After a disappointing West Coast trip that saw the Yankees lose games to the Athletics and the Angels thanks to key hits in big moments from Tony Kemp and Juan Lagares, I got to thinking about the most unlikely Yankee killers in recent memory. Now, I’m not talking about guys like Mike Trout or José Ramírez or Bo Bichette — or, in other words, guys you’d expect this production to come from. I’m talking about guys who, to put it gingerly, aren’t exactly known for their offensive prowess, but make a habit out of beating this team. I wanted to see if this was a common occurrence, or if I was just imagining things. As it turns out, I wasn’t.
Just a note on methodology before we continue. To complete this search, our own Andrew Mearns jumped over to Stathead to run a query of players with a minimum of 30 plate appearances and .975 OPS against the Yankees since the start of 2017. After running the query, here’s what we came up with:
Tony Kemp, Certified Yankee Killer
Tony Kemp this season:— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) August 30, 2021
3 HR in 16 AB vs Yankees
2 HR in 231 AB vs all other teams
Let’s start off with the guy who got me thinking about all of this, shall we?
After clobbering a Chad Green fastball on Sunday, Tony Kemp bumped his numbers up to truly ridiculous levels. In 10 games against the Yankees from 2018 to 2021, Kemp has slashed .308/.438/.692 with three home runs, six walks, and only one strikeout. For those keeping score, that’s a ridiculous 1.130 OPS. And, I know small sample sizes aren’t to be trusted, but this one is just too fun to ignore: in 18 plate appearances against the Yankees this season, Kemp has a 349 wRC+.
To put things into perspective, his overall slash line from that same time frame against all other teams is .246/.343/.381 (.724 OPS) with 19 home runs, 154 strikeouts, and 103 wRC+. In other words, he’s a league-average player against basically every team not named the New York Yankees.
Danny Jansen? Really?
Yes, that Danny Jansen. In 25 games against the Yankees since 2018, Danny Jansen has slashed .316/.416/.605 with six home runs, none of which are more memorable than his grand slam against Adam Ottavino in Buffalo last season. In this small sample size, Jansen averages a 160 wRC+ against the Yankees.
In 231 total career games, Danny Jansen has a .203/.292/.369 slash line with 28 home runs (one grand slam) and a 78 wRC+. How does a well-below-average hitter suddenly torch one team? I wish I had an answer, but I don’t.
Ronald Guzmán, the most absurd of all
From 2018 to 2019, the Yankees had a thorn in their side, and its name was Ronald Guzmán. Though he played just 10 games in that span, he slashed an absolutely ridiculous .406/.513/.969 (1.482 OPS) with six home runs — including the three home run game in the video above — 11 RBI, and five walks. As a rookie in 2018, he posted a hilarious 418 wRC+ in 21 plate appearances against the Yankees.
For his career, Guzmán has hit to a line of .227/.304/.414 with 31 home runs and an 84 wRC+. Much like Danny Jansen, none of his success against the Yankees makes sense. The fact that it was sustained over two seasons makes it even more confounding.
Mitch Garver gets his revenge
In 12 games against the Yankees since 2017, Garver has slashed .355/.432/.677 (1.110 OPS) with three home runs, one of which can be seen above, and has posted a ridiculous 50 percent hard hit rate.
The only difference between Garver and the other three guys on this list is the fact that Garver has been an above-average hitter for his career. His career slash line is .253/.340/.495 — all very good marks for a catcher — and has posted a very nice 122 wRC+. The reason he cracks this list, though, is because of his team. It’s a well-known fact around these parts that the Yankees own the Minnesota Twins, but it looks like Garver has returned the favor throughout his career.
José Iglesias can hit?
José Iglesias is known for some unbelievable defensive gems, but to say he’s a bit of a liability with the bat might be a bit of an understatement. Not against the Yankees, though! Since 2017, Iglesias has slashed .361/.391/.590 (.981 OPS) with two home runs. While that doesn’t necessarily seem like the most impressive line after the previous four entries, he’s averaged a 188 wRC+ and 37.5 percent hard hit rate against the Yankees over that time.
Now here’s why I included him on this list. For his career, Iglesias has slashed a paltry .276/.316/.380 (.696 OPS) with an 87 wRC+ and a shockingly low 23.9 percent hard hit rate. To my eye, this entry is right up there with Danny Jansen on the list of Yankee killers that just don’t make sense.
One last honourable mention: Randal freakin’ Grichuk
This one is less of a Yankee killer and more of a pain in our collective you-know-what. As a Yankees fan living just outside of Toronto, I’ve seen far too much of Randal Grichuk for my liking. Though he didn’t qualify for our list — his OPS against the Yankees is surprisingly only .800 (though it feels like it should be about 3.000) — Grichuk has hit 16 home runs in 60 games against the Yankees, his second-most against any team and by far the most of anyone on this list, and it feels like all 16 of them have been of the game-tying or go-ahead variety. I don’t have the numbers to back that claim up, but take it from this Canadian: he’s done enough damage against this team to earn a spot on my most-hated list.
Though there have been a number of high-profile Yankee killers throughout the years, there haven’t been many as unlikely as the five guys listed above. When you think of mostly-anonymous Yankee killers throughout the years, who’s the first player that pops in your mind?