Greatest Yankee Seasons by Position

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.

An A-Rod what if

Neil Paine in the New York Times takes a look at the Rangers and how the A-Rod contract affected the franchised and how they have recovered from it.  He does his take on what happened to the Rangers, I wanted to see what the trade has mean for A-Rod’ legacy.  It would be pretty interesting to try and figure out what A-Rod’s career would look like now if he were never traded to New York. How would have his career turned out?

He wouldn’t have a ring but he also wouldn’t have ever had the “choker” label attached to him as he wouldn’t have spent much time in the playoffs. His raw numbers would be better and he would have spent more time compiling stats while still a shortstop.  A-Rod ended 2009 at 613 home runs, with 344 coming at short. Spending the last seven years in Arlington surely would have been better for his numbers than in Yankee Stadium(s). Had the trade never happened, could he be sitting on 650 career HR’s with over 500 at SS?  Very possible.  A-Rod already ranks among the greatest players of all time,  but with those kind of numbers at shortstop, even in lieu of a ring, many would consider A-Rod’s career and legacy greater if he never became a Yankee.

If I had posed this question in April 2009, I would have said undoubtedly that A-Rod’s legacy as a baseball player was hurt by coming to New York.  Because of the ring in 2009 I think the trade to the Yankees has helped his legacy.  I’m not completely sure though, as Ted Williams went ringless (and struggled in the playoffs) but is often called the best hitter in baseball history (not that it’s correct). Barry Bonds went ringless and even despite having the taint of steroids, is considered one of the top 5 hitters of all time. Statistically the trade certainly hasn’t helped his legacy in both traditional stats and sabermetric stats and at the end of the day, baseball is truly a game about the numbers.

I’m sure A-Rod is happy that the trade went through.  He has gone through a ton of crap but seems to have come through it with flying colors.  He finally got his ring and wasn’t just along for the ride, he was the one doing a lot of the driving.  His move to New York has obviously made him extra money (hundreds of millions of extra dollars) both on and off the field.  That being said, we know A-Rod is a great historian and like any great player cares about his numbers.  As much as athletes love to say it’s about winning, none of them would trade Ernie Banks’ career for David Eckstein’s simply because he has 2 rings and a World Series MVP.  Karl Malone and Charles Barkley wouldn’t think for a second about trading their careers for fellow power forward Robert Horry’s seven rings.    I don’t think he would be happier ringless in Texas with bigger numbers, but if given the two scenarios, I think it would have to cross his mind, wouldn’t it?

We got lucky

When the Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee trade fell through, the worst case scenario was that Lee would come back to haunt the Yankees in the playoffs.  While that certainly could happen now, I’m here to tell you that even if the Rangers beat the Yankees spearheaded by two complete game shutouts from Lee, we should be happy the trade didn’t go through.  As good as Lee is, the future of the Yankees is better off with both Montero and a great chance at getting Lee than being left without either of them in 2011.

Would Lee have been easier to sign this offseason had the trade gone through?  Maybe yes, maybe no, I really can’t say.  I would venture to guess that there is no major difference, even if Lee came to the Yankees and absolutely loved it, there’s no way he was taking a penny less to stay in the pinstripes.  What would have happened, however, if he had a brief time in the Bronx and it didn’t go well?  What if his wife was harassed at the park?  What if he bombed in the playoffs and got killed in the press and booed off the mound?  Considering just how awesome he is, these are pretty unlikely, but worth thinking about nonetheless. If Lee had a 4 month stint in New York that was a disaster (or even 2 bad starts that spun the whole experiment as a disaster), wouldn’t the chances of him being in a Yankee uniform in 2011 be even worse?

As it is, Lee can be sold on New York from afar.  He will likely be offered the most money.  He can talk to former teammate and friend CC Sabathia about how great things are here (and of course CC could feel differently if he bombed in the 2009 playoffs).  I think the odds are great that Lee signs with the Yankees, and I think the odds would have been great at resigning him had they traded for him, though I don’t necessarily think those odds would be increased.  Because of that, I’d much rather go into 2011 with a guarantee that Montero is in the organization and hope that they sign Lee than go into 2011 without Montero and still not be guaranteed at re-signing Lee.  Before anyone goes there, the Type A pick the Yankees would have gotten for Lee (had they traded for him and he walked) wouldn’t be close to a replacement for Montero.

