season has come and gone, things can get moving again so bloggers like us can resume publishing currently relevant content. Instead, today we offer something different that stems from a Twitter discussion yesterday.
Thought exercise: You can pick one former Yankee (must be retired, not just on another team) and one year of his career (must be a year on the Yankees) and assign it to the 2021 team. Based on NEED, not just who had the best year, who do you pick and why? Post-integration, pls.
The four of us (Randy, Matt, Bobby, and Derek) are doing a quick draft based on this question with a couple of additional stipulations. One, we’re whittling in down to players in our lifetimes. Additionally, it’s a one year assignment, so whoever we pick has no bearing on the Yankees in 2022 and beyond. With that, let’s get to the draft.
The Yankees got a pair of former players inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera — Three with Lee Smith’s eight-game stint. Here are my thoughts from the ceremony.
1. Mussina’s speech was fantastic
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Mussina’s speech. I thought he had the right blend of good stories, heartfelt thank yous and humor sprinkled throughout, all while not going on for half an hour.
Starting out, he had a few zingers with “I want to thank everyone for putting together the best videos that they had of me” and poking fun at Joe Torre’s introduction video quip about his monotone nature.
I also loved the following: “I’m standing up here with the best who ever played the game. Some are my former teammates, some are my former opponents and some I grew up watching on television. So the obvious questions are: What am I doing up here and how in the world did this happen?”
I don’t really know how to judge speech mechanics, but that seemed to set the stage well for the rest of his words. It was a thrill to see him get the honor he deserved and which wasn’t a foregone conclusion he’d receive.
2. Mussina Day would be cool if he wants it
My memory may be failing me, but I can’t remember the Yankees having a day to honor Mussina in recent years. AP Images would lead me to believe his last appearance at Yankee Stadium was 2011 Opening Day to throw out the first pitch. A larger honor for the Hall of Famer seems overdue to me.
Though he never won a title in the Bronx, he was the backbone of the Bombers’ rotation for the better part of a decade and pitched on seven playoff teams. Moose deserved the Cy Young award in 2001 and pitched his heart out in the 2001 and 2003 postseasons to get the Yankees to the cusp of a championship.
Considering Mussina has been fine hanging back home and coaching his children in retirement, it very well may be the pitcher himself who has eschewed the chance of a Yankee ceremony.
Still, even if it’s just a first pitch before a Yankees-O’s game in the Bronx, it’d be nice to have the New York faithful give him another standing ovation (and Moooooooooooose chant).
3. Mo and Edgar’s journeys
Edgar Martinez and Rivera were signed for $4,000 and $2,000, respectively, on the international market. That’s wild. Two Hall of Famers for that little (even at the time) compared to the hundred thousands or millions some prospects can demand now.
Neither player had a smooth path from home to the Majors, and Rivera mentioned crying in the Minor Leagues as he was unable to communicate with teammates. It’s a common experience for Latin American players, one that teams take steps to avoid now with language lessons for MiLB players, but it’s tough to avoid anyway.
I can never wrap my head around going to a new country when I’m between 16 and 20 and playing for below minimum wage while not knowing the language. Just overcoming those barriers is beyond impressive. That these two men became Hall of Famers is next level.
How can you not love that story in retrospect? Hopefully, they have a plaque at the Bennigan’s.
5. Remembering Roy Halladay
Roy Halladay was the last pitcher you wanted to see on the probable pitchers list in the 2000s. When he was on the Blue Jays, Toronto was dreadful and never in contention, yet he was a one-man wrecking crew. If you had a three- or four-game series and avoided him, you counted yourself lucky. And if you had a two-game set and he was on tap, ugh.
I only got to see him live once — Funny enough, against Moose — and even though he often beat down the Yankees, I still wish I’d gotten to see him compete more.
The Yankees, of course, tried to acquire him around 2009 and 2010, though the Jays rightfully demanded an extra ransom for a Yankees offer. Considering how most prospects from that era panned out, they should have ponied up, but hindsight is 20/20.
