The Yankees Suck Precisely Because They Don’t; Or Why We Should All Fear New York in 2009

Last night’s massacre leads me to craft a round about defense for John Smoltz. Not that I necessarily want him to make another start, but that I think–and yes, I am really writing this–this season’s Yankee team isn’t receiving enough attention. Preseason questions surrounding their pitching staff, A-Rod’s rhetorical debacles, and a few early injuries have in some ways blinded the media to how good this team actually is. As Peter Gammons suggested last night, the only thing that can seemingly stop this team is an epidemic flu.

Put in a simple, declarative sentence: this might be the best offense ever assembled. They are on pace to challenge one of the vaunted baseball milestones, 1000 runs. So far, this has only been accomplished by 7 franchises: the 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1936 Yankees, the 1930 Cardinals, the 1950 Red Sox (maybe the most remarkable since this was a pitcher friendly era), and the 1999 Indians. A few other teams have gotten dreadfully close–several of them closer to our era: the 1996 Mariners, the 1998 Yankees, the 2000 White Sox, and the 2003 Red Sox. The 2009 Yanks are only on pace to score 928, but that doesn’t factor in an A-Rod less March and April.

The real danger of this offense is its consistency top to bottom. It is, quite simply, deeper than any other line up ever. A quick comparison of OPS+ and OPS from the historic 1000 runs club, and a few other noteworthy clubs, to this year’s Yanks makes this apparent. While I expect everyone to be familiar with OPS, I’ll offer a brief definition of OPS+: it is a sabermetric evaluation of a player’s performance relative to other players in the league that season, so a baseline OPS+ of 100 equates to an average player. There have been 59 OPS+ seasons over 200 in baseball history, many of them recorded by the same small group of likely suspects: Ruth, Gerhig, Williams, Mantle and Bonds. Here’s a historic breakdown of some of the top scoring teams in terms of OPS and OPS+:

Year Franchise Runs Scored +115 OPS+ +200 OPS+ +.838 OPS +1.000 OPS -100 OPS+ -75 OPS+
1930 Yankees 1062 5 2 5 2 1 0
1931 Yankees 1067 5 1 4 2 0 0
1932 Yankees 1002 6 1 6 2 3 0
1930 Cards 1004 3 0 4 2 4 0
1930 Cubs 998 4 0 5 2 3 2
1950 Red Sox 1027 5 0 7 1 0 0
1996 Mariners 993 5 0 5 3 4 1
1998 Yankees 965 7 0 6 0 1 0
1999 Indians 1009 5 0 6 1 3 2
2000 White Sox 978 2 0 4 1 2 2
2003 Red Sox 961 6 0 6 1* 2 0
2009 Yanks TBD 8 0 7 0 1 0

A few random non-Yankee thoughts:

  • One has to wonder how bad the defense was in 1930 if the Cards and Cubs could score that many runs with mediocre production
  • Tip your cap to Teddy, Dom, and that incredible 1950’s offense for breaking 1k in a pitchers era. They are the only team on this list between 1936 and 1999. Also, notice their overall balance, with 7 players above the .838 OPS.
  • Notice that after the 1930’s, there’s not a single top offense with a +200 OPS+. I probably should have set the bar lower here, and looked for the number of +175 or +150 players
  • The asterisk on the 2003 Red Sox marks that they had a significant 4 players over a .938 OPS, including Bill Mueller, their number nine hitter.

In terms of the 2009 Yankees, you could put an asterisk in their favor next to almost every category:

  • Their ninth starter, Cabrera, has an OPS+ of 111.
  • Their only other impact player (i.e., projected to have more than 300 PA) is Brett Gardner–his OPS+ is 99. Thus, they are only a combined 6 OPS+ points away from having nine starters above 115 and ten players above league average.
  • Jeter is the one OPS+ 115 or better player to have an OPS of less than .838; he has a paltry .833. Thus this team could have 8 players over an .838 OPS.
  • It is surprising that this team does not have a single player with an OPS+ over 150. The highest they have is Texeria’s 146.
  • This lineup, beyond all proverbial cliches, will kill you nine men deep. The major leagues have never seen a lineup like this before. There are no weak spots, no easy outs, no respite for a pitcher. For many years the Yankees paid out enough in salary to field an all-star at every position. This is the first year, however, that they are actually doing it.

    God I hate them. God they suck.

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