Greatest Yankee Seasons by Position

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As I watched Robinson Cano hit another homerun on Wednesday night I wondered to myself, where does Cano’s season rank in history for Yankees second baseman?  Second base to the Yankees doesn’t have the tradition that some other positions do, so I thought Cano would have a chance to be near the top.  While I was looking I decided to take a look at the greatest seasons in Yankees history by position.  I didn’t want to put too much stock into defense with the historical players and I didn’t want to be totally WAR based because of the inconsistencies, so this is primarily offensively based.

Catcher

Bill Dickey 1937:  Hall of Famer Dickey was even better in 1936 but only played in 112 games and didn’t have enough AB’s to qualify for the batting title.  His 1937 season was a monster as well.  In a career high 140 games Dickey put up a .332/.417/.570 line with a 144 OPS+ and .441 wOBA.

Runner Up: Jorge Posada 2007:  Posada actually had a higher OPS+ at 153 though with a slightly inferior .970 OPS and a .417 wOBA.  It was a tossup but Dickey’s reputation as a good defensive catcher gave him the edge.

First Base

Lou Gehrig 1927: Gehrig is the obvious choice, I just had to pick one of his several off the charts seasons.  The famous 1927 season was Gehrig’s best.  Gehrig had decent seasons in 1925 and 1926 but 1927 was his breakout with a .373/.474/.765 line.  The OPS, slugging percentage and 220 OPS+ were all career highs.  The perception is that Yankee Stadium’s short porch helped left handed hitters, and while it did, Gehrig was actually better on the road in 1927.  He hit 23 of his 47 HR’s on the road and had a .397/.492/.805 line on the road.  His OPS was more than 100 points higher than his home OPS.  Wow.

Runner Up: Gehrig 1934: Gehrig’s OPS was a little higher in 1930 than 1934, but in 1934 he won both the traditional triple crown and the triple slash triple crown.  Naturally he finished 5th in the MVP voting that year.  Wait, what?

Second Base

Tony Lazzeri 1929:  Lazzeri had a season in 1929 that even the best of sluggers would be proud of.  He had a .354/.429/561 line and a 159 OPS+.  In Lazzeri’s first three seasons in the league (1926-1928) he finished 10th, 11th and 3rd in the MVP ballot but in his best season there was no MVP award.  He wouldn’t have deserved to win, but certainly should have been top 3 again.

Runner Up: Joe Gordon 1942:  Gordon put up a .322/.409/491 line and a 154 OPS+.  The triple slash line is a little less impressive than Cano, but when put into context Gordon’s season was a little more impressive.  Cano’s 2010 definitely falls into the top 5 in seasons by a 2b in Yankee history though.

Shortstop

Derek Jeter 1999:  Jeter’s OPS+ of 153 blows away any other season by a SS in Yankees history.  He put up a .349/.438/.552 line and even put up some strong counting numbers with 24 HR’s and 102 RBI.  He was just 25 but never approached these numbers again.  He’s been great almost every season since, but his 1999 is completely unmatched.

Runner Up: Jeter 2006: This the only other season in his career that Jeter OPS’d at least .900 (.900 on the nose) and he had a 132 OPS+.  The 132 is the second highest in Yankee history at SS, which puts his 153 in 1999 into more context.  No other Yankee SS has ever had an OPS+ of 125.  Like Gehrig at 1B, Jeter owns the SS records when it comes to the Yankees.

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez 2007:  This was an easy one.  A-Rod’s 2007 was insane, .314/.422/.645 line with 54 HR’s and a 176 OPS+.  He even added 24 steals and was caught just 4 times.  Not much else to say about this one, we all remember it, it was real, and it was spectacular.

Runner Up: A-Rod 2005: A-Rod’s 2005 was almost as good as his 2007, putting up a .321/.421/.610 line with 48 HR’s and a 173 OPS+.  To put those two seasons into context, no other Yankee third baseman, ever, has put up an OPS+ north of 135 besides A-Rod.  He’s definitely no Scotty Bro, and that’s a good thing.

Left Field

Charlie Keller 1941:  Keller only had 5 full seasons in the majors but they were some of the best seasons ever by a Yankee LF.  I picked his 1941 season with a .298/.416/.580 line, 33 HR’s and a 162 OPS+.

Runner Up: Keller 1943: Keller’s seasons are really a tossup.  He would probably be more appreciated today as he was an on-base machine but didn’t hit for a great average (though very good).  In his 5 full seasons (>130 games) he never hit .300 but his OBP was over .400 4 times, and he was at .396 in his other season.  His career OPS+ of 152 is top 30 all time, and his wiki page even says he was feared.

