Last week, I took a look at the Yankees’ best players by position for the last decade (2010-2019). Now, as the back-end of this series, I’m going to look at the Bombers’ best individual seasons by position in that same span.
While there are many of the same players on this list, this is highlighting the best of the best. MVP-worthy seasons for some, career-years for others. Starting with catcher, we get some familiar faces.
Catcher: 2017 Gary Sánchez
If you prorate Sánchez’s two-month torching of the American League in 2016, it’s not only the best catching season for the Yankees this decade but perhaps ever. Even with passed balls aplenty, Sánchez’s unbelievable hitting stretch (170 wRC+ in 53 games) was unrepeatable.
The next year, he was still damn good. In his first full Major League season, he set a Yankees single-season record for home runs by a catcher (33) and batted .278/.345/.531 (131 wRC+). He was an asset behind the plate with his skillful framing and had his best health in the Majors to date (122 games).
A 38-year-old Jorge Posada bashed 18 home runs in 2010, and both Russell Martin and Brian McCann had fine seasons behind the dish. Still, the 2016-17 Sánchez runs were unmatched by pinstriped catchers in the 2010s.
First Base: 2019 DJ LeMahieu
I’m clearly fudging this as LeMahieu played more games at both second and third base. However, there’s no room to supplant Robinson Canó at the keystone, and LeMahieu’s 2019 season was too good to leave out.
Leading the Next Man Up Yankees with 145 games played, he came up just shy of a batting title (.327 avg.) with a career-high 26 homers and 102 RBI. The free-agent signing catalyzed the Yankees through a trying season and onto the brink of a World Series berth.
The runner up for me was 2015 Mark Teixeira. While he hit more home runs in both 2010 and 2011 while playing full seasons, Teixeira’s 2015 season was an electric campaign cut short by a fluky injury. Over 111 games, he jumpstarted the Bombers’ wild-card efforts with a .255/.357/.548 (143 wRC+) line and mashed 31 homers in that time. Once he went down with injury, the Yankees’ division hopes were mostly sunk.
Second Base: 2012 Robinson Canó
As mentioned in the previous piece, Canó broke out at the turn of the decade and didn’t let up for his four remaining seasons with the Yankees. You could pick any of his seasons from 2010 to 2013 and you wouldn’t be wrong.
So why 2012? Not only did he establish a (since eclipsed) career-high in home runs with 33, he had a career-best .929 OPS and 149 wRC+, all while earning his second and final Gold Glove. It was the third in a five-year stretch where he finished between third and sixth in MVP voting. While the Yankees’ aging core outside of Derek Jeter needed significant time off in ’12, Canó led the way with 161 games while playing a smooth and superb brand of ball.
Honorable Mention: 2019 Gleyber Torres/DJ LeMahieu
Shortstop: 2018 Didi Gregorius
Gregorius’ career with the Yankees resembled a rising stock before a crash. He was a below-average hitter for two years while getting by on defense, then he broke out as a power-hitting all-around force hitting the in the middle of the order for a championship-caliber team.
In 2018, Didi established a Yankee record with 27 home runs by a shortstop and posted a 124 OPS+ in 134 games. For the second straight year, he earned a 20th-place finish in MVP balloting. His 2017 postseason surpassed his 2018 effort, but he played through the 2018 ALDS with a torn UCL, showing the tenacity the Bronx faithful loved from their shortstop.
Honorable Mention: 2012 Derek Jeter
Third Base: 2010 Álex Rodríguez/2019 Gio Urshela
Rodríguez settled third base for the Yankees for about a decade before succumbing to injuries (with a DH interlude). In 2010 and ’11, he was past his prime but still very good, posting 4.2 and 4.0 WAR seasons. In 2010, he continued a 30-homer, 100-RBI streak that dated back to 1998 while his bat took a step back at age-34.
Meanwhile, Urshela did something that no player post-Rodríguez could do: Combine impressive hitting and standout defense at third base. He matched Miguel Andújar’s success at the plate without the pitfalls at the hot corner. His 3.1 WAR is behind Rodríguez, but the defensive metrics underrate his steady glove.
Left Field: 2010/2017 Brett Gardner
We saw two distinctly different Brett Gardners this decade: A slap hitter who relied on speed, or a power hitter who sacrificed contact for dingers. They were both tremendous, and each had Gold Glove-worthy defense to back it up.
