Archive for Yankees By The Decade
All good things, the saying goes, must come to an end. As the Aught-Aughts ended a few days ago, so must our Yankees By the Decade retrospective. But we can’t let it rest without one big wrap-up post. So let’s get to it. This morning, I’ll explore who was on the Yanks’ team of the decade and just which team should be awarded baseball’s team of the decade.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve slowly assembled a team of the decade for our Bronx Bombers. We’ll have to omit the relievers because they came and went. The life of a bullpen pitcher is fleeting, and the Yanks used 114 relievers this decade. The six guys we’d pick to backup Mariano are Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Tom Gordon, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Ramiro Mendoza. The rest of the Yankee team of the decade, then, looks a little something like this:
C: Jorge Posada
1B: Jason Giambi but not for his defense
2B: Robinson Cano/Alfonso Soriano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Hideki Matsui, co-starring Johnny Damon
CF: Early-decade Bernie Williams
RF: Gary Sheffield
DH: Unimpressively Jason Giambi
SP: Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina
CL: Mariano Rivera
That is one impressive roster. There are at least three Hall of Famers and a fourth who should definitely be Cooperstown-bound along with a handful of near-Hall of Famers. This is a team primed to win, and win they did.
The Yankees averaged a Major League-leading 96 wins and 65 losses. They scored 883 runs per season but allowed a pedestrian 756. The team won two World Series, lost two World Series and made the playoffs in nine out of ten seasons. They finished first eight teams, won 52 playoff games and had an aggregate Opening Day payroll of over $1.68 billion.
Yet, despite these gaudy numbers, the wins, the success, the playoff appearances, many have been hesitant to award the Yankees the team of the decade. Maybe baseball outside of the Bronx is just sick of the Yankee Dynasty, whenever it ended if it ever has. Maybe baseball writers need a good-guy foil for the Evil Empire. Thus, some have called the Red Sox the team of the decade.
Truth be told, Boston was very, very good during the 2000s. They are the only team that can approach the Yanks in terms of success. Boston went an average of 92-70 over the decade. The Sox averaged 865 runs per year and gave up 744. They finished in 2nd place eight times, won the division once, made the playoffs six times and twice won the World Series. They spent a garish $1.168 billion in the process, small beans compared with the Yanks but wealthy by everyone else’s standards.
The Red Sox have been lauded as a team of the decade simply because no one expected it. For decades, the Sox weren’t caused; they simply suffered through horrible Front Office and franchise management. The new owners have reshaped the Red Sox brand and have brought perennial contenders to the Back Bay. Through smart spending, solid drafting and building from within, the new Red Sox management has constructed a team in the model of the Yankees from the mid-1990s and the Yankees from today. It’s hard to label the imitators as the team of the decade when the original is still better, albeit ever so slightly.
As the Teens — the 2010s, the decade of Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s flying DeLorean — descends upon us, the Yankees are primed for more wins and more playoff berths. As the core ages, the Yanks have used their dollars to bring on younger and more versatile pieces. They are grooming some players from their system for the Majors and have turned others into potential cornerstones for the next three or four or five years.
Other teams may be catching up, but the Yankees, as they were in the 1990s, were the team of the 2000s. It’s good to be a fan indeed.
With 2010 upon us, it’s nearly time to wrap up our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts. I’ll publish a summary of the series, but first, we have to tackle the Yankees’ starting pitchers.
For the Yankees, the 2000s was a tough decade of pitching. For the first four seasons, the Yanks thrived on pitching, and then, it all fell apart. After losing Andy Pettitte, David Wells and Roger Clemens following the 2003 season, the team struggled through some sub-par pitching performances from 2004-2008. Only last season with the arrival of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett did the Yanks’ pitching again bring the team a World Series win.
As the decade’s dust settled, the final Yankee starting pitcher tally reached 62. Nine players made just one start for the Bombers, and another seven drew the ball for two starts only. We’ll get to them later. Below is the table of all Yankee starters who made 10 or more starts as well as their overall numbers. Due to the limitations of David Pinto’s Day-by-Day Database and the Baseball-Reference Play Index, I couldn’t break out these pitchers’ starters-only numbers in any reasonable amount of time.
The bottom of this chart is a scary sight indeed. Al Leiter, Randy Keisler, Kei Igawa, Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Carl Pavano, Denny Neagle, Darrell Rasner and Jeff Weaver all made enough starts to give me nightmares today. The ninth and tenth slots — Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown — are illustrative of why the Yanks suffered through five years of postseason futility.
