Imagine if you could put together a roster of the finest years by a Yankee at each position. Now ponder an outfield that features versions of Babe Ruth in both left field and right field, six years apart, with Mickey Mantle chasing balls in center field. That sounds like the kind of team that would win a lot of ballgames.
The Yankees have had no shortage of great single-season performances over the decades, including many players who have landed in Cooperstown or Monument Park. We crunched the numbers to whittle that list down to the best of the best -- let’s see if your favorite seasons made the cut:
Catcher: Yogi Berra (1956)
.298/.378/.534 (142 OPS+), 29 doubles, 30 home runs, 105 RBIs, 6.2 bWAR
The Yankees have been blessed with many terrific performances from their starting catchers over the decades, a group highlighted by Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada. Berra was a three-time MVP, and if not for Mickey Mantle’s Triple Crown season in ‘56, he might have earned a fourth.
First base: Lou Gehrig (1927)
.373/.474/.765 (220 OPS+), 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 173 RBIs, 11.8 bWAR
A member of the celebrated Murderers' Row lineup, Gehrig earned the American League MVP as he paced the Majors in doubles, RBIs, total bases (447) and games played (155). In one of the finest all-around seasons played, Gehrig’s 117 extra-base hits that season remain second all-time.
Second base: Tony Lazzeri (1929)
.354/.429/.561 (160 OPS+), 37 doubles, 11 triples, 18 home runs, 106 RBIs, 7.7 bWAR
The Hall of Famer’s .991 OPS during the ’29 season is the highest recorded by a Yankees second baseman (minimum 400 plate appearances), edging Lazzeri’s .932 OPS from the previous year and Robinson Cano’s .929 mark from 2012. Lazzeri’s 7.7 bWAR ranked fourth in the AL that season, behind Ruth but slightly ahead of Gehrig.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter (1999)
.349/.438/.552 (153 OPS+), 37 doubles, nine triples, 24 home runs, 102 RBIs, 8.0 bWAR
Jeter enjoyed his finest all-around season in 1999, helping the Yankees to a third World Series championship in four years. He led the Majors with 219 hits and paced the AL with 739 at-bats, finishing second in the batting race and ranking third in on-base percentage.
Third base: Alex Rodriguez (2007)
.314/.422/.645 (176 OPS+), 31 doubles, 54 home runs, 156 RBIs, 9.4 bWAR
A-Rod received his third career MVP Award and second as a Yankee, leading the Majors in slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, runs scored (143), homers and RBIs. Rodriguez also paced the AL with 376 total bases, earning one of his 10 Silver Slugger Awards.
Left field: Babe Ruth (1921)
.378/.512/.846 (239 OPS+), 44 doubles, 16 triples, 59 home runs, 168 RBIs, 12.8 bWAR
That’s right; the Bambino played most of 1921 in left field. In his second year with the Yankees, Ruth powered the club to its first pennant, setting Major League records in homers, runs (177), RBIs, walks (170), extra-base hits, total bases (457), times on base (353) and runs created (229).
Center field: Mickey Mantle (1956)
.353/.464/.705 (210 OPS+), 22 doubles, 52 home runs, 130 RBIs, 11.2 bWAR
Mantle won baseball’s Triple Crown in a season that he’d later refer to as his favorite, earning his first career MVP Award. In addition to batting average, homers and RBIs, Mantle paced the league in slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, runs (132) and total bases (376). The advanced stats suggest that Mantle’s ’57 was a slightly better season, but The Mick preferred ’56. Who are we to argue?
Right field: Babe Ruth (1927)
.356/.486/.772 (225 OPS+), 29 doubles, 60 home runs, 165 RBIs, 12.5 bWAR
Most baseball fans can identify ’27 as the year Ruth swatted 60 homers, a mark that stood until Roger Maris belted 61 in 1961. But Ruth’s season line is littered with bold print, indicative of leading the Majors in runs (158), homers, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. He also swung big, leading the Majors with -- get this -- 89 strikeouts in 540 at-bats.
Designated hitter: Jason Giambi (2002)
.314/.435/.598 (172 OPS+), 34 doubles, 41 home runs, 122 RBIs, 7.1 bWAR
Using a minimum of 35 percent of games played as a DH as a benchmark, Giambi’s first season in pinstripes edges other contenders, including Giancarlo Stanton’s 2018 season. Giambi scored a career-high 120 runs and posted the third-highest OPS+ of his career, enjoying his most productive season as a Yankee.
Starting pitcher: Ron Guidry (1978)
25-3, 1.74 ERA (208 ERA+), 248 strikeouts, nine shutouts, 16 complete games, .0946 WHIP, 9.6 bWAR
“Louisiana Lightning” enjoyed one of the finest seasons compiled by any Modern Era pitcher during the ’78 campaign, helping bring the Yankees back from a 14 1/2-game deficit in the division race. The unanimous Cy Young Award winner, Guidry paced the Majors in wins, winning percentage, ERA, shutouts, ERA+, FIP (2.19), WHIP and hits per nine innings (6.1).
Relief pitcher: Mariano Rivera (2008)
1.40 ERA (316 ERA+) in 64 appearances, 39 saves, 70 2/3 innings, six walks, 77 strikeouts, 4.3 bWAR
Selecting Rivera’s best season is like being asked to choose your favorite child. Going purely by bWAR, his highest total was 1996, when Rivera set up for John Wetteland. His highest saves total was 53 in 2004, one of three years Rivera led the AL. The Yankees didn’t even make the postseason in ’08, a time when Rivera truly made his money. Still, his career-best 12.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio and career-low 0.665 WHIP are evidence of Rivera’s remarkable skills.