Funny enough, Gardy’s All-Star season was 2015 and his Gold Glove came in 2016. However, his remarkable defense in 2010 was robbed by an aging Ichiro for the award, though his 47 steals presaged his MLB-leading total a year later. In 2017, he smahed 21 home runs and played 151 games for the second time since 2011.
Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson
The groundwork for Grandy’s 2011 was laid in August 2010, when the struggling outfielder retooled his approach with the help of hitting coach Kevin Long. For the final 1.5 months of that season, he finally started to hit same-sided pitchers.
In 2011, Granderson’s offense went from good to lineup-carrying great. He hit 41 home runs with 26 doubles and 10 triples in putting together a career-high .916 OPS and 146 wRC+. He still had some flaws — he should have been flipped to left field with Gardner, and he struck out at a decent clip — but he was grand for the entire year. He hit 43 homers in 2012 before an injury undid his final year in the Bronx.
Right Field: 2017 Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge had the best season of any Yankee since MVP A-Rod in 2017. The numbers do all the talking. He led the AL with 52 homers, 128 runs, 127 walks and 208 strikeouts. He batted .284/.422/.627 (174 wRC+) and likely should have won MVP, all after striking out in 44.2 percent of his at-bats in 2016. No offense to Pete Alonso, but it was the best rookie season of all-time.
Judge hasn’t quite reached 2017 heights offensively in subsequent years, but his improved defense might make him a better all-around player when healthy.
Designated Hitter: 2018 Giancarlo Stanton/2015 Álex Rodríguez
The Yankees have had an eclectic group of DH seasons in the 2010s, many of which have been highly successful. 2010 Marcus Thames. 2011 Jorge Posada. 2012 Raúl Ibañez, though he played far too many games in the field.
Two seasons stand above the rest: Stanton and A-Rod. A-Rod’s last gaps in 2015 featured 30 home runs and an All-Star first half before he cratered late in his age-40 season. Stanton, meanwhile, carried the Yankees while Judge was hurt and boasted 38 homers in his Bronx debut.
- 2011 CC Sabathia
- 2017 Luis Severino
- 2012 Hiroki Kuroda
- 2016 Masahiro Tanaka
- 2013 Ivan Nova
- 2010 Andy Pettitte
The Yankees have had two pitchers pitch to an ace level for a season in this decade: Sabathia and Severino. Sabathia was at the tail-end of his prime in the early 2010s and had back-to-back top-four finishes in the Cy Young in 2010 and ’11. Sevy, meanwhile, was third in Cy Young voting in 2017 and could very well surpass that if he overcomes 2019’s health issues.
Kuroda and Tanaka mirror Sabathia and Severino in the very good category. Kuroda pitched the end of his stateside career in the Bronx and his first year with the Yankees, 2012, was the strongest of those, capped with a strong start to clinch the division and two good playoff outings. Tanaka has been consistently good, especially in big games. His abbreviated 2014 and his full 2016 seasons were the closest he came to being a regular-season ace.
I extended it to a six-man rotation because, well, why not? Nova fizzled out by the end of his time in the Bronx, but he mastered his sinker and curveball before Tommy John surgery in the early 2010s with a fine run from 2011-13, earning him Rookie of the Year consideration in 2011. The culmination of that progression was 2013, when he had health, consistency and confidence. Pettitte was superb in 2010 but in just 21 starts.
Honorable Mention: 2010 Phil Hughes, 2011 Freddy Garcia, 2015 Nathan Eovaldi, 2019 James Paxton
Closer: 2010 Mariano Rivera
The Rest: 2011 David Robertson, 2014 Dellin Betances, 2015 Andrew Miller, 2017 Chad Green, 2019 Ottavino/Kahnle/Britton/Chapman
I don’t know how you whittle down this bullpen. I nearly forgot Miller, and I had to exclude standout seasons from Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade, Luis Ayala and Adam Warren. The Yankees have been stacked in relief year-after-year.
Rivera is the closer every decade until my mind goes mush, and he had a 1.80 ERA in 2010. Robertson’s breakout (and only All-Star) year was 2011, when he struck out 100 with a 1.08 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. Betances struck out an absurd 135 batters in 2014 while often going multiple innings a la ’96 Rivera.
With Miller, his 2016 season was better, but he was traded at the deadline. Same with Chapman, but I included the entire 2019 top-four as a cop-out to having to choose between those seasons. Britton, though, was the best of the four. Finally, 2017 Chad Green rivals 2011 Robertson and 2014 Betances for the best relief seasons of the decade as he mowed down hitters with his high-spin fastball for 103 strikeouts and a 1.83 ERA in 69 innings.