The best seasons at each position by a Yankee during the RAB era

2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)
2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)

RAB celebrated its tenth birthday Monday. Tenth! I can’t believe it. Ben, Joe, and I started this site as a hobby and it grew into something far greater than we ever expected. The site has been around for a World Series championship, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting to 3,000 hits, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves king … we’ve seen lots of cool stuff these last ten years. Thank you to everyone who has been reading, no matter how long you’ve been with us.

For the sake of doing something a little out of the ordinary, let’s look back at the best individual seasons at each position by Yankees players during the RAB era. Who had the best season by a catcher? By a right fielder? That sorta stuff. We launched on February 20th, 2007, so this covers the 2007-16 seasons. Come with me, won’t you?

Catcher: 2007 Jorge Posada

Very easy call behind the plate. Posada had the best offensive season of his career in 2007, hitting .338/.426/.543 (157 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 589 plate appearances. He caught 138 games that year — it was Jorge’s eighth straight season with 120+ starts behind the plate — and went to his fifth and final All-Star Game. Posada also finished sixth in the MVP voting. By bWAR (+5.4) and fWAR (+5.6), it was the third best season of his career behind 2003 (+5.9 and +6.0) and 2000 (+5.5 and +6.1). Honorable mention goes out to 2015 Brian McCann and 2016 Gary Sanchez. (Sanchez’s +3.0 bWAR last year is second best by a Yankee catcher during the RAB era.)

First Base: 2009 Mark Teixeira

Another easy call. Teixeira’s first season in pinstripes featured a .292/.383/.565 (142 wRC+) batting line and AL leading home run (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) totals. He went to his second All-Star Game and won his third Gold Glove at first base as well. Teixeira was the MVP runner-up to Joe Mauer, though Teixeira and the Yankees swept Mauer and the Twins in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. Got the last laugh that year. Both bWAR (+5.0) and fWAR (+5.1) say Teixeira’s 2009 season was far and away the best by a Yankees first baseman since RAB became a thing. Honorable mention goes to a bunch of other Teixeira seasons.

Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano

The only question at second base was which Cano season to pick. His run from 2009-13 was truly the best five-year stretch by a second baseman in franchise history. Cano hit .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers in 2012 while playing 161 of 162 regular season games. He set new career highs in homers, slugging percentage, total bases (345), bWAR (+8.7), and fWAR (+7.6) while tying his previous career high in doubles (48). Robbie was a monster. He went to his third straight All-Star Game and won his third straight Gold Glove, and also finished fourth in the MVP voting. The club’s best season by a non-Cano second baseman during the RAB era belongs to Starlin Castro. Quite the drop-off there, eh?

Shortstop: 2009 Derek Jeter

The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)
The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)

As great as Teixeira was in 2009, he wasn’t even the best player on his own infield that year. The Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order that season and the Cap’n responded by hitting .334/.406/.465 (130 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 30 steals in 35 attempts as the leadoff man. It was also the first (and only) time in Jeter’s career the fielding stats rated him as above-average. I remember thinking Derek looked noticeably more mobile in the field. That was the year after Brian Cashman reportedly told Jeter the team would like him to work on his defense after finding out Joe Torre never relayed the message years ago. The 2009 season was the second best of Jeter’s career by fWAR (+6.6) and third best by bWAR (+6.5) behind his monster 1998-99 seasons. The Cap’n was an All-Star that year and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Mauer and Teixeira.

Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The single greatest season by a Yankee not just during the RAB era, but since Mickey Mantle was in his prime. I went to about 25 games that season and I swear I must’ve seen A-Rod hit 25 home runs. He went deep every night it seemed. Rodriguez hit .314/.422/.645 (175 wRC+) that summer and led baseball in runs (143), home runs (54), RBI (156), SLG (.645), OPS+ (176), bWAR (+9.4), and fWAR (+9.6). All that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game (duh) and his third MVP award (second with the Yankees). A-Rod received 26 of the 28 first place MVP votes that year. The two Detroit voters voted for Magglio Ordonez. For reals. What an incredible season this was. I’ve never seen a player locked in like that for 162 games. Alex was on a completely different level than everyone else in 2007.

Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner

With all due respect to Damon, who was outstanding for the 2009 World Series team, 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon. Gardner hit .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) with five home runs and 47 steals that season to go along with his excellent defense. Damon, meanwhile, hit a healthy .282/.365/.489 (122 wRC+) with a career high tying 24 home runs and 12 steals in 2009. His defense was so very shaky though. Remember how he used to take those choppy steps that made it seem like he had no idea where the ball was? Both bWAR (+7.3 to +4.2) and fWAR (+6.1 to +3.6) say 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon, but forget about WAR. Gardner got on base much more often and was the better baserunner. I think that combined with the glove more than makes up for Damon’s edge in power. Honorable mention goes to Matsui’s .285/.367/.488 (124 wRC+) effort with 25 home runs in 2007.

Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson

Remember how much Granderson struggled the first four and a half months of the 2010 season? He was hitting .240/.307/.417 (91 wRC+) with ten homers in 335 plate appearances prior to his career-altering pow wow with hitting coach Kevin Long that August. Granderson made some mechanical changes and hit .259/.354/.560 (144 wRC+) with 14 homers in 193 plate appearances the rest of the way. He went from a passable outfielder to one of the game’s top power hitters seemingly overnight. That success carried over into 2011, during which Granderson hit .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 home runs. He led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), went to the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. My man.

Right Field: 2010 Nick Swisher

We’re picking between Swisher seasons here, and I’m going with 2010 over 2012. Swisher managed a .288/.359/.511 (134 wRC+) line with 29 home runs in 2010, making it the best offensive season of his career. Add in right field defense that was better than Swisher got credit for, and you’ve got a +3.7 bWAR and +4.3 fWAR player. Right field lacks that big eye-popping season like the other positions during the RAB era. Swisher was reliably above-average but not a star.

Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui

Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)
Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)

I came into this exercise with a pretty good idea who I’d have at each position, and I assumed 2009 Matsui would be the easy call at DH. Then when I got down to it and looked at the stats, I realized 2015 A-Rod was pretty much right there with him. Check it out:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH RBI bWAR fWAR
2009 Matsui 528 .274/.367/.509 127 28 50 90 +2.7 +2.4
2015 A-Rod 620 .250/.356/.486 130 33 56 86 +3.1 +2.7

That’s really close! Matsui hit for a higher average and got on-base more, though A-Rod had more power. A lefty hitting 28 homers in Yankee Stadium isn’t as impressive as a righty hitting 33, even when considering the 92 extra plate appearances. Since they’re so close, I’m fine with using the postseason as a tiebreaker. Matsui was excellent in October while A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros. Tie goes to the World Series MVP.

Now that we have our nine position players, I’m going to build a lineup, because why not? Lineups are fun. Here’s how I’d set the batting order:

  1. 2009 Derek Jeter
  2. 2012 Robinson Cano
  3. 2007 Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2009 Mark Teixeira
  5. 2007 Jorge Posada
  6. 2011 Curtis Granderson
  7. 2009 Hideki Matsui
  8. 2010 Nick Swisher
  9. 2010 Brett Gardner

Look good? It does to me. Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool tells me that lineup would average 6.87 runs per game, or 1,113 runs per 162 games. The modern record for runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. (Several teams from the 1800s scored more.) The 1999 Indians were the last team to score 1,000 runs. They scored 1,009.

Starting Pitchers

Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mike Mussina 200.1 3.37 131 3.32 +5.2 +4.6
2009 CC Sabathia 230 3.37 137 3.39 +6.2 +5.9
2011 CC Sabathia 237.1 3.00 143 2.88 +7.5 +6.4
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 219.2 3.32 127 3.86 +5.5 +3.8
2016 Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 142 3.51 +5.4 +4.6

Chien-Ming Wang‘s 2007 season as well as a few more Sabathia seasons (2010 and 2012, specifically) were among the final cuts. Late career Andy Pettitte was steady and reliable, but he didn’t have any truly great seasons from 2007-13.

Sabathia is the gold standard for Yankees starting pitchers during the RAB era. From 2009-12, he was the club’s best pitcher since guys like Pettitte, Mussina, David Cone, and Roger Clemens around the turn of the century. Mussina had that marvelous farewell season and Tanaka was awesome last year. Kuroda? He was the man. One-year contracts don’t get any better than what he did for the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t had an all-time great pitcher during the RAB era, a Clayton Kershaw or a Felix Hernandez, someone like that, but they had four years of a bonafide ace in Sabathia plus several other very good seasons. Everyone in the table except Kuroda received Cy Young votes those years. Sabathia finished fourth in the voting in both 2009 and 2011.

Relief Pitchers

IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 1.40 316 2.03 +4.3 +3.2
2009 Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 262 2.89 +3.5 +2.0
2011 David Robertson 66.2 1.08 399 1.84 +4.0 +2.6
2014 Dellin Betances 90 1.40 274 1.64 +3.7 +3.2
2015 Dellin Betances 84 1.50 271 2.48 +3.7 +2.4
2015 Andrew Miller 61.2 2.04 200 2.16 +2.2 +2.0
2016 Dellin Betances 73 3.08 141 1.78 +1.1 +2.9

So many great relief seasons to choose from. I had to leave out several Rivera seasons (2007, 2010, 2011, 2013), several Robertson seasons (2012-14), a Miller season (2016), a Rafael Soriano season (2012), and even a Phil Hughes season (2009). Remember how great Hughes was in relief in 2009? Hughes and Rivera were automatic that year. The Yankees have been blessed with some truly excellent relievers these past ten years. The great Mariano Rivera retired and somehow they have replaced him seamlessly. We’ve seen some amazing performances since launching RAB.

