Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 23, 2009
BASEBALL: The Yankees and Their New, Veteran Starting Pitchers

Hope springs eternal in baseball, and for the New York Yankees, with an aging offense, a lot of familiar faces gone and a steroid scandal swirling around the team's biggest star, a lot of those hopes ride on the shoulders of the team's two new free agent starting pitchers, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Yankee fans have been down this road before.

Few things have been more constant in the Steinbrenner Era (dating back to George Steinbrenner's 1973 purchase of the team and continuing under his sons Hank & Hal) than the importation of established veteran starting pitchers. Since 1975, counting the importation of pitchers from Cuba and Japan, the Hated Yankees have brought in an established starting pitcher in the offseason 52 times in 35 seasons; only in five offseasons have they failed to do so in that period. Here is the list of those pitchers by year, along with their ages in their first season in pinstripes, how many seasons or parts of seasons they played with the Yankees, and how they were acquired:

1975Catfish Hunter29Free Agent5
1976Ed Figueroa27Trade5
Dock Ellis31Trade2
1977Don Gullett26Free Agent2
1978Andy Messersmith32Purchased1
1979Tommy John36Free Agent4
Luis Tiant38Free Agent2
1980Tom Underwood26Trade2
Rudy May35Free Agent4
1982Doyle Alexander31Trade2
1984Phil Niekro45Free Agent2
1985Ed Whitson30Free Agent2
1986Britt Burns27Trade0
Tommy John43Free Agent4
1987Rick Rhoden34Trade2
Charlie Hudson28Trade2
1988John Candelaria34Free Agent2
Richard Dotson29Trade2
1989Andy Hawkins29Free Agent3
Dave LaPoint29Free Agent2
1990Tim Leary31Trade3
Pascual Perez33Free Agent2
1991Scott Sanderson34Purchased2
1992Melido Perez26Trade4
Allan Anderson28Free Agent0
1993Jimmy Key32Free Agent4
Jim Abbott25Trade2
1994Terry Mulholland31Trade1
Bobby Ojeda36Free Agent1
1995Jack McDowell29Trade1
1996Kenny Rogers31Free Agent2
Dwight Gooden31Free Agent2
1997David Wells34Free Agent2
Hideki Irabu28Free Agent3
1998Orlando Hernandez32Free Agent5
1999Roger Clemens36Trade5
Jeff Juden28Free Agent1
2001Mike Mussina32Free Agent8
2002David Wells39Free Agent2
2003Jose Contreras31Free Agent2
2004Javier Vazquez27Trade1
Kevin Brown39Trade2
Jon Lieber34Free Agent1
Orlando Hernandez38Free Agent1
2005Randy Johnson41Trade2
Carl Pavano29Free Agent4
Jaret Wright29Free Agent2
2007Andy Pettitte35Free Agent2
Roger Clemens44Free Agent1
Kei Igawa27Free Agent2
2009C.C. Sabathia28Free Agent?
A.J. Burnett32Free Agent?

Pettitte and Igawa are actually 3 years on if you count 2009. Tiant and El Duque are listed at their official ages.

This, I should stress, is just the guys who were more or less established starters at the time the Yankees got them. There are also the guys who were complete reclamation projects, even moreso than people like Gooden and Lieber - Donovan Osborne in 2004, Scott Erickson in 2006. Then there are the guys who were working as relievers when the Yankees imported them - Shane Rawley, Neal Heaton, Steve Karsay, Bob Shirley, Jason Grimsley, Jim Kaat, Neil Allen. Then there are the midseason acquisitions - Ken Holtzman, Mike Torrez, David Cone, Jeff Weaver, Gaylord Perry, Rick Reuschel, Matt Keough, John Montefusco, Marty Bystrom, Joe Niekro, Bill Gullickson, Steve Trout, Walt Terrell, Mike Witt, Frank Tanana, Ricky Bones, Denny Neagle, Esteban Loaiza, Shawn Chacon, Al Leiter, Cory Lidle, Sidney Ponson (twice).

