Where Do New York Yankees Hitters of Today Match Up with Baseball's Past?
Baseball's past is the richest in all of American sports. The sample size is like no other, with thousands of players having filtered through generations of the game. The fraternity is so large, in fact, that it is most likely possible to link every current player to one in the past that was anywhere from remotely to remarkably similar in many aspects.
In this article, we will try to accomplish just that, comparing each hitter on the current roster to a player in the past. Let's try not to go too far back; obscurity is not the objective here. But how about some fun, if possible. No matter how amazing or average each player can be, they all have someone to match up against.
When the name "Bronx Bombers" comes up, thoughts of towering home runs throughout decades of all-time sluggers runs across. The key word left out of their repertoire of skills is "run," something they have not had in abundance.
One player that fits the bill would be Mickey Rivers, a speedy lead-off hitter that played 14 seasons in the major leagues. He stopped by the Bronx for a three-year stint, winning two World Series with them in 1977 and '78, playing the role as table-setter. The role is similar to that of Gardner's, who plays mainly in the lead-off or ninth slot in the order, looking to get on base, steal bags, and score from the big hitters.
Their statistics can match up decently for the most part. Rivers' career average is .295, which is right around Gardner's when he is hitting right. The most triples Rivers had was 13, a mark Gardner is certainly capable of obtaining.
Mick the Quick's 267 career steals will be surpassed by Gardner if he stays healthy, but his 70 steals in 1975 with the California Angels is a single-season number Gardner will most likely never reach.
It is very tough to compare Derek Jeter to any hitter. His career is loaded with great moments, including a lot of winning, and a lot more hits. Since eclipsing 3,000 hits in July 2011, the Captain has shown he is not ready to stop there, but to continue to even more remarkable milestones.
Before reaching 3,000 there were whispers of the possibility of Jeter reaching 4,000, meaning he can only be compared with one person: Pete Rose. When matched up, the statistics are surprisingly similar, and even lean toward Jeter.
Up until their 34th birthdays, Jeter actually held a higher average, hits per season, home runs and RBI. Rose continued on strong for 11 more years, however, something Jeter may not be able to do.
Nevertheless, the two have similar approaches to the game. They both play hard, hit the ball with great frequency, and play for excellent teams. Though the utmost respect goes to Jeter, the edge would still have to go to Rose, solely for the reason that he faced much, much better pitching in the 1960's and 70's than Jeter has faced in the 90's and 00's. With years to go in Jeter's career, it will be interesting to see where he finishes against Rose.
This season, the Yankees' most valuable offensive player is no doubt Curtis Granderson. His combination of power, speed, base-running and great defense have made him an American League threat like never before in his career. His current, revamped play is tough to compare to, but one name jumps out, and it may surprise you.
In fact, you will probably jump out of your chair in shock of this comparison, but his statistics of this season can match up very well with those of one Mickey Mantle. Let's assume Granderson finishes with 40 home runs, 115 RBI, 140 runs scored, and 25 stolen bases. In Mantle's career, he reaches that many home runs three times, that RBI total twice, and never eclipsed the stolen base or runs scored marks. They also have similar strikeout tendencies.
What Mantle has over Granderson is average and walks, as he batted .365 with 146 walks in 1957, two numbers Granderson will most likely never see in his career. It is a little startling to see his stats match up with the all-time legend, but the numbers never lie.
Russell Martin was brought to New York in anticipation of bridging a gap between Jorge Posada and the Yankees' bright catching prospects. But with a powerful bat and sharp catching skills, the 28-year-old catcher has proven he might be here to stay. His command of both the strike zone and his pitching staff have made him a useful player in pinstripes.
Where he fits in baseball's history is tough, but if we keep him in the realm of catchers, he can for the most part size up against longtime Atlanta Braves catcher Javy Lopez. Martin has good power and production, and is a much better defensive catcher than Lopez was. Granted, Lopez did not have a difficult task for most of his career, catching the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, all first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.
What Lopez did that Martin has not and probably will not is put together two magical seasons, where he hit 34 and 42 home runs in 1998 and 2003. Lopez's career average was .287, much higher than Martin's. Outside of that, the two are similar. Besides those years, Lopez's highest home run total was 23 (three times). As an overall catcher, it is not a stretch to say the two can line up pretty decently.
When the Yankees first saw Andruw Jones, he was a young kid causing problems against them in the 1996 World Series. Since then, he has amassed an excellent career, tallying more than 400 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves (in a row), and being considered the best center fielder in baseball for quite a long stretch. He hit more than 30 home runs six times, including 51 in 2005.
Jones is a tough comparison. He is in between average center fielders and all-timers like Willie Mays or Ken Griffey Jr., but he can match up against someone like Jim Edmonds pretty well. Edmonds finished with 437 home runs and eight Gold Gloves, mainly compiling those stats with the Anaheim Angels and St. Louis Cardinals.
Edmonds will most likely finish with a higher career average, but not as many home runs as Jones. Both end their careers as fill-in bench players with specific power from a side (Edmonds from the left, and Jones from the right).
Finally, both will fall short of the Hall of Fame. Their offensive stats are not good enough, and it is extremely rare to make it on defense alone.
A lot of expectation has been put on the shoulders of Robinson Cano. Don Mattingly himself claimed early in Cano's career that he will win "multiple batting titles." Since becoming their everyday second baseman six years ago, the easy-going super-talent has become arguably the best second baseman in the game, mixing a beautiful hitting stroke with virtually flawless and effortless defense.
It is difficult to compare Cano to another player because it is believed he has not come close to reaching his prime. Let's say, for the sake of argument, he does reach his prime very soon. He was mentioned in the same sentence as Rod Carew, so let's head in that direction.
