Only Ron Guidry and John Tudor have a better career winning percentage among southpaws from the 1980s than Key. Jimmy spent the bulk of his career with the offensive powerhouse Blue Jays. After his tour in Toronto he latched on with the Yankees when they had just returned to prominence. He had plenty opportunities for wins. He paced the AL in victories during the strike shortened 1994 season and topped the league in winning percentage once. A terrific go-to pitcher, Key was exceptional at throwing strikes, always keeping his walks issued to a minimum.
A third round draft pick by the Blue Jays in 1982, Jimmy was summoned to Toronto in 1984. Used as a fireman, Key saved ten games as a rookie but when the 1985 season began his days as a relief pitcher were history. Toronto had Dave Stieb in their rotation and he needed some help so they converted Jimmy into a starter and he rewarded them with an All-Star season. Jimmy posted a .700 winning percentage on a tidy 3.00 ERA. His solid work helped Toronto make the postseason but the Royals had their way with Key in the ALCS and the Blue Jays watched the Fall Classic from home.
Key, who was essentially a soft-tosser in ’85, built off his breakout year and began to add strikeouts to his resume. The lean southpaw fanned just 85 batters in 200+ innings in ’85 but raised that total substantially when he struck out 141 batters in ’86. Jimmy was at the top of his game the following year when he paced the AL with a 2.76 ERA during the 1987 season. He set a career high with 261 innings pitched and also led the AL in WHIP and fewest hits allowed over nine innings. For his exceptional worksheet, Key finished as runner-up in Cy Young Award voting. Over the course of his career, Jimmy was the runner-up twice and had three Top Five finishes in the vote.
Limited to just 21 starts in 1988, Key was healthy again in ’89 when he led Toronto to a return trip to the ALCS. He owned the best control in the American League that year as he issued 1.1 walks per nine innings. Jimmy won his only start in the ALCS but the A’s, headlined by the Bash Brothers, defeated Toronto and made the World Series. After a subpar year in 1990, Key was back at top form in ’91. He made his second All-Star team and nailed down 16 wins for the Jays. For the third time in his career he made the ALCS but it was the same result–his Blue Jays lost the series. Good fortune finally came his way in 1992.
In 1992 Jimmy posted his sixth season with 200 or more innings worked. Toronto won their division again but were able to win the ALCS and romped their way to the Fall Classic. Key was sharp in the 1992 World Series. Against the Atlanta Braves, Jimmy won two games and fashioned a 1.00 ERA. His WHIP for the Fall Classic was an otherworldly 0.667. Toronto captured the crown and brought the World Series trophy to Canada for the first time. But Jimmy, who had put in nine years as a Blue Jay, left the team via free agency after the season and signed with the division rival New York Yankees.
Jimmy enjoyed two of his greatest years in the Bronx. His first year with the Yankees he went 18-6 and led the AL in both strikeout-to-walk ratio and fewest walks allowed over nine innings. An All-Star again, Key finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting. But his greatest year could have come during the strike shortened ’94 season. Although Key never won twenty games in a season, he was on his way to 20 victories in ’94. He had a 17-4 record over 25 starts when play ceased. That year he made his final All-Star team and was the runner-up in Cy Young voting. But Key wasn’t able to build off that great season as he was limited to five starts in ’95.
Healthy again in 1996, Key helped the Yankees reach the postseason that year. Although his season’s numbers weren’t flattering, he was in fine form during the postseason. Jimmy won his only start in the ALCS with a magnificent eight-inning, three-hit performance over Baltimore. He added another win to his resume in the Fall Classic when he bested the Braves. Key won his second World Series ring and just like he did when he won his first, he left the World Champs via free agency. Key signed with the Orioles and enjoyed his last great year in 1997. He went 16-10 on a 3.43 ERA. He pitched one final year with the Orioles before calling it a career.
W 186/L 117/PCT .614/ERA 3.51/G 470/CG 34/SHO 13/IP 2,592/H 2,518/BB 668/SO 1,538