How has this procession of veteran, mostly older pitchers fared? Well, one thing jumps out from the chart above: the average tenure in pinstripes of the guys listed above is 2.4 years, with only 14 of the 52 lasting more than two seasons in the Bronx. To look at the individual results, I decided to run a study. In addition to the pitchers above, I looked at four of the Yankees' mid-season acquisitions: Ken Holtzman in 1976, Mike Torrez in 1977, David Cone in 1995, and Jeff Weaver in 2002. This was an admittedly subjective decision, but basically those four seemed more to fit the mold of big-ticket acquisitions who were brought in with the intention of being longer-term parts of the plan (Torrez was dealt for in April; Cone was a major star when he arrived) as opposed to being heat-of-the-pennant-race stopgaps as many of the others were.

The Study, In Brief

I ran the numbers for each pitcher for the three years prior to his arrival with the Yankees and the first three beginning with his first season with the Yankees, and I'll explain the method here briefly; it's the usual simple algebra. For the prior three years, I used Established Performance Levels (EPL), as described here. Basically, I wanted a baseline for what the Yankees may reasonably have expected from these guys when they arrived. ERA+, for the unititiated, is park-adjusted league ERA divided by the pitcher's ERA. Quality Innings (QI) is a metric I sometimes use that's a shorthand for a pitcher's productivity combining quality and quantity: ERA+ times Innings, so for example a pitcher who throws 200 innings with an ERA+ of 150 will have 300 Quality Innings.

For the pitcher's production after arriving with the Yankees (YPP), I made two key decisions. One, I measured output over three seasons regardless of whether the guy stayed with the team that long. My goal was to look at whether the Yankees were successful in acquiring pitchers, rather than retaining them. Second, and balancing that to some extent, I used established performance levels in reverse, weighting the first season at 3, the second season at 2, and the third season at 1. I had considered doing a less front-loaded weighting, but given that (1) the Yankees are almost always in win-now mode, (2) so many of these guys were gone after one or two years and (3) the quality of the first season usually determined how long they would last with the team, I'm comfortable with a weighting heavily tilted towards the first year. The final number you see, "Yield," is just the YPP Quality Innings divided by the EPL Quality Innings - in other words, how each guy stacked up against his own baseline performance.

To keep results consistent year to year, I projected 1981, 1994 and 1995 stats to a 162-game schedule. Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa are rated on two years only, and weighted accordingly.

Grading The Pitchers

Let's grade the Yankee pitching acquisitions (I'm clumping them in groups rather than ranking within each cluster):

Tommy John (1) - 336 QI, Yield 134.1%


Probably the most successful of all these acquisitions. The prototypical veteran lefthanded groundball pitcher, TJ got more durable and effective in his late 30s as he got additional distance from the 1975 surgery that bears his name.

Ed Figueroa - 286 QI, Yield 159.7%


Only 27 and coming off his first full year as a rotation starter when he was acquired in a 3-player trade for Bobby Bonds, Figueroa was a rotation mainstay during the championship years of the late 70s.

Jimmy Key - 280 QI, Yield 114.4%


Key got hurt after two years, but was a serious championship-quality pitcher until then.

Melido Perez - 241 QI, Yield 153.2%


Melido, like Figueroa, was a relatively hard-throwing young pitcher just coming into his own when he arrived in the Bronx in a four-player trade, mainly for Steve Sax after Sax's last good year. He pitched during a down time in Yankee history, but his first year in particular was a good one.

Catfish Hunter - 339 QI, Yield 92.5%


Bill Virdon and Billy Martin squeezed 626.2 innings and 51 complete games out of Catfish his first two years with the Yankees, with diminishing returns in his second season and a collapse in the third. He may have broken down by the time the Yankees made it all the way, but Hunter was certainly a successful signing, helping the team to respectability and contributing to a pennant winner in 1976 and eventually a World Champion in 1978.

Mike Mussina - 284 QI, Yield 100.2%


Mussina did basically exactly what he was asked and expected to do, at least as far as the regular season goes. He was never as lights-out in the playoffs as he'd been with the Orioles. Still, 8 years in a Yankee uniform is nothing to sneeze at in this crowd. Note that Mussina averaged nearly 8 K per 9 innings the year before he signed with the Yankees; remember that fact as we get deeper down the list.

