Thursday, June 10, 2004

Speaking of Juggernauts

This article is currently running on Baseball Interactive ( Thanks to John for putting me back on the masthead as a Featured Writer.

Just what the world needs: another column about the New York Yankees.

Sorry, world.

I was listening to Tim Kurkjian on ESPN radio this morning and he nonchalantly threw in a tidbit that I know I haven't heard before. This current version of the Yankees is the first team in baseball since the 1936 version of the Bombers to boast a line-up with five 100 RBI guys from the previous season. What I think Kurkjian meant to say is that the 1937 Yankees were the last team to boast five 100 RBI men from the previous season.

In 1935, the Yankees had one player drive in 100 runs (Gehrig, 119). In '36 they had five:

Lou Gehrig - 152
Joe DiMaggio - 125
Tony Lazzeri - 109
George Selkirk - 107
Bill Dickey - 107

All players were on the '37 roster.

Five guys driving in 100 runs on one team is a pretty amazing feat in any era. And this accomplishment is only tempered by the fact that the American League in 1936 was one of the best hitting environments ever. There were 5.67 runs scored per game, the highest total in American League history. The post-1900 record for both leagues, in case you're wondering, is the 1930 National League at 5.68 R/G.

I'm not ready to anoint this current Yankee offense on any historical pedestal quite yet. But it's clear that on paper there isn't much precedence for the offensive powerhouse that the Yankee Bank has put together.

A major difference in the comparison with the '37 roster, of course, is that several key components of this group were doing their damage for other teams last year. The 'Yankee 5' in 2004:

Gary Sheffield - 132 RBI in 2003 (for Atlanta)
Alex Rodriguez - 118 (for Texas)
Jason Giambi - 107
Hideki Matsui - 106
Jorge Posada - 101

Back to this year...

Since I'm on the topic of RBI, here's how these five current Yankees project for the entire season at this point:

Sheffield: 105
A-Rod: 91
Giambi: 77
Matsui: 99
Posada: 82

Another comparison. Here's how the '36 group fared the following season in the same category:

Gehrig: 159 (+7)
DiMaggio: 167 (+42)
Lazzeri: 70 (-39)
Selkirk: 68 (-41)
Dickey: 133 (+26)

Despite the fact that two members of the group fell well short of 100, the group's total was almost identical to the previous year (597 in '37, 600 in '36), thanks mainly to DiMaggio's leap forward in his second year.

The 2004 'Yankee 5' at this point are projecting to wind up 110 RBI down from last year. I know that we're dealing with a bit of a hodge podge, with two of the players coming from different teams, different environments. And I realize that Giambi's total has been adversely affected by his recent injury. But even accounting for some of his lost RBI, this group still projects about 100 RBI off last year's pace.

A sampling of five players RBI totals isn't the best indicator of a team's offense, but I'm wondering if the Yankees offense will perhaps fall short of the level (and we're talking about a very high level, maybe even a historic level) that some people envisioned.

Tough Company to Follow

The Yankees are scoring runs at a 5.49/g clip. That would rank 5th among Joe Torre's Yankee teams:

1998: 5.96
2002: 5.57
1999: 5.56
1997: 5.50

With a league-leading 86 home runs, they project out to 244 for the season. That would indeed be the most under Torre, leaving last year's total of 230 a distant second.

Their OBP of .356, which is tied for first with the White Sox entering play today, is identical to last year's number and in line with the numbers for the Yankees for the last 10 years. Since 1995, they've been between .364 and .354 eight times. Their SLG, which is ranked for third in the AL at .461, would be the highest under Torre by one point (.460 in '98), and the franchise's highest mark since 1936.

To further illustrate why so many are eschewing relying on batting average as a vital statistic, the Yankees team BA of .265 is 9th in the AL. It would be the franchise's worst mark in that category since 1992.

With the high home run totals, and the mediocre team BA, one would figure that the team is piling up the K's. However, they're only striking out at a moderate pace (8th in the AL), and project to being the first Yankee team under 1000Ks since the '99 team.

And to put the final nail in this coffin of proving that this team is something out of a Billy Beane daydream, they are on pace to walk 719 times. Not only would that total be the most under Torre (by one over the '99 squad), but it would the franchise's most since 1949, when they drew 731 free passes.

From a Yankee standpoint, this offense, as of early June, is setting itself up to be one of the best in franchise history. By "best" I mean close to being a lock for the Top 10, with a fair shot to end up ranking higher.

They hit a ton of home runs, walk a lot, don't strike out as much as you think they would, and will end up with a very favorable OPS.

Are they going to be one of the great line-ups of all-time? That will take more analysis, adjustments and arguments as the season progresses. I can imagine Reds fans adjusting the numbers of the Big Red Machine, who probably had the greatest line-up, 1-8, in the history of the game. How will they rank next to the mid-50s Dodgers? Or the Orioles from the late 60s/early 70s?

Historical standing is yet to be determined. However as this point, this 2004 squad, offensively, stands up to any Yankee team in the Torre era, and quite possibly any era.

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