The Yankees have retired 21 numbers representing 22 different players. There have been many other Yankees who will live on forever yet don’t have their numbers retired. But given their history, some numbers have been worn by many, many players. So I wanted to look at who was the best to wear certain jersey numbers, limiting the scope to players since 2010.
I may end up doing more, but for this first one I will be starting with palindromic numbers (11, 22, 33, etc.) and I will not be including single-digit numbers since those are all retired (barring Adam Ottavino’s 0).
Brett Gardner (2008-Present), Morgan Ensberg (2008), Doug Mientkiewicz (2007), Gary Sheffield (2004-2006), Erick Almonte (2003), David Dellucci (2003), Curtis Pride (2003), Chris Widger (2002), Chuck Knoblauch (1998-2001)
Since Gardner is the only player to wear number 11 since 2010, I will include everyone who wore it this century.
To me, this comes down to Gardner and Sheffield. In his three seasons in the Bronx, Sheffield was very good, averaging 35 homers and 122 RBI in his first two seasons before being limited to only 39 games in 2006. But I think this is an easy call. Gardner has been a characteristic Yankee, possessing the leadership, grit, and tenacity that the organization loves. He is the longest-tenured current Yankee and is still producing at the ripe age of 36.
Jacoby Ellsbury (2014-2017), Brennan Boesch (2013), Travis Ishikawa (2013), Thomas Neal (2013), Vernon Wells (2013), Andruw Jones (2012), Greg Golson (2011), Brian Gordon (2011), Aaron Laffey (2011), Colin Curtis (2010), Chad Huffman (2010), Randy Win (2010)
Some of the names bring back memories, don’t they? Perhaps not the fondest memories, however.
This is not the best batch to choose from. In terms of WAR, Ellsbury would actually take the cake. But could I possibly pick him as the best to represent 22? Here are the average fWARs of the top contenders during their time with the Yankees:
Some others on the list had nice moments. For example, Greg Golson throwing out Carl Crawford at third to end the game in September 2010. But as much as it pains me (probably somehow pains him more), I have to go with Ellsbury.
Greg Bird (2017-2019), Garrett Jones (2015), Chris Martin (2015), Stephen Drew (2014), Kelly Johnson (2014), Travis Hafner (2013), Nick Swisher (2009-2012)
This one is another easy call. While I’m not counting 2009, Swisher was head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Bird’s only good year was 2015 when he was actually wearing number 31, so that does not count. Swisher averaged a 3.8 WAR from 2010-2012.
(Retired for Reggie Jackson)
Domingo German (2019), Sonny Gray (2017-2018), Bryan Mitchell (2015-2017), Slade Heathcott (2015), David Huff (2014), Wade LeBlanc (2014), Lyle Overbay (2013), Russell Martin (2011-2012)
Martin ended up being an all-star in his first season in pinstripes, compiling 18 home runs, 65 RBI, and a 5.3 WAR. He followed that up with a solid 3.8 WAR in 2012. We all know what happened to Sonny Gray, and none of the others truly made an impact. Unfortunately, I have to leave off German based on his actions. That means that Martin was the best 55 since 2010 for the Yankees.
Kyle Higashioka (2018-Present), Bryan Mitchell (2017), Mason Williams (2016), John Ryan Murphy (2013-2015), Andrew Brackman (2011)
Remember Andrew Brackman? He was part of the Killer B’s along with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. Unfortunately, only Betances panned out. This race is between two backup catchers: Higashioka and Murphy.
Murphy was a solid hitter, hitting .284 and .277 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. He had a 95 wRC+ in 2014 and a 100 wRC+ in 2015, around league-average. Higashioka had a 53 wRC+ in 2018 and a 65 wRC+ in 2019. So while Higashioka may be a little better defensively and at calling games (and as much as I love Kyle “Only Hits Homers” Higashioka), I am going to have to give the edge to Murphy for now.
While Frazier has had a somewhat tumultuous journey with the team, Sanchez only appeared in two games for the Yankees in 2008 — he threw two innings, walked two, and allowed a run. Frazier has had WARs hovering around 0.0, but that is in part due to his poor defensive. On the offensive side, he has posted an wRC+ of above 100 the last two seasons. Frazier is the pick.
Josh Outman (2014), Ryan Thompson (2000)
Same thing as with 77: there are only two players to ever wear the number for the Yankees.
Outman appeared in nine games for the team in 2014. He did not allow a run in 3.2 innings pitched, striking out two. He faced a total of 11 batters allowing only one hit and not walking anyone.
Thompson was an outfielder who appeared in 33 games for the Yankees in 2000. He hit three home runs and drove in 14, hitting at a .260 clip. That year he had a 0.1 WAR (ever so slightly above replacement level) and a 112 wRC+.
This is a tough one, mainly because these guys were not around a long time. So I will call it a tie, but give the tie-breaker to Thompson, since that team went on to win the World Series, while the 2014 team didn’t even make the playoffs.
Aaron Judge (2016-2019), Brian Bruney (2009)
Again, there were not enough players since 2010 to compare, so I expanded it to everyone from this century. Even after that, no discussion is needed here.