Anyway, not having Halladay get to make his speech yesterday is crushing. Your heart goes out to Brandy Halladay for having to make her speech yesterday and fight through the emotions of an honor and loss all at once.
6. Jeter next Yankee in, then who?
We know that, barring something insane, on July 26, 2020 Derek Jeter will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That might be unanimous, it might not be, but he should be there all the same.
There aren’t many others close to induction, so there’s the chance it’ll be just him and a committee-elected player or two. Curt Schilling is nearing the line for induction, though he might take another couple years.
After Jeter, who is the next Yankee in? Roger Clemens, who’d go in as a Red Sox, probably falls short due to PEDs. Andy Pettitte may as well, plus he only got 9.9 percent on his first ballot. It appears that CC Sabathia is the next Yankee inducted.
7. For whom would you go to Cooperstown on the current team?
When will CC get into the Hall? If he makes it first ballot, it’d be with Ichiro. I think he might take a couple votes despite his credentials, so that’d put him around 2027/2028.
Provided global warming hasn’t turned upstate New York into a burning hellscape, that’d be a nice trip to make. Sabathia has been one of the most enjoyable Yankees in recent memory, both for his standout performances and his personality. His ability to overcome a downturn in abilities and off-the-field issues shows strength in character.
On the current squad, Giancarlo Stanton with a clean-ish bill of health has a clear path to Cooperstown with the 500-homer milestone and the chance to win titles in reach. Not saying he’ll make it, yet he has a good opportunity. Gleyber Torres is so early in his career, but he’s made two All-Star Games at an up-the-middle position before he turns 23, all with the Yankees. He’s got so far to go, but it’s a nice start.
Beyond them, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Aroldis Chapman have the most compelling starts to their respective Hall cases, though each has plenty of work to do. My brother is all-in for Gleyber in 2045 or whenever, while I’m leaning more for a Judge entry if he racks up the accomplishments to make it.
Today at 1:30 pm, Yankee legend Mariano Rivera and Yankee great Mike Mussina will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They’ll be honored alongside Phillies/Blue Jays great Roy Halladay, Mariners great Edgar Martinez, and Cubs great Lee Smith, and Orioles great Harold Baines. That’s a pretty great collection of talent right there. Should be a fun day in Cooperstown.
Mariano, of course, is the most dominant relief pitcher of all time and the first-ever unanimous Hall of Fame inductee. There are no shortage of mind-boggling figures out there to illustrate Rivera’s incredible career, but I love a good excuse to fawn over Mariano, so here are a few:
His career 205 ERA+, which ranks him against his peers by adjusting for league/park factors, is the highest all-time among all pitchers. (Clayton Kershaw and Pedro Martinez rank 2nd and 3rd all-time, at 158 and 154, respectively.)
His career 56.59 WPA ranks 1st among relievers and 5th out of all pitchers, placing him behind just Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove, and Roger Clemens and just ahead of Tom Seaver, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson.
His career 33.63 Situational Wins Saved (Win Probability Added/Leverage Index) ranks 1st among relievers and 21st all-time among all pitchers, just 0.02 behind fellow inductee Roy Halladay despite 1,466 fewer career innings pitched.
His 652 career saves ranks 51 higher than 2nd place Trevor Hoffman, 174 more than 3rd place and fellow inductee Lee Smith, and 215 more than 4th place Francisco Rodriguez.
In 141 postseason innings pitched, Rivera owned a 0.70 ERA, allowed just 86 hits, 13 earned runs, issued just 21 walks, recorded 42 saves, and allowed only 2 home runs.
He won 5 World Series, recording the last out in 4 of those victories. He is also the only man in MLB history to throw the final pitch in 4 consecutive World Series (1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001).
