I have to say I'm personally still pretty bummed out about Hiroki Kuroda's decision to return to his native Japan rather than take the mound again for the New York Yankees. Apart from the obvious impact that his absence will on the team and the enjoyment you got out of watching his herky-jerky motion and devastating splitter, the lack of appreciation of his time here left me melancholy. When you have some throwing out his winning percentage here as a measure of his worth it's kind of bothersome. Throw in that he never won a ring and his teams were mostly mediocre and you have a pitcher that was very good for the Yankees that will likely be quickly forgotten. Not by the very astute readers of PSA I'm sure, but in general. That got me wondering about who the most underappreciated Yankees are.
Having any players that manage to go relatively unappreciated by a fanbase so vast seems like an accomplishment in of itself. Even the guys on the bench get scrutinized to death. But with a huge emphasis put on memorable moments (Bucky Dent) and not living up to contracts or expectations (Jason Giambi), you do get a very interesting mix of guys beloved while not being very good and remembered poorly while being valuable. Since this is an entirely subjective question I've been pondering, I came up with what I believe are the primary factors in being underappreciated by Yankees fans:
- No rings (loser status)
- Performed very well
- High salary (not "worth" it)
I was initially thinking of factoring in not coming up to the majors as a Yankee, but I think that one wears off pretty quickly as time goes on. Still, most of these guys will be free agents and veterans by the nature of their high salaries.
The first two hitters that come to mind are Dave Winfield and Jason Giambi. They aren't that high up on the team's all-time list because Winfield gets dinged defensively while Giambi was a 1B/DH. But they're 12th and 13th team history in home runs. Giambi had a 145 wRC+ over 897 games for the franchise while Winfield's was 133 over 1172. That's a lot of production that's not thought of that highly around these parts. Another interesting case I found was Mike Stanley, who had a 134 wRC+ for the Yankees over four seasons. If it weren't for the strike of 1994 he might have up there with the Scott Brosius's of the world in Yankee lore.
Kuroda's time in New York was probably too short to be a leader in this group, but it is worth noting that he amassed more fWAR in fewer innings than Catfish Hunter. The obvious one here is Mike Mussina, who was the 7th best pitcher in team history by fWAR. He might not even be appreciated enough by the sport to make it to the Hall of Fame. Another case is Mel Stottlemyre, who had the displease of toiling for the Yankees during the dark ages of 1964-1974. He got the chance to later win from the bench during the 90's dynasty years, but is likely remembered less for being a top ten pitcher in team history these days.
As I noted above all this stuff is extremely subjective. Perhaps some of these players were beloved in Yankee circles that you ran in. Or maybe more appreciation will come to them as time goes on. Such things are hard to say.
Who do you think are the most underappreciated Yankees?