What if the best Yankees team of all time played the worst?
When you look at “what if” scenarios in sport, it’s usually a question of which top team or player in a sport’s history is the best of that exclusive group. What super bowl the winner is the best? Which NBA legend would win a head-to-head tournament? Could Hall of Fame Pitcher X take out Hall of Fame Hitter Y at bat?
At the pure Yankees level, the best argument is probably which team is better between the 1927 and 1998 teams. Both won a World events title after historic regular seasons, and are in the conversation for the best teams in baseball history. If you could find a way to level the playing field based on the era, this would be an interesting game.
However, the flip side is, what if you take a historically great team and confront them with a bad history? Thanks to Out of the Park Baseball 21, we can kind of find out. We’ve experimented with OOTP before, but this time we’re going to use it to find out what would happen if the best Yankees teams of all time played the worst ever for an entire 162-game season.
For the best, we pick the 1927 Yankees. As mentioned, there is a legitimate argument for picking the 1998 team instead. We are going with the ’27 team for two reasons. The first is that they have the best winning percentage in the regular season. The “27 Yankees” 0.714 win percentage is just over the 98 team’s 0.714. So we’re going with 1927 to stay in the same era as their opponent. That’s because for the worst team ever, we’re going with 1912.
The 1912 season came when the team was still known as the Highlanders, and it wasn’t good. They went 50-102, for a .329 winning percentage, the worst in franchise history. The 55 games they finished outside of first place in the AL are the worst ever for a Yankees team. The next closest team was the 1908 team which finished 39.5 back. Season 12 was Harry Wolverton’s first, and not surprisingly, his last as the team’s manager.
For the purposes of the experiment, I set them up in a league of these two teams only. For 162 games, they only played against each other. It is also possible to choose the time / year of the game to dictate the type of attacking / launching environment in which it was played. I divided the difference and chose 1920. Now it’s time for the results.
As you might expect, the 1927 squad completely dominated things, even though they were closer than you might have guessed. The winning percentages for both teams were better / worse than what the teams achieved in real life.
The 27-team’s offense wasn’t far removed from the exploits they’ve achieved in real life, but the way they’ve done it was different. The actual ’27 Murderer ‘Row’ team hit 158 home runs with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combining for 107. In the simulation, the whole team only hit 95. Ruth and Gehrig hit only 20 and 22, respectively, but they were still dominant forces in attack. Ruth hit .393 / .505 / .605, leading the league in all but a few offensive categories, and made a big jump from her actual batting average. The categories that Ruth did not lead were mainly led by Gehrig, who reached .368 / .480 / .578.
Meanwhile, literally every ’27 pitcher had an above-average ERA + of 100, because the ’12 Highlanders’ offense wasn’t, uh, great.
In real life, the problem with the 1912 team on offense wasn’t that the entire roster was terrible, it was that even their best hitters were mostly fair. Only three players who made more than 300 home plate appearances for them that year had an OPS + over 100. The “best” of them was Bert Daniels, and his rating was only 108.
In the simulation, these mediocre bats were completely neutralized. Birdie Cree and Roy Hartzell were both regulars with over 100 OPS + totals, but they were the only ones on their team to make regular appearances in the plates. As a team, they only reached .279 / .324 / .368. As mentioned, Ruth and Gehrig were held in check on the home run front, but even still, their combined 42 dingers were exactly what the 12-team did in its entirety.
Like me, your first impression is probably the surprise that it was not more unbalanced. I guess it probably would’ve been more off-balance if it had been possible in real life, and the game gives teams a little more or a little less credit than they deserve. On the other hand, you would think that if two teams played 162 consecutive games against each other, maybe the worst would find things about how to control the best players on the other, then maybe it is a little realistic.
Either way, there is some evidence that the 1927 Yankees were definitely better than the 1912 Yankees.
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