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+|
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.
This weekend, I heard a pro football commentator comment that the San Diego Chargers window for winning a championship was likely closed. They were a great, borderline dominant, team for half a decade, but never managed to “beat the big boys.” That got me to thinking: what is the greatest team to never win a championship? Now, I don’t mean single season here–I mean the most dominant franchise for a period of time that doesn’t have a ring to show for it. In football, I think of the Cunningham-White Eagles of the early 90s. But in baseball, the mid-90s Indians popped into my head. I had no idea how right I was until I spent my lunch hour looking over the numbers.
The 1995 Indians team won 100 games. In 143 chances. That, boys and girls, is a re-donkulous .694 winning percentage. But they lost the World Series. The Indians came back and won 99 games the next season, only to lose to the resurgent Yankees (remember when they actually developed talent and bought GOOD pitching?). They lost the World Series in 1997 after making the playoffs as a wild card team. Another 97 wins two seasons later ended in an incredible upset to the Red Sox (topic of another post). And though they would win 90 plus games two more times in 2000 and 2001, they never tasted postseason victory.
I want to focus a bit on the 1995 team, because, frankly, it is mind-blowing. Offensively, this team looks like somebody cheated the computer in a video game (veto trades? hell no). There is no need to offer any commentary, because you remember all of these guys. Just try to imagine that, in their prime, they all played for the same team: Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Omar Visquel, and Sandy Alomar. Throw in a few veterans for leadership: Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, Tony Pena. Seriously, this team lost. Wait, look at that line up one more time; please remember these numbers reflect only 143 games:
- Lofton .815 OPS, 13 3B, 54 SB
- Vizquel .684 OPS, 28 2B, 29SB
- Baerga .807 OPS, 175 hits, 252 TB
- Belle 1.091 OPS, 50 HR, 377 TB
- Murray .891 OPS, 21 HR,225 TB
- Thome .996 OPS, 97 BB, 252 TB
- Ramirez .960 OPS, 31 HR, 270 TB
- Sorrento .847 OPS, 25 HR, 165 TB (in 104 games)
- Pena/Alomar Who cares? Did you see what the rest of the team hit?
Besides the light hitting Visquel and Pena, no starter had an OPS below .800. The Indians team OPS that season was .839. I can’t find a list of the all-time single-season team OPS records; my bet is that this will best any team not playing in the late 1920’s or early 30’s.
As far as pitching, this rotation had three top-of-the-line guys, Dennis Martinez, Nagy, and the aged but crafty (and classy) Orel Hershiser. Those three combined for a 44 and 17 record. Their closer, Jose Mesa was in his prime and allowed all of 8 earned runs in 64 innings. He was 46 of 48 in save opportunities. The rest of the bullpen featured three pitchers with ERA’s sub 3.00. The worst ERA among relievers with at least 50 innings was rookie Jim Poole, with a 3.75.
Now, the 1995 did lose to the Braves, arguably the biggest bunch of underachievers in postseason history. But to think of all the talent that passed through this franchise during this period (as some departed, they signed or developed David Justice, Tony Fernandez, Bartolo Colon, Brian Giles, Travis Fryman, Richie Sexson, Russell Branyan, Dave Burba, and CC Sabathia–though he came late to the party). I don’t mean to rub salt in any Indians fan’s wounds. But, seriously, how the hell did this team lose?!? Oh yeah, that’s how…