With the MLB season now underway, we can finally, after what I'm sure has been a long winter for anyone reading this blog, get back to baseball. Since it's still early and we can all remain optimistic, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the best individual starts in recent Yankees history. There have been some torrid starts over the past thirty years of Yankee baseball, and while some of them were clearly unsustainable (cough, 2013 Travis Hafner, cough) some others marked the beginnings of some truly great seasons. Let's get to the list.
1. Alex Rodriguez - 2007
Alex Rodriguez's 2007 MVP season is one of the best campaigns in recent Yankee history, and it certainly helped that he absolutely raked in the first month of the season. By the end of April, Rodriguez was hitting .355/.415/.882 for a ridiculous 226 wRC+. In just 106 plate appearances, he hit 14 home runs and amassed 2.1 fWAR in just 23 games. Perhaps the biggest moment of his incredible month came early in the season, as on April 7th, A-Rod hit a walk-off grand slam to beat the Baltimore Orioles.
Rodriguez was absolutely otherworldly to start the 2007 season, and his production continued steadily all year long - while he didn't maintain those insane stats, he never posted a monthly wRC+ below 112, and he went on to hit .314/.422/.645 that season with 54 home runs and a 9.6 fWAR. Rodriguez's legacy might've been tarnished by the last couple of seasons, but when he was in his prime, he was one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen.
2. Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi - 2006
After losing a tough divisional series to the Los Angeles Angels to end the 2005 season, the Yankees started off the following year slowly, posting just a 13-10 record during the month of April. However, this was not due to the offensive contributions of two of their most dangerous weapons at the time: Jeter and Giambi. Both came out of spring training absolutely on fire, as Jeter hit nearly .400 the first month of the season (.398/.505/.648 with a 202 wRC+) and Giambi displayed the power that made him a perennial MVP candidate during the early 2000's, hitting nine homers with a .344/.554/.852 triple slash and a 246 wRC+. Both went on to have terrific seasons - Jeter hit .343 overall, good for third in the majors, and Giambi had one of his last great seasons in the league, surpassing both 30 homers and 100 RBI in the same season for the final time in his career - and helped the Yankees reach the playoffs for the 12th straight season.
3. Mike Mussina - 2003
After a short playoff run that saw a 103-win Yankee team lose another rough series to the Los Angeles Angels, "Moose" began the 2003 season with one of the best stretches of his career. In five games over the course of the month, Mussina notched 5 wins, pitched 37.0 innings (thereby averaging over 7 innings per start), and gave up just seven total runs and just 26 hits. All that amounted to a 1.70 ERA, a 1.76 FIP, and a 10.22 K/9 ratio - not a bad start to what would be yet another stellar season (he went 17-8 with a 3.09 FIP and a 6.1 fWAR in 2003) for the should-be Hall of Famer.
4. Paul O'Neill - 1994
The early 1990s were a dark time for the Yankees, but the arrival of Paul O'Neill began to turn things back in New York's favor. After a solid debut season in the Bronx, Paul O'Neill didn't waste any time getting warmed up in 1994. Over the first month of the season, O'Neill hit .448/.543/.806 with six homers, and when the season was cut short due to the player's strike, O'Neill was leading the American League in batting average at .359. While the strike potentially robbed the Yankees of a postseason run (the Yankees were leading the AL East when the season ended), O'Neill had established himself as one of the key bats in the Yankee lineup, a spot he would continue to hold during the dynasty of the late 90's.
5. Dave Winfield - 1988
One of the best Yankees of the 1980s and a perennial All Star, Dave Winfield started off his last full season in pinstripes (not counting the 1989 season, which he missed the entirety of due to a back injury) on a terrific tear. In 98 plate appearances, Winfield hit .398/.485/.735 with seven home runs and five doubles. All in all, it led to a 231 wRC+, and by the end of April, Winfield was second in the league in homers and first in RBI. While Winfield's numbers obviously didn't stay this high, he did finish with the fourth highest batting average in the majors at .322 and the fifth highest OPS (.927). While Winfield, after years of battling with owner George Steinbrenner, would be shipped off to California during the 1990 season, the Hall of Famer put on a great show for Yankee fans during his last terrific season with the squad.
These are some of the best starts to the season Yankee fans have witnessed over the last thirty years. Here's hoping someone on this year's team can find some of the same magic as these great players and give the Yankees the boost they'll need to get off to a good start this season.