Since you’re a Pinstripe Alley reader, we certainly don’t need to elaborate about great switch-hitters in Yankees’ history. Mickey Mantle was the best switch-hitting player of all time by a light year, went to 20 All-Star games, and won seven World Series with the Yankees. Since MLB integrated, Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira are among the best switch-hitters ever at their respective positions, and Bernie Williams’ name will come up pretty quickly in the “best switch-hitting center fielder not named Mantle” discussion. The contributions of the latter three also went a long way toward many rings being engraved with an interlocking NY on them.
Due to the production of the players mentioned above, and also due in part to many non-switch-hitting teammates with serious star power, the Yankees have had several switch-hitters who were major contributors to World Series-winning teams who often get overlooked. Since the Yankees aren’t playing today, let’s take a moment to look at a few of the more unheralded switch-hitting Yankees in history.
Before we get to the names, let’s remind ourselves of something else the following players have in common: Just being a switch-hitter in and of itself can make one a valuable player. Switch-hitters have a platoon advantage in virtually every situation they’re in, and any kid who’s played Strat-O-Matic or anyone who peruses Baseball-Reference can tell you that advantage is a big one.
Whether filling out a lineup card, pondering a late-inning substitution, or needing a part-time player to fill in for an injured regular player for a week, a manager has a competitive advantage over his managing counterpart when he can call on a switch-hitter. Although this is something that’s hard to quantify, it is an advantage that makes even an average switch-hitter a more valuable asset to his team than numbers may suggest.
That said, the following three Yankee switch hitters were much better than average players, and are often overlooked regardless. In chronological order…
In a five-season stretch from 1962-1966, Tresh won the Rookie of the Year award as a shortstop, appeared in three All-Star games, won a Gold Glove as a centerfielder, and finished in the top 12 in MVP voting three times. After winning the ROY in 1962 as a shortstop, in 1963 Tresh (in part due to a Mickey Mantle broken foot) played 100 games in centerfield after never having played centerfield previously. He posted 4.1 WAR (second-best on the team after AL MVP Elston Howard) and a 140 OPS+, which was a big factor in the Yankees winning 104 games and the AL pennant that season. From 1962–1964, seasons in which the Yankees averaged 100 wins per season and played in three World Series, Tresh produced more WAR than every Yankee except Howard, Mantle, and Roger Maris.
Sharing a roster with some of the best players to ever play, in addition to multiple MVP winners who weren’t Hall members, will certainly make it easy for a simply “very good” player to fly under the radar. Yet Tresh’s contributions to the early 1960s Yankee dynasty shouldn’t be forgotten.
The reason Roy White is overlooked is pretty obvious: He was a great player on teams that no one cares to remember, and he was merely a very good player on great teams loaded with Hall of Famers and larger than life characters that grabbed headlines with their personalities as much as their on-field play.
Over five seasons from 1968-1972, White averaged 5.5 WAR per season, posted a 139 OPS+, and appeared in two All-Star games. His WAR over that stretch not only led the Yankees but was third among AL outfielders overall just behind Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Jackson.
By the time the Yankees’ 1970s dynasty came to fruition, White was nearing the end of his career, but was still a big contributor on three teams that averaged 99 wins per season, while appearing in three consecutive World Series and winning two. White posted 9.1 WAR over 1976-1977 and showed he was still an above league average hitter in 1978 with a 112 OPS+. Many may remember Bucky Dent’s heroics and World Series MVP in 1978, but White outshone many of his bigger name teammates as well, posting a .325/.391/.500 slash line with two HR in 46 postseason plate appearances in 1978.
One of the bigger numbers that shows how overlooked White may be, is that he is the Yankees’ career WAR leader among corner outfielders since integration. If you’re thinking that’s due to having the most games played as a Yankee corner outfielder since integration, that’s certainly a factor. Yet, I’d counter by comparing his WAR per 162 games to that of a Hall of Famer who played with the Yankees in his prime, and another Yankee who has a plaque in Monument Park:
WAR per 162 as Yankees
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Speaking of Hall of Fame outfielders, here’s how White’s WAR compares to two Hall of Fame left fielders who were contemporaries of his:
Am I arguing White should be in the Hall of Fame? No. I’m merely pointing out that he was a switch-hitter who was a great player, who probably shouldn’t be overlooked as much as he is.
Trying to overlook Nick Swisher would be like trying to overlook a peacock in your living room. Swisher, due to his rather large personality both as a player and as an MLB commentator, will never be forgotten. That said, his playing ability and contributions to some great Yankee teams, including a World Series winner, are overlooked.
As a long-time and vocal critic of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, I’ve never been asked which trade is Cashman’s best. But if I were asked, I’ve always said that trading Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez for Swisher and Teixeira was Cashman’s best trade, by far. Heck, even after I found out it was Kanekoa Teixeira, it’s still easily in the top three best Cashman trades.
Swisher was a high OBP switch-hitter with power who played multiple positions as a Yankee. Providing that many tools combined with unheralded durability and consistency made him an extremely valuable player on four teams that averaged 98 wins per season and won the 2009 World Series. From 2009-2012, Swisher’s four-season averages were impressive, even without factoring in his switch-hitting and ability to play multiple positions.
|Stat||per season avg|
|Stat||per season avg|
Although those are his averages for the four seasons, his amazing consistency must be noted. Over the four seasons, he hit between 23 and 29 HR, drove in between 82 and 93, and posted OBPs of between .359 and .374 each season. His 124 OPS+ was third on the team over that stretch behind Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira – just barely behind Teixeira’s 126 since we’re focusing on switch-hitters.
Swisher played with great, very popular, and very big-name players when he was with the Yankees. That’s likely why his contributions to some great Yankee teams are unheralded.
It certainly isn’t due to introversion.
There are a handful of other Yankees who were very good switch-hitters who have been overlooked as well. I chose these three specifically because they were very good players who had big impacts on championship Yankee teams. If I forgot someone you feel should be on this list, drop me a line in the comments section!