As we approach game five of the ALDS between the Yankees and Tigers, and with five being my favorite number, (always got it in Little League), I decided it would be a good time to talk about the five most valuable Yankees from 2011. This list may surprise you, but top-five lists are supposed to start debate. Just ask John Cusack’s character in “High Fidelity.”
5. Eduardo Nunez. Yes, I said it. Eduardo Nunez is the fifth most valuable Yankee this year. If he was on the Tigers, he’d be starting over Wilbrandon Betminge at third and probably would’ve started at either second or short for the Tampa Bay Rays. He was a super utility man for the Yankees, and started many games when either Jeter or A-Rod got injured. He stole 22 bases and every good team has a guy like Nunez on their bench.
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4. Ivan Nova– SuperNova has lived up to his nickname (thanks Oasis) all season. Nova is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, finishing the year fourth in wins and second in win percentage. He didn’t lose a game in which he was handed a lead. He’s not a guy who’s going to blow batters away, but a ground-ball pitcher in Yankee Stadium is always a good thing. Nova helped stabilize a rotation when Phil Hughes was injured and rose from the Yankees sixth starter all the way to second by the time the postseason started.
3. David Robertson– Robertson tied for the league lead in holds and was second amongst relievers in strikeouts per nine innings. Houdini would get out of bases loaded situations all year, no matter if it was of his creation or not. Notably, opponents hit only .170 for the season against him. Robertson took over the eighth inning role after free agent pickup (and Brian Cashman favorite) Rafael Soriano got injured early in the season and the Yankees didn’t miss a beat.
2. Robinson Cano– Cano is the best second baseman in baseball, period. Cano was second in RBI, seventh in runs, ninth in slugging and 10th in OPS. The home run derby champ finished with 28 home runs while only committing 10 errors in the field. He was finally brought up to the third spot in the lineup, deservedly, late in the season. The Yankees, a couple of years ago, almost traded Cano to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp. While Kemp is a great player, I’d rather have Cano and my number one pick.
1. Curtis Granderson– Everyone needs a Kevin Long-like mentor to help them the way he did for Granderson last season. Granderson was taken out of the lineup for a three-day tutorial with Kevin Long and came back a brand new player. All Verlander, Bautista and Ellsbury arguments aside, Granderson was probably the MVP of the American League this season. For years, the knock on Granderson was his inability to hit lefties. This year, however, he hit .272 with 16 homers and 44 RBI against southpaws. Although he doesn’t always take the greatest routes to the ball, he’s still a good defensive centerfielder. Just ask Don Kelly and Jhonny Peralta. Granderson finished first in runs and RBI and second in home runs while mainly hitting out of the second spot. He helped carry the Yankees all season and helped carry the team through tough stretches all year.
Without these five players, the Yankees may not be a win away from their third straight ALCS appearance and an opportunity to have two AL pennants in three years.