Weekend Links: Jeter, Matsui, Betances, Game 162, Cuba, In-Market Streaming

(Shizuo Kambayashi/AP)
(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

The Yankees are playing the Astros at 1:05pm ET this afternoon (Michael Pineda vs. Dallas Keuchel), but there will be no video broadcast of the game. No YES, no MLB.tv, no nothing. Lame. So, on this day with unwatchable Yankees baseball, here are some miscellaneous links to help you pass the time.

Jeter, Matsui To Participate In Home Run Derby For Charity

Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui will square off in a Home Run Derby at the Tokyo Dome tomorrow to help raise money to support children affected by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the region in 2011, reports the Associated Press. There will be over 600 participants in the event, including a group of baseball players from the Tohoku region, which was hit hardest by the disaster.

“(Derek) will make an enormous contribution to this event. He is a tremendous human being and was a great teammate and I’m sure the kids will be thrilled to see someone of his stature,” said Matsui to the Associated Press. Jeter and Matsui will also hold a baseball clinic for kids. Some photos of Jeter at sumo matches made the rounds a few days ago and I figured he was just on vacation. Great work by Jeter and Matsui to get together for charity. Hopefully some video of the Home Run Derby pops up soon.

The Deception & Dominance Of Betances

Owen Watson put together a really great article looking at an underrated part of Dellin Betances‘ game: his deception. We all know he throws high-90s with a nasty breaking ball, but his release point and delivery is incredibly consistent for both pitches, so hitters don’t get any sort of hint of what’s coming. This GIF is pretty great:

That’s two pitches laid over one another. One pitch is a 98 mph fastball (taken), the other an 82 mph curveball (swing and miss). Dellin’s delivery and release point are the same and both pitches look identical out of his hand. It’s basically impossible to tell whether a fastball or breaking ball is coming before the hitter’s brain has to tell his body to swing or not, hence all those called strikes he was getting on curveballs last year. They look like high fastballs out of the zone and hitter gives up.

Yankees Hired New Nutritionist This Offseason

The search for a competitive advantage extends beyond the field of play these days, with teams looking for ways to keep their players healthier through improved diet and rest. The Yankees hired a new nutritionist this offseason named Cynthia Sass, according to David Waldstein, and her job is to provide the team with the best possible diet and persuade players to eat it. “We’re trying to build a more perfect beast,” said Brian Cashman to Waldstein.

Teams typically provide players with two meals per day — breakfast and lunch for day games, lunch and dinner for night games — but they can’t force players to eat them. Sass, who spent the last eight years with the Rays and had previously worked with the Phillies and New York Rangers, has added healthy alternatives to the daily menu and will educate players, then adjust the menu based on their preferences. “I’m not there to shove it down their throat,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. The goal is to make the best foods for athletes always available. If they want more of it, we’ll provide it.”

The Yankees have had nutrionists over the years — every team has — but the goal this winter was the refocus their efforts in hope of gaining a competitive advantage. The team also hired former minor league pitcher John Kremer as their “high performance science director” to coordinate the nutritionist, food preparation, medical staff, trainers, coaches … basically everyone who impacts team performance. Teams haven’t necessarily ignored the diet of their players, they just haven’t done as much to optimize it as you’d think. Sass was hired to do that for the Yankees.

MLB Schedules Every Game 162 At Same Time

In an effort to boost the drama and excitement of the final day of the regular season, MLB has scheduled Game 162 for every team at the exact same time this year, writes Bill Shaikin. All 15 games on October 4th — yes, the season ends October 4th — will begin at 3pm ET. The Yankees will be in Baltimore playing the Orioles that day.

“If a game impacts another game, they’re all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result,” said MLB COO Tony Petitti to Shaikin. “If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day.”

Last year the NL Central and second AL Wild Card spot came down to Game 162. The Pirates lost to the Reds, giving the Cardinals the division title and allowing St. Louis to scratch Adam Wainwright later that afternoon so he could start him in Game 1 of the NLDS. That sort of situation won’t happen this year. I love this idea and as a baseball fan I hope the final day of the regular season is pure chaos. Hopefully the Yankees are involved somehow.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

MLB Likely To Play Exhibition Game In Cuba In 2016

Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed to Brian Costa the league is likely to play a Spring Training game in Cuba next season. MLB has been in talks with the government about returning to the island as the two countries work to rebuild their relationship. MLB last played a game in Cuba in 1999, when the Orioles played the Cuban National Team.

