Greatest Yankee Seasons by PositionBy
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.