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The Most Underrated Individual Seasons from a Yankee since 2010

The Most Underrated Individual Seasons from a Yankee since 2010

By Chris O’Connor

February 2, 2021

*** Though the last decade has not seen a World Series appearance, the Yankees still managed to lead the league in wins in the decade of the 2010s with a record of 921-699. The team did not have a losing record despite going through a semi-rebuild in the middle part of the decade. They made the playoffs seven times, reaching the ALCS in 2010, 2012, 2017, and 2019 while falling short of the playoffs in 2013, 2014, and 2016.

Despite the lack of a World Series win or even appearance, there have been many great, underrated individual seasons. These are not necessarily the best or most unexpected seasons, but years that I feel have gone overlooked in the Yankees community. Everyone remembers Robby Cano’s excellence and Aaron Judge’s 2017, but I want to see the years that often go unnoticed. Let’s go year by year for some of the most underrated individual seasons of the past decade.

*All stats courtesy of BaseballReference

2010: Brett Gardner

This was a tough call between Gardner and Phil Hughes, who went 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA, but the edge has to go to Gardner here. Throughout his career, Gardy has been a dependable, durable, three win per-year type player for the Yankees who provided good on-base skills and solid defense. His age-26 season in 2010, however, was his peak. Though his slash line of .277/.383./.379 does not stand out (except for the high OBP), he played in 150 games, stole 47 bases, and played top-tier defense in center field. He is credited with 7.4 WAR that year, easily a career high and MVP-level production.

2011: Freddy Garcia

Another tough call between Garcia and Ivan Nova, but I think the edge goes to Garcia because of both how unexpected it was and how it seems to be forgotten among Yankees fans. Nova had a great year, going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year Voting at age 24. I think many Yankees fans, however, do remember Nova as a talented yet inconsistent starter. Garcia went 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in his first year with the team, and I just remember feeling so confident whenever he took the mound that year. Nova pitched for the team until he was traded to the Pirates at the 2016 deadline, but I think Garcia’s 2011 gets forgotten because of his struggles with numerous teams in the years before he came to the Yankees and the fact that he struggled through just once more year with the team in 2012.

2012: Hiroki Kuroda

There were a few candidates in 2012: Eric Chavez hit for an .825 OPS with 16 homers in 116 games as the primary DH and Rafael Soriano pitched to a 2.26 ERA with 42 saves while seamlessly filling in for Mariano Rivera, who had torn his ACL in the preseason. This, however, was an easy choice for Kuroda. He was so good for the Yankees in his three years with the team, and 2012 was his first year in New York as a 37 year-old. He went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA and 219.2 innings pitched. That is ace-level production and he was a huge reason that they made the playoffs for the 18th time in 19 seasons at that point in time.

2013: Alfonso Soriano

2013 was a rough year for the Yankees as they got old fast and missed the playoffs. There were not many candidates as guys like Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells were full-time regulars. 41 year-old Andy Pettite did go 11-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 185.1 innings in his last year in the big leagues, but I give the nod to Soriano. Though he only played in 58 games with the team after being acquired in late July, he hit 17 homers and drove in 50 runs with an .850 OPS as a 37 year-old. Perhaps the most memorable moment from this year was his driving in 18 runs over a 4 game span in mid August of that year.

2014: Adam Warren

Like 2013, not a very fun year. With Derek Jeter retiring and the team struggling to stay above .500, there were again not many candidates here. I’ll go with Adam Warren. He has been a dependable if not flashy reliever for the Yankees over the years, and this year saw him pitch to a 2.97 ERA in 78.2 innings while appearing in 69 games. A heavy workload for a reliever, but Warren proved to be up to the challenge.

2015: Nathan Eovaldi.

This was the year A-Rod bounced back after his season-long suspension in 2014 and Teixeira had a brief career renaissance in 111 games. They both fell off in 2016, but they have had many years of success with the Yankees and I think most fans remember their highs and lows. I’ll go with the 25 year-old Eovaldi for the surprise factor. He went 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA in 154.1 innings, providing a reliable arm to a thin rotation. Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson were also unexpectedly great out of the bullpen that year.

2016: Carlos Beltran

This year will go down in history as one of the few times the Yankees have sold at the trade deadline and instituted a youth movement. Not many candidates as known names like Tanaka, Chapman, Betances, and Miller had exceptional years while the rest of the roster mostly struggled (aside from Gary Sanchez’s world-beating 53 games that everyone remembers). This was actually a very easy choice for Beltran, who appeared in 99 games for the team before he was traded to the Rangers for a package headlined by Dillon Tate, who was later the headliner in a deal with the Orioles that brought Zack Britton to the Bronx. In those 99 games, Beltran was unbelievable. He slashed .304/.344/.546 with 22 homers and 64 RBI’s as a 39 year-old.

2017: Starlin Castro

This year was tough to choose because it seems like all Yankees fans remember this team so well and there were almost too many individual breakout years to count. One name I have to mention is Matt Holliday, who signed a one year deal that offseason and was on a 30-homer pace while slashing .262/.366/.511 through late June before a mysterious illness caused him to miss some time. His production fell off a cliff for the rest of the year, which may have been due to age or the illness, but I remember how much he contributed to the Yankees hot start that year. I went with Castro because I always loved to watch him hit. He was more of a free swinger than a hitter with great plate discipline, as he did not walk or strike out much, but he managed to hit .300 that year with 16 homers in 112 games. He hit the game tying two-run, two-out homer in the ninth in a late April game against the Orioles. This was one of my favorite games of that year that saw the Yanks come back from deficits of 9-1 and 11-4.

2018: Jonathan Holder

I think the reason that Holder’s 2018 gets overlooked is because of how poorly he has done in the two seasons since. In 2018, Holder appeared in 60 games and pitched to a 3.14 ERA in 66 innings (just about as many innings as David Robertson and Dellin Betances threw that year). There was not much fluky about it either. He had a 3.04 FIP with a better strikeout to walk ratio than Aroldis Chapman (3.16 to 3.10). This was not a great season for underrated players. Most of the 2017 holdovers had solid years, and rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar had great debuts. I get the sense that despite Andujar’s recent struggles, his nice rookie year is still well remembered.

2019: Mike Tauchman

On the other hand, the 2019 team had almost too many breakout years to count. With the injury list piling up, guys like Clint Frazier, Mike Ford, Gio Urshela, all received extended playing time for the first time in their careers and thrived. Similarly, DJ Lemahieu and Cameron Maybin were established big leaguers who had far-and-away career years. My nod here, however, goes to Tauchman. He was a career minor leaguer with the Rockies with a total of 69 big league at bats heading into 2019. When he finally got the chance to play with the Yankees, he was unbelievable. Before he went down late in the season with a calf injury, he played in 87 games. He slashed .277/.361/.504 with 13 homers and 47 RBI’s. With his exceptional outfield defense in center and left, he was worth 3.8 WAR in those 87 games. Translated to 162 games, that equates to 7.1 WAR, which would have ranked 7th among all position players. He was that good, and I think he gets forgotten because of the outfield depth on the club and because he struggled in 2020. His 2019, however, was terrific and I remain high on Tauchman if he can find some playing time heading into 2021.

2020: Luis Cessa

Like 2019, not too many breakout or surprising years aside from continued excellence from the likes of Cole, Lemahieu, Judge, Urshela, and Voit. I’ll go with Cessa, a reliever who has been mostly average for the team since his debut in 2016. Among pitchers used exclusively in relief, he threw the second most innings on the team with 21.2 and pitched to a 3.32 ERA. Happ, Tanaka, and Jonathan Loaisica were solid during the regular season as well.

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