The New York Yankees earned an A+ for their overall efforts on and off the field during the 2009 season, as they captured the 27th World Series championship in franchise history.
But who deserves most of the credit for the rings they will receive in April? In the first part of my grading series, I evaluate the position players.
Derek Jeter, SS: (A+) So much for all those critics who said the 35-year-old's best days were behind him. The captain had an MVP-caliber season, hitting .334 with 18 homers, 66 RBI, 107 runs and 30 steals. He was second in the American League in hits (212), third in batting and on-base percentage (.406), fourth in runs and eighth in thefts.
Mr. November once again came up big when it mattered most, going 11-for-27 (.407) with five runs and three doubles in the Fall Classic to secure his fifth ring in 14 seasons.
But his defense might've been the biggest surprise. The shortstop won his fourth Gold Glove, but just his first since he won three straight from 2004 to 2006.
The Yankee led all AL shortstops this year with a .986 fielding percentage, up from the .979 he had in '08. Jeter, statistically, still has the worst range at his position (3.90 range factor), but he had the best zone rating (6.48)—the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.
The captain also committed only eight errors this season, tied for the least among shortstops with Cesar Izturis of Baltimore.
Jeter's error total and fielding percentage were the best of his 14-year career and there's no question that has a lot to do with the guy whom he was throwing the ball to at first base.
Mark Teixeira, 1B: (A+) That man was Teixeira, whom the Yankees acquired in the offseason for eight years and $180 million. It was money well spent because the first baseman is also in the race for Most Valuable Player.
The No. 3 hitter smacked 39 homers and drove in 122 runs this year, but he may have been more valuable for his defense. Teixeira's Gold Glove was his third, but his first since 2006.
He committed just four errors in 1,275 chances, which comes out to a .997 fielding percentage—tied for second with Justin Morneau, but behind Lyle Overbay's .998.
Teixeira's 2.913 zone rating was second best behind Carlos Pena of the Rays.
In 2008, Jason Giambi made five more errors in 360 less chances for a .990 fielding percentage—10th in the league.
But Teixeira's real worth can be seen by looking at how much he improved his fellow infielders' stats. In addition to Jeter, Robinson Cano saw his errors drop to the second-lowest total in his five seasons and Alex Rodriguez committed just nine errors—the fewest since he moved to third base in 2004.
But let's not forget about Teixeira's offense. He may have struggled during the playoffs, but the Bombers may not have made it that far if not for the switch-hitter's performance during the regular season.
He led the league in homers and runs batted in and finished third in slugging (.565) and OPS (.948).
Alex Rodriguez, 3B: (A) A-Rod's return from hip surgery on May 8 signaled the turning point in New York's season. Rodriguez homered on the first pitch he saw and instantly improved everyone around him.
The Yanks entered that game at Camden Yards with a 13-15 record and a No. 3 hitter who was batting a putrid .198 with an awful .396 slugging percentage. After A-Rod's return, the Pinstripes went 90-44, while Teixeira hit .310 and slugged .596. Inserting Rodriguez into the clean-up spot gave the guy in front of him a lot more good pitches to hit.
On his own, A-Rod batted .286 with 30 homers, 100 RBI, 78 runs and 14 steals in just 124 games. His two-homer, seven-RBI inning in the final regular season contest got him to the 30-homer and 100-RBI plateaus for the 12th consecutive year.
But the real story was the so-called Mr. May's performance in the playoffs. Rodriguez hit .365 with six enormously clutch homers and 18 runs batted in for an incredible .808 slugging percentage and a ridiculous 1.308 OPS.
Robinson Cano, 2B: (A-) Cano had a strange season. His .207 average with runners in scoring position ranked him 82nd out of 86 AL players with at least 125 plate appearances in those situations. Yet, he was first in the league with the bases empty (.376).
You can't criticize the second baseman for his struggles in the clutch without recognizing his ability to get on base and start rallies. Keep in mind, Cano hit .335 in the seventh inning on, which was third in the AL behind Ichiro Suzuki (.344) and Jeter (.341).
Johnny Damon, LF: (B+) Damon benefited the most from the new Yankee Stadium. He launched 24 home runs, tying a career high. He also tied Jeter for fourth in the league with 107 runs scored.
Damon struggled down the stretch, hitting .247 over the final month. But he nearly snagged World Series MVP honors with back-to-back three-hit performances in Games 4 and 5, including that amazing double-steal on one pitch at the end of Game 4.