To find the true stars of the decade, we have to look at the top of the list. For a few years, Chien-Ming Wang was as good as it gets for the Yanks. Now he’s a non-tendered free agent trying to come back from shoulder surgery and a bad foot injury. El Duque and David Wells were both stand-out starters during their peak years, but the two made just 82 and 61 starts respectively this decade. Roger Clemens made 144 starts, and while his 117 ERA+ as a Yankee leads the list of those we’re considering, his total output doesn’t match that of those who lead the list.
And so we are left with two candidates for pitcher of the decade. Do we give the award to Andy Pettitte or to Mike Mussina? On the one hand, Pettitte won two World Series with the Yanks and gave us a 2009 to remember. Mike Mussina, through no fault of his own, captured zero World Series titles. On sentimentality and rings, Pettitte has the upper hand.
But numerically, can Andy take the cake? Outside of pick-offs — 36 for Pettitte against two for Moose — Mike’s numbers are seemingly better across the board. He has an ERA edge of 0.28 runs and leads in the ERA+ race 114-110. He struck out 7.41 per 9 IP while Andy K’d just 6.69 per 9 innings. His 4.02 K/BB ratio is better than Pettitte’s 2.51 figure by a significant amount. Mussina gave up nearly 0.25 more home runs per 9 innings than Andy, and Pettitte’s .638 winning percentage is slightly higher than Mussina’s .631 mark. Wins, though, aren’t exactly the best metric of pitching success.
So in the end, I’m left with a choice. Does Mike Mussina win on the strength of his 2001, 2003 and 2008 seasons as well as his relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Does Andy Pettitte carry the decade on his World Series prowess and bulldog mentality? I might give the slight edge to Pettitte while recognizing that Mussina in his prime was a better pitcher, but it wouldn’t be wrong to do otherwise. As the new decade dawns, CC Sabathia and perhaps a young hurler named Joba or Phil could inherit this mantle. For now, the two old bulldogs can fight it out.
After the jump, a complete list of all who made nine starts or fewer for the Yankees this decade. Read More→
As the decade draws to a close in just over 14 hours, we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective with a move beyond the offense. We start off the look at our pitchers with the easiest of the easiest. Clearly, the reliever of the decade — or the century or all time — is Mariano Rivera. The man saved 397 games for the Yanks and was simply the best.
Mo, however, wasn’t the only pitcher to record a save for the Yanks from 2000-2009. In fact, Yankee pitchers not named Mariano recorded 77 saves throughout the decade. Who were these pitchers who stole saves from Mo and what exactly were their stories? Let’s take a look.
For the most part, these non-Rivera relievers who notched a save this decade were interlopers. They were the three-inning guys who protected a big lead. Take, for example, Orlando Hernandez. He pitched the final four innings of the Yanks’ 11-5 win over the Mets on June 28, 2002 for his save of the decade. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ erstwhile, ace recorded a save on June 3, 2006 when he recorded two outs in the tenth on a night when Mariano Rivera was simply unavailable.
But beyond these one-off guys, the relievers called upon in unlikely situations, a handful of Yankee pitchers recorded a handful of saves. Why wasn’t Mariano available? The leader in non-Mariano saves this decade was Steve Karsay. The one-and-done set-up man who made 78 appearances in 2002 stepped in that year in late August and early September when Mo was on the shelf with a shoulder injury. Karsay had stepped in earlier that year when groin and shoulder trouble shelved the Yanks’ closer. He blew four saves, threw 88.1 innings and never pitched effectively in the Majors again.
Another trio of set-up men — Ramiro Mendoza, Kyle Fansworth and Tom Gordon — stepped in on nights when Rivera couldn’t go. Mendoza notched 10 saves combined two seasons earlier this decade, and Gordon picked up six over his two-year stint with the Yanks. Even unreliable Krazy Kyle managed to get three outs in the ninth with a Yankee lead in tact.
For many, the name Juan Acevedo may raise an eyebrow. Who was this pitcher who nailed down six saves while making just 25 appearances for the Yankees? Well, he came on the scene in 2003 with a stellar Spring Training. With Rivera out for April with a groin injury, Acevedo stepped in and was flat-out awful. He saved five games in April but ended the month with an 8.10 ERA. He picked up another save in a 17-inning affair on June 1, 2003 but found himself bound for Toronto after the Yanks released him and his 7.71 ERA.
