Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (25), left fielder Brett Gardner(11), pitcher CC Sabathia (52) and catcher Gary Sanchez (24) react to a two-run home run hit by right fielder Aaron Hicks (not pictured) against Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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Yanks Go Yard recognizes the best (and worst) of the 2016 New York Yankees season with our annual awards.
The 2016 New York Yankees somehow managed to be the most boring and the most exciting Bombers team in recent memory in the span of just one season.
There were times during this year that I would get so frustrated with struggles of the club’s collection of aging stars that I felt like I couldn’t watch another games. Then there were games that I was glued to my laptop every time Gary Sanchez or Aaron Judge came up to the plate, afraid of missing yet another historic moment from the Baby Bombers.
In the span of one month, I went from wondering if the Yankees would struggle to cling to mediocrity for the next decade to planning out exactly when the next dynasty would begin (my current bet is 2018).
The Yankees ultimately fell short of the 2016 playoffs for the third time in four years, which makes the season a failure in the eyes of many fans. Part of me misses the old days when New York would go out and sign the three best free agents every winter, making it all but assured the team would be playing well into October the next year.
On the other hand, there is something really fun about watching a young core of players develop. It will take patience, but there is something more satisfying when it is your guys who form the core of a championship team, guys you have watched get drafted, climb the minor league ladder, and grow into big league stars. 2016 really felt like the start of that process.
Anyway, without further rambling, here are the Yanks Go Yard awards for the 2016 season.
Sep 28, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (25) celebrates with teammates after hitting a walk off grand slam against the Boston Red Sox during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
2016 Game of the Year: September 28 5-3 Win Over the Boston Red Sox
After hitting just the second walk off home run of his 14 year career, Mark Teixeira was soaked in Gatorade and grinning ear to ear when he told the YES Network’s Meredith Marakovitz, “That was fun. That was as good as it gets right there…To come back from three runs down against one of the best closers in baseball, it shows a lot about our team.”
The Boston Red Sox pitching staff had held the Yankees offense to just one hit over the previous eight innings, so the game seemed all but over when closer Craig Kimbrel entered in the ninth inning with a three run lead.
Brett Gardner led off the inning with a single, before three straight walks cut the Sox lead to two, bringing up Tex with the bases loaded. Here’s what happened next:
The 413 foot blast into the Yankees bullpen was the 409th and last of Teixeira’s career. What a way to go out.
It was the second win in a three game sweep of Boston in the last meeting of the season between the two rivals. The victory clinched the Yankees 24th straight winning season by giving them their 82nd win of the year. While they would shortly be mathematically be eliminated from the postseason, this game kept their hopes alive for one more day.
Teixeira’s big hit had the added bonus of putting a damper on the news that Boston had clinched a playoff spot. It’s hard to celebrate too much when you’ve just been beaten by your arch-nemeses.
Runner Up: August 14th: Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin homer back to back in MLB debut.
There’s not much to debate here. Tanaka was not just the best pitcher on the Yankees, for much of the year he had a pretty strong case for being the best pitcher in the American League, although missing his last two starts with a minor forearm strain more or less removed him from consideration in an extremely tight AL Cy Young award race this year.
Tanaka finished the season as the third most valuable pitcher in the AL according to Baseball-Reference’s wins above replacement metric with 5.4 WAR. He also had the third best ERA (3.07), fourth best winning percentage (.778), fifth best WHIP (1.077), and third lowest BB/9 among qualified AL starters.
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The 27-year-old right-hander set new career highs in games started (31 GS) and innings pitched (199.2 IP) even with the injury at the end of the season. The decision to rehab the partial tear in his UCL has been largely vindicated, as he looks every bit the ace the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed Tanaka before the 2014 season.
All of this makes Tanaka’s impending opt-out following next year all the more awful. Will the Yankees consider extending their ace this winter? Fingers crossed.
Runner Up: Even though he was traded at the deadline, Andrew Miller finished as the third most valuable Yankees pitcher and seventh overall on the team with 2.3 WAR. Bonus points for getting us Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield as well.
Sep 27, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (24) hits a two-run home run during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
2016 Position Player of the Year: Gary Sanchez
Sanchez finished as the Yankees second most valuable position player this season according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR despite playing in less than a third of the team’s games. No player did more to fuel New York’s second half playoff run or to inspire hope in the future of this franchise during this season.
The 23-year-old rookie finished with a .299/.376/.657 (168 OPS+) with 20 home runs and 42 RBI in 229 plate appearances and is a strong contender for the American League Rookie of the Year award even after spending the first four months of the season in Triple-A.
The Yankees were 53-53 when Sanchez was promoted, but proceeded to go 31-25 (.554%) following his call up despite trading away three of their best players at the trade deadline. His performance in August was one of the most incredible months by any player I have ever seen, winning him both the AL Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month awards.
Runner(s) Up: Two players who contributed to the team all year and really deserve consideration for this title are shortstop Didi Gregorius and left fielder Brett Gardner.
At 26, Didi broke out with the best season of his young career, hitting .276/.304/.447 (97 OPS+) with 20 homers. His case was hurt by a second-half slump and the fact that his defense seemed to take a step backwards according to most metrics. Still, he was a consistent bright spot for the team for much of the year.
Gardy finished as the team’s most valuable position player according to Baseball-Reference, mostly thanks to a return to form on defense, a performance that warrants some serious consideration for his first career Gold Glove. His power numbers declined for the third consecutive year, but his .351 on base percentage was the best of any Yankees batter who reached 300 PA this season.
Aug 12, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) tips his cap in a farewell gesture to the fans after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. New York Yankees won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
A-Rod’s incredible 2015 career renaissance failed to carry over into this season. Just one year removed from hitting 33 home runs and receiving MVP votes, Rodriguez was one of the worst hitters in baseball before his release by the team in August.
It was hardly the storybook ending many had hoped for, with A-Rod restoring his image and leading the Yankees to one last championship before riding off into the sunset, but ultimately he avoided controversy in his final weeks and finished his career with dignity.
It is nice to see Rodriguez working so hard to maintain a relationship with the organization that history will most identify him with. His instructor job is not the ceremonial position that many speculated it might be, as he’s already been back in uniform working with New York’s prospects in the Fall Instructional League, and is expected to help at big league spring training next year.
So what will A-Rod’s legacy be with the New York Yankees? Rodriguez played almost twice as many games in pinstripes than with any other club. In his 12 years, he compiled a .283/.378/.524 (136 OPS+) batting line with 351 home runs and 1096 RBI. He received two AL MVPs as a Yankee and received votes for the award during eight of his seasons with the team.
You don’t have to like him, but he was one of the greatest Yankees hitters in history. That is just a fact. He has made a lasting impact on the team and the game, regardless of whether he ends up in Cooperstown or Monument Park.
Runner Up: Mark Teixeira wasn’t the transcendent all-time great talent A-Rod was, but he was one of the best power hitters of his era and much better during his eight years in pinstripes than he gets credit for. It’s a shame he had to limp to the finish line, but he had an excellent run with the team.