Hideki Matsui, DH: (B) Godzilla's Fall Classic heroics were an A+, but he stumbled at times during the regular season. Matsui hit .227 with only 19 RBI in May and June, but finished strong, culminating in his World Series MVP.
The designated hitter's knees are a liability, but I'd bring him back for his bat, which produced 28 homers and 90 runs batted in this year.
Nick Swisher, RF: (B-) I was not pleased when the Yankees signed Swisher on Nov. 13 of last year because he was coming off a season with the White Sox in which he hit a league-low .219. But Swisher proved me wrong as he filled in admirably for the injured Xavier Nady.
The right fielder began the year red-hot, batting .312 with seven homers and 19 RBI in April. He really kept the offense afloat until A-Rod returned.
But Swisher's defense was very inconsistent and he was a terrible 6-for-47 (.128) with 15 strikeouts in the playoffs.
Jorge Posada, C: (C+) Posada is the worst base runner in the game, and he's not a very good catcher, either. The Core Four member's eight passed balls and seven errors were the fifth-most out of the 53 AL catchers that put on the gear behind the plate in 2009. He also didn't work well with some pitchers, driving Girardi to make Jose Molina the personal catcher for A.J. Burnett.
Luckily, Posada can still hit. His 22 homers and 81 RBI in 111 games represented a major contribution to the lineup. Now, if only he could keep his temper in check .
Melky Cabrera, CF: (C+) Cabrera lost his starting job to Brett Gardner in Spring Training, but he never complained. He simply waited for his turn, which came quickly after his replacement hit .220 in April and suffered a thumb injury in July.
Cabrera wasted no time regaining the respect of coaches and fans, picking up three walk-off hits before the All-Star break. He finished the year batting .274 with 13 homers and 68 RBI.
Jose Molina, C: (C) Molina was a non-factor at the plate, hitting .217 in 52 games, but he was once again a valuable backup catcher, especially for Burnett. The pitcher had an opponents' batting average of just .221 with Molina, as opposed to .270 with Posada.
Brett Gardner, CF: (C) Despite a slow start, Gardner was making a case for Rookie of the Year before he got hurt in July. In the end, the speedster finished third among AL first-year players with at least 250 plate appearances in batting (.270) and second in steals (26) and triples (eight).
Francisco Cervelli, C: (C) Cervelli did a nice job filling in behind the plate for the injured Posada and Molina when they both went down with injuries in May. Overall, he hit .298 in 42 games this year.
Ramiro Pena, 3B: (C) Pena was an improvement over Cody Ransom, who started the season at third base in place of the injured A-Rod. Pena hit .287 in 69 games.
Jerry Hairston Jr., Util: (C-) Hairston did little more than give guys a day off in the field after he was acquired from the Reds at the trade deadline. With the Yankees, he hit .237 with two homers and 12 RBI in 45 games.
Eric Hinske, RF: (C-) Hinske's tenure in New York began with a boom after his acquisition on July 1. He launched five homers in his first six starts, but then fizzled out to hit .226 in 39 games for the Bombers.
Juan Miranda, 1B: (D+) Miranda went 3-for-9 as a September call-up and even picked up a walk-off hit in a 4-3 win over the Royals on Sept. 29.
Kevin Cash, C: (D) Cash was called up when Posada and Molina were injured. He went 6-for-26 (.231) in 10 games.
Freddy Guzman, LF: (D) Guzman was called up in mid-September to add some speed to the team. He did that by stealing four of five bases in the regular season and even made the AL Championship Series roster, where he struck out in his only at-bat and then inexplicably pinch ran for A-Rod in Game 5.
Shelley Duncan, RF: (F) The Yankees were expecting better things out of Duncan, who didn't get a single at-bat until September. He went 3-for-15 (.200) with no homers and an RBI.
Cody Ransom, 3B: (F) I thought New York would be able to get by for a month with Ransom filling in for A-Rod, but Ransom was downright awful, hitting .190 with no homers and just 10 RBI in 31 games.
Angel Berroa, 3B: (F) Berroa was another player the organization used to try to fill in for A-Rod after Ransom also went down with an injury. Berroa hit .136 in 21 games.
Xavier Nady, RF: (INC) Nady injured his elbow after just seven games and had to undergo a second Tommy John surgery, most likely ending his short tenure in New York. That's a shame for a guy who went .305/25/97 for the Pirates and Yankees in 2008.
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Jordan Schwartz is Bleacher Report's New York Yankees Community Leader. His book "Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man" is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org