A Brief Look At How The Yankees Championship Teams Were Built (Pt. 14)
by Paul Semendinger
In this article, we continue to look at how each of the Yankees’ championship teams were assembled. This article, focusing on the 1998-2000 Yankees, is part fourteen in the series.
The statistics I will share in this exercise are the typical counting stats of the time - batting average/home runs/runs batted in (and for pitchers, wins, losses, ERA). These will serve as a quick guide to see how that player performed over those years. (I used Baseball-Reference.com to determine all these stats and the transaction data. Some other information came from the SABR Biography Project.)
Please note that this is not an exhaustive study, it is only a start. More and deeper research is welcome.
The 1998 Yankees
The 1998 Yankees went a remarkable 114-48 to easily win the American League East.
The Yankees then defeated the Texas Rangers (3-0) in the Division Series.
The Yankees went past the Cleveland Indians (4-2) in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees then defeated the San Diego Padres in four games in the World Series.
The 1999 Yankees
The 1999 Yankees went 98-64 in the regular season to finish in first place in the American League East.
The Yankees then defeated the Texas Rangers (3-0) in the Division Series.
The Yankees went past the Boston Red Sox (4-1) in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees then defeated the Atlanta Braves in four games in the World Series.
The 2000 Yankees
The 2000 Yankees went 87-74 in the regular season to finish in first place in the American League East.
The Yankees then defeated the Oakland A’s (3-2) in the Division Series.
The Yankees went past the Seattle Mariners (4-2) in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees then defeated the New York Mets in five games in the World Series.
OVERALL - The Yankees won 299 regular season games over this three year period. Amazing.
One fact that truly stands out is the consistency in these clubs year-after-year, which are basically the core players from the 1996 team as well. This was a team built to win over a long period - and that’s what it did. From 1998-2000, three years, the Yankees played, primarily, the same player in seven of the eight fielding positions. Three of the five starting pitchers remained the same. Three of the middle innings/set-up men in the bullpen were the same. And the closer, yeah, he was the same guy too.
Catcher - The primary catcher in this period was the home grown Jorge Posada. He was behind the plate for 374 games and batted .269/57/206 over this period. Posada is one of the important home grown players that helped form the nucleus of these teams - one of the “Core Four.”
First Base - Tino Martinez was the first baseman for these team. Martinez came to the Yankees in a big trade with the Seattle Mariners (a trade the Yankees got the better of). Going to Seattle were Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock. Coming to the Yankees were Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson along with Martinez. In this period Tino Martinez played in 456 games batting .267/72/319.
Second Base - One player, now often overlooked, who was a big presence in the line-up was Chuck Knoblauch who manned second base for these three championship teams. Knoblauch played in 402 games batting .280/40/158. The Yankees traded prized prospect Eric Milton and three other players to the Minnesota Twins to get Knoblauch. It ended up being a fantastic deal for the Yankees.
Shortstop - Home grown Derek Jeter, the greatest Yankees position player of this generation, lit the world on fire during these three seasons. His numbers might be better than most people remember: 455 games, .337/58/259. Yeah, he wasn’t just good - he was great. GREAT. Was he the core of the Core Four?
Third Base - In November 1997, the Yankees sent pitcher Kenny Rogers to the Oakland A’s. Less than two weeks later, Scott Brosius was sent to the Yankees as the “player to be named later.” Brosius was a solid presence in the field and at bat.: 420 games .261/52/233.
Left Field - Left field was the one position the Yankees did not have stability at. It seemed to be ever-changing:
In 1998, Chad Curtis (acquired from the Indians for David Weathers) started 100 games.
Tim Raines (acquired in a trade with the White Sox) played 47 games in left in 1998.
Ricky Ledee (a home grown player) saw action in 36 games in 1998. In 1999, he was the starter in left, but he was traded late in the 2000 season to the Indians for David Justice who helped the Yankees in their push to the pennant that year.
Also playing in left field in this time was home grown Shane Spencer.
Center Field - Bernie Williams was a Yankee through-and-through. A career Yankee who set the stage for the “Core Four,” Bernie hit .329/81/333 while playing in 427 games. Williams led these clubs in homers and runs batted in. Look at those numbers again, the man was a superstar.
Right Field - Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds, on November 3, 1992, in a trade for Roberto Kelly, Paul O’Neill played in 447 games batting .295/61/326. He was a tough out always and his energy helped spark these clubs.
Designated Hitter - The other position that was in flux during this period. Darryl Strawberry (free agent) was still around in 1998.
Chili Davis (free agent) was around in 1998 and 1999.
Home grown Shane Spencer saw some time at DH also as did Jose Canseco (waivers) and Glenallen Hill (trade) late in 2000.
Main Starting Pitchers:
Andy Pettitte - A home-grown Yankee (and a member of the Core-Four) Andy Pettitte started more games in this period than any other starting pitcher making 96 starts and going 49-31, 4.42.
David Cone - David Cone came to the Yankees in a huge trade on July 28, 1995. The Yankees sent three pitching prospects to the Blue Jays for Cone. It was one of the best deals they ever made. David Cone started 92 games for the Yankees from 1998 to 2000. His last great year was 1998 (20-7). After going 12-9 in 1999, he suffered through a 4-14 season in 2000. He would come out of the bullpen in a World Series game against the Mets and get some critical outs…
Orlando Hernandez - “El Duque” was signed by the Yankees after he escaped Cuba and starred for the Bombers during this period. He started 83 games pitching to a 41-26, 4.00 record. Hernandez would be his best in the post season.
Hideki Irabu - Irabu, who came in a trade with the Padres after leaving Japan, was a more important pitcher than many people remember. In 1998 and 1999, he started 55 games for the Yankees - no small feat.
David Wells - The Yankees signed David Wells as a free agent before the 1997 season. In 1998, he made 30 starts for the Yankees including a memorable perfect game. After the season, though, he was traded for Roger Clemens.
Roger Clemens - Traded from the Blue Jays to the Yankees for David Wells, Clemens made 62 starts over the 1999 and 2000 seasons. He went 27-18 in that period.
Ramiro Mendoza - A home grown player, Mendoza shuttled between the rotation and bullpen playing an important role in providing stability to the pitching staff.
Main Relief Pitchers:
Mariano Rivera - A home grown Yankee. A member of the Core Four. One of the greatest of all time. Rivera racked up 117 saves in these three seasons.
Jeff Nelson -Nelson came to the Yankees in the deal with Seattle that also brought them Tino Martinez (see above). He pitched in 157 games over these three seasons.
Mike Stanton - This left-handed reliever pitched in 209 games for the Yankees. He was a rock in that period. He had signed with the Yankees as a free agent after the 1996 season.
Jason Grimsley - Signed as a free agent before the 1999 season, Grimsley pitched in 118 games over two seasons (1999 and 2000) for the Yankees. 118 games! I don’t think many fans remember how often he pitched for these clubs.
Conclusion - The home-grown players on these teams were important cogs in this machine. This great Yankees era gets defined by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte.
The Yankees also had some home-grown role players such as Ramiro Mendoza, Ricky Ledee, and Shane Spencer who contributed.
These were teams built around an amazing core (four, plus Bernie Williams) and on players acquired through smart trades along with key free agent signings to compliment the core.
The Yankees were not afraid to spend big or make the big trade to help assure great success.
Again, what also stands out is the stability around so many positions. High quality, key players formed a core that led to these teams great success.
This series concludes with the 2009 team which provided one last moment of glory for a few of these key players.