Center Field

Mickey Mantle 1956:  The Yankees have had monster seasons in CF by vast number of players including Dimaggio, Bernie, Murcer and Henderson, but Mantle tops the list, and his 1956 was his best season.  He put up a .353/.464/.705 line with a 210 OPS+ while leading the league in HR and RBI.  This was the first of Mantle’s 3 MVP awards (he should have won more) and was even better than his famous 1961 season.

Runner Up: Mantle 1957: Mantle’s rate stats were even better in 1957 than 1956 but the increase in walks (he was really feared) led to 18 fewer HR’s in ’57.  He still hit 34 HR’s with a monster .365/.512/.665 line and a 221 OPS+. You could certainly argue this season was better than his ’56 season, but I gave ’56 the edge primarily due to the extra HR’s.

Right Field

Babe Ruth 1920:  This was another case of just figuring out which of Ruth’s years were the best as there is no one close in Yankee (or baseball) history in RF.  I went with his 1920 season in which he hit .376/.532/.847 in his first year with the team.  I’m guessing the Sox regretted that trade/sale pretty quickly. He broke his own record of 29 HR’s with an unheard of 54 (more than every other team).  His 1.379 OPS remained a record until 2002 (Bonds) and his 255 OPS+ was the greatest post 1900 OPS+ until surpassed by Bonds (that guy was pretty good) in 2001.

Runner Up: Ruth 1921: Ruth’s 1921 may even surpass his 1920 because of an extra 82 AB’s.  His rate stats were slightly better in 1920,  in 1921 he hit .378/.512/.846 with 59 HR’s (more than 5 of 7 teams).  Ruth’s ’27 season is his most famous season, but not his best.  You could even argue that it’s his 5th or 6th best season (head explodes).

Designated Hitter

Don Baylor 1983:  The Yankees haven’t had many full time DH’s in their history, so Baylor wins almost by default.  Since the DH was introduced the Yankees have had 6 players play at least 100 games at DH and have an OPS+ >120.  Baylor is at the top of that short list with his 138 in 1983 with a .301/.361/.494 and 21 HR’s. Baylor is the only Yankee DH to win a Silver Slugger, winning both in 1983 and 1985.

Runner Up: Hideki Matsui 2009: Matsui’s line of .274/.367/.509 is a little better than Baylor’s but 2009 was a much better year for offense than 1983 (.764 league OPS vs. .728).  Matsui’s 2009 and Baylor’s 1985 seasons are very similar but since 2009 ended with a title I gave Matsui the nod as runner up.

email
To second-guess or not to second-guess?
Re-signing Girardi is the "first order of business"
  • I Am Not The Droids You’re Looking For

    Gee we’ve had some good players on our side.

    /understatementoftheyear’d

  • http://www.lessthismorethat.com/author/ddarrell Jamal G.

    The Yankees have had monster seasons in CF by vast number of players including Dimaggio, Bernie, Murcer and Henderson, but Mantle tops the list

    I can hear DiMaggio grumbling in his grave.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Let him grumble. Mickey was better.

      DiMaggio’s single season high in bWAR was the 9.4 he put up in 1941. Mickey bested that 4 times in a row from ’55-’58, peaking at 12.9 in the aforementioned 1956 season.

      Mantle >>>>> DiMaggio. The only argument he has (and it’s a good one) is that he lost 3 years of his prime to the war.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Fun Fact:

        From 1955 to 1962, Mickey Mantle lead the AL in OPS+ 7 of the 8 years, being bested only in 1957 by Ted Williams (233 to 221). Ironically, 1957 was his best year of the eight.

        • Jose the Satirist

          He also should have won more than 3 MVP Awards during those 8 years.

          • Andy In Sunny Daytona

            I guess the nerds were too busy looking at ways to get men on the moon or blow up the earth than to worry about baseball statistics.

  • kosmo

    Among catchers Berra´s 1950 and 1954 seasons are not to shabby.CF Dimaggio 1937,1939 and 1941.Bob Meusel was a great offensive LF who played in the same OF with Ruth and Coombs.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    Who had the greatest season by a starting pitcher?

    Guidry’s 1978? Lefty Gomez’s 1937? Lefty’s 1934? Spud Chandler’s 1943? Whitey’s 1958?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Oooh, Jack Chesbro’s 1904 Highlanders season?

      http://www.baseball-reference......ja01.shtml

      • Ray the Anti-Handle

        That guy must have had a rubber arm. 41 wins, 51 starts, 48 (read it! 48!) CGs, and 454.2 innings. Too bad it was 1904.

        • Tank Foster

          Yeah, but in those days, they literally threw batting practice fastballs down the middle to probably 6 or 7 guys in the lineup. And the hitters all had the approach of swinging early and putting the ball in play. Christy Mathewson wrote in his pitching book that pitchers should be smart about how they attack hitters, be economical, because they needed to remember that they “might” have to throw “as many as 100 pitches” to complete a game.