Cano has failed to hit .300 twice, including his rookie year. If he wants to keep up with Carew's pace, he must not bat below .300 for the next eight years.
Even with that goal reached, Carew's highest average was an amazing .388 in 1977, his MVP season, a number 46 points higher than Cano's current season-high mark. However, Cano "hasn't reached his prime," so if he increases his production, he is on pace to finish with somewhat similar numbers to Carew.
He already has more home runs and will have more RBI, but will probably not finish with as high an average. The biggest question is, can Cano reach 3,000 hits? Time will tell. What we do know is Cano will most likely go down as the Yankees' best second baseman ever.
Of all the players on the Yankees roster, catcher Francisco Cervelli is the most difficult to compare to anyone. In fact, it is nearly impossible. Though Cervelli's hitting is decent, and his defense is average, he is a back-up catcher with a very small sample size, barely recording 100 at-bats so far this season.
Cervelli has been subject to defensive lapses in the past, though it should be noted he caught A.J. Burnett for the majority of his time in pinstripes, leading to many passed balls and frantic base-runners. What he does well is hit with runners in scoring position, getting many big hits for the Yankees this season.
Since the Yankees acquired Mark Teixeira in 2009, they assured the first base position was locked up for a decade. It has looked that way, as the slick-fielding player has done very well in pinstripes so far, hitting 30 or more home runs each season and taking the Gold Glove in 2009 and '10.
Ironically, the man he essentially replaced at first base is starting to turn into his easiest comparison, and though Jason Giambi is still playing, his career is all but over. It is too hard not to match up these two players.
Giambi would obviously have more power, right? Actually, Teixeira is well on pace to pass Giambi in home runs with ease. Their averages are very similar, as Teixeira is slowly converting to a dead-pull left-handed hitter, something Giambi slipped into as his career progressed.
Teixeira is without a doubt the better fielder, though Giambi had respectable moments at first. In the end, Teixeira will be the better player, but in their best years, the two line up very well. Giambi's highest home run season was 47; Teixeira's was 43. For RBI, Giambi had 137 to Tex's 144. The stat Giambi has way more of is walks, passing 100 seven times to Teixeira's zero.
What Teixeira can do that the Giambino never could do is stay in the line-up. Giambi never played a full season; Teixeira has played two. It is an odd match-up, but a very doable one.
For 10 years, Jorge Posada was one of the best catchers in baseball. He had a lot in his arsenal: a good arm, command over his pitching staff, a powerful bat and switch-hitting presence. Today, Posada is a shell of his former self, showing glimpses of greatness, but barely stretching that talent over consecutive games.
It is very hard to compare him to another catcher that has shown his hitting abilities as a switch-hitter, so let's stay in the family (of sorts) instead. When matched up, Posada's statistics and hitting style reflect those of former player and YES Network Broadcaster Ken Singleton. Both have similar home run and RBI totals, but Singleton has more plate discipline with hits, walks, and a higher average.
However, considering both are switch hitters with relatively similar styles at the plate, it's not too much of a stretch. If you factor in that Posada was a catcher and Singleton was a corner outfielder, their numbers are pretty close.
Nick Swisher was undrafted from Ohio State, but picked up by Moneyball in Oakland with Billy Beane. After a quick and unsuccessful stint with Ozzie Guillen and the Chicago White Sox, he was acquired by the Yankees, and has become a much better player.
His average has increased, allowing his switch-hitting abilities to flourish, and his power numbers are balanced. Even his right-field defense has improved since joining New York.
Swisher can easily be seen as a less powerful version of Richie Sexson. Even though Swisher is becoming more valuable than Sexson was, their numbers can be compared. Sexson's home runs and RBI were both larger than Swisher's, but they have similar styles at the plate, hitting for a reasonable-but-not-great average, but a very good on-base percentage. Both even strike out quite a bit.
Inevitably, Swisher will have the better career because of his success with the Yankees. He may not have the offensive production of Sexson, but he will have become a better player, and more importantly, he has a ring.
Eduardo Nunez hasn't even played a full season's worth of games in the major leagues, but has proven he belongs in it. He has maintained a .275 average in his short career, showing good hitting skills with a little bit of power, impressive for a 24-year-old shortstop. He's no Derek Jeter, but he's a respectable bench addition for New York.
With such a small sample size, it's tough to find a comparable player for this young talent. However, if he continues at this pace, he wouldn't be far off from former shortstop David Eckstein, who contributed as a small-hitting infielder for two World Series teams, the 2002 Anaheim Angels and the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.
Eckstein's career average is .280, right around Nunez's at the time. Neither have big power, but are capable of hitting a home run from time to time. Both have very good speed with the ability to steal bases and hit for extra bases. The only thing Nunez will have to improve on to keep on par with Eckstein is fielding, but other than that, the two are very close so far.
Finally, we look at the Yankees' best player, someone who revolutionized the game in so many ways. Alex Rodriguez in his prime could do absolutely anything, joining the 40/40 club (40 home runs, 40 stolen bases in a season), driving in insane amounts of runs, hitting for good average, and making himself the best shortstop in the game, and one of the best third baseman in baseball.
When you need to find a comparison for A-Rod, one man comes to light: Hank Aaron. When Rodriguez's career is finished, his numbers will be very similar to Aaron's in so many ways. His career average is .302, while Aaron's was .305. Rodriguez will most likely have at least 700 home runs and will have at least 2,000 RBI, something only three other players have accomplished, including Aaron.
It is a little startling how easily Rodriguez can so quickly be compared to Aaron, proving how amazing a player he has been. With a contract with the Yankees extending into his 40's, the Yankees third baseman has a chance to become not just one of the best, but maybe the best player ever.