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The Tuesday Discussion: The Most Over-Rated Yankee Ever?

This week we asked our writers to identify the most over-rated Yankees player of all-time.

Here are their replies:

Chris O’Connor – The most overrated Yankee is Don Larsen. Larsen is most famous for his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, and to this day that is still the only perfect game thrown in the World Series. An iconic moment in MLB history, but aside from that, Larsen was at best an average pitcher over the course of his career. He won double digit games only twice in his career and threw over 200 innings once; that year he went 3-21. Though he was not a great pitcher over the course of his career, I actually think this makes his perfect game even more remarkable and even more of an iconic moment considering how out of nowhere it was.

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Paul Semendinger – This was so difficult. I tried and tried to find a player considered a star that wasn’t as good as he seemed. I considered a lot of players who some historians have claimed weren’t as good as they were…

I looked at some borderline Hall-of-Famers like Earle Combs, Jack Chesbro, Phil Rizzuto, and Catfish Hunter, but they were all excellent players. I didn’t see them as over-rated. And, except for Chesbro on the Highlanders, these players were starters on multiple championships.

I then thought of some beloved Yankees and wondered if they were over-rated. It was with a heavy heart and some trepidation that I looked at Bobby Murcer, Dave Winfield, and Don Mattingly. No, they were also special Yankees – not over-rated in my book.

I thought of longtime shortstop Frank Crosetti. He was a strong candidate. A fine shortstop who played forever, in 17 years he accumulated a lifetime WAR of just 23.6 (or 1.38 WAR per season). But teams don’t win six World Series with a bad shortstop.

Forgive me here… I thought of Aaron Judge. Since the start of the 2017 season, the Yankees have played 546 games. Judge has appeared in just 397 of them. He’s been on the field for just 72.7% of the Yankees games. It’s likely he would have missed the whole first half of the 2020 season if it wasn’t delayed. If that had been the case, Judge would have appeared in just 61.2% of the Yankees game. That just might be overrated, but the numbers he puts up when he is in the lineup are so good that he compensates for missing so much time, at least a bit.

And then, I finally found the player.

He was a Yankee for eight years. For seven of the eight years, he was a starter. He played first base and center field. He won three Gold Gloves. The Yankees never won a World Series with him and he played in one of the Yankees’ worst periods. He was a three-time All-Star, but his lifetime WAR of his Yankees career was just 7.4. He is remembered as an excellent ballplayer, but the results seem to indicate a somewhat different conclusion. The title of his autobiography pretty much says it all, “Joe, You Could Have Made Us Proud.

My pick for the most over-rated Yankee of all-time is Joe Pepitone.

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Ethan Semendinger – There is a large part of me that wants to say that Brett Gardner- my pick last week for one of the most underrated Yankees ever- is also simultaneously one of the most overrated Yankees ever. He was part of just 1 championship team (2009), is a career .259/.343/.401 hitter, and has just a single All-Star and Gold Glove on his resume. However, as polarized the fanbase is about Gardy, there are better picks, and I think a different current member of the team should be included:

Gary Sanchez

There are those who think that Gary Sanchez’s true value is that of the 2016 player who hit 20 HR’s in 53 games. At this point in his career, and not including his rookie year, Sanchez has had two great years (2017 and 2019) and two horrible years (2018 and 2020). Over the past 3 seasons, Sanchez is hitting at exactly the Mendoza line- or a .200 batting average. Unfortunately, Sanchez needs to be an elite hitting catcher to make up for his defensive downside, and the long-story short is that he hasn’t been able to do so. Even if we include a great 2017 campaign, he sits at an OPS+ of just 108. Add in that his K% has risen every year since 2017, up to a 36.0 K% in 2020, and this is very concerning. So far, he’s been slightly above-average while at the plate, but not elite like many want to believe. And, he’s always been below-average behind the plate.

Fortunately, Gary Sanchez can make up for this with improvements in the Winter League this offseason, but it’s going to take a lot to improve a career. Unfortunately, the early projections don’t expect that. Fangraphs has it that Sanchez will provide 1.6 fWAR for the 2020 season while playing in about 95 games (or about 58% of the season). Those are not “Top 5 Catcher” numbers. They aren’t “Good Catcher” numbers. They are “Journeyman Looking for One Last Shot” numbers. He’s overrated and it’s time to cut bait.

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Mike Whiteman – My vote for the most overrated Yankee is Billy Martin. Martin’s uniform number one is retired by the Yankees.

His Yankee playing career consisted of a .262 career batting average and 88 OPS+ over seven seasons. He added a career World Series average of .333. His Yankees managerial career was a .591 winning percentage with a World Championship in 1977.

Let’s compare to another fine Yankee – Joe Girardi. Girardi batted .272 over his Yankee career with 75 OPS+. Yankee fans all remember his triple in Game Six of the 1996 Series that led to the Yanks’ clinching victory. His managerial career was very good as well – .562 percentage and the 2009 World Championship.

I have no ill will towards Billy Martin. At his best, he was a genius of a manager. The Yankees of the late 70s and the “Billy Ball” A’s of the early 80s were skillfully and innovatively run. I’m just not sure if his Yankee career warrants a retired number. If it does, when can Girardi expect his number(s) to be enshrined?

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Patrick Gunn – The most overrated Yankee of all time, in my opinion, is Tino Martinez. He had a few major home runs and was a solid piece on a great team, but he’s in the middle of the pack in terms of the Yankees’ talent from that era. Still a solid player, but not near some of the Yankees’ greats at first base.

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Owen Hetherington – I think the most overrated Yankee of all time is Aaron Boone. Besides his home run agains the Red Sox in the ’03 ALCS, he didn’t have many big moments in pinstripes. He only played in 54 games as a Yankee and hit .254 with six home runs and 31 RBIs. Without that big home run against the Red Sox, he wouldn’t he managing the team.

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Ed Botti – I’m going to go with Rick Cerone.

When he burst on the scene following the death of Thurman Munson, the media and Madison Ave loved him. Blue jean and beer commercials, it went right to his head.

His first year in 1980 he hit .277 with 30 doubles. Pretty good. We were all psyched.

That was basically the high point.

He played seven more years, in 3 seperate stints, with the Yanks. He hit only 31 home runs, 81 doubles, 203 RBI and hit only .249.

He got more mileage from 1 year then any one player I can remember.

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Andy Singer – This is a really hard one for me. There are 1 or 2 names at the tip of my tongue, but mentioning those names out loud in this context would be such sacrilege given their stature among Yankee fans (and even in my own mind), that I can’t bring myself to do it. This is going to seem like a cop-out, but hear me out: Ronald Torreyes.

In truth, I loved the clubhouse dynamic Torreyes seemed to bring to the table. He was the literal David in a clubhouse full of Goliaths, he played hard, he could play multiple infield positions almost adequately, and he made loads of contact. I loved watching Didi Gregorius carry him around the dugout in big moments, and I will even admit that there was part of me that was sad to see him go after the 2018 season.

From a pure baseball perspective though, Torreyes was way overrated by the New York beat and fans alike. Sure, Torreyes made a lot of contact and had a few big moments, but most of his contact was empty, and he didn’t get on base often enough to really create value at the plate or on the basepaths (.281 batting average, but just a .308 OBP). He was a fine fill-in defensively in a pinch, but was overexposed at 3B and SS due to substandard arm strength at both spots. The cherry on top was the way that Girardi fell in love with Torreyes in 2017, giving him a stunning 336 Plate Appearances. Even with injuries, Torreyes was not a good enough player to get that many appearances.

As much fun as the Torreyes period was for Yankee fans, Torreyes was overrated.

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