Closer – Mariano Rivera (2008)
Mariano Rivera is the most dominant reliever in the history of baseball. Now, an interesting debate is which season was his absolute best rages on. While my friend, Abate believes 1996 was his best season, I think 2008 was just as good, if not better.
The then 25-year-old Rivera was ridiculous in 1996, which was only his second season in the league. He had his career-high in innings pitched that year with 107.2, and he also had a career-low FIP of 1.88.
A WHIP of 0.994, an ERA of 2.09 and allowing only one home run also further’s Abate’s case for 1996 being Rivera’s best.
In 2008, a 38-year-old Rivera didn’t skip a beat regarding efficiency. His ERA was 1.40, his WHIP 0.665 and he had 39 saves that season. What I especially loved about Rivera’s 2008 campaign was his extremely low WHIP and SO/W ratio of 12.83.
But there are other closers and relievers to consider for the all-time Yankees’ team. Rivera is the best choice, but we cannot forget about these pitchers and their career years: Sparky Lyle (1972), Rich “Goose” Gossage (1982), Andrew Miller (2016) and of course Chad Green (2017).
RHP – Sparky Lyle (1972)
After the Yankees swiped Sparky Lyle from the Boston Red Sox in 1972, Lyle immediately made an impact for the team. At the age of 27, he led the league in saves with 35, pitched 107.2 innings out of the pen. He also went 9-5, had an ERA of 1.92, WHIP of 1.050, and a FIP of 2.18.
RHP – Rich “Goose” Gossage (1982)
Rich “Goose” Gossage wasn’t always the “Get off my lawn” guy like he is referred to now. In his six years with the Yankees, I choose his 1982 season as his best because he had a low ERA of 2.23, WHIP of 0.978 and FIP of 2.13. Goose also struck out 102 batters in 93 innings of work.
LHP – Andrew Miller (2016)
Andrew Miller is the must-have super-reliever now because of the attention he was getting as a Yankee. He was transforming into a tremendous pitcher for the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. But then the Yankees got him, and he flourished into an ace-reliever as a closer in 2015.
Miller was the type of weapon that changed bullpen philosophy. Once Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona got a hold of him, every team wanted an “Andrew Miller guy” in their ‘pen. Francona used Miller in game-deciding situations during the middle innings instead of eight or ninth inning.
Miller’s best season with the Yankees was 2016, but that was also the year he was traded away for Clint Frazier and prospect Justus Sheffield. At the age of 31, his combined numbers with both teams were a 10-1 record, an ERA of 1.45, WHIP of 0.686, FIP of 1.68 and he struck out 123 batters in only 74.1 innings.
With that said, some could debate he had a better year than Mariano Rivera did.
Miller was receiving Cy Young votes in 2015 as the Yankees closer. But he also garnered Cy Young votes the next year as the super-reliever for the Yankees and Indians.
RHP – Chad Green (2017)
Some believe Chad Green became the Miller replacement last year after a fantastic season. In 69 innings of work, Green struck out 103 batters while walking only 17. The incredible strikeout-to-walk ratio helped Green earn a WHIP of 0.739, as he also didn’t allow many hits or home runs. His ERA was only 1.83, and his FIP was almost identical at 1.75.
Heading into Spring Training, Green will enter as a starting pitcher, but some believe he should remain a relief pitcher. We’ll see what happens during camp.