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The precipitous decline of Jimmie Reese

After an impressive rookie season, the Yankees’ second baseman suffered quite a dip

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

The most famous case of a Yankee suffering a precipitous drop after an excellent rookie season will probably forever be Kevin Maas. In 1990, he hit 21 home run in 79 games, put up a 150 OPS+, and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.

The rest of his career never came close to matching that season, but it can’t exactly be described as “awful.” In the three other years he played in pinstripes, he put up OPS+ totals of 100, 99, and 97. That essentially means he was a league-average hitter in all three years. You can’t have someone putting up league average hitting numbers at first base or DH, though, hence why the Yankees moved on and why Maas didn’t really stick anywhere else beyond 22 games with the Twins.

With that in mind, there have been bigger drops than going from incredible numbers to just league average ones. One of those drops belongs to Jimmie Reese.

Born in New York but raised in California, Reese made his name playing for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. His play at second led him and fellow Oaks double play partner Lyn Lary to join the Yankees in 1927. After the deal, Reese stayed with Oakland for another couple seasons before coming over to New York in 1930.

Reese made his debut in the Yankees’ third game of the season, coming off the bench and singling in his first career at-bat. He likewise did the same in his second and third at bats. He didn’t actually get a start until May 30th, but in the meantime, he put up a 1.167 OPS just in appearances off the bench.

As he started to get more playing time, Reese’s numbers regressed a bit, but around August, he started to heat up again. He started every single game from August 1st to August 13th and went 18-for-50 with a .999 OPS over that time.

His usage became a bit more sparse later in the month and through September. As well as he was playing, the Yankees still had a prime Tony Lazzeri holding down second base. In total, Reese played in exactly half of the Yankees’ games in 1930. He finished with a .346/.382/.489 line. If you prorated his 1.5 rWAR over the course of a full season, he would’ve graded out as the best rookie position player in the American League that year. Even just playing half the season, he likely would have gotten some down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes...had the award existed back then.

The next season, Reese started the year in a fairly similar way. He didn’t make an appearance until the 11th game of the season. He again started out hot, going 16-for-43 with seven extra-base hits in his first 10 games. His numbers, however, only went down from there.

For the rest of the season, his OPS splits by month were .605, .453, .583, and .200. By the end of the year, his numbers were .241/.293/.335. That equated to 68 OPS+, which was a drop of 55 points from the previous season. He essentially went from the 1930 equivalent of Didi Gregorius’ 2018 to the 1931 equivalent of Jayson Nix’s 2013.

The Yankees traded Reese to the Cardinals after the season. He played one year for them which produced similar results to 1931. He would go on to spend another eight seasons back in the PCL or other West Coast leagues. Later in his life, he joined the Angels’ organization and became a beloved coach for them, even getting his number #50 retied after his death in 1994.

While Maas will likely be the most famous post-rookie drop in Yankees history, Reese’s playing career shows it could always be worse.


Data courtesy of the Baseball Reference Play Index