I could go on, and on, and on, and on, of course. There was simply nobody like Mariano Rivera. Jay Jaffe’s Hall of Fame case on FanGraphs is a read to which I find myself returning quite often, so check it out yourself if you haven’t already. A-Rod also spoke with ESPN about playing with Rivera this week, which was fantastic. Check that out, too.
Mike Mussina had a mighty impressive career in his own right, though he was far from the clear-cut case that Mo was. His road to Cooperstown was winding and long, but plenty of sabermetric-minded writers and fans advocated for years for his inclusion. I have been a big proponent of Mike Mussina’s Hall of Fame candidacy for years, and it was a lot of fun to watch his vote percentage climb over the years.
And let’s be clear: Mussina is absolutely deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown. His career, which was often marked by near-misses and close-but-not-close-enough, was made up of nearly two decades of consistent, dominant performance in the steroid-era American League East. Moose was my favorite pitcher on the mid-2000s team (a formative era for me, personally) and I’m psyched to see him get this honor today. Again, Jay Jaffe really went deep into Mussina’s candidacy this year (and led the charge for years), so check that out.
These two great Yankees will receive one of the highest professional honors of their life today alongside some of the esteemed competition. For those of us not in Cooperstown today, we can check out the festivities at www.baseballhall.org, which will show the ceremony via webcast.
So much of Mike Mussina’s career was defined by coming up just short. Finishing with 18-19 wins five times before finally getting to 20. Nine top-six Cy Young finishes without the award. Nine trips to the postseason and no World Series titles.
That would be oversimplifying Mussina’s career, one that was great for both the Orioles and Yankees over 18 seasons. He’s going into the Hall of Fame because he was one of the best pitchers of his era. Maybe never the best in his league — Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson had something to say about it — but a clear, no-doubt Hall of Famer.
And while his teams came up short, he didn’t. In two of the biggest games of his Yankees career, he stood tall and made the difference to push the Yankees to the brink of a World Series they wouldn’t win.
I probably don’t need to remind you about his performance on Oct. 16, 2003. Several innings before Aaron Boone even entered the game, Mussina had the task of keeping the Yankees within striking distance, not letting the Red Sox run away with Game 7 of the ALCS.
Clemens didn’t make it easy, allowing four runs and leaving men on the corners with no one out for Mussina in the fourth inning. Down 4-0, the game could have easily spiraled.
It didn’t: Mussina, making the first relief appearance of his career, got Jason Varitek to strikeout and induced a double play from the speed demon, Johnny Damon. He’d strand two runners in the fifth and go 1-2-3 in the sixth, setting the stage for the Yankees’ comeback.
Fittingly, the other pitcher to go three innings and not allow a run in that game was Mariano Rivera, who will enter the Hall of Fame with him Sunday.
Moose and Rivera would hook up one more time that season, a week later during game 3 of the World Series. With the series knotted at 1-1, Mussina went toe-to-toe with Josh Beckett with seven one-run innings.
The game itself was also 1-1 for the longest time as Mussina recovered from a first-inning run. He mostly avoided trouble but had to escape a runners-on-the-corners jam once again in the sixth inning, making a play at the plate (He was a seven-time Gold Glove award winner after all) before striking out Mike Lowell.
Moose gave the Yankees a chance to break through again with Hideki Matsui hitting a go-ahead single in the eighth. That paved the way for Rivera, who tossed two scoreless while the Bombers padded the lead.
That would be the last chance Moose got on the game’s biggest stage (Not his firs though with two starts in the 2001 World Series). Beckett went on short rest, in part to avoid Mussina, and tossed a shutout in Game 6, depriving the veteran a chance to pitch in another Game 7.
He had his failures for sure: Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS. His final inning in Game 3 of the 1996 ALCS against the Yankees.
But Mussina still made his chances count. It’s a shame he doesn’t have a ring, though a player can’t be held to account for a team’s struggles. Instead, we simply have to appreciate the times he came through on the games’ largest stage.