Archive for Yankees By The Decade
Yesterday afternoon, I launched our decade retrospective of the Yankees in the ’00s with a look at the catchers. Today, we continue with another position held by one player over ten seasons. That player is, of course, the captain, Derek Jeter, and short stop will be his, for better or worse, until he voluntarily gives it up or retires.
Any Yankee fan worth his or her salt knows that Derek Jeter was truly the short stop of the decade, but these numbers underscore the grip Jeter had on that spot. His at-bats constituted 91.5 percent of all Yankee short stop ABs over the last ten season, and without his contributions, Yankee short stops hit .216/.263/.322. It ain’t easy finding someone to back up Derek Jeter.
Now and then, though, the Yankees have had to find a replacement for Jeter. He played in 1500 games over the course of the decade out of the Yanks’ 1620 games and suffered through a long on the disabled list in 2003. And so instead of roasting Derek Jeter — we do that often enough — let’s instead take a look back at one of the guest short stops who had to fill for the injured captain.
It was March 31, 2003, Opening Day in Toronto. In the third inning of the match-up between the Yankees and Blue Jays, Jeter was on first with one old and Jason Giambi up. The Blue Jays had deployed the Giambi Shift, and when the Yanks’ slugger grounded out to the pitcher, Jeter saw open space in front of him as he rounded second. Johnny Damon may have made it to third against the Phillies during the World Series, but in Toronto, catcher Ken Huckabee rushed to cover the open base.
What happened was gruesome. Jeter slid as Huckabee arrived to block third base. Derek’s left shoulder slammed into the catcher’s shin guards and was instantly dislocated. At first, we thought Jeter would be out for a long time, but he missed just six weeks of the season. Enter Erick Almonte.
In 2002, Baseball America had ranked Almonte as the Yanks’ eighth best prospect, and their write-up was a bit over the top. He was called ” chiseled athlete” with a “combination of size and tools…similar to Derek Jeter’s.” The write-up recommended the Yanks move Almonte to second or left. On April 2, 2003, the 25-year-old found himself in Toronto, filling in for an injured Jeter.
Almonte homered in his first game and handled himself adequately in Jeter’s absence. He hit .272/.337/.370 in 28 games, and the Yanks went 20-8 in those games. He was, however, atrocious in the field. For the season, he made 12 errors in 128 chances and showed little range. After 2003, he would never again appear in the Majors and has become a career Minor League. He spent 2009, his age 31 season, as an infielder with the Brewers’ AAA affiliate.
After that 2003 injury, Jeter wouldn’t miss significant time this decade. He missed a few games in 2001 with a strained quad and again in 2008 with a similar injury. He dove head-first into the stands on July 1, 2004, and A-Rod earned his first chance at the short stop hole in pinstripes. (For what it’s worth, A-Rod’s lost appearance at short was on June 5, 2005 when he took over for Rey Sanchez. Jeter simply had the day off.)
By and large, though, the fill-ins have been pretty forgettable. Enrique Wilson earned himself far too many at-bats and so did Miguel Cairo. The others paraded through, giving Derek a day off now and then while leaving no lasting impression. Who really remembers Felix Escalona anyway? But such are the trials and tribulations of those in charge of backing up a future Hall of Famer who hates to miss a game.
In the end, short stop has belonged to Jeter this decade. From the Flip in 2001 to a fifth World Series ring this year, Derek has owned that spot. For him, it was quite a decade, and Yankee fans can only hope for another decade of .850 OPS offense out of the short stop spot.
With the baseball portion of the ’00s behind us, it’s time to reflect upon the Yankees by decade. On the whole, it was a very successful decade by the Yanks. The team won two World Series and four AL titles. They finished in first all but two years and bookended the 2000s with thrilling championship runs. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring how the team looked by position, and today we start with the catchers.
On the whole, as the above table shows, the 2000s were the decade of Jorge. The borderline Hall of Famer caught two-thirds1 of the Yankees’ games, and he did so with spectacular results. Say what you will about Posada’s current defense, but the man can hit. As a catcher, he put up a .286/.387/.500 and fell just one dinger shy of 200 home runs. The only knock against Jorge are the double plays. He hit into 128 of them over ten years.
After Jorge though, the Yankees see a precipitous drop in backstop production. On the whole, Yankee catchers hit .268/.354/.450, and everyone not named Jorge were pretty bad as a group. Yankee back-up backstops managed just 27 home runs and a combined offensive line of .224/.263/.326 in 1648 at bats.
It’s amazing to look through that list and try to remember some of the names. Chris Stewart made one forgettable appearance for the Yanks when both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina were injured. I do not remember Michel Hernandez’s five games in pinstripes. Wil Nieves was spectacularly awful, and even Ivan Rodriguez was but a shell of his former self in 2008.
For the Yankees, Posada’s success atop this list underscores the importance of having a solid catcher. For two reasons, the team hasn’t been able to find a decent back-up. First, no one wants to play behind someone as good as Jorge. Second, good catchers are very, very hard to find. That’s the driving reason behind my belief that the Yankees shouldn’t move Jesus Montero from behind the plate quite yet, and it’s a driving reason why Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankee prospects list features four catchers. In this day and age, developing a defensively solid catcher who can hit guarantees some modicum of success.
In August of the first year of the decade of the 2010s, Jorge Posada will turn 39. He may stick it out behind the plate, seeing reduced playing time of course, for the next few seasons, but when the next decade ends, he likely won’t be the team’s leader behind the plate. From our vantage point at the end of the decade, we can truly appreciate just how good Posada has been, and when we compare him to everyone else, well, it’s not even close.
Looking at his numbers, I can unequivocally say that Posada is the league’s catcher of the ’00s too. Perhaps Mike Piazza turned in some better offense numbers early on and perhaps Joe Mauer beats him these days. But no one else has sustained this level of play for as long as Jorge did. For the Yankees, behind the plate, it truly has been the decade of Posada.
1 Due to availability of the data and some late-inning replacement situations, the total numbers of games played by position will not add up to the 1620 games the Yankees played from 2000-2009. Numbers are from both Baseball Reference and the Baseball Musings Day-by-Day Database. (Return)