Dock Ellis - 215 QI, Yield 130.3%


An early Steinbrenner acquisition, arrived in a four player trade, principally for Doc Medich, and was later dealt for Mike Torrez.

Rudy May - 212 QI, Yield 137.7%


More a swing man than a full-time rotation starter by that point in his career, May was nonetheless a successful reacquisition, winning an ERA title in 1980.

Dwight Gooden - 144 QI, Yield 289.9%


Gooden's "Yield" ranks first in this group. He was a long way from the old Dr. K with the Yankees, but he was a complete reclamation project when he came to the Bronx. But in 19 starts from April 27 to August 12, 1996, Gooden was 10-2 with a 3.09 ERA, including a no-hitter; with David Cone injured, Kenny Rogers (9-5, 4.16) was the only other Yankee starter in that stretch with an ERA below 4.78, and several spot starters were tried with ERAs over 8.00. Without that stretch, the Yankees may not have won the World Series that year, their first in 18 years. Gooden easily cleared the low bar set on expectations for his tenure as a Yankee.

Jon Lieber - 194 QI, Yield 207.9%


Another scrap heap claim, albeit more of a calculated gamble, given that unlike Gooden, Lieber's only problem was his arm.

Orlando Hernandez (2) - 117 QI, Yield 160.3%


El Duque, in his second go-round, was another reclamation project who exceeded expectations, bailing out the rotation in the 2004 stretch run.

Tommy John (2) - 141 QI, Yield 117.8%


John looked pretty well at the end of his tether when he returned at age 43, but was nonetheless able to contribute to the pitching-poor late-80s team.

David Wells (1) - 244 QI, Yield 102.3%


David Wells (2) - 230 QI, Yield 124.6%


The Boomer was a clear success in each of his two tenures in pinstripes, granting that his postseason flop in Game Five of the 2003 World Series left a sour aftertaste.


Phil Niekro - 234 QI, Yield 106.7%


About the best you could hope for in acquiring a 45-year-old pitcher.

Scott Sanderson - 193 QI, Yield 131.3%


As I discuss below, Sanderson, a 34-year-old control pitcher, is the classic type the Yankees have failed with too often, but he gave them one good year and generally exceeded reasonable expectations.

David Cone - 258 QI, Yield 68.8%


Cone, acquired in a 4-player trade in his walk year for a package headlined by Marty Janzen, rates as high as he does here because he pitched well with the Yankees and contributed to championship teams. But he clearly did not match his Cy Young-caliber established level of performance through age 31.

Orlando Hernandez (1) - 213 QI


As a foreign import, El Duque in his first turn with the team has no real baseline to compare to. He was never that durable, but would rate more highly if you put more weight on his postseason exploits.

Andy Pettitte - 221 QI, Yield 90.9%


Pettitte wasn't going to recapture his 2005 form, but he's been a solid workhorse in his second turn as a Yank.


Mike Torrez - 253 QI, Yield 81.1%


Torrez, of course, is beloved by Yankee fans for what he did in the second season of this sample while pitching for the Red Sox. But focusing on his acquisition, in a 4-player deal for Dock Ellis and two others, the Yankees bought Torrez high coming off two outstanding seasons he wouldn't repeat.

John Candelaria - 122 QI, Yield 100.9%


The Candy Man was with the Yankees what he'd been with the Angels - fragile and erratic, but highly effective for stretches. Certainly the Yankees can't have been disappointed.


Roger Clemens (1) - 229 QI, Yield 51.9%


It's hard to describe Clemens, obtained in a 4-player trade for a package headlined by David Wells, as a failure; he won a Cy Young Award in his third season with the Yankees, as he did for each of the four franchises he pitched for, and he got two World Series rings and contributed in the postseason to at least one of those. But he pitched significantly better going 10-13 with the Red Sox in 1996 than going 20-3 with the Yankees in 2001, and on the whole he was only a distant echo of the pitcher he'd been in Toronto (and would be later in Houston).

