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This is the second in what will be an extended series of posts that will run over the summer. I will do one post covering the top 5 Yankees by WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at each position, plus a second profile piece on one player at each position. At the end of the summer, I’ll put together a post ranking the top 60 Yankees of all time. I will be using the career WAR found at baseballprojection.com, with only WAR garnered as a Yankee being included in the calculations.
1. Lou Gehrig (118.3 WAR as Yankee)
In a way, I think Gehrig has been a bit underrated over the years, always being mentioned second in a conversation about great players due to his sharing a field with Babe Ruth. Furthermore, his consecutive games streak of 2,130 games tends to overshadow his incredible on-field performance. Lou’s total career value places him at 13th all-time among position players, and he compiled a whopping 4 seasons of at least 10 WAR, and another 3 that exceeded 9 WAR. His best year was for the legendary 1927 Yankees, for whom he posted an OPS+ of 221 and notched 47 homers and 175 RBI. He won the MVP that year, and added another MVP in 1936, while finishing second in 1931 and 1932. His consecutive game streak ended in 1939 when he was diagnosed with ALS, the disease that would eventually bear his name. While most players at that time tended to decline early, Gehrig was still providing plenty of value when he was stricken by disease, posting a 132 OPS+ in the seasons prior to his retirement. There is no telling how much more value Gehrig could have tacked on to his career total had he not been afflicted with ALS.
Mattingly presents a classic case of a player with a short but fantastic peak that leads some to believe that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. From 1984-1987 he was an offensive force, leading the league in OPS+ twice, snaring an MVP and a second place finish, and notching at least 5.7 WAR each time. At just 26 and just entering his prime, he looked headed to the Hall of Fame. He was fairly solid in 1988 and 1989 as well, but back ailments began to tug at him and he never exceeded 2.3 WAR again. He certainly would have had a better chance to build his HoF case if he had never been afflicted by injury, as a normal career progression from 26 on would have allowed him to build a fairly strong case. He was a highly regarded fielder, finishing with 9 Gold Gloves, and made 6 All-Star teams as well. Beloved by fans and media alike as the Yankee Captain, he was a Yankee star in the rarest of eras, missing out on a championship and only making the playoffs in his final year of 1995. He is not a Hall of Fame player, but he will rightfully be remembered as a player who dominated the American League for a number of years, an unforgettable flash across the historical landscape of the franchise.
Pipp has become a bit of a punchline, as he lost his everyday job to Lou Gehrig after being removed for the lineup in what seemed to be a one day decision and never recovered his first base job. While he was never a transcendent player, he was a consistent player who was great with the glove. As a Yankee, he was +4 or greater in TotalZone (Rally’s defensive rating system) in every season but one, and had at least 2.3 WAR in 9 of his 10 full seasons as a Yankee. He helped the Yankees to one championship in 1923 after having lost in the Series in the two previous seasons. He finished his career in Cincinnati after being replaced by Gehrig. A more complete profile of Pipp is forthcoming.
Bill “Moose” Skowron was a vital cog on the Mantle-Maris-Ford Yankees of the late 50′s and early 60′s, and was traded to the Dodgers just in time to avoid the collapse that occurred in the mid-1960′s. He was a solid glove and had a strong bat, but was finished as a strong middle of the order hitter by the time he hit 30. His best year was likely 1956, which was his first full year and saw him put up a .308/.382/.528 as the Yankees recaptured the World Series trophy from the Dodgers. He made the All-Star team for five consecutive seasons starting in 1957, and contributed to 4 Yankee champions before being sent to the Dodgers prior to the 1963 season. The Yankees lost in the World Series to those very same Dodgers in 1963, and Skowron recovered from a poor regular season to hit .385/.429/.615 to help the Dodgers pull off the sweep. He spent the remainder of his career bouncing around the American League, and retired after the 1967 season.
Giambi is a polarizing figure among Yankees fans, as some consider him a huge flop while others point to his offensive numbers and recognize that he provided plenty of value for the Yankees in his 7 years with the team. The reality is somewhere in between, as Giambi provided plenty of value in some of his seasons but did not live up to his sizable contract and was poor enough defensively to merit being moved to DH. His best year as a Yankee was clearly 2002, putting up a ridiculous .314/.435/.598 line with 41 homers and 122 RBI, and finished 5th in MVP voting. Giambi was solid in 2003, but his batting average dropped to .250 and he was never again the complete hitter that he had been in the previous 4 seasons. Jason was terrible in 2004, as a benign tumor hampered his season and he did not recover until the middle of 2005. He was also exposed as a steroid user during this time period, and Yankee fans were prepared to discard him prior to the 2005 season. However, 2005 and 2006 were good years for Jason, as he received MVP votes in both seasons and was the Comeback Player of the Year in 2005. Injuries made for a poor 2007, but Jason bounced back in 2008 to end his career as a Yankee in a positive note. Giambi’s Yankees never did win a championship, and he unfairly became a symbol of a period of payroll excess and playoff ineptitude.
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