In the end, for ten years, Mariano Rivera was simply there. He saved 397 games and blew just 40 for a 90.1 save percentage. He appeared in 651 games for the Yanks and finished 589 of them. He threw 713.1 innings and recorded 669 strike outs while walking just 137 batters all decade. His ERA+ was 214. For the Yankees and for all of baseball, he is truly the closer of the decade. In ten years, we may have to see who else gets saves for the Yankees, but this year, this decade, it’s all Mariano.
The offensive part of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective is coming to an end. After looking at the eight position players, we’ve landed on that catch-all designated hitter spot. Through the 2000s, the Yanks used 61 players at least one at the DH spot. From A-Rod to X-Nady, nearly everyone had a chance to DH. To whittle down the candidates, the chart shows those with at least 10 games as a designated hitter.
What leaps out at me from this chart is how the Yanks’ designated hitters weren’t that great at hitting. Most of the regulars who DH’d hit well below their career averages, and the team never really had a true DH this decade either. Jason Giambi led the pack with 22.3 percent of all DH at-bats, and Hideki Matsui was second with 16.4 percent. Beyond those two, the Yanks used the DH spot to rest regulars and give aging stars a spot in the lineup.
Early in the decade, the Yanks went after sluggers for the DH spot. They used a Glenallen Hill/Jose Canseco tandem in the second half of 2000 to some stellar results. Hill, acquired on July 21, 2000, from the Cubs for Ben Ford and Oswaldo Mairena, turned in a 175 OPS+ in 143 at bats, and around half of those came as a DH. Canseco, acquired on August 7, 2000, in a waiver move designed to block him from going to the Red Sox, had a great power spurt too. The duo combined for 15 home runs in just 175 DH at-bats.
After that though, the Yankees used the DH as a spot of convenience. They tried Chuck Knoblauch there in 2001 and Nick Johnson to some success in 2002 and 2003. After Johnson was traded, the Yanks turned to Jason Giambi, and he surprisingly hit significantly worse as a DH than he did as a first baseman. As the first baseman of the decade, Giambi hit .280/.420/.567. As the DH, he hit .234/.384/.458. That’s a swing of .145 OPS points.
Back in my younger and more ignorant days as a rookie baseball blogger at Talking Baseball, I explored the differences amongst hitters when they DH and when they play the field. My study then confused causation with correlation, but I’ve always believed that many hitters are better when they play the field too. Giambi always said that he preferred to play first because it kept him more in the game. It kept him warmer and more ready to bat. The decade’s numbers seem to bear him out.
At the same time, though, Giambi DH’d when he wasn’t healthy enough to play the field, and he would, in all likelihood, hit better when healthy. He DH’d, when he could, in 2004, 2006 and 2007 when sapped by injuries, and he played first in the years he was healthy. Somewhere, somehow, it’s probably a mixture of both.
Beyond Giambi, the Yankees’ DH numbers really highlight their love for the concept of the rotation DH. Hideki Matsui took over with great success over the last two years, but the team has used A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada as the DH enough times to put them on this list. A-Rod, it seems, just loves to hit.
And so as Nick Johnson prepares to take over the DH mantle, I will anoint Jason Giambi as the Yanks’ DH of the decade. Had Hideki closed the playing time gap, he probably could have stolen this one from the Giambino; after all, he put up a better DH-only OPS this decade. But with over 300 at-bats, 28 home runs and approximately 43 runs created separating the two, Jason takes the crown but only barely.
Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, the Yankees won without a true left field solution. They used Tim Raines and Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer to try to fill the hole. It was not until 2003 with the arrival of Hideki Matsui that the Yankees had a true left field solution.
Now, as the Aughts came to a close, the Yankees’ left field position is again up for grabs. Johnny Damon is gone, and someone will step in to fill the hole. That is a concern for other posts. Today, as we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective, we come to toast the left fielders. The table below is those who made at least 10 appearances in left from 2000-2009.
By virtue of playing time alone, Hideki Matsui is the left fielder of the decade. For a few years from 2003-2007, before his knees gave out, Matsui brought stability to the spot and man, did he hit. Over his 2080 left field at-bats, he hit .291/.371/.475 with 82 home runs and 357 RBIs.
