This past Sunday RAB’s Stephen Rhoads took a look at the 2011 Yankee team offense’s place in baseball’s Expansion Era. Given this year’s team’s lethal offensive attack (currently sitting at a robust 119 wRC+) as well as the fact that the team has pitched far better than anyone could have ever hoped for — due in part to an absurdly strong bullpen — and also anecdotally seems to boast one of the better baserunning games in the league, Stephen’s post inspired me to take a look at just how well-rounded this 2011 Yankee team actually is, compared to previous Yankee teams instead of as opposed to other teams.
I decided to go back to 1969, as this marks the beginning of the League Championship Series era, giving us a relatively comparable period of time. The following charts delineate various components of historical Yankee statistics relating to the offense, starting pitching, relief pitching, defense and baserunning. Yellow highlights indicate the Yankee team that had the best mark in that particular statistical category out of the 43 Yankee clubs surveyed here. Orange indicates the team that fared the worst in a given category. As you’ll see, the offense graph also contains two green highlights, as the 1994 team set high marks in AVG and OBP, but those numbers of course came during the strike-shortened season. All data is from Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus (right-click and open any chart in a new tab to enlarge).
In terms of wRC+, which enables us to compare team offenses across different offensive environments, the 2007 Yankees lead the way over the last 43 seasons of Yankee baseball, with a whopping 12o wRC+ (thanks in part to Alex Rodriguez‘s 178 wRC+ career year). Per the aforelinked Rhoads post, this would appear to be third-highest mark of any team in baseball in the Expansion Era, though without being able to sort individual team seasons on Fangraphs I can’t say this definitively. Regardless, it’s still damn impressive. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that, at the moment, the 2011 Yankees are right behind them, with 119 wRC+.
The team’s two worst wRC+ years in this period came in 1969 and 1990 (the latter of which should surprise nobody), with the team putting up a 2010/11 Mariners-esque 86 in both of those seasons. Incredibly, the Yankees have only had a below-average (less than 100 wRC+) offense in six of the 43 seasons on this chart, and four of those seasons came before 1980.
The 1994 and 2007 teams tied for highest batting average (.290); the 1994 team had the highest OBP (an insane .376) while the 2007 team had the highest full-season OBP (.366); and the 2009 World Champion team had the highest SLG (.478) and wOBA (.366). Based on my admittedly limited research, it appears the only teams in Major League Baseball that have bested the 2009 Yankees’ team wOBA during the Expansion Era are the Indians (who put up a .368 in 1996 and 1999) and the Mariners (.367 in 1996).
The Yankees’ best starting rotation ERA came during 1978 (3.08!), obviously buoyed by Ron Guidry‘s insane 1.74 ERA, 9.2 fWAR campaign. The top team FIP came in the strike-shortened 1981, driven in part by Guidry again (2.83 FIP) and rookie Dave Righetti (an insane 2.05 ERA and 2.12 FIP over 105 innings pitched). The second-best FIP came in the non-strike season of 1972. Go figure. Unsurprisingly, 1978 also represented the top ERA- (84), while the team put up its best FIP- in 2003.
The worst starters’ ERA came in 1991 (5.07) — you can thank Wade Taylor for being allowed to throw 116 innings of 5.82 ERA ball for some reason, as well as Jeff Johnson (5.95 ERA over 127 innings) and old friend Dave Eiland (5.20 over 62.1) — the worst FIP in 2000, and both the worst ERA- and FIP- came in 1989.
The Yankee bullpen’s lowest ERA (and ERA-) came in that fateful 1981 season (2.26, 64). 1970 was the top non-strike season for bullpen ERA (2.34). The 1972 season saw the top FIP (2.85), while the top FIP- (76) came in 1982. As an indicator of how great the 2011 Yankee bullpen has been, it currently has the 5th-best ERA- (74) of the last 43 years, and third-best(!) FIP- (79).
The worst Yankee bullpens played during 1971 — a relief corps that must have been truly awful as it took the honors for both worst ERA- and FIP- by far — and the 1993 ‘pen (4.62 ERA, 4.78 FIP).
Now I’m not as comfortable with defensive analysis as I am offense and pitching, especially given that it seems we still have a ways to go until someone comes up with an all-encompassing metric that the sabermetric community can actually agree on. For defense I’ve decided to use Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency (per BP, the rate at which balls put into play are converted into outs by a team’s defense) and Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (should be self-explanatory).
I was a tad surprised by the results. As you can see, there isn’t a ton of fluctuation on a year-to-year basis with DE. The highest mark — recorded by the 1969 Yankees — was 0.748, while the lowest was the 2008 team’s 0.693. On the other hand, there’s quite a bit of fluctuation with PADE, with the 1998 squad turning in the best mark (3.05) and the 1989 team the worst (-2.53). Strangely, the second-worst was the 2008 team, and while they were certainly one of the less-effective Yankees teams since 1995 I don’t recall defense being one of their major issues.
I thought for sure the 2005 team — generally acknowledged as one of the worst fielding teams of all time — would’ve taken the cake for lowest tallies in both of these metrics, but sadly they only come in at 6th-worst in DE and 4th-worst in PADE.
The 2011 team is somewhat surprisingly in the lower third per both DE (.708) and PADE (-0.21). I say surprisingly because anecdotally this has felt like one of the stronger Yankee defenses in recent memory, particularly up the middle, with Russell Martin performing yeoman’s work behind the plate, Robinson Cano being his usual solid self and Curtis Granderson playing a bang-up center field, advanced metrics be damned.
For baserunning I went with BP’s Equivalent Base Running Runs (EQBRR), which, per BP, measures the number of runs contributed by a player’s advancement on the bases, above what would be expected based on the number and quality of the baserunning opportunities with which the player is presented, park-adjusted and based on a multi-year run expectancy table.
The top Yankee baserunning team of the last 43 years per EQBRR was the 1974 squad (13.2), while the worst was the 1993 team (-19.7). The 2011 team currently ranks third-best at 9.6, which certainly lines up with what we’ve seen on the year so far.
So, how well-rounded?
To attempt to determine which Yankees teams were the most “well-rounded,” I decided to use wRC+ as a jumping off point, and took the Yankee teams with the top five wRC+ tallies (this ended up giving me six teams, since three were tied with 117 wRC+). I then went through their numbers in all of the categories depicted in the graphs above, and determined their rankings compared to the other 43 Yankee teams (rankings are in parentheses, below).
This is admittedly subjective, but it seemed like the most fair way to attempt to discern something relatively vague like “most well-rounded.” The numbers highlighted in yellow represent the “best” mark in that particular statistical category among these six teams.
A couple of things jump out at me:
- Holy heck could the 2007 Yankees rake. Tied for best average and second-best OBP of the last 43 years. It’s pretty absurd that they only lasted four games against the Indians in the ALDS, but that’s what happens when your pitching implodes. Interesting to think about how a hypothetical Yankees-Red Sox (.352 wOBA) 2007 ALCS would’ve panned out.
- That 1994 team seemed destined for greatness, Montreal Expos be damned.
- The 2011 team has acquitted itself quite nicely in starting pitcher FIP, and is also crushing everyone else in the relief categories.
- The 2011 team also appears to be the best baserunning squad of the lot.
- The 1998 team really was as good as everyone remembers.
And finally, I thought it’d be interesting to see how the 2011 Yankees stacked up against that storied 1998 team, considered by many to be the greatest of all time.
Food for thought, anyway.
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