After reminiscing about Shane Spencer‘s magical run in 1998, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at which Yankees had the best seasons in teeny-tiny sample sizes. This exercise really doesn’t serve any broader purpose, but it does bring up some memorable names and performances.
Without further ado, here are the Yankees who posted the highest wRC+’s in a season in which they had between 50 and 100 plate appearances from 1994-2013.
#5) Francisco Cervelli: 2013
The Yankees pretty much handed Cervelli the starting catching job last year after they let Russell Martin walk the previous winter. Cervelli got off to a fine start, but found himself on the shelf after breaking his hand in late April. He would have made it back for the end of the season, but was one of the players suspended for PED’s last year. We’ll see how he fares in 2014 as Brian McCann‘s backup, but if the other players on this list are any indication, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.
#4) Jesus Montero: 2011
After a strong showing as a 21-year-old in triple-A Scranton, Montero made his big league debut as a September callup in 2011. He tore it up to finish out the season, serving mostly as the Yankees’ designated hitter. Montero was the Yankees #1 prospect at the time and few doubted he would be a tremendous player some day, even if he couldn’t stick at catcher. Montero had finally arrived and it looked like he’d be an offensive force for years to come.
The following winter, the Yankees dealt Montero to the Mariners for stud starting pitcher Michael Pineda — a trade turned out horribly for both sides. As of this writing, Pineda still hasn’t thrown his first pitch as a Yankee and Montero has been absolutely atrocious for the Mariners so far. He hit just .260/.298/.386 in 2012and was terrible enough at catcher to be moved off of the position permanently. Montero scuffled last year as well and also missed time due to injury and a PED suspension. The future doesn’t look bright for Montero and September of 2011 feels like ages ago now.
#3) Cody Ransom: 2008
After a strong season in triple-A Scranton, the Yankees called up Ransom, a 32-year-old journeyman, in mid August. Ransom filled in all over the Yankees infield that year, seeing at least 13 innings at first, second, third, and short and hitting everything in sight. Ransom, of all people, even had the honor of making the last putout at the old Yankee Stadium. Although the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008, Ransom’s performance led them to believe they had found their backup infielder for 2009.
Ransom ended up being the Yankees’ opening day third baseman in 2009 following Alex Rodriguez‘s hip surgery. This was his big chance to show what he could do: Although he broke into the big leagues way back in 2001, Ransom had never amassed more than 78 plate appearances in a season. Unfortunately, Ransom fell flat on his face, hitting just .180/.226/.320 through April before landing on the DL with a strained quad. He returned to the team in late June, but was continued to struggle offensively before being cut loose in August. His final batting line in ’09 was a meager .190/.256/.329. Ransom somehow managed to stick around in the majors through 2013 and actually turned into a decent role player the last couple of years. He’ll suit up for Seibu Lions in Japan for the 2014 season.
#2) Darryl Strawberry: 1999
Saying Strawberry’s 1999 season got off to a rocky start would be an understatement. While recovering from chemotherapy in April of 1999, the 37-year-old was arrested for the possession of cocaine and the solicitation of a prostitute and was subsequently suspended by Major League Baseball. Strawberry re-joined the Yankees in September of that year and showed flashes of the Strawberry of old as the team’s designated hitter. He kept up the pace in seven post-season games as well, hitting a torrid .333/.444/.733 and hit a key home run off of the Rangers in the American League Division Series. With Strawberry’s help, the Yankees would go on to win their 25th World Series title that year.
The following February, Strawberry tested positive for cocaine and soon checked himself into rehab. Major League Baseball suspended Strawberry for the entire 2000 season and he never again returned to the big leagues.
#1) Shane Spencer: 1998
At the start of the 1998 season, Spencer was a little-known 26-year-old receiving his first taste of the big leagues on a team already overcrowded with outfield/DH types. Spencer made himself known in a hurry though, belting a remarkable 10 home runs in just 73 plate appearances, including eight homers — three of them grand slams — in 42 September PA’s. Spencer continued his hot hitting into the post season that year,belting two more homers to help propel the Yankees to their 24th World Series title.
Spencer followed up his beastly ’98 campaign with a very bland 1999, where he hit just .234/.301/.390 in 71 games. He had an okay big league career, sticking around as a part-time outfielder through 2004, but never came anywhere close to replicating his magical run from 1998.