Even with this gaudy counting stats, I’m a little hesitant to flat-out proclaim Matsui the best of the decade. The simple truth is that Matsui’s fielding in left was, for five years, atrocious. He never once put up a UZR better than -1.6, and his combined left field UZR for his time in the Bronx was -57.8. Without Matsui’s big bat, the Yanks would have been in deep trouble in left.
For the 2000s, though, the trend for the Yanks in left focused around a big bat with less emphasis on fielding. Johnny Damon, the successor to Matsui in left, put up nearly identical numbers to Matsui. He hit .301/.372/.484 and sported a better OPS out of left than Matsui did. For the first two seasons, Damon put up positive UZR totals in left, but in 2009, that figure dipped to -9.2. It was ugly for sure.
Before these two stalwarts of the late 2000s, the Yankees tried everyone. The Rondell White era was a misguided attempt to plug a hole left by the end of the Paul O’Neill era. Never able to stay healthy, White signed a multi-year deal with the Yanks, put up some atrocious numbers and was traded for Bubba Trammell. The two-year, $10-million deal White signed was one of the worst of the early 00s.
As the early years of the decade wore on, others came and went. The Yankees tried to put Chuck Knoblauch in the left field spot in 2001 after he couldn’t throw from second to first. They tried Melky Cabrera when Matsui went down with an injury in 2006. They even gave Ruben Sierra 51 at bats in the field during the mid-decade years.
Now, though, the era of Matsui and Damon is over. The Yanks’ DH went west, and the Yanks’ incumbent left field is trying to find some team willing to overpay him in both years and dollars. Maybe Damon will return; maybe Brett Gardner will fill the void. For the Yanks, that left field hole is nothing new, and as the decade ends, we will be Matsui, the man who received just 33 percent of all Yankee LF at-bats, as the position’s best.
For the seventh installment of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts, we land in center field. For the Yankees of the 2000s, center field represents quite the dichotomy. The position peaked early and never regained the luster of the Bernie Williams Era.
Bernie Williams retired — or was forced off the Yanks when he opted against accepting a Spring Training invite in 2007 — in 2006. Yet, he remains the center fielder of the decade. Despite a late-career swoon, he still hit .293/.378/.474 as the Yanks’ center fielder this decade, and his early-00 numbers are, as we’ll see soon, stellar.
After Bernie became too old and too slow to adequately man center field, the Yankees simply could not find an adequate replacement. For one year in 2006, Johnny Damon‘s offense was well above-average, but his defense in center was anything but. He turned in a -11.6 UZR that year and sported his trademark awful arm. The man hired to replace Bernie had all over 843 at-bats at center over his four years with the Yanks.
Melky Cabrera and then Brett Gardner followed Damon in center. Although Gardner flashed some speed and Melky an arm, the two weren’t impact offensive players. For the decade, the tale of center field is one of decline. Bernie started off strong, but by 2009, the Yanks were content to live through average or below-average center field production. It’s been a long, hard fall:
|Yanks CF Overall|
With this table, we can track that fall. For three years, Bernie was a beast. He put up a combined OPS+ of 140, and Yanks’ center fielders hit a combined .308/.388/.509. The vast majority of the team’s overall counting stats in center came during those three years. The 81 home runs and 340 home runs were nearly 40 percent of the decade’s totals. The slugging outpaced the rest of the decade by over .060 points.
In 2003, though, Bernie fell to Earth, and for the next two seasons, the Yanks tried to move a proud aging ballplayer to lesser position. In 2004, the team brought in Kenny Lofton, but Joe Torre stuck with his man. Bernie still made nearly two-thirds of all center field at-bats, and his OPS+ over that span was a good-but-not-great 108. Still, the combined .281/.368/.446 line was not too shabby.
In 2005, it all fell apart. Bernie couldn’t hit, and his legs were gone. A cameo by Melky Cabrera was worse, and the Yanks’ center fielders hit .241/.296/.332. It was truly a low point of the decade. Johnny Damon provided some pop in 2006, but he couldn’t man the position. The combined .273/.345/.461 line was a breath of fresh air amidst some offensive woes later in the decade.
