By now, chances are that you are familiar with WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. It is a metric that helps us to determine a player’s overall value over a hypothetical, freely available replacement by combining batting, fielding and baserunning contributions. In this article, we will take a history tour and examine the top five New York Yankees’ players ranked by FanGraphs’ edition of WAR, as far as position players go.
The Yankees are, of course, the MLB team with the richest history. Lots of stars and Hall of Famers have played in pinstripes: Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Alex Rodriguez, Earle Combs, Phil Rizzuto, Graig Nettles, and dozens more. However, these five are the cream of the crop:
Babe Ruth: 149.9 WAR
Arguably the greatest hitter that the world has seen, the Bambino was bigger than his sport. He changed the way baseball was played when he belted 54 home runs in 1920, back when 20 dingers were something to behold and nobody had ever hit 30. He was flamboyant, charismatic, and multi-talented: he was one of MLB’s top left-handed pitchers with the Boston Red Sox before moving to the batter’s box full-time with the Yankees.
Ruth’s career wRC+ is a mind-boggling 200, and he had 1227.8 batting runs. Since the Red Sox sold him to the Yankees after the 1919 season, they didn’t win another World Series title while Ruth was alive, and for many more years after he died in 1948. The “curse” was broken after the turn of the millenium. He has been in the Hall of Fame since 1936.
Lou Gehrig: 116.3 WAR
The “Iron Horse” was a model of indestructibility a lot earlier than Cal Ripken Jr. Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games, through aches and pains, and was always the best player in the field except for a guy named Babe Ruth. Gehrig was significantly better than the rest of the field, though, and came close to Ruth’s wRC+ with his 173 career mark.
It happened in 1939, but his farewell speech, in which he said that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” is the stuff of movies. His lifetime average of .340 is jaw-dropping, and his 1995 RBI are actually more than Ruth’s 1975. He has been a Hall of Famer since 1939.
Mickey Mantle: 112.3 WAR
Long before our game, in which virtually anyone can hit 30 home runs and show their wheels, Mickey Mantle was probably the fastest and strongest player of his time. As Casey Stengel put it: “He has more speed than any slugger and more slug than any speedster - and nobody has ever had more of them together.”
His career was full of highlights, including a run to match Ruth’s 60 home runs in one season in 1961 (he ended up with 54,) 20 All-Star games, seven World Series championships (1951–1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962) three AL MVP awards (1956, 1957, 1962) a Triple Crown (1956) a Gold Glove Award (1962) an AL batting crown (1956) and four AL home run titles (1955, 1956, 1958, 1960.) He has been in the Hall of Fame since 1974.
Joe DiMaggio: 83.1 WAR
Joe DiMaggio had a .325/.398/.579 career line with a 152 wRC+. That’s an incredible line, and he also hit 361 home runs and 389 doubles. Those are impressive numbers given that A) He wasn’t really a home run hitter, and B) he lost more than three years serving in World War II.
”Joltin’ Joe” is best known for his 56-game hitting streak (May 15–July 16, 1941), a record that still stands today and is among the hardest to break. Of course, he is also famous for his marriage with Marilyn Monroe. He was a World Series champion a whopping nine times: 1936–1939, 1941, 1947, and 1949–1951. He has been in Baseball’s Hall of Fame since 1955.
Derek Jeter: 73.1 WAR
The “Captain” continued the line of greatness established by the four previously mentioned names. While he won five Gold Gloves, his defense is actually overrated. Fangraphs’ has his “Def” rating at -19.8 fielding runs, and he infamously had a career -162 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved.)
However, he was a leader by example, an outstanding batter (.310/.377/.440 career line) and a true class act on and off the field. Jeter hit 260 dingers without being a slugger and stole 358 bases without being a burner. He crossed home plate 1923 times.
With 14 All-Star games, five World Series championships (1996, 1998–2000, 2009) a World Series MVP award (2000) an AL Rookie of the Year award (1996) five Gold Gloves (2004–2006, 2009–2010) five Silver Slugger Awards (2006–2009, 2012) two AL Hank Aaron Awards (2006, 2009) and a Roberto Clemente Award (2009) Jeter is absolutely deserving of his place in the Hall of Fame.