All-time Yankees Lineup: Best Rookie Seasons
As great as the rookie years of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres were, and as great as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez were the last two, it made us wonder: what would an all-time lineup with the greatest rookies in Yankees history look like?
Well, below is the results of our brainstorming when we turned that wonder into action. As it's still baseball season, and because we wanted to shine on as many folks as possible, we've excluded Torres and Andujar from this exercise, instead giving you our 12 best Yankees rookie seasons around the horn prior to 2018.
C: GARY SANCHEZ
The Yankees have had a catcher win the AL Rookie of the Year Award in the past, that being Thurman Munson in 1970, but the "Sanchino" eclipsed all of the great rookie seasons among Yankees backstops with his emergence on the scene in 2016. In just 229 plate appearances, Sanchez slashed .299/.376/.657, smacked 20 homers and 12 doubles among his 60 hits, and posted a 3.0 WAR despite his shortened season, earning a runner-up finish to Michael Fulmer in the AL ROY race.
1B: LOU GEHRIG
Gehrig was technically a rookie when the 1925 season began, and he was a reserve behind established first baseman Wally Pipp. You surely know the rest of the story that began on June 2, but the year also saw the Iron Horse hit .295 with an .896 OPS, slug 20 homers, and drive in 68 runs in establishing himself as the Yankees' starting (and literally only) first baseman for the next 13 years.
2B: JOE GORDON
The Yankees have had quite a few rookie second basemen excel in one category, from Tony Lazzeri (117 RBI in 1926) to Alfonso Soriano (43 steals in 2000) to Robinson Cano (.296 average in 2005). But, we're giving the nod to a strong overall performer, and while Torres (and his 24 homers and .820 OPS) might win if he was eligible, our winner is Joe Gordon, who slashed .255/.340/.502 with 25 homers, 97 RBI, and 11 steals in 127 games in 1938 - and was maybe the fourth-best hitter on his own team.
SS: DEREK JETER
You can make a solid Top 3 behind Jeter, with Phil Rizzuto (.307 average in 1941) and Tom Tresh (20 homers in a Rookie of the Year-winning 1962 season) - but how can you not pick the Captain? His .314/.370/.430 slash line came mostly while batting either first or last, his 41 extra-base hits and 71 RBI weren't too shabby, and, of course, he did hit .361 in the postseason, to boot.
3B: GIL MCDOUGALD
Obviously, Andujar wins handily if he's eligible. He's not, and the Yankees also haven't had a lot of strong rookie performances at the hot corner. McDougald played both second and third in 1951 but spent more time at the hot corner, and he won Rookie of the Year (and finished ninth in MVP voting) after hitting .306/.396/.488 with 14 homers, 63 RBI, and 14 steals, so he gets our nod.
LF: CHARLIE KELLER
The .300/.400/.500 slash line is a milestone of the greats, and Keller did that as a rookie in 1939, going .334/.447/.500 with 11 homers, 83 RBI, and 21 doubles in 111 games. The Yankees had four players finish in the Top 10 in voting that year, and he, amazingly, wasn't one of them.
CF: JOE DIMAGGIO
A .323 average, .968 OPS, 29 homers, 125 RBI, a league-leading 15 triples, 44 doubles, and 206 total hits was just the tip of the iceberg for Joltin' Joe, who also hit .346 in the 1936 World Series and then just kept getting better. His 44 doubles were a Yankees rookie record, too, until this year.
RF: AARON JUDGE
His 2017 may have been the greatest rookie season of all-time, let alone among Yankees or outfielders or Yankees outfielders. Enough said.
DH: HIDEKI MATSUI
There are so many great rookies we could put here, including Tresh, Rizzuto, catchers Bill Dickey and Thurman Munson (both hit over .300 as rookies) and outfielders Earle Combs (.342 in 19xx) and Bobby Murcer (26 homers in 1969), but Matsui got slighted in not winning Rookie of the Year in 2003, so we'll give him and his .287-16-106 line and 163 games played a nod as our DH.
LHP: RON GUIDRY
Although he had made cameos in 1975 and 1976, the 1977 season was technically Gator's rookie year, and he did not disappoint. In helping the Yankees to their first World Series title in 15 years, Guidry went 16-7 with a 2.82 ERA in 210 2/3 innings, establishing himself as a perennial Cy Young candidate. He wouldn't win it that year - 1978, in fact, was his only one - but he became arguably the best southpaw in Yankees history by the time he was done.
RHP: STAN BAHNSEN
Bahnsen is one of the many Yankees to win a Rookie of the Year Award, compiling a 2.05 ERA in 267 1/3 innings pitched in 1968. That was the noted "Year of the Pitcher," which led to changes in mound height and strike zone size, but still, he was the best rookie of the bunch in the final year pre-divisional era.
RP: DELLIN BETANCES
It might be hard to find a reliever among the top three rookie pitchers if we did this exercise for many teams, but that's not a problem here given what Dellin did in 2014, with the 1.40 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 90 innings. Middle relievers winning Rookie of the Year Awards are unheard of, but he finished third that year to Jose Abreu (.317-36-107) and Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA in 136 innings).