When Melky Cabrera took over in 2007 and enjoyed approximately 80 percent of the center field playing time for the next three seasons, the Yankees were seemingly content to let the offense in center slide. Since 2007, Yanks’ center fielders have hit .268/.333/.393. That .726 OPS is a far cry from the .897 mark that started the decade. Melky’s combined UZR in center over the last three seasons has been -8.4. He was well below average in 2007 and at or slightly above average in 2008 and 2009. Melky had an average 2009 with the stick, but now he’s gone, sent to Atlanta in the deal that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx.
As the Yankees head into 2010, they will begin a new era in center field. Curtis Granderson is under contract through 2013, and the club holds an option for 2014. Hopefully, the new decade will begin as the previous one did — with some top offensive and some solid defense out of center field. It’s been a while.
For the sixth installment of our look back at the Yankees By the Decade, we hit the outfield and start in right. Paul O’Neill was the player of the decade for the Yanks in right during the 1990s, but as the 2000s dawned, his days were clearly numbered. Following the 2001 World Series, he retired, and the Yanks were left with a gaping hole.
So just how did the team fill the void left by Number 21′s retirement? The chart below shows all of the decade’s right fielders who played 10 or more games in the field. The bottom line represents the overall total line including the 18 players who did not make the cut. Those guys made only a combined 148 ABs among the lot of them anyway.
|J. Vander Wal||142||40||12||1||3||13||12||0||0||33||4||.282||.335||.444|
Some of those names bring back some bad memories. Remember when the Yanks tried to plug in a right field hole left wide open by Gary Sheffield’s injury with Aaron Guiel and Kevin Thompson? Remember when Karim Garcia started picking fights with fans in Fenway? Remember when Raul Mondesi was thought to be the next great Yankee warrior who would don the mantle left by Paulie? Those certainly weren’t the days.
After the 2002-2003 dark ages in right field, two players dominated the decade. Gary Sheffield landed in New York in December 2003 as a solution to their right field woes. He carried with him a prickly attitude but seemed ready to make a go of it in the Bronx. For two years and a half years, before an injury cut short his 2006 campaign, he delivered. As the right fielder, he hit .287/.380/.506 with 61 home runs and an overall OPS+ of 135. He came in second in the MVP voting in 2004 and made the All Star team twice.
In 2006, though, Sheffield hurt his wrist and never recovered his stroke. The Yankees made a move to acquire Bobby Abreu in mid-season, and Sheffield found himself a man without a position. He made his displeasure known and was dispatched the Tigers for three promising young arms. In return, the Yankees received Kevin Wheelan, Anthony Claggett and Humerto Sanchez. Sanchez is a Minor League free agent; Claggett was traded to the Pirates; and only Wheelan remains with the Yanks. The returns have not yet amounted to much, the Yanks were rid of Sheffield’s contract and demeanor.
To replace Gary Sheffield, the Yanks acquired Bobby Abreu from the Phillies in a salary dump deal. Philadelphia sent Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yanks for C.J. Henry, Carlos Monasterios, Jesus Sanchez and Matt Smith. Abreu went on to hit .294/.376/.459 with the Yanks, and no one played more right field this decade that Bobby. Yet, last winter, with the Yanks ready to get younger and more athletic, Brian Cashman was more than willing to let Abreu walk. As Sheffield was dumped on the Tigers rather unceremoniously, the Yanks bid Abreu a quick farewell.
So then, who is the right fielder of the decade? Both Abreu and Sheffield were paid far more than their actual value, and both were atrocious in the field. Sheffield put up a combined WAR of 5.8 while in pinstripes, and Abreu put up a 5.7 mark in the same category. Because of his monster 2004, I have to give the edge to Gary, but he doesn’t have a slum dunk case for it.
As the Yankees look ahead to 2010 and a new decade, the fun-loving Nick Swisher is holding down the right field spot. He won’t put up the offensive numbers of a Sheffield or even Abreu, but he is a worthy successor to the spot. Who will we be toasting in ten years in right though remains a mystery.
On a busy day in the Yankee Universe, we continue our look at the Yankees By the Decade with a stop at the Hot Corner. For the last six seasons, A-Rod has owned that position, and he is clearly the third baseman of the decade. It’s not even close.
To get a sense of just how good A-Rod has been at third base, let’s look at some comparative numbers. For the table above, I used players who had played at least ten games at third base. Thus, Gary Sheffield’s brief 2004 cameo at the Hot Corner and other similarly misguided experiments from the past decade are not covered here. As it stands, A-Rod enjoyed 54.6 percent of the Yanks’ third base at-bats and around 55.8 percent of all plate appearances. My, how he delivered.
