Looking At ESPNNY's Top 50 Yankees

ESPN NY recently released a list of the top 50 Yankees as voted on by a group of local ESPN writers and radio personalities. Ron Abruzzese of BBD transcribed the list from its original slideshow format, which made it fairly easy for me to put it into a table and add some statistics. Let’s take a closer look at these players, both in terms of their overall contribution to the franchise and their per-season output while in pinstripes. You can sort the list by any of the columns.

[table id=23 /]

Sorted by total bWAR as a Yankee: The first thing that struck me was that the top 10 was pretty much right on the money, as the numbers are rearranged but 9 of the same 10 players head the bWAR list, while Red Ruffing dropped to #11. I was surprised to see that Mariano Rivera, despite being a closer, is 9th all-time in bWAR as a Yankee. Another thing that became evident from this list is that Willie Randolph and Roy White are incredibly underrated. Randolph is likely under appreciated due to his status as a middle infielder, while White played most of his career in the dark ages between the Maris-Mantle Yankees and the Bronx Zoo clubs.

As for overrated Yankees, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage stand out. While Jackson was only with the club for 5 seasons and therefore would not be expected to be near the top of the list, his per season numbers are not good enough to propel him to #15. As for Goose, Gossage’s role limited his value to the club and he likely belonged near the bottom of any list of top Yankees.

Sorted by BWAR per season as a Yankee: Rickey Henderson was fantastic as a Yankee, with his per season output trailing only the clear top 4 in Yankee history (Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio). A-Rod is right there as well, and by the end of his current contract will likely have an argument for being one of the top-10 Yankees of all-time. Joe Gordon is likely a victim of the undervaluation of middle infielders, as he scores better than 38th in both categories examined.

I also wanted to note that Derek Jeter scores in the top 10 in both categories, despite the fact that WAR includes defense in its calculations. Jeter is clearly a top 10 Yankee based upon his statistics, which renders the oft-repeated claim that he would just be another guy if playing in Kansas City an absurd and meaningless statement. He is an all-time great and a surefire Hall of Famer, and it is not necessary to resort to discussions of intangibles and leadership to support that statement.

Mike Mussina got little respect from the voters, despite the fact that he scores much better than 50th in both categories. He provided enough total and per-season value to be somewhere in the middle of this list. So did Gil McDougald, who has a strong argument for being the most underrated Yankee of all-time. McDougald made 5 all-star teams, won the Rookie of the Year award, received MVP votes in 5 separate seasons, and played in 8 World Series (winning 5), but his name rarely comes up in discussions of great Yankees. As his placement at #47 on this list shows, he is something of a forgotten man in Yankee lore.

What do you think of the list? Who is missing, and who is misplaced?

16 thoughts on “Looking At ESPNNY's Top 50 Yankees

  1. There are certain guys you just knew would be overrated (Maris, O’Niell, Mattingly, and the guys you mentioned), while there were going to be others that were greatly underrated.
    What the heck is Catfish doing on the list? Ditto Lyle. Russ Ford has a higher WAR than both put together. So does Ray Caldwell.
    Speaking of NYY pitchers from long ago, why is it that Hoyt and Pennock are always mentioned on ‘all-time Yankees’ things like this, but Bob Shawkey isn’t? He was better then either of them, and had more WAR than probably half the list.

    • Good call on Shawkey: 37.6 WAR as a Yankee, 2.89 per season. As for Maris, I think he has an argument for being so high. While his total WAR is low, he is 10th in per season WAR, and he was here 7 years, which is pretty healthy. I do not mind him at 22.

  2. Babe Ruth spent the first 6 years of his career with the Red Sox and five of those as a pitcher and still tops this list by almost 20 bWAR. That is all.

  3. Dear Yankeenalysts,

    I realize this is off-topic, but I’m too unsettled to keep my big mouth shut anymore. Since the launch of your site, I’ve been one of your staunchest defenders in the face of those who said you couldn’t do it. But there’s something about the site that really rubs me the wrong way. Why is the comments link at the TOP of a post? Don’t you think your readers deserve to actually read a post before being expected to comment on it? By the time i’m done reading and have a clever, witty, intelligent, etc. comment to make, you can’t seriousliy expect me to then scroll up all the way to the top to get to the comments link…by the time I do, I’ve more than likely forgotten my comment or gotten cold feet about posting it.

    Anyway, long story short, please add a comments link to the end of a post where it rightfully belongs and where all classy blogs place it.

    Thank you for your attention and prompt correction.

    • Hi Enraged Reader,

      Unfortunately, this theme is very difficult to edit. I have tried to make the change you are requesting in the past, and have been unable to do so. I will attempt to do so again. My apologies for your inconvenience.

  4. My initial reaction in viewing the ESPN list was, ‘How can a HOF like Joe Gordon be rated so low on the list’? Glad to see the numbers support my reaction. But now it seems more illogical to rank him below so many inferior players.

  5. I appreciate your prompt response. I can’t say I’m thoroughly satisfied, but it’s nice to know that the little people can still be heard in these troubled times.

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  7. I assume the WAR statistics measure the regular season only. But, when we rate players for greatness, we count the post-season more than the regular season, and properly so IMHO. E.g., Derek Jeter’s flip play on Jeremy Giambi, Reggie Jackson’s World Series HRs and Mariano Rivera’s unbelievable post-season effectiveness are key parts of their records.

    • I’d say in Yankee history, when so many of these players have been in the postseason and won titles, it is pretty hard for players to really stand out in that regard.

  8. Thanks for the table format. Really, who has the time for a slideshow? One surprise in looking at this list was the difference between Winfield and Nettles. Who knew (guess not ESPN, for starters)? Also, no matter the amount of respect we have for Mo, should even the greatest closer really be ahead of Yogi? Just for Yoohoo alone, Yogi deserves the #5 spot…

  9. Great chart, great way to compare these all-time greats side-by-side.

    I realize you didn’t want to spend a week on this but with regards to the per/season WAR it looks like you didn’t consider partial season adjustments. Winfield played only 20 games in 1990 before being traded yet his WAR per/season was treated as if he’d played 9 full seasons. Considering this he was a Yankee for 8.167 seasons, (27 games of 1990), so that equates to 3.13 WAR per season. Which puts him in Cone, Mo & Hoyt territory for that category.
    I’m sure there are others with similar situations including strike shortened seasons if you wanted to take it that far.

    • Yeah, this is far from a perfectly comprehensive study. I also have seasons included where the player got called up for a cup of coffee. It required too much adjustment, and I figured that it would largely even out over the course of a long career. As you pointed out, that is not always the case.