“To the extent that we can play a role in helping the United States government effectuate a change in policy, that we’re following their lead and we’re acting in a way that’s consistent with what they want us to do, that’s an honor for us,” said Manfred to Costa. “The combination of their input and where we are in our calendar for 2015 makes the most likely point in time to be Spring Training of 2016. It’s not a three-day exercise to play a meaningful exhibition game in Cuba. You need a little lead time to get that done, to put everything together, to be able to broadcast it in the way that it deserves.”

It’s unclear right now if MLB would play a single exhibition game in Cuba or several. In the past the league has played two games when playing overseas, though traveling to Cuba is much easier than traveling to, say, Taiwan, like the Dodgers did in 2010. Anyway, the Yankees are baseball’s most recognizable and marketable team, so I suspect they will be given consideration for the game(s) in Cuba next spring. Imagine the Yankees vs. Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers or Jose Abreu and the White Sox with Orlando Hernandez throwing out the first pitch. That would be fun.

In-Market Streaming May Be On The Horizon

According to Josh Kosman, MLB will soon announce a deal allowing fans to stream games online in each team’s home market. So New Yorkers will be able to watch the Yankees and Mets on their iPad or laptop instead of sitting in front of a television. The particulars (cost, etc.) aren’t known yet, but Kosman says teams with their own networks will require fans to subscribe to the network to stream online. You won’t be able to simply purchase MLB.tv and watch the Yankees, you’ll have to subscribe to YES through their cable provider. That’s better than nothing, I guess.

Yankees hire Hideki Matsui as special advisor to Brian Cashman

(The Times of Trenton)
(The Times of Trenton)

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees announced they have hired former World Series MVP Hideki Matsui as a special advisor to GM Brian Cashman. It was made official with a press conference at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa earlier this morning. Here’s the blurb from the press release on Matsui’s role with the team:

In his first full-time role in the New York Yankees front office, Matsui will work closely with General Manager Brian Cashman and Player Development Vice President Gary Denbo. Matsui will spend the majority of the 2015 season traveling throughout the Yankees’ minor league system and focusing on aspects of hitting with managers, batting coaches and players.

Matsui, who retired in June 2013 after signing a one-day contract with the Yankees, spend last summer traveling to the various minor league affiliates — mostly Double-A Trenton and Short Season Staten Island it seemed — and working with minor leaguers in an unofficial capacity. Sounds like he’ll be doing the same going forward, except now with a title.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the young players and offering whatever I can,” said Matsui to the Associated Press at this morning press conference while also hinting at an interest in coaching full-time down the road. “What I hope to do is help the development of the players and support them anyway I can.”

“Hideki Matsui is capable of anything. We’ll take as much Hideki Matsui as we can (get),”  said Cashman to Pete Caldera and the Associated Press. “We’ve kind of been waiting on him to tap into all he can provide … It could evolve into something bigger down the line.”

I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t like Matsui and/or isn’t thrilled with this news. I have no idea what kind of teacher and instructor he is, but the Yankees wouldn’t have hired him if they weren’t impressed with the work he put in last year. Matsui was awesome. I’m glad he’s back in the organization in some capacity.

Matsui will be at Spring Training as a special instructor

Via NYP: Hideki Matsui will be with the Yankees at Spring Training as a guest instructor this year. The team invited him to camp last year, but he declined because his wife was due to give birth to their first child. Matsui was working with the Yomiuri Giants during their pre-season workouts recently and he spent time with various minor league teams last year, so it seems like he really enjoys helping out younger players. Maybe he’s heading for a coaching career.

Photo: Masahiro Tanaka meets Hideki Matsui at Yankee Stadium in 2006

With a hat tip to Reddit, here’s a photo of a young Masahiro Tanaka meeting Hideki Matsui at the old Yankee Stadium (click for larger). It’s from 2006, when the Japanese high school All-Star team was touring the United States. There are some other (non-Yankees-related) photos in this stream.

Masahiro Tanaka Hideki Matsui

Now the Yankees just have to figure out how to get Tanaka to take their many millions of dollars to pitch in the new Yankee Stadium.

Update: Yankees to honor Hideki Matsui on July 28th

May 30th: The Yankees will indeed honor Matsui on July 28th, his bobblehead day. It’s also the 55th home game of the season. Godzilla will sign the one-day contract that day, then they’ll have an on-field ceremony before the game.

April 29th: … to a one-day contract so he can retire in pinstripes, reports George King. Matsui officially announced the end of his career over the winter, but King says “plans are in the works” for the one-day contract so he can have a ceremonious retirement. The Yankees are giving away Matsui bobbleheads on July 28th, so that seems like as good a day as any for all of this go down. I have no doubt it will awesome.

Yankees invited Hideki Matsui to Spring Training…

…as a guest instructor according to Dan Barbarisi. Matsui, who retired in December, declined the invitation because Mrs. Godzilla is due to give birth to Baby Godzilla in the not too distant future. I’m guessing we won’t have to wait very long to see Hideki back with the team though, there’s Spring Training and an Old Timers’ Day every year.