    • Steve H.

      Tune in tomorrow.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        /teaser’d

  • kosmo

    …and Elston Howard catcher 1961 pretty damn great season.

  • Jerome S

    As good as Dickey was, Yogi was the better player career-wise (in my opinion). The Yankees have a tradition of good offensive catchers, actually, from Dickey to Yogi to Elston Howard to Munson to Posada and… Jesus.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/iiKeane JobaWockeeZ

      63 fWAR to 71 fWAR favoring Berra. That’s pretty close.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/iiKeane JobaWockeeZ

        For comparison’s sake Jorge has a 52 fWAR. Let’s say he gets 2 and a half wins next year which is what he got this year. He’ll have 54-55 fWAR.

        He would at least outtake Bill Freehan on the leaderboards and he’ll be at least the 13th most valuable catcher by fWAR.

        Unfortunately that may not be enough. Of course we have to account for the old fashioned voters and Jorge has the edge in average by 10 points, homers by 61, and RBI’s by 263. Oh and he has 5 and if we’re lucky 6 rings on his fingers. Postseason stuff always is glamorous to the MSM.

        He’s got a legitimate shot.

  • hello9

    I remember Jonathan Eig mentioning that during Gehrig’s era there was an aversion to giving multiple MVP’s to players along with the no repeat rule.

  • Jonathan

    mlb.com did a cool thing with this for each team last year and it gave you a ton of options to vote on for each position. they were close to yours if i’m correct.

  • Donna L

    out of the top 10 Yankee relief pitcher seasons, how many did Mariano have? 7? 8? Gossage had a couple of great years, and Lyle won the Cy Young once, but it’s hard to argue with Mo. Even without taking the post-seasons into account.

  • Xstar7

    How about best season for a Yankees manager? Most of you are probably thinking Casey Stengel but I’d give to Joe McCarthy.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      125-50.

      I’m going Joe Torre.

  • Xstar7

    In Joe Mcarthys time the seasons were shorter and there wasn’t a division or league championship series which means his teams didn’t have the opportunity to win as many games as Torre in 98.

    So I’m still going with McCarthy in 39.
    ( Don’t forget that Lou Gehrig only played in 8 games that year and they still won 106 games and the WS)

  • MikeD

    Always good to be reminded of Charlie Keller, one of the better athletes and hitters in Yankee history, whose greatness came to an abrupt end partway into the 1947 season when he ruptured a disk, had back surgery, and was never the same again. Against all odds, he made it back to the playing field in 1948, but his power and overall playing abilities were gone. He was mostly a pinch hitter for a few more seasons after the Yankees released him in 1949.

    Yankee fans who know the team’s history are familiar with Keller, but I think it’s fair to say many Yankee fans (although not necessarily RAB members) have either never heard of Keller, or know little about him. In an alternate universe, one without war and injury, he could have been one of the Yankee greats, although in a category below the Ruth’s, DiMaggio’s, Gehrig’s and Mantle’s.

    Several things worked against him from the very start, preventing him putting up the cumulative great career numbers. In order of least impact: First up, his big-league arrival was delayed by one full year. After being named the Minor League Player of the Year by the Sporting News in 1937 when he hit .353, there was no opening for him on the team, so he spent yet another season in the minors, producing a triple-slash line of .365/.465/.569. Next, and more damaging, he lost his two peak years to the war in 1944 and 1945. He led the A.L. with a 167 OPS+ line in 1943, then missed all of 1944, and didn’t return until August 1945, when he produced a 180 OPS+ the last two months of the season. He was right at his peak during those lost years, which were his age 27 and 28 seasons. (As comparison, think of what impact losing all of 2010 and most of 2011 would have on Robinson Cano’s career, his age-27 and -28 seasons.) Last, and most critical, his back surgery in 1947 essentially ending his career as an everyday productive player. His last full season in the field was 1946, when he was just 29.

    Yet when he played he was great, producing the seasons Steve mentioned above, and ending his career with a lifetime 152 OPS+ and a .410 OBP. He was a sabermetrician’s dream ballplayer before anyone knew what that meant. He certainly possessed HOF-level skills, and might very well have made the HOF if not for the three items I mentioned above.

    Last, I’m not 100% sure he was served best by being a Yankee. As Steve noted above, he was a good average hitter, but not great. It didn’t have to be that way. His minor league statistics show he was an exceptional hitter for average. That skill followed Keller to the majors, when he hit .334 as a rookie. He had great upper-body strength, which earned him the nickname he hated, “King Kong” Keller. The Yankees envisioned him as a Ruth- and Gehrig-like lefty hitter, and altered his swing to become a pull hitter to take advantage of the short porch in right. Before the alterations, he was a natural gap hitter, and an exceptional opposite-field hitter. It took him several years to master his pull swing, but I think the transition overall made him slightly less valuable. He could have been a .320/20 HR hitter with a great eye. The Yankees turned him into a .285/32 HR pull hitter with a great eye. I don’t think what they gained in HRs was worth what they lost in additional batting and OBP. Credit, though, to Keller for pulling it off (no pun intended).