Charlie Hudson - 128 QI, Yield 89.1%


Hudson was more effective as a Yankee, mostly the 6-0, 2.02 ERA start to his Yankee career, but less durable. He fell off quickly after that and was finished at 30. Hudson was acquired in a 4-player trade, mainly for a rapidly-declining Mike Easler.


Tom Underwood - 171 QI, Yield 81.0%


26 years old and coming off his first big year on a terrible Blue Jays team, Underwood may have looked to the Yankees like the next Figueroa or Red Ruffing, but he never again approached 227 innings and was shipped out after one year for a package of spare parts (headed by Dave Revering) that didn't come close to the six-player deal that brought him in, with the Yankees sending off veteran first baseman Chris Chambliss and Damaso Garcia, who went on to be a mainstay with the Blue Jays for the next several years.

Jim Abbott - 224 QI, Yield 78.0%


Abbott was a major disappointment, a young pitcher coming off two really good years who didn't develop. He gave the Yankees innings but not a lot of quality pitching. Abbott was obtained in a 4-player deal for a package headed by J.T. Snow, who went on to a long career.


Luis Tiant - 145 QI, Yield 57.5%


At an officially listed age of 38 (recall Tony Perez's joke: "When I was a boy in Cuba, Luis Tiant was a national hero. Now I'm 36 and he's 37"), Tiant was a rapidly depreciating commodity when the Yankees signed him. His first year with the Yankees was pretty similar to his last two with the Red Sox, then he fell apart.

Tim Leary - 139 QI, Yield 68.4%


The Yankees got Leary, the onetime Mets phenom, after the two best seasons of his career in a four-player deal for a package headed by a young Hal Morris. He did not repeat them.

Jose Contreras - 131 QI


The Yankees bailed too soon on Contreras, but his fate was sealed by an awful second season with the team.


Ken Holtzman - 136 QI, Yield 44.3%


Holtzman was acquired to join his old teammate Catfish in a massive 10-player trade that saw the Yankees send away young pitchers Scott MacGregor and Tippy Martinez and veteran Rudy May. He pitched well that season but then hit the wall.

Rick Rhoden - 177 QI, Yield 65.9%


Rhoden was coming off a career year, although he'd also had an excellent season two years earlier; the Yankees got him in a 6-player trade for a package headed by a young Doug Drabek, who would immediately become the staff ace of a team that won 3 straight division titles while Rhoden gradually declined after a solid, workmanlike first season.

Rich Dotson - 112 QI, Yield 64.5%


Already far removed from the young power pitcher who went 22-7 in 1983, Dotson was coming off his first good year post-surgery when the Yankees got him in a 5-player deal in a package headed by Dan Pasqua and Mark Salas; he didn't repeat it.

Jack McDowell - 208 QI, Yield 64.4%


Black Jack McDowell, acquired in a 3-player deal headlined by Lyle Mouton, is remembered as a worse pickup than he was - he went 15-10 with an ERA almost 20% better than the league in the shortened schedule of 1995 - but he flamed out completely after leaving the Yankees after that one season.

Roger Clemens (2) - 53 QI, Yield 17.0%


You can argue they went in with their eyes open, but the fact is that at 44, Roger Clemens fell well short of the bar he'd set with the Astros, and made off with a lot of Yankee dollar in doing so.

Javier Vazquez - 196 QI, Yield 67.6%


Vazquez, acquired in a 4-player deal for a package headed by Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera, was coming off a career year, but as a 27-year-old power pitcher he should have been exactly the kind of guy a team wants; instead, his first season was poor and he was traded for...

Randy Johnson - 197 QI, Yield 59.4%


Johnson may have been an extreme power pitcher but he was also 41 years old when the Yankees got him in a 4-player trade that saw them part with Vazquez, Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro, and his age started to show. He wasn't terrible as a Yankee, just far from the pitcher he'd been.


Don Gullett - 102 QI, Yield 51.8%


Only 26 but with an injury history longer than Steve Howe's rap sheet, Gullett gave the Yankees one semi-Gullett-type season and then broke down for good.