Often when we think about the Lee trade that wasn’t, we forget that the Yankees were trading for Cliff Lee the pending free agent.  Just like there is no guarantee now they’ll sign him after the season, there’s no guarantee that had the trade been complete they would have resigned him.  Can you imagine if Jesus Montero, the Yankees best hitting prospect since Derek Jeter had been traded for a 4 month rental?  That would have been a disaster, even with the increased 2010 World Series odds.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good (see wonderboy Theo Epstein with Vazquez, Contreras and Pavano), and I think Cashman got lucky that the Mariners backed out of this trade.  Down the line, whether Lee ends up in pinstripes or not, not trading for Cliff Lee will be a blessing for the Yankees.

Sunday Morning Links

A few links for your Sunday morning.

Ronald Monestime takes a look at Andy Pettite and says that he deserves to be considered this generations Mr. October as much as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera do.  I love Pettitte and what he has done for the Yankees all of these years, but he’s the same pitcher in the regular season as he is in the playoffs.  Jeter is the same player in the regular season as he is in the playoffs.  If you’re going to label someone Mr. October simply for stepping it up in the playoffs, it has to be Rivera.  As great as he has been in the regular season, his postseason numbers are even further off the charts.

Speaking of Rivera, heres a pretty cool piece in which Kerry Wood compares Rivera to Greg Maddux.  It’s probably not a comparison made often as one is a starter, one a closer, but it makes sense and it’s pretty cool to hear it from someone with Wood’s perspective.  Rivera and a PED accusation free Maddux could end up going down as the greatest starter and closer of their generation (and obviously in Mo’s case G.O.A.T.).  It’s just too bad we never got to see Rivera close out a game for Maddux, despite the Boss’ best efforts.  Speaking of which, here’s a link to when the Yankees struck out with Maddux (and Bonds) and signed Jimmy Key.  The last line is classic Steinbrenner, and would soon ring true.

Sam Borden took a look at A-Rod and how he heads into October without the pressure he’s had in the past after his heroics last season.  The best part for me is that Borden made sure to point out that A-Rod had plenty of good playoff moments with the Mariners and wasn’t really the choker we had all been led to believe.  Many of the glowing A-Rod articles after last season neglected to mention this, and I’m glad Borden pointed it out.

Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune briefly talks about his history with George Steinbrenner and how it feels different in the postseason without him around.  The further away we get from his death I think the more we’ll appreciate that the 2009 team was able to win the World Series in his last full year alive.

The Killer B’s: Who is coming first?

Thankfully the Yankees have the Killer B's, not Killer Bees

Bobby (NY)

What is a realistic path for Banuelos to the majors? He is still young for AA right?

Klaw
Yes, but I’ve talked to multiple scouts about him (and I think he’ll be here next week) and it sounds like he’s not very far off.

Picked up this question in Klaw’s chat at ESPN on Thursday and thought it was pretty interesting.  I look forward to seeing Law do an actual prospect profile on Banuelos next year.  He hasn’t seen him yet, but noted on twitter that several scouts told him Banuelos was the best pitcher they had seen all year. Considering Law says he’s not far off, could Banuelos be the first of the Killer B’s to make an impact in the Bronx?

Banuelos is by far the youngest of the three, as Betances has 3 years on him and Brackman has more than 5.  At the same time, both Brackman and Betances have struggled with injuries and neither have much more minor league experience than Banuelos does.  Brackman and Betances also are expected to take longer to develop due to their big frames.  While their length should give them an advantage down the road it can lead to struggles with repeating their deliveries and being consistent.  Banuelos on the other hand checks in at just 5’10”, which while concerning (not many sub 6 feet starters out there), also is helpful in his development as he has less to worry about in his delivery.  Without the extra length, it’s easier for him to be consistent.

Obviously Brackman has the biggest advantage in already being on the 40 man roster.  If he’s healthy and continues to progress, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see him in the bigs in 2011, even if he comes up in the pen (to be moved back the rotation, right?).  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Banuelos before Betances though.  Because the Yankees are always competing for the World Series, they often aren’t in a hurry to get young pitchers in the major leagues, and Banuelos will still be barely 20 on Opening Day next year.  If he dominates at AA (no sure thing) and Betances struggles or gets hurt, why wouldn’t Banuelos get the first crack at the majors, other than his age?  The biggest X factor in this is that they are all trade bait and there’s no guarantee any or all of them will ever throw a pitch for the Yankees, but I think it’s interesting that in the scouting community, Banuelos is closer than I would have expected.

Sunday Morning Links

Here’s some Sunday morning links as we wait to see where the Yankees end up in the AL East and continue to recover from last nights Burnett vs. Dice-K “duel” (this was written Saturday night, if it’s truly a duel I’ll be shocked).

Joe LaPointe suggests increasing the number of playoff teams to an NHL’esque 16.  It’s preposterous to think that more than half the teams in baseball belong in the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the number increase from 4 teams in each league at some point.  I was hesitant about the Wild Card, and while I think it has been a success (other than 2004 and 2007), it would be an extremely slippery slope for MLB to expand further.  They are already having issues getting the bottom feeding team to spend money that is literally given to them, if the odds of making the playoffs doubled, teams could point to their spot in the playoffs as “success”.