    A fine player whose career was much too short.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Steve H, I remember reading your last article on “We Got Lucky,” much like in that one there’s a few oversights here.

    One:

    OYS HEAVILY penalized right handed hitters. DiMaggio’s away line was like .340/.405/.633, home was significantly worse…look at some of the pics of death valley at OYS. I’m not disagreeing with Mantle over DiMaggio, but given Mantle’s park advantages and DiMaggio’s handicap of playing in a park that does not at all suit him plus his advantage on defense, I think DiMaggio has an argument, however Joe Gordon’s season was DEFINITELY better than Lazzeri’s. Joe Gordon may be the most underrated Yankee of all time.

    Two:

    Bill Dickey was primarily a platoon player, read the BJHBA…while they didn’t really do it so much in 37, I don’t think his season was the best Yankee season as a catcher I’d say Berra’s 54 and 56 came pretty damn close too.

    • MikeD

      I don’t think what you’re talking about here are what should be considered “oversights.” It’s really a matter of opinion, which is the basis of all baseball discussions through the ages. For example, an argument certainly can be made for Berra’s seasons, but it’s not clear they’re better than Dickey’s season. And, yes, Dickey was a platoon player at times during his career, but that’s not the case the year Steve picked. I’d pick Berra for his career over Dickey, but Dickey’s season is probably the best. You yourself said Berra’s ’54 and ’56 seasons came pretty “damn close,” which sounds to me as if you yourself are not convinced they were better. So really not sure what you’re picking on there.

      Regarding DiMaggio, you brought up his career statistics on the road, yet this is a discussion of single-season best seasons. When rating DiMaggio vs. Mantle as a player, we have to take into account DiMaggio was a superior defensive OFer, but that’s once again not the discussion. DiMaggio was hurt significantly by Yankee Stadium, as you noted, yet we can’t imagine, or make up, additional statistics for DiMaggio based on what we think he might have lost. We can’t give him credit for something he didn’t do, even if it was the park contributing to it. We can only rate DiMaggio and Mantle on the seasons they did produce. I’m with Steve on this one.

      Joe Gordon the most “underrated” Yankee of all time? I guess that depends on how we define underrated. He was just elected to the HOF. That might make for an interesting question here on the board. Who is the most underrated Yankee? I always thought Roy White was underappreciated. Same thing for Willie Randolph. A better overall player than Bill Mazeroski, yet Maz is in the Hall, and Willie gets to the Hall the same way you or I do. Buying a ticket.

      • Jimmy McNulty

        Fair enough on the Bill Dickey point, as to DiMaggio and Mantle…I’m not going to argue that Mantle’s seasons weren’t the best Yankee CF seasons of all time. The Mick’s my favorite player of all time and why I’ve always held Yankee CFs to an extremely high standard. Also WHY I HATE THAT SCRUB GRANDERSUN AND WANT DA MELKMAN BACK!!!!!!!!!!! But I was merely using DiMaggio, as an example of how much damage OYS can do to a right handed hitter’s numbers. As far as Willie Randolph, Maz is in the hall because of his glove and 1962…that’s it. Although, underrated Yankees other than Joe Gordon, Elston Howard? He was a pretty damn good catcher and rarely gets mentioned for his proper spot in Yankee Lore.

        • MikeD

          Elston was a great catcher, and was limited by military service, delaying his arrival in the Majors, and then he never got a chance to be a full-time catcher until he was around thirty. Similar to my previous email regarding Charlie Keller, in an alternate universe, Elston Howard might have built his own HOF career.

          As far as DiMaggio and Mantle, they are two of the most celebrated players ever, yet both were perhaps even greater than their press clippings. That’s hard to do, but it just might be true for the both of them.

          Melkman better than the Grandyman? You’ve lost me on that one!

  • mrgfeeny

    after the most depressing baseball night in the last 2 years…I had a good laugh out of reading babe ruths batting line:

    a .532 obp. and .847 slg? lmao.

  • Tank Foster

    While I’m sure your picks are bullet proof in terms of WAR, OPS+, and whatever other stats you chose, I tend to think that one or more of Yogi’s catching seasons had to be the best ever. 1937 was a pretty run-rich environment….although I’m sure you took that into account, too.

    Still, if we look at the best 3 seasons by any Yankee at any given position (the top 3 of player A vs. player B), you are going to find that Yogi was the greatest Yankee catcher ever.