Doyle Alexander - 117 QI, Yield 55.5%


Many teams have stories about their acquisition of Doyle Alexander, but the Yankees' story of his second tenure with the team is not a happy one. Acquired in a 3-player trade headlined by a young Andy McGaffigan on the other side, Alexander was a disaster and shipped out quickly, where he would go on to return to stardom with division rivals in Toronto and Detroit.

Ed Whitson - 115 QI, Yield 70.4%


Once considered the archetypical Yankee pitching bust, but it gets much worse than Whitson. He's one of several pitchers accused of being emotionally unable to withstand the Bronx. Whitson was coming off his best season when the Yankees signed him; it would be a few years after his departure before he returned to that level.

Dave LaPoint - 87 QI, Yield 47.9%


The classic low-K groundball-throwing lefty, LaPoint's failures with the Yankees were doubtless exacerbated by the condition of their middle infield in the Steve Sax era.

Andy Hawkins - 133 QI, Yield 79.0%


A low-K pitcher coming off by far his best year, Hawkins' Yield is only not lower because (1) he'd never been especially good before his one year and (2) the Yankees were so bad they kept pitching him even when he was horrible, which he pretty uniformly was.

Pascual Perez - 47 QI, Yield 22.0%


A similar story to Gullett; Pascual was a better pitcher than his brother Melido, but a worse deal for the Yankees, as he was nearly never available to pitch.

Kenny Rogers - 183 QI, Yield 64.6%


There is probably nothing that unites Mets and Yankees fans like hatred of Kenny Rogers. Stop me if you've heard this one before: a 31-year-old low-strikeout pitcher coming off by far his best year, signs free agent deal with the Yankees, suffers playoff meltdowns and ultimately is unable to handle New York.

Hideki Irabu - 102 QI


The "fat, pussy toad" went 6-2 with a 1.68 ERA in his first 11 starts to help the Yankees blast out of the gate in 1998, but otherwise his Yankee career was a complete bust, as he was nothing like the power pitcher he was reputed to be.

Jeff Juden - 9 QI, Yield 6.5%


A reclamation project with a reputation as a head case who'd never been that good to start with, Juden was still young when he got to the Yankees, but simply didn't pan out.

Bob Ojeda - 0 QI, Yield 0.4%


Bobby O had still been a serviceable pitcher until a year before the Yankees got him, when he suffered the most horrible in a career-long series of bizarre misfortunes, a fatal boating accident that killed his new Cleveland teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews and came within inches of beheading Ojeda. Ojeda was less effective that year when he returned with the Indians, and never did anything to help the Yankees.

Jeff Weaver - 189 QI, Yield 88.0%


The top-line numbers fail to capture the fact that most of Weaver's value was in the portion of his "first" season before the Yankees picked him up in a 6-player, 3-team deal that involved trading away Ted Lilly (also, like Jeremy Bonderman today, Weaver's ERAs were never as good as his reputation and K/BB ratios). Weaver flamed out spectacularly in his first full season with the Yankees, leading him to be traded in for...

Kevin Brown - 84 QI, Yield 40.2%


The Yankees didn't sign Brown to that huge contract, but they traded for it in a 4-player deal that involved trading away Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban. As injury-prone 39-year-olds have been known to do, Brown broke down.

Jaret Wright - 68 QI, Yield 59.8%


Wright's long battles with injury hit bottom before he bounced back with a career year under the tutlage of Leo Mazzone, on the strength of which the Yankees signed him and he turned back into Jaret Wright. You can't really blame the guy, he was the same pitcher he'd always been.


Yes, you thought we'd plumbed the depths. But we're not done!

Carl Pavano - 46 QI, Yield 20.4%


Probably the least popular guy on this list with Yankees fans, which is saying quite a bit. The length and size of Pavano's contract and his apparently poor work ethic have contributed to this. Pavano's a low-K pitcher who got the contract mainly on the strength of a career year in his walk year.

