As Caitlin pointed out earlier this week, Masahiro Tanaka is the clear front-runner to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. If he indeed wins he will be the eighth Yankee to do so in franchise history and the first since Derek Jeter in 1996. Let's a take a look back at all the past winners. (All data courtesy of Baseball Reference).
Gil McDougald in 1951: .306/.396/.488, 14 HR, 63 RBIs, 142 OPS+, 4.6 WAR
The man most famous for derailing the career of Herb Score was a key contributor as a rookie for the 1951 World Series champs. Splitting his time between second base and third base he posted the second highest WAR on the team and placed ninth in MVP votes. McDougald edged White Sox rookie Minnie Minoso by just two votes despite Minoso outproducing him with a slash line of .326/.422/.500. Still, he went on to have a great career, collecting five World Series rings and making five All-Star appearances as a Yankee.
Bob Grim in 1954: 20-6, 3.26 ERA, 108 K, 107 ERA+, 2.0 WAR
The Yankees won 103 games in 1954 and Grim accounted for 20 of them, working as both a starter and reliever. In the end, they were outdone by the Indians, who set an AL record with 111 wins. Grim beat out Philadelphia A's infielder Jim Finigan and future Hall of Famer Al Kaline for the award. Finigan was probably most deserving, putting up a .302/.381/.421 slash line. After his rookie year, Grim made his hay exclusively out of the bullpen as he led the league in saves in 1957.
Tony Kubek in 1957: .297/.335/.381, 3 HR, 39 RBIs, 97 OPS+, 2.5 WAR
Kubek was a plug-and-play utility man typical of the Casey Stengel era. He helped the Yankees out at five different positions in 1957 on their way to another AL pennant. Kubek won the award nearly unanimously over Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone, despite Malzone's superior power numbers and 103 RBI. Ever the slick fielder, Kubek went on to have a fine but brief career, making three All-Star appearances and winning three rings with the Yankees. He eventually was enshrined in Cooperstown as a broadcaster and spent five seasons calling games for the Yankees in the early 90's.
Tom Tresh in 1962: .286/.359/.441, 20 HR, 93 RBIs, 116 OPS+, 4.3 WAR
As a switch-hitting shortstop with power, Tresh stormed onto the scene in 1962 and helped the Yankees win their 20th World Series championship. The following year he switched to the outfield and had an even better year with the bat. After that performance, the comparisons to his legendary teammate Mickey Mantle were inevitable, but he never lived up to the hype. For the rest of the decade his play steadily declined while the Yankees themselves were sinking to the bottom of the AL. During the 1969 season the Yankees shipped him to Detroit where he retired at just 30 years old.
Stan Bahnsen in 1968: 17-12, 2.05 ERA, 162 K, 140 ERA+, 6.4 WAR
In 1968 the "Bahnsen Burner" teamed with Mel Stottlemyre to make a great one-two punch on an otherwise mediocre Yankee team. Bahnsen's stellar year earned him a near-unanimous decision for the Rookie of the Year and he probably would have gotten some Cy Young consideration if Denny McLain hadn't won 31 games. Unfortunately, he was never able to duplicate this success and he spent three more years in pinstripes before embarking on a journey that took him to five other teams for the balance of his 16 year career.
Thurman Munson in 1970: .302/.386/.415, 6 HR, 53 RBIs, 126 OPS+, 5.5 WAR
The Walrus and his young teammates Roy White and Bobby Murcer sparked the Yankees to a 93-win season in 1970. Munson established himself as a solid backstop that could do damage with the bat and ran away with the Rookie of the Year award. Over the next few years he helped sew the championship seeds that would bear fruit at the end of the decade. In all, he made seven All-Star appearances and won two rings and an MVP award with the Yankees. He was also the first player to serve as team captain since Lou Gehrig. If his life hadn't been tragically cut short, he would probably be in the Baseball Hall of Fame today.
Dave Righetti in 1981: 8-4, 2.05 ERA, 89 K, 174 ERA+, 3.4 WAR
In a strike-shortened year, the fresh-faced Righetti made the most of his 15 starts and helped push the Yankees to another AL pennant. He was head and shoulders above his rookie class and probably deserved some Cy Young consideration as well. Rags remained a starter for the next couple years and even became the first Yankee since Don Larsen to throw a no-hitter when he twirled one against the Red Sox on Independence Day in 1983. He then moved to the bullpen where he became one of the best closers in the league during the late 80's and early 90's.
Derek Jeter in 1996: .314/.370/.430, 10 HR, 78 RBIs, 101 OPS+, 3.3 WAR
Jeter set the pace for the 1996 Yankees by hitting a home run on Opening Day and they never looked back. The young shortstop lived up to lofty expectations as the franchise ended an 18 year championship drought. He was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year and continued to produce at a high level well into his late thirties. Jeter, with his five World Series rings and 13 All-Star appearances, is on the short list for greatest player in franchise history.
So that's the company that Masahiro Tanaka could be joining this fall. He has already been worth 4.0 WAR this year and we're not even at the halfway point, so he might also be considered the greatest rookie in franchise history. Don't forget the Cy Young possibilities as well. TANAKA TIME!