Jon Paul Morosi argues that the Yankees are better off winning the Wild Card and makes a pretty compelling case.  I’m not one to root to face one team or another unless there is a specific advantage/disadvantage, but in a vacuum I’d rather face the Twins than the Rangers. The flip side I’d rather have the Yankees have home field, but at the end of the day, I don’t really prefer one team to the other, though homefield in a potential ALCS would be huge.  Either way they are in for a battle and can beat either team, or lose to either team.

Billy Crystal was honored on Friday for directing “61*” and an exhibit for the movie opened.  The exhibit will be on display until the end of 2011.  The article is more generous about the movie than I am (it was okay, not great), but a good quick read and certainly would be worth checking out the exhibit if you’re at the Hall of Fame in the next year.

A couple of links about parity and competitiveness in MLB.  Chris Stankovich points out that several small market teams are competing this year, and more importantly points out that several teams convince their fans that they simply cannot compete.  If I were fan of the Royals, I wouldn’t be pissed about the Yankees, I’d instead be pissed that they can’t model their system like the smaller market teams who can have success.  In that same vein, Jon at WFNY (and Indians blog) goes into the breakdown of how impact players on several teams were acquired.  It’s promising (in a way) to see that more impact Sox players have been signed through free agency than Yankees players.  Get to the Indians part and it has to be pretty disappointing to see how they have drafted.  It’s beyond awful.

A.J.’s trade value, or lack thereof

Theodorakis/News

A lot has been written and said about A.J. Burnett recently and many fans are calling for him to be traded.  The obvious answer to that is that A.J. is untradeable.  For the most part that is true, but clearly if the Yankees really wanted to trade him they could, it would just cost them a ton of money.  Without getting too unrealistic and saying the Yankees should eat $40 million (of the $49.5 million remaining on his contract), what could they possibly get for him?  Let’s take a look at some possible candidates in a Burnett trade and decide if shipping him out of town would be worth it.

Derek Lowe- The Braves had interest in Burnett when he was a free agent, reportedly offering him a 5 year/$80 million contract.  When they couldn’t get him, they settled for Lowe at 4 years the $60 million.  Lowe has two years and $30 million left on his deal, so the Yankees would certainly have to eat some of the cash on Burnett’s extra year.  Would you trade Burnett and $10 million for Lowe, essentially paying $40 million for 2 years of Lowe, who hasn’t pitched in the AL East since 2004 and has a 4.37 ERA in the NL East the past two years?  Though it would be tempting to have one less year of expensive mediocrity, A.J. has had success in the AL East much more recently than Lowe and has more upside.

Barry Zito- Zito has 3 years and $64.5 million remaining on his contract (including a buyout).  I don’t think I need to go much further discussing this one do I?  Despite Zito not being a total disaster the past two years (and that’s a compliment), there’s no way he’d have success in the AL East at this point in his career.  As frustrating as A.J. can be, I cannot imagine watching Zito and his 85 MPH fastballs in the Bronx for the next 3 years.

Carlos Zambrano- A few months back I would consider this an absolute no.  Now I think the Cubs would.  Zambrano is owed just under $36 million over the next two years, so while the AAV is similar to A.J.’s, the extra year owed to Burnett is huge.  Burnett has obviously been a disaster lately while Zambrano has been on a tear.  Since being put back in the rotation in August Zambrano is 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA.  Those numbers are a bit fluky, but there’s no doubt he’s looked much better since coming back.  Zambrano of course has had several disciplinary and attitude issues with the Cubs, would they jump at the chance to get him out of their clubhouse and bring in the well-liked Burnett?  I doubt it, and again, because of the extra year, the Yankees would have to chip in some cash.  If the Cubs were interested in the swap, that could tell us a lot more about his relationship with the Cubs and maybe more behind the scenes issues we don’t know about it.  If that’s the case, would you want the Yankees to bring him in?

Other than these three there aren’t many pitchers out there that you could even consider matching up in a trade.  Dig into position players and you can find the untradeable players due to their contracts such as, Vernon Wells (4 years/$86 million), Alfonso Soriano (4 years/$72 million), Alex Rodriguez (oops).  Clearly trading A.J. would not be easy, and no matter what you get back you’re not guaranteed an upgrade.  Like it or not, A.J. is here to stay, so you might as well treat him like everyone’s crazy uncle. We have to deal with him, but he’s family, so just get ready to grind your teeth for the next three years while A.J. takes the mound.