Andy Messersmith - 23 QI, Yield 10.8%


Like Brown, Messersmith was a famous contract acquired after the original signer got buyer's remorse. Messersmith was already hurt with Atlanta, but he never recovered with the Yankees, he just sat on the sidelines with Gullett collecting checks.

Terry Mulholland - 131 QI, Yield 58.6%


Acquired as part of a 5-player deal for a package of mediocrities headed by Kevin Jordan, Mulholland was coming off his best season as a starter with the pennant-winning 1993 Phillies, but was a total flop in his one season in New York, posting a 6.49 ERA, and did not recover his effectiveness for a few years.

Allan Anderson - 0 QI, Yield 0%


Maybe not a fair strike against the Yankees - honestly, I don't even remember him trying to make the team - the former ERA champ was 28 but coming off two bad years, and never pitched in the majors after signing with the Yankees.

Kei Igawa - 29 QI


A Japanese import who has thus far made Irabu look like Sandy Koufax.

Britt Burns - 0 QI, Yield 0%


Perhaps the biggest bust of all, Burns was coming off a career-best 18-11 season when the Yankees got him in a 5-player trade for a package headed by young Joe Cowley and veteran Ron Hassey. A degenerative hip injury prevented him from ever pitching in pinstripes.


C.C. Sabathia


A.J. Burnett



Unfortunately, the site isn't cooperating with the length of this post. Concluding paragraphs, which got eaten twice now, are posted here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

Good stuff Crank, but you got cut off a bit at the end there.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at February 23, 2009 2:20 PM

Site just twice ate the last several paragraphs. I'm working on fixing, but I hate rewriting the same thing that many times.

Posted by: Crank at February 23, 2009 2:25 PM


Your chart lists Carl Pavano as playing four years for the Yankees. I think you meant four minutes.

Posted by: wd at February 23, 2009 3:15 PM

While the Yankees have made some seemingly good acquisitions that have gone poorly (Javy Vazquez, Jack McDowell), in general they get into trouble by deciding to buy a premium starter regardless of whether or not one is on the market. Guys like Hawkins, LaPoint, Wright, and Pavano were all the best of a bad free agent lot at the time they were signed, and other guys, like Messersmith and Gullett, were talented but already known damaged goods.

Posted by: Jerry at February 23, 2009 3:35 PM

Tommy John -- "prototypical veteran righthanded groundball pitcher"

As a long time Angels and Dodgers fan I can assure you that Tommy John surgery was done on TJ's left arm.

Excellent post!

Posted by: yetijuice at February 23, 2009 3:55 PM

Did I actually write Tommy John was righthanded? Ugh. Typing too fast. Thanks, fixed that.

Posted by: Crank at February 23, 2009 4:21 PM

Great post.

Posted by: Democrat down the Hall at February 23, 2009 5:14 PM

There are 3 guys I would not have included in this. Ojeda barely pitched the previous year (you noted why) and I think was basically a role of the dice. Juden was released by the Angels before the previous season was over. Anderson was signed to a minor league deal. I think those situations pulled them back out of "more or less established starters"

Posted by: Jesus at February 23, 2009 11:45 PM

Great analysis. I'm a little more confident in this year's crop as opposed to years prior, but you are right, the Yankees in general have overspent on pitchers that have't worked out.

Another slight correction - you typed the word "hated" before Yankees on several occasions - I'm sure it was an accident.

Posted by: MVH at February 24, 2009 9:11 AM


I think you underestimated Rhoden's value. You ignored his ability to be the DH on his non-pitching days.

Great post!

Posted by: Chris at February 24, 2009 9:34 AM

Thanks Crank. I think there's one more part of the analysis. Steinbrenner is/was enamored of "star power" (cf. Jackson, Reggie) and thus has the management go after already established pitchers, some of whom are at the breaking point after years of establishing themselves. Which is why it was nice to see Cashman hold onto the 3 kids last year, even if the results weren't what I wanted.

And yes, Pavano is the one guy who makes Whitson, Irabu and Igawa look good.

Posted by: rbj at February 24, 2009 11:52 AM
Site Meter 250wde_2004WeblogAwards_BestSports.jpg