In those at-bats, A-Rod was responsible for 72.9 percent of all Yankee third base home runs, 64.4 percent of the walks and 83 percent of the intentional walks. He accounted for 65.4 percent of all third base RBIs, and without his stunning .301/.401/.566 line, Yankee third basemen hit .245/.313/.393. He simply towers above anyone else including old fan favorite Scott Brosius and 2003 hero Aaron Boone.
What is amazing though about this decade of A-Rod is how tumultuous it has been. It began with a near-trade to the Red Sox in late 2003 that fell apart over Boston’s reluctance to pony up the dough. After the proposed Manny-for-Alex swap fell through, the Yankees swooped in and landed A-Rod and his contract for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias. The Yanks were the only team that could afford A-Rod’s astronomical salary, and they gave up nothing too great in return.
For A-Rod, it was a tough adjustment to New York. He had a down-for-him year in 2004, hitting just 36 home runs with a line of .286/.375/.512. He was great in the ALDS against the Twins and then vanished, along with the rest of the team, in Games 4-7 against the Red Sox in the ALCS. Much as Javier Vazquez was dismissed from New York for his role in the collapse, A-Rod too bore the brunt of the blame, most notably for his slap play in Game 6.
He responded nicely in 2005 and won the first of his two Bronx MVP awards. He hit .321/.421/.610 with 48 home runs and 130 RBIs. Again, though, his post-season numbers were bad. In the ALDS, he went just 2 for 15. The following postseason, he went 1 for 14 in the Division Series, was dropped to eighth in the batting order and drew himself the Choker label.
In 2007, Good A-Rod showed up again, but the fans were wary. On the verge of opting out of his contract, A-Rod hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 and did nothing in October. As the Red Sox were about to win the World Series, he opted out of his contract, and the Yankees vowed never to deal with him again. Three weeks later, he was back in pinstripes for a record deal worth up to $305 million over ten years. The press hated him, and the fans were skeptical.
This past year, the fans finally embraced A-Rod. He notched his 12th straight year with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs by blasting two and driving in seven on the final day of the season, and his hot hitting carried over into the playoffs. Against the Twins, Angels and Phillies, A-Rod hit .365/.500/.808 with six home runs and 18 RBIs. As a decade begun with Scotty Bro and celebrated by Aaron Boone came to a close, Yankee fans had finally come to accept A-Rod as he should be, as the third base as the decade and as the team’s offensive star.
Despite early-season articles, despite sports writer consternation, the Yankees are truly better off with Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez. Make no mistake about it.
We pick up our Yankees By the Decade series today with the guys who manned the second base spot. Much of the decade was dominated by two top-hitting second basemen with a whole bunch of rather forgettable — but ultimately adequate — fill-ins in between.
Between the two of them Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano combined for 74 percent of all Yankee second base at-bats, and they didn’t do too badly for themselves. On the whole, Yankee second basemen hit .290/.327/.460. The on-base percentage is a little low, but the batting average and slugging figures look a-OK to me. As a comparison, Boston’s second basemen hit .274/.330/.420 on the decade.
Individually, Soriano and Cano were both among the top of the game at their position, and yet, fans always wanted more. Before getting sent to Texas for A-Rod, Soriano launched 95 home runs and hit .286/.325/.505, mostly at the top of the Yankee order. Cano doesn’t have the same power as Soriano but has show a bit more patience. He has hit .305/.337/.475 with just 330 strike outs to Soriano’s 410 in 1000 more ABs.
Why then do Yankee fans always feel as though their second basemen should be better than they are? Cano takes a lot of guff for seemingly not hustling in the field or for being a lackadaisical base running. Soriano was accused, rightfully so, of flailing and too many pitchers, and fans and commentators always wanted him to exhibit more patience than he did at the plate. Always, it seems, Yankee fans want more, more, more.
What we can see from the chart, though, is how the Yankees have it good with a decade bookended by Soriano and Cano. Although Soriano’s .830 OPS is slightly better than Cano’s .812 mark, I have to give the decade award to Robinson Cano. He has far more playing time in pinstripes this decade than Soriano, and I like the OBP edge. We might be singing a different tune had Soriano’s late-game home run held up on a Sunday night in Phoenix, but that’s ancient history now.
Beyond those two, the decade was filled with a quest to fill the whole. I was surprised to see Miguel Cairo’s numbers at second base looking so decent. In nearly a season’s worth of at-bats, he hit .293/.344/.414. Considering those numbers are far above his career triple-slash line of .266/.315/.358, the Yankees were able to catch a bit of lightening in a bottle with Cairo, and it’s no wonder that Joe Torre seemingly fell in love with giving him playing time.
In the end, the Yanks had a good run this decade largely in part because of the solid play at second base. Robinson Cano has been an anchor since 2005 after the misguided Tony Womack experiment came to end. Before him, we lived through the era of Soriano, and even the guys who filled the hole for a year weren’t too bad. Meanwhile, Cano is just 27, and the next decade should belong to him. We know what he brings to the table; we know what he doesn’t bring to the table. As he hits his peak years offensively, he’s a great second baseman for a great Yankee team.
Our Yankees by the Decade series continues today with a look at first base. After talking about the decade of Derek yesterday and Jorge’s time behind the dish on Wednesday. Today, we have an actual debate.
For this one, because the Yankees used 42 players at least once at first base, I limited our analysis to the guys who played at least 10 games at first over the decade. At some point or another, the Yankees decided to give these players somewhat regular playing time. It’s quite the list.
For the Yankees, finding a suitable first basemen took up a lot of resources in the 2000s. The 1980s belonged to Donnie Baseball, and the 1990s were split between a fading Mattingly and Tino Martinez. As the 2000s rolled around, Tino’s days in the Bronx were numbered. He hit an admirable .280/.329/.501 with 34 dingers and 113 RBI in 2001, but heading into his age 34 season, Tino was given his walking papers.
The Yankees turned their attention to the big fish that off-season: Jason Giambi. Coming off of some stellar years for the Oakland A’s, the Yankees desperately wanted to add Giambi’s bat to the lineup. For seven years and $120 million, they did just that. After hitting .330/.458/.617 over his final three years in the A’s, Giambi would be playing on the world’s biggest stage.
At first, he struggled in the Bronx. He didn’t homer until the Yanks’ ninth game of 2002 and didn’t appear to be the feared hitter the Yanks thought they were getting. That is, until the flood gates opened on May 17, 2002. That night, Giambi blasted a walk-off Grand Slam in the 12th inning as the Yanks downed the Twins 13-12. The Giambino had arrived. He would end the year with a .314/.435/.598 with 41 home runs and 122 RBI.
For Giambi, though, 2002 would represent his peak in the Bronx. The power would begin to tail off in 2003, and although the batting eye would remain stellar, Giambi began to break down. He missed half of 2004 with a variety of injuries and much of 2007 as well. He found himself in the eye of the steroid hurricane and could not escape controversy. He rebounded nicely in 2008, but with Mark Teixeira looming, Giambi was gone.
So is Jason Giambi then the first baseman of the decade? Offensively, he makes a strong case for himself. As a first baseman only — not as a DH — he hit .280/.420/.567 with 129 home runs in 28.44 percent of the Yanks’ first base ABs. Tino, who made a Bronx return in 2005, came in second in team first base ABs but hit just .262/.325/.452 and blasted just 64 home runs.
Yet, the Yankees spent much of the decade trying to find someone who could actually play defense at first. The team learned early on that Giambi was ill-equipped to handle the glove. He wasn’t confident in his throws and generally had poor range. His cumulative UZR at first during his Yankee years was a -18.8. Only once in his Yankee career did he play more than 92 games at first and that was in 2008 when the Yanks had no better options. From 2004-2007, he played just 204 of the Yanks’ 648 games in the field. He was, in other words, a very highly paid designated hitter who could be stuck at first base when need me.
To that end, the Yanks tried just about everything. They used Nick Johnson for much of 2003 at first and brought back Tino in 2005. They tried the all-glove Doug Mientkiewicz; they begged Andy Phillips to do anything with the bat at the big league level; and they even gave Miguel Cairo enough chances to accrue nearly 100 ABs as a first baseman. The situation was that dire.
As we sit here in 2009, we’re on the precipice of the decade of Mark Teixeira. Already third on the list of Yankee first baseman of the ’00s by plate appearances, Mark’s contract ensures that his glove and bat will occupy first base for much of the 2010s. It will be a stark contrast with the ’00s, a decade that belongs to Giambi’s bat but not his glove and one that saw many players try to man first with varying degrees of success.