Continuing from my earlier post of players ranked #47-#11...
10. Eric Chavez (3B/1B)--I was wrong. We all were. I thought Chavez might retire after his less-than-memorable 2011 in the Bronx, but he came back and had one of the best seasons off the bench in team history. He turned in his finest season by far since 2006 and was great when he filled in for the injured A-Rod and Tex. His hitless postseason put a damper on things, but boy, was 2012 fun for Chavy. Will he retire now and find an inevitable coaching/managing job? Only he knows.
9. Andy Pettitte (SP)--Ninth on this list is mighty generous for a guy who only made 14 starts including the playoffs. I'll be the first to admit that. However, his May return to the rotation after a stunning comeback announcement in March was a tremendous boost for the team. Remember the April rotation? Freddy Garcia and his 12.51 ERA for the month were in it. Phil Hughes wasn't much better at 7.88. Yes, it was a small sample size, but most Yankee fans were already uneasy about the rotation since Garcia's smoke and mirrors act from last year wasn't working anymore and Hughes had not pitched well since early 2010. Pettitte both smoothly replaced Garcia and likely took some pressure off of Hughes as well. He then proceeded to pitch nothing like a 40-year-old and nothing like a man who took a full season off. Losing him to a broken leg on a freak line drive was unfortunate, but come September, he was vintage Pettitte in his two playoff starts, as if he had never left. Now, we'll get one more season of those scary glares.
8. David Robertson (RP)--Robertson's 2011 season was one of the greatest for a reliever in the history of the team, but his 2012 was not as far behind as one might think (example: his xFIP adjusting for the one-homer anomaly last year only went up from 2.46 to 2.67). It did not even matter that his ERA and K/9 were not the otherworldly numbers of 1.08 and 13.5. However, he displayed control that fans have never seen from him before, impressively cutting his BB/9 down from 4.73 to 2.82. Do not let his extremely brief two-game stint as closer prior to an injury create the idea that he "cannot cut it as a closer." D-Rob is the real deal and undoubtedly a possible successor for Rivera as the team's closer.
Aside: Keep your collective chin up, Mark Montgomery fans. D-Rob only had 82 games and 152 innings in the minors before he was in the big leagues for good. Montgomery's at 72 and 92.2, respectively. Additionally, D-Rob ended the year prior his midseason MLB debut with a brief stint at AA Trenton. Guess where Montie finished 2012. Just saying.
7. Raul Ibanez (DH/"OF")--Yes, it has come to this. Raul is ranked up at seventh on this list. Yes, he was a complete butcher in the field. Yes, he went dormant for month-long stretches at times, and it was painful to watch. Yes, I was one of the people calling him and Andruw Jones "Useless I" and "Useless II." But damn it, the Yankees had no business making it as far as the American League Championship Series without Raul. It was a small sample size, but dear God, his numerous late-game homer heroics at the end of the season and in those playoff games were honestly some of the greatest moments I've had the privilege of watching/listening to as a Yankee fan. I absolutely will not apologize for ranking him this high. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be watching these three clips over and over again until next season commences.
6. Nick Swisher (RF/1B)--It was a fun four years while it lasted, Swish. He quietly had another fine regular season in 2012, batting .272/.364/.473 with a 128 wRC+ and compiling 3.9 fWAR in the process (second-highest among position players, as was his OBP). A midseason hip flexor injury cut into his counting statistics, but don't worry about Swish--he did just fine. Again though, October was his Achilles' heel, and barring unforeseen circumstances, Swish will be taking his goofy antics and quality game somewhere else next Spring. Alas.
5. Rafael Soriano (RP)--Soriano did a complete 360° of his 2011 season in 2012. Whereas last year, he was overpaid, disappointing, and injured, he was... still overpaid because he's a reliever but dominating and healthy on the mound. People were unsure of how the 'pen would fare in wake of Mo's ACL injury. Enter "El Silencioso," otherwise known as "MFIKY." Soriano was right up there with Fernando Rodney and Jim Johnson as the American League's top relievers, and he blew only four saves all year. The ninth inning was never in doubt, and Soriano's season would have easily fit in among Rivera's best. Unless Levine gets any crazy ideas, Soriano's off to another contract and the Yankees will gladly take that compensation pick.
4. Derek Jeter (SS)--Yes, counting statistics can be silly, but it is incredible that in the year he turned 38, the Captain finished three measly hits shy of tying his career-high of 219 (set in his career year of '99 when he was 25). Jeter showed that his second half of 2011 following his 3,000th hit was no fluke, as he had his best campaign since '09. The defense was unpleasant, but that should not be the story anymore. Outside of '09, the defense aside from uncanny instincts was never that good overall anyway. Instead, the Yankees still have an offensive threat at a position that normally lacks it, and that should not be a disappointment. It sure appears that like many men enshrined in Cooperstown, Jeter is not done yet, even as he nears his forties.
3. CC Sabathia (SP)--When I originally wrote this list in my head, I had CC at the top, just as he was last year. Unfortunately, I just can't put him on top knowing that due to a few injuries, he missed some starts had his least productive season in six years. Let's get one thing straight though--"least productive" for CC is a career year by most pitchers' standards. However, I factor expectations into these countdowns. CC was certainly not bad in 2012; as a matter of fact, he led the AL in K/BB ratio at 4.47 and his ERA/FIP was nearly identical to his '09 mastery (3.38/3.33 vs. 3.37/3.39). I will always remember his much-needed four-hit complete game dominance of the Baltimore Orioles in ALDS Game 5 to send the Yankees to the ALCS. CC knew he would have to pitch perhaps the game of his life with the offense sputtering as it was, and he came up huge. Keep it up, Carsten Charles.
2. Robinson Cano (2B)--Oh, Bobinson. If only you hadn't followed up arguably the best season of your splendid career thus far with about the worst possible postseason imaginable. Cano was easily the team's MVP during the season, but because this list is counting playoff performance, I cannot give him the nod over the #1 choice. Seriously though, take a long look at his regular season numbers, because who knows if Yankee fans will ever see them again from a second baseman: .313/.379/.550, 48 doubles, 33 homers, .394 wOBA, 150 wRC+, and 7.8 fWAR. Madness. Unless he gets badly injury or his game goes to hell, the Yankees are going to have to pay some crazy bank to retain his services following next season. Yikes. At least they currently have no one signed past 2017 anyway. Appreciate the greatness while it's there, and hope that his horrendous playoff was just one bizarre anomaly.
1. Hiroki Kuroda (SP)--I'm all in on #HIROK for the most impactful Yankee of 2012. He emerged from skepticism about NL pitchers successfully transitioning to pinstripes, then balanced a surprisingly superb regular season with two excellent playoff starts. Kuroda led the Yankees in innings, starts, and his 3.32 ERA (79 ERA-) was much better than anyone expected. Even when his team stopped scoring runs for him, he continued to shut down opposing offenses, even the red-hot Tigers lineup in the ALCS on three days' rest for the first time in his MLB career. Kuroda provided stability to the rotation, never missing a start and keeping his potent offense in the game on all but a scant few occasions. #HIROK day was win day in 2